I FEEL like life with the 690 Duke has been quiet lately.
That’s not because I’ve been neglecting it, I've just been riding a lot of other bikes as well. Thinking about it, I’ve been riding the 690 Duke a hell of a lot, using it for running up and down the country to collect bikes and go to meetings, commuting on it, plus a gratuitous amount of evening and weekend blasts since the weather has picked up.
I've sussed the bike on long rides: it's not brilliant. That's not a revelation though, is it? It gets uncomfortable after an hour or so of motorway riding and not being able to get out of the wind becomes a pain, especially when it's cold or raining. On a long ride it also doesn't me long to rememer how hard the seat is and at some stage, it's inevitable that my arse goes to sleep to deam of a comfier palce to perch.
I haven’t mentioned fuel consumption since the end of April, when I reported a mean average of 47.2mpg. At the time, I said that I wasn’t expecting a figure in the high 40s because the 690 Duke never feels like an economical bike – the engine likes to be kept spinning and the bike feels best when it’s being pinned. Plus, I’m always running late.
I don’t ride with much sensitivity to fuel consumption but on a merciless weekend hoon a couple of weeks ago, it returned 54mpg. Generally, I get a figure of between 60 – 65mpg out of it from a mix of city centre riding, motorway work and blasts on more fun roads. I’m certain I could get better economy but then there’s my lack of restraint and the 690 Duke’s seductive sense of urgency, so we may never know...
I took the bike back to KTM a few weeks ago for its second replacement colour TFT dash. The one that was on the bike (itself a replacement for the original, which developed a row of dead picels) developed the same problem as the original TFT screen and needed to be replaced.
I’ve asked KTM why this is happening, and they’ve sent the dash back to Austria for inspection and so far, I’ve got no news. I’ve also asked them whether this has happened to any other 690 Duke owners. They tell me that I’m the only case they know about, but would they be willing to disclose to a journalist that there’s a problem with the dash? I’m not so sure.
While my 690 was back with KTM, the workshop added a tail tidy, LED indicators and some orange rim tape – all small stuff but up close, the bike looks much tidier.
One of the things I love about the 690 Duke is how much fun it is, and putting the bike into Supermoto mode, where the ABS is turned off at the rear, makes every ride a complete giggle. The momentary frustration of approaching a set of lights that are turning red has been replaced with me laughing to myself as I stamp on the rear brake to paint a black line on the road while I squeal to a stop. It never gets boring in central London.
After all that, it’s safe to say the rear Metzeler Sportec M7 RR was looking a bit sorry for itself, so I’ve treated the KTM to some new rubber in the form of Avon’s 3D Ultra Xtreme. Although not a particularly new tyre (I think it was introduced in 2013), the 3D Ultra Xtreme is track-specific rubber that I hope will see me through a few track days and some sweet summer rides.
I got them fitted near Avon’s HQ at Castle Combe circuit in Chippenham. To get acquainted with my new tyres, and take advantage of the fact that, by coincidence, I was having them fitted while there was a track day running, I decided to get some laps in.
Having never used outright track rubber before, I was keen to feel whether I'd notice a difference. The first thing to jump out at me was how quickly the Avon 3D Ultra Xtremes turn in to a corner. Owing to their sharper profile, they feel totally different to the outgoing Metzeler Sportec M7 RRs and it took me a few laps to recalibrate. They’re eager to drop in to a turn but feel precise and stable . I ended up going faster because I could turn a bit later and more aggressively, so ended up carrying more speed into corners.
The Ultra Xtremes also heat up quickly and after a lap and a bit, I felt like I could go faster on them with confidence. They’re much softer and stickier than the old Metzelers - something I felt the most at the front end when braking and approaching the apex of a corner. I’m a very average rider but the front end gave me the confidence to brake harder, later and a bit deeper into the corner. I’m sure that if I had a bit more talent and some more bottle, there’s be more grip to be had from the front.
The rear felt similarly soft but stable, grippy and confidence inspiring. There was grip whenever I asked for it and after a couple of sessions on the Avons, I was getting on the power earlier and harder than I had all day, feeling confident that as long as I didn’t do anything stupid, I wasn’t going to lob myself off the track. The rear felt great under power when the bike was on its side driving out of corners and being an average rider, I wasn’t troubling the level of grip available as I got incrementally braver with the throttle and brakes.
By the end of the day, I’d done a pretty good job of grinding my right footrest down quite severely so a pair of rearsets is top of the list of parts I’ve got my eye on. I want to get the Akrapovic de-cat pipe fitted too, but it’s not legal for road use, so need to persuade KTM to put it on. I’m going to use the safety argument. Having said that, if anyone knows of a good alternative to the Akrapovic de-cat pipe, then I’d be interested to hear about it. Some nicer brake and clutch levers wouldn’t go amiss either and I want to get the clear airbox from the R model on this.
I’m about to go on holiday for a couple of weeks, so with a bit of luck (and begging) the next time I write about the Duke, it should be adorned with trinkets to make it sound and look more trick.