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KTM 690 Duke long-term update 6: Goodbye

Goodbye sweet prince, er…. Duke

Simon Greenacre's picture
Submitted by Simon Greenacre on Fri, 30/12/2016 - 11:00

KTM 690 Duke

AFTER a month of successfully dodging KTM’s calls and emails, they finally caught up with me and just as quickly as the 690 Duke thumped its way into my life, it’s now gone.

When I rode back to KTM HQ at Silverstone for the final time, I imagined there’d be some sort of ceremony for when I handed the key back – maybe a black carpet out the front and a lectern from which to deliver a poignant eulogy, but no, although the cup of tea did help the grieving process.

You see, the 690 and I formed a close bond over track days and trips to the office, cross-country expeditions to visit friends and family and of course, countless fast weekend blasts.

For the most part this bike has been a proper laugh and managed to turn even the dreariest of commutes into a smile-inducing experience.

Although good for shits and giggles on the daily grind (it’s very good in traffic thanks to its low weight and supreme manoeuvrability), the 690 Duke’s not made for crossing the capital - it’s a fun lovin’ scaplel made for slicing up the twistiest pieces of tarmac and it does that with aplomb. Blasting down a meandering back road is where the 690 Duke really feels at home, where the combination of lightness, agility and the punch from the 690cc singe-cylinder engine gets a chance to really shine.

As a bike for unadulterated fun, it’s the dog’s danglies. At the weekend, the rituals of putting my kit on and removing the locks and chains from the KTM took place against the background anticipation of the fun that lay ahead, and that never diminished during the nine months I had the Duke in my care. An exciting and punchy engine, assured and precise handling from well-damped WP suspension and a firm chassis, plus strong brakes and a class-leading set of electronics ensured that the KTM 690 Duke never failed to deliver come playtime.

Although that playtime definitely took place on my favourite twisty road, the 690 Duke still rewarded me in lots of different situations. I was more than content with the fact that it delivered thrills at the weekend and, thanks to its mischievous charm, had enough in reserve to elicit a grin from me come the Monday morning commute into central London.

It lapped up track days too. On a twisty circuit, it’s more than capable of showing up much more powerful machinery because it’s really exploitable and has a chassis that I really got on with, which made me feel like I knew precisely what I could get away with. The excellent traction control helped with that too. Carefully selecting circuits is a must though: Brands Hatch Indy, Cadwell and Mallory Park – Yes. Silverstone and Snetterton – No because it’ll feel slow and breathless.

The 690’s weaknesses were consistently highlighted on any lengthy motorway or A-road journey, which often got tiresome thanks to a hard seat and lack of wind protection. Long journeys aren’t off the cards, but whenever I was going to ride from London to, say, Wales, I’d avoid the motorway in favour of the most interesting looking back route.

The star of the show is undoubtedly the torquey 690cc single-cylinder engine. It’s punchy and playful, and demands your attention because it needs to be ridden how it wants to be ridden, otherwise it’ll protest at slow speed or be reluctant to give you what you want. And that’s fine by me because the engagement it requires is what provides such some of its roguish charm. Well, that and the wallop of torque that’s always available. At 148kg, the 690 Duke is light too, so the 74hp and 55lb/ft makes for an excitable character and a bike that’s got a hooligan streak running through it.

I reckon you can see that – it looks as uncompromising as it is, with angular styling and posture that tells you this is no beige middleweight naked. After all this time with it, I still don’t think it’s a particularly good-looking bike. It’s OK, but it’s more appropriate to describe it as looking right because the Duke’s aesthetic conveys so much of what’s in store once you’ve turned the key, done a burnout and wheelied off down the road (terribly, if you’re me).

During the time I had the 690, I whacked on a new Akrapovic exhaust to get it booming, popping and banging like it should. I also got the got the Track Pack added (which gives it riding modes) and added LED indicators, a tail tidy and a tank protector. It’s not major stuff, but it all made a difference to me in terms of performance (track pack), sound and aesthetics.

Less pleasurable trips back to KTM involved the two times the gorgeous colour LCD instrument display screen developed a minor fault and needed replacing.

So, the million pound question – would I buy one with my own monies? In short, yes but that’s because I live near a city and have an urban commute, have some ace roads not too far from me and don’t do a huge amount of running up and down the country – meaning this bike is perfect for me. If I had to spend a lot of time on the motorway and dual carriageways, I’d be looking for something more sensible.

Except I don’t want something more sensible, I’ve got plenty of time to be sensible, like when I’m retired. Or dead. I like bikes that that have a bit charm, character and performance and the KTM 690 Duke has all three in a package that delivers a pure riding experience and doesn’t make concessions to the dull stuff. It’s not the most powerful, best specced or sexiest looking bike I’ve ever ridden, but it’s definitely one of the most fun and for that reason it’ll be a tough act to follow.


Previous reports:

1 - Say hello to my little friend

2 - First service and a track day at Brands Hatch

3 - Good at the boring stuff, but not good at being boring

4 - A temporary upgRade

5 - New rubber


Good and very useful series of write-ups. And on the (immediate) sensible commute alternatives - why consider a bike at all when more comfy and often quicker alternatives exist. (If its distance, the train's usually faster). This Duke sounds like permanent fun rather than fading as day-to-day realities grind on.

Basically exactly this.

My 690R is currently hidden away from the ravages of winter in the conservatory - it's too nice to take out in this shitty weather and instantly get it covered in mud.

Every ride on it is borderline insanity.

I put a comfy gel seat on it, screen, and air flow lip thing, as well as handguards, and it turns out it's good to blast along the motorway for 139 miles at 95mph average all the way - about as comfy and almost as wind-free as a GS in fact (I've owned 5). Unlike the GS however, it runs totally dry of petrol at 139 miles at this speed. Fuck my life. Fortunately it's so light that pushing it to a services isn't so much of a chore. The petrol gauge range indicator lies, btw.

Unlike you I don't seem to have figured out how to make the chassis behave how I want it. There's a mile wide chicken strip on both sides of the front Metzeler - it just feels like it's going to wash out on me the moment I give it any kind of lean, which is annoying to say the least - and I can't figure out how to fix it. I'm going to try Michelin PR4s on it next to see if it's just a tyres issue.

Anyway.. unlike you I'm keeping mine for another 3 and a half years or so, and then I think an electric bike is on the cards.

btw my winter steed is a BMW K1300S.

It is the opposite of fun.

I really liked the motor, gave me much brappiness, but the ergos just didn't work for me.
I like the idea of the big thumper. For highway, I would re-gear it higher. It seems the future of this bike is a fairing and ergos as it gets rebranded as a Husqvarna Vitpilen.
As for I the only one that does the math and pays attention to the trip meter, not a gas gauge? Never pushed a bike in my life.

Unfortunately the trip meter is not easily used on the 690 :( But of a user interface fail.

Thing is the tank range ranges from 139 miles to an unknown distance over 190 miles - quite a variation - so the trip meter is just as hit and miss as the range meter. Why they can't get the range meter right is a mystery, coz BMW seem to have perfected it years ago.

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