First Ride: 2012 KTM Duke 690 review

The Duke of Hurl

Posted: 26 January 2012
by Mark Forsyth
160kgs full of fuel...
... and 70Nm of torque
Less cake, more brake
7,000rpm of useable power
Downhill carving
KTM Powerparts add bling...
... like these crash bars...
... and this exhaust porn
WP forks and rear shock
Engine weighs just 41kgs wet

I am part of a small percentage of bikers that likes four stroke singles. I like the way you can lay the power down hard and early in a corner with superb feel for what the back tyre is doing. Or more importantly, about to do. I like the direct involvement between every power stroke and the throttle cable. I like the noise they make.

I am however, a bit simple. I must be as it's the single's simplicity that I admire the most.

In the past, single ownership didn't come without its pains. Vibration is an obvious headache. Within living memory, two singles (a Spondon Rotax racer and a Bimota Supermono) have set fire to themselves because of vibration-induced fractures. Luckily I had a full bladder at the time.

For the single-owner, vibration is a killer of not only the human circulatory system (dead hands), but brittle alloys, non-nyloc fasteners and any chance of rearward vision in wing mirrors. 

Then there's chain life. Without inter-balanced firing intervals from other cylinders the bang-bang-bang power delivery stretches a chain's sideplates, loosens rollers and hooks sprocket teeth in the blink of a double-vision-eye.

To make a single fast and reliable is even harder. To make it fast, yet quiet enough to pass Euro 5, is nigh on impossible. I know, I spent three race seasons just trying to beat the ACU noise test. 

It's for the above reasons that the new KTM Duke 690 amazes me. What they've done to this latest LC4 engine is incredible. If 72bhp and 70Nm of torque wasn't amazing enough from just one 690cc cylinder, then its puppy-dog manners and 10,000km service intervals seal the deal.

Here is a single that thinks its a twin. A single that, all of a sudden, doesn't have to be just for the people who expect a single to be a bit shit in many areas of its performance range. A 72bhp single that doesn't shake itself to bits at any point in it's 8,000rpm rev range. A high performance single that doesn't spit flames, back-fire, fart or sneeze in the compromised area of its camshaft profiles and valve timing. A single that doesn't falter under full throttle loadings from tickover. In a high gear.

Manners aside, this engine is the most powerful production single ever offered. Powerful enough to win races yet friendly enough for a learner to ride. 

Swing a leg over the 690 Duke (as we did in Spain the day before yesterday) and several things immediately strike you. It's really, really light and very narrow. It's comfy. You sit in it on a flat, soft seat that's wide at the back and narrow at the front. The stretch to the bars is short. 

If you're going to boss a bike the above are perfect credentials.

Fire the 690 up on the 'leccy start and it quickly settles to a gentle idle. The balance shaft cleary works. It's really quiet, too. That under-engine silencer (the Duke Box?) does a good job. Throttle response is snappy, the engine responding quickly and revs dropping fast, as you'd expect from a high compression ratio and minimal flywheel weight. The exhaust note may be quiet but the induction noise and eager throttle response adds their own angry music.

Obviously the whole engine and exhaust system play a bit part in the 690's incredible performance scope but there are two key areas that add to its  civility and its tractability, namely the fly-by-wire throttle and separately mapped twin plugs. 

The throttle plays a big part. Ask the wrong thing of the twist grip and it won't let you. Instead, it'll give you what's best for it and, quite possibly, what's best for you. This electronic compensation is one of three switchable maps (the adjuster is under the pillion seat), think of it as the nose-wiping mode. At the opposite end of the mapping is the bail-out option. This is for the foolhardy know-it-all and, in between, is a gentle compromise for Liberal Democrats. There was no time to try all the map settings and, to be honest, the nose wiping setting was so good I didn't feel the need to try.

Two spark plugs - one smaller than the other - can do exactly what the Keihin ECU and sensors tell it. Independently of each other, as well. This way the engine management programmers can retard and advance either plug depending on load, revs and throttle position. Think of it as precise flame management.

It only takes you the first fifty metres to feel the effect of this technology. Weighing only 160kg fully fuelled and kicking out 72bhp, it's very very lively. That's a foregone conclusion. The initial surprise is just how damned civilized it is, pulling cleanly and smoothly from tickover in every gear. Even full throttle in a high gear doesn't faze it at all. 

You can, however, make it behave like a single of old by using too high-a gear where it'll still snatch at the chain like it's trying to kill it, but you have to be pretty savagely stupid or utterly unfeeling to do it accidentally.

So we blatted round a few sandy, slippery roundabouts for three or four miles. Nobody in our group fell off, which was telling. Then we hit the Spanish motorways where we cruised for twenty minutes at what they might have described as 'a bright turn of speed' in the olden days. Even at three figure cruising, the 690 doesn't fill your rattlings out. I could even see behind me in the mirrors. Well, one of them. It's even, dare I say it, comfortable at these speeds and felt like it could have done it all day.

But you don't buy a bike like this to batter the motorways do you? So we turned off into the mountains. It was a good call.

How you ride a road you don't know is very different from riding something familiar. Being able to use one gear for wide stretches is often useful, so too is good on-off-throttle response and behaviour. Light weight is a boon, too. It lets you chuck and change, hurl and heft without popping a 'roid.

We had the perfect tool for a slippery, twisty mountain pass with varying radius, blind turns and bumps bigger than Jordan's. And random pine cones the size of your head.

Brake deep into a tightening corner and the Duke doesn't sit up or try to run wide. Crack the gas on early and hard enough to get the back tyre moving and the tyre talks to you (quite loudly) about its problems. It doesn't steer quickly, in fact it can actually be quite hard to make rapid direction changes at high speeds, but it is easy to dominate because of the riding position and low centre of gravity. 

High speed stability is impressive. Even in a sixth-gear tuck with nothing left available on the rev counter (201kmh) the Duke is stable - even when you try to provoke a wobble or a shimmy by wobbling the bars. A 1466mm wheelbase - longer than any superbike on the market - may be the reason for this uncanny high speed stability.

In all, we had blast in the Andalucian mountains. The one ride I had on my own (not in a group) was one of those rides you never forget. Even though I was hanging it out at times, I never had one heart-in-mouth moment. The Duke really does flatter your riding and it's fast enough to deliver a real buzz.

But it's the fact that a learner could hop on this KTM 690 Duke and find it as easy to ride as a CB500 Honda that gets me. 

How the hell did they manage that?

UK Price: £6,595 inc VAT and ABS

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Discuss this story

Liking it lots and teally fancy a test ride - even though I already have two bikes....

Posted: 28/01/2012 at 21:37

13.8 litre fuel tank is tiny. If it can do 250 miles on a tank that size like the new Honda NC700X I'd be impressed. Any ideas?

Posted: 29/01/2012 at 21:41

No Gunshot, sorry. Not sure you can even mention NC700X and Duke in same breath, though. Totally, totally different concepts. Wait until we get one to test (properly) on UK roads...

Posted: 30/01/2012 at 09:49

Sounds great! Shame my nearest dealer is about 40 miles away..

The old Duke allegedly had very good fuel consumption, so no worries there.

Posted: 31/01/2012 at 09:07

You gave a lot of reason why to like the bike, yet someone will compare it to NC700X??? And you wonder why manufacturers today have it hard to please people ...

Posted: 31/01/2012 at 12:39

I wasn't comparing. I asked what mpg it returns, simple as that so get off your high horse. I was told this new 690 Duke can do 70+ mpg hence my bloody question about a small tank and range! Jesus.

Posted: 31/01/2012 at 22:29

We were told this 690 Duke could do 70+mpg, too. But like I said, wait until we get one on test in the UK and we'll see...

Posted: 01/02/2012 at 08:56

The old one was a hoot to ride, can't wait to test this one!

Posted: 03/02/2012 at 15:32

It looks like the 125 Duke Concept had an influence on the look of this bike and I must say BRAVO!! It is beautiful! As an owner of the 2007 KTM 690 Supermoto, a true hooligan’s machine, I am delighted to see the enhancements on this 690 motor and would love to get my hands on this Duke! But I have a sad sad feeling that it doesn't make it State Side and if that is the case I will be very disappointed in yet another bike that KTM doesn't feel we deserve here in the US. I crush all the rice racers in the corners on my 690 SM and 990 Super Duke but hardly anyone has respected for KTM street bikes because we just don’t get the offerings that the UK enjoys. Sure KTM is well known for their off road bikes and ATV’s but everyone is surprised when my KTM’s eat their bikes for lunch in the canyons. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE BRING THIS BIKE TO THE STATES!!! .

Posted: 04/02/2012 at 21:46

Gunshot, you used these two bikes in the same sentence. It's hard not to see it as a comparison.

Anyways, if you get 70+ on this bike, you will be riding it like something KTM has not had in mind (short shifting and never WOT). You don't buy this bike for mpg. If that's what you are after get something else.

Posted: 07/02/2012 at 12:26

Bought one. Arrives today. Blinged up with £1,400 of accessories. Test ride for 3.5 hours and 143 miles through Yorkshire and Yorkshire Dales. Reserve light had not come on!!!! 180-200 miles touring range if needed (which it will). 6,200 service intervals. Fabulous. The bike for 95% of my riding. Forget motorways and A road. This is the B road king. The miles are going to mount very quickly. Can't wait

Posted: 17/05/2012 at 17:04

hi there
have got the new duke and have done 1000 miles now. i have recorded all fuel and mileage and can tell you what i have got in mpg. sticking to a and b roads i have had between 68 and 74 mpg ! the worst i have had is 55mpg but i really thrashed it that day included 3 figures on motorway. have been using bp fuel and most of it in advanced mode . did a few hundred miles in soft mode and you can have a relaxing ride,you just have to twist the grip a bit more if you want to go faster lol ,switch back to advanced mode and instant response ! had it six weeks and cant stay off it. its a great fun bike and so light ! just had the akrapovic fitted and sounds much better with baffle out and looks awesome too ! only thing i miss is a fairing lol but the back roads are much more fun. hope this answers a few questions. regards j

Posted: 20/05/2012 at 21:57

What accessories? Can you give a description of how the bike rides please, and your own riding style, cheers!

Posted: 20/05/2012 at 22:07

actualisation avant de lacet perruques | homme frontaux dentelle cheveux | frontaux dentelle bon marché

Posted: 21/05/2012 at 05:31

hi mate just ordered bike today from colwyn bay motorcycles had no idea mpg was as good as you say .had test run out on saturday feels a real fun bike.the last single i rode was in 1977 a honda ss50,i think bikes have come on a bit since then.

Posted: 21/05/2012 at 20:30

Hello again,

hi ian accessories i have are handguards in black ,the front crash bars and the akraprovic slip on .i have been catching my leg on crash bars when changing gear some times. Had raced motox for ten years if that gives you a glue on my riding style lol. Engine bit lumpy under 3000 revs but will pick up instantly when throttle turned , mainly use 2 3 4 gears ,you dont need the 5 until at least 50 and 6th no slower than 60 i find. Will do 60 in secound and 75 in third and about 90 in forth. your always in attack position and you can ride for hours without getting tired. You do get vibration but not much but it is a single. Everywhere i park it i get attention lol. Brakes bit well and the suspension feels good, soft enough but firm enough too as have no complaints with the handling . have found leaning of the bike into corners works well as you are sitting up quite high. There always seems to be enough power on tap when you twist the grip . If you like the b roads then its plenty to play with. Filled up again today with 10 litres and covered 160 miles , i will let you do the math lol . 70 + mpg i think. ian and tony hope you enjoy the duke. Running in is 600 miles at 6000rpm then service and then its full rev. Will do 95 at 6000 rpm in sixth. Will be interested to hear how you get on with yours. My email is if you fancy emailing me or let me know how your getting on,  but i might not look at it for a week ,sorry lol.   happy riding


Posted: 23/05/2012 at 22:14

I work in the city of London and my priority is to own a bike which can cope with the third world road network. I currently run a ZX10R and the ruts and potholes have destroyed my suspension. I think a motocross style bike would be ideal. The economy is an attraction but not terribly important. If you live in London then you will realise that travelling by bike is the only viable option. My commute is 14 miles- 25minutes by bike and 1hour+15mins -3 hours by public transport. Don't even think about a car....But I have heard some stories about reliability with KTM's Any comments?

Posted: 17/09/2012 at 15:52

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