In a perfect world we’d all have a garage full of bikes, (or is that just me ?) at least one for every kind of riding we ever wanted to do. For track riding or going for a blast with your mates on wide, fast open roads any of the modern one-litre or 600cc sports bikes would be the go. For dodging about locally and everyday A-B riding through traffic something like a Street Triple would be good. If you’re going across Europe you’d need something dead comfortable with a bigger fairing, long legs and decent tank range like a Blackbird or Busa. In this utopian ideal you’d stroll into your toybox and throw your leg over the machine that was going to be the most fun on the route you had in mind.
One of my favourite stretches of road runs from the village of Barbon in the Yorkshire Dales, up over Calf Top and down into Dentdale, and I reckon it’s nothing like what you have in mind. Forget fast, sweeping bends and smooth tarmac, think more of narrow, bumpy, unfenced, moorland track and you’ll be somewhere near. Like an enduro course that someone’s sloshed a bit of tar ’n’ chip on, and as such, bike choice is critical.
If you’re on a Blade, or an R1, or pretty much any other sports bike then don’t bother going... you’d hate it... and probably hate me for suggesting it too. But on the right bike I guarantee this backwater lane would have you grinning like a wankin’ adolescent! What you need is a light bike with good initial acceleration, efficient brakes, relatively soft suspension and wide bars, a bike you can boss about a bit... KTM 690 Duke R. Perfect.
On this whole section of road you can rarely get over 50 or 60 mph. But you’re always concentrating, always busy, hooking up and down the gearbox, feathering the clutch as you brake for bends or effortlessly hoisting the front end over a cattle-grid. I don’t think I’ve ever ridden this road without giggling to myself as I go, or turning round at the other end to have another run.
To the untrained observer, on this route, and on this bike, I probably look like I’m riding on the edge, or possibly being chased by the 5-0. But when you’re sat on the bike it actually feels pretty safe. The terrain is very open, for the most part you can see the road ahead and anything that’s coming down it – which if you go during the week is very little. Plus you’re going a lot slower than you would be on a faster bike on a wider, smoother road, so if the worst did happen you’d only be limping into casualty under your own steam.
The egg-heads call it ‘risk compensation’. In English this means that people will behave differently according to the amount of risk they perceive they are taking. This is why, studies have shown, people tend to drive faster and closer when they’re wearing seat-belts or are in a car with anti-lock brakes. It’s also why, whenever someone who’s raced bikes goes and races a car they tend to drive like lunatics because with safety cells and five point harnesses and roll cages they feel dead safe. On the KTM Duke, on a bit of road like this you’re getting the same buzz as you would riding your R1 on smooth A-roads, only at half the speed.
For its part the KTM Duke, with aggressive super-moto riding position, mega brakes, fairly close ratio box and an almost unbelievable (for a single) 70+ BHP was the perfect choice for this mission. The only issues I had with the bike were the underdamped front forks, the seat I suspect is hewn from solid granite and the lack of much flywheel inertia – making it quite easy to stall when you set off.
You wouldn’t want to do big miles on it, and you might want to put a tube of Savlon in your pocket before you go but on the right piece of road – this road – the KTM Duke R bike is a load of fun !