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KTM 690 Duke long-term update 4: A temporary upgRade

Thoughts after two weeks on a 690 Duke R

Simon Greenacre's picture
Submitted by Simon Greenacre on Mon, 20/06/2016 - 09:44

KTM 690 Duke R

RECENTLY I swapped my long term KTM 690 Duke for the R model while my bike got some lovin’ at KTM.

It was all in the name of research: at £9,149, the 690 Duke R costs £1,450 more than the stock bike and I wanted to find out whether it’s worth the extra monies and figure out whether I should have asked KTM for the R to start with.

As soon as I leave KTM’s office near Silverstone, I pull back on to the main road and pin the 690 Duke R through the first three gears. My first thought is that it feels faster than my stocker, but it shouldn’t do because my long-term 690 Duke weighs the same and makes the same power as the R.

A length of country lane later, I realise what’s up; the 690 Duke R is kitted out with adjustable WP suspension instead of the non-adjustable bouncy bits on the standard model. The R’s suspension is stiffer than the standard 690 Duke’s and it does a lot to make the R feel more taught and precise. When I tap the power on, the bike feels that bit more eager and poised.

The higher-spec suspension on the R is what really sets it apart from the standard 690 Duke in terms of how it feels – it focuses the Duke’s desire to carve up corners with deftness and precision. There are some other items on R’s spec list that also play a part in making it feel different to the stock bike - because of the different suspension, the R is 15mm taller and the seat height is 30mm higher; changes that make the R feel more poised and aggressive.

The R’s more combative bias is also present in the Brembo M50 monobloc front brake calliper and Brembo master cylinder and the 690 Duke R comes with a few more electronic tricks up its wizardly sleeve in the form of cornering ABS and lean angle-sensitive traction control.

Knowing all this, and not wanting to collect all my available penalty points on a weekend blast down my favourite roads, there was only one place to have a really good time with the 690 Duke R, so I took it to a track day at Lydden Hill. If you aren’t familiar with Lydden, it’s a circuit between Canterbury and Dover and at one mile long, it’s shortest track in the UK. Because of this, it’s physical, and well suited to what the 690 Duke R is all about.

The first corner after the start finish line is a big right-hander; driving through and out of it gives me a good chance to test the 690 Duke R’s party piece – lean angle-sensitive traction control. I’m probably bigging myself up a bit too much here - actually, it’s more of a chance for me to test my bottle as I try winding the power on sooner/harder each lap because of the safety net afford by the TC. I think of it as more of a gravity-enforcing device that should keep me from cackhandedly firing myself skywards.

The main test of the TC comes during the second session of the day, when the mist is still lingering and the track is still damp in places. With tyres warmed, I have an arse-clenching slide through turn one, but the benevolent TC duly cuts power enough to sort things out as my heart to skips a beat and I finish the rest of the session with a bit more caution.

That’s what I like about the extras on the 690 Duke R – I probably wasn’t making the TC light flicker so much that it could have been on my Christmas tree but knowing it was there helped me push a bit more and explore what I and the bike could do. On track, I ride knowing that if I’m not too much of a tit (a daily challenge), I probably won’t end up being catapulted into the Kent countryside.

The uprated Brembo front brake is also welcome on track because of the sharper initial bite and extra power, which is immediately obvious through the lever. It’s not earth shatteringly more powerful than the front brake on the standard 690 but it’s enough that I miss it once back on mine.

Then there’s the cornering ABS, which allows you to brake mid-corner without getting pushed wide. It’s a weird feeling, especially with the ABS chatter through the lever mid-corner, but it works – I called on it to save me from a couple of cocked up corners at Lydden and it could be the thing that saves you on the road one day.

During the whole time I’m on track, the suspension and chassis are flawless. Because it’s short, and lacks long straights, I spend each lap constantly working Duke round, getting it set for corners before turning in and punching out. It feels like a good proving ground for the suspension. The front feels firm and assured, and it doesn’t take me long to begin testing it more when it comes to getting slowed down and turned in – it’s bike that makes me feel confident to gradually push harder, safe in the knowledge that I know where I stand. Out of every turn, I always feel confident about what the rear tyre is doing under acceleration so I feel like I can push to go a bit faster.

So far, so positive, but the 690 Duke R is not without flaws on track and the frequency of false neutrals in the gearbox soon becomes a frustrating and embarrassingly frequent problem; it’s something I encounter at least a couple of times every session, usually going from fourth to fifth and from fourth to third. It happens on the road too, but less often because the gearbox only seems to prone faltering when the bike is being ridden hard. It’s not just the R that does it because pinning my long-termer can usually induce a missed gear on an enthusiastic ride. It’s the one chink in the 690’s armour – and inevitably it always happens in front of a crowd to make me look like a prize plum.

So is the 690 Duke R worth the extra money? It depends on what you want from the 690 Duke. It’s a bike that can appeal equally to new riders and commuters, as well as floating the boat of anyone that’s after a fierce middleweight naked. The standard model does all of the above really well – it’s sportier and better suspended than an MT-07 and makes the new SV650 seems pedestrian. The lower spec of the standard bike isn’t limiting, rather the 690 Duke R is a more concentrated distillation of all the stuff on the standard bike that makes it so capable of attacking sinuous B-road or technical set of corners – the electronics, suspension and brakes combine to create a more potent weapon, one that’ll happily schlep to work every day, but with a bit more in reserve for when the track and the fun way home beckons.

Having got my long-termer back, I don’t feel like I’m missing out too much – my standard 690 Duke is very capable; it’s an accomplished road bike and is pretty handy on track too, so I'm not dismayed at handing the keys to the R back to KTM, although I will miss the better looking orange frame and wheels, and the chrome graphics. If I was in the market for the 690 Duke, I’d try to stretch to the R because I’m partial to a track day or two and liked having the uprated electronics, suspension and brakes in my corner.


After 2 months and about 2000 miles on the R I've not managed to get a single false neutral. I don't pin it everywhere by any means but I've done it on occasion and not had any trouble, and I didn't have any problem on the 2015 non-R I test rode for half an hour either. Perhaps it's boot or foot or lever position related? Or clutch? Or even technique?

I turned off the TC/MSR function just once to find out why I couldn't wheelie the R but quickly turned it back on again as it seems to have turned me into a scared pansy. Also wheelies might look fun but they're the opposite of useful or safe, and the TC just makes the bike hurtle forwards faster. On the road seems to be as useful as you probably find it on the track: I just crack the throttle open in any gear in any situation and the bike just takes off without any fuss. I've had a few proper scary wobbles though on rutted tarmac and over white lines and catseyes. Apparently I'm not alone in noticing the 2016 model appears to be somewhat less stable than the 2015, which is the opposite effect to the changes that KTM claim to have made.

Unrelatedly, ran out of petrol the other day. Range indicator said 17 miles left in tank (it was bone dry when it conked out with no warning at all). I'd only done just over 150 miles! Normally I get 170 ish. Odd. Kev's O2 controller has caned fuel cons.

My experience with false neutrals is that they diminish over time and experience with the shifting on any bike new to the rider.

Here's a quote about the reason for false neutrals on the 690s

"First gear through fourth have four dogs, so it will drop in to gear every 90 degrees. Fifth and Sixth only have three dogs since they are smaller in diameter, so it will only drop into gear every 120 degrees."

In my experience you just get used to being more positive with the upshift from 5th to 6th. Giving the selector leaver a bit of pressure before you use the clutch lever helps a lot.

I can't remember the last time I got a false neutral in the last 20,000 miles on one of these engines.

You can get the pro shift kit if you find it difficult to adjust your shifting style, good reports for the kit.

..of the 690 Duke R continues. This time, on mods and stability.

Mods fitted to my 690 are: Cyclops LED headlight bulb; Puig screen & adjustable spoiler; Kev's O2 Mod; and lastly and most recently, the Fresco de-cat.

Starting with the LED bulb... it's a bit shit really. The beam pattern is crap, and so though it's brighter in theory the beam pattern is so washed out you have to put it on maximum downward adjustment to avoid seriously blinding anyone oncoming. Its only saving grace is that is saves 35/20W of power. I might replace it with the original bulb. Apparently you can get a better beam pattern with the supplied cork spacers, except that there's no way to fit the spacers because the clamp can't close over it. I think this basically means they got the dimensions of the bulb basically wrong and it's not a drop in H4 replacement at all.

Next up the Puig screen and spoiler. Not too hard to fit, though drilling the plastic mask is actually harder than it looks. It wobbles a fair bit. I can now cruise at 85mph though, so dual carriageways are now perfectly reasonable places to be on the 690, if a little boring and wobbly.

Kev's O2 mod... this has mostly improved throttle response and engine feel between 3-4000RPM, but it comes with two quite big caveats. The first one is, it canes fuel consumption. Where I was getting 70mpg before I now get 55mpg or less. The second caveat is that it also causes somewhat fluffy running just off of idle, and has on occasion not responded to the throttle at all but felt like it was suffering fuel issues. It also frequently sounds like it's going to stall when I slow down after a blast or I'm filtering. I may remove the mod and see how I feel.

The Fresco de-cat saves, at a guess, 5kg of dead weight although the weight is in a good spot. Even so 5kg is 5kg. Some foreign types round here might not reckon it's too loud but to UK ears it's bloody deafening. It gets almost acceptable on a whiff of throttle at medium revs; anything else and it's going to shake windows and terrify horses. It is, of course, awesome. Unfortunately you can also tell that the standard fuel map doesn't quite agree with it, with a new found hesitancy at the point the closed loop switches to the open loop and the throttle response isn't quite so perfectly sweet any more. It may behave somewhat differently if I remove the O2 mod.

Lastly, stability. I've had a fair few scary moments on the 690 with it feeling like it's just about to tankslap. Also I've been strangely wary of the rear tyre seeming to squirrel all over the place like I've got oil on it, when riding on anything other than smooth tarmac. Round where I live there are ripples, ruts, trenches, on bends on on straights, and you name it, the 690 really doesn't like it and gets very, very frisky in a not very pleasant way. The only way to deal with it is to get really loose, and back off gently. I've had at least one moment just overtaking (WOT, 3rd, 60mph or so) on normal white lines / catseyes, where the whole thing went into a momentary death weave and then sorted itself out, just long enough to pucker my arse but not long enough for me to seriously consider panicking and backing off.

There are other reports of stability issues on the 690 on the internet. I wonder if they're caused by the handguards and screen? (Though the first time I had a wobble there was no screen fitted)

The emitter is slightly off - Use a 20 gauge piece of wire as a shim to tilt it slightly down in the holder. It should drop into the proper place in the reflector with good cutoff and brightness.

Thread necro!

Fitted Fresco (still got O2 Mod). It's *loud*. However it's fucked the fuelling. Had it on a dyno last week, mixture running between 17:1 (midrange) and 14:1 right at the very top, with a colossal glitch right where the closed loop switches to open loop.

So back to dyno next Monday for Power Commander V fitting and tweaks.

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