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Ducati Monster 1200 S vs KTM 1290 Super Duke R review

The Monster vs The Beast

KTM 1290 Super Duke R

IF I HAD TO pick a natural adversary for my long-term Ducati Monster 1200 S, it would be the KTM 1290 Super Duke R.

The Monster and The Beast are cut from the same cloth; both are endowed with big power, big capacity V-twins, top-quality chassis components and plenty of gizmos – all the stuff you want for maximum car park cred. And both look muscular and aggressive – come play time, these are bikes that hang out at the boisterous end of the biking playground. And lets not forget, they're both from Europe, so there's a bit of local rivalry going on too.

So, with the 1290 Super Duke R and the Mosnter 1200 S being so similar, I borrowed a KTM for a few days to get a taste of KTM’s take on big, naked V-twin lunacy.  

Engine

There’s no getting away from the fact that on paper, the KTM outguns its Italian opposite.

With 103cc extra, it makes more claimed horsepower than the 1198cc Ducati - 177hp to the Monster’s 150 ponies. That’s a sizeable chunk and having read the KTM's spec sheet before picking it up, I feel like its ridiculous power has already made a statement before I’ve even sampled it. Without question, the statment is that out of this duo, the KTM appears to be the only duke worthy of having the word ‘Super’ in its name. Chuck in the fact that the KTM also makes 11 lb/ft more torque and the Ducati looks beaten before it's even turned a wheel.

But of course its not that simple because on the road, the Ducati feels punchier lower down its rev range, with peak torque hitting a bit earlier than the KTM’s, and its 10kg weight advantage over the KTM also helps.

The Ducati’s engine has more of a typical V-twin character - with plenty of smooth-building grunt and more low-down punch than a midget boxer. Below 7,000rpm the Ducati delivers a richer-feeling swell of torque but when the KTM gets into its stride at about 5,0000rpm, the numbers on its spec sheet unsures it monsters the Monster. What the Super Duke's spec sheet doesn’t tell you is urgent that power feels when you ask for a lot of it, but also how smoothly it's delivered; the engine feels maniacally strong all the way to the redline.

And the Super Duke R’s gearbox effortlessly outshines the Ducati’s – it’s way sharper and offers more precise shifts in both directions. Jumping on the Ducati afer riding the KTM instantly reminds me that the throw between gears is too great and that by comparison, it feels clunky compared to the KTM's tight little box. And we all love one of those.

Donington Ducati Track Day SG 30-05-17 014.JPG

Handling

The ace up the Ducati’s sleeve is its wide bars, which make it easy and fun to lever through a tight set of bends. It’s no apex hunter but on the road, most of the time it’s effortless and eager as I need it to be.

The KTM might have narrower bars but it’s all these things too, and a bit more. It gets in to turns with less effort and feels lighter on its feet, with more precision and balance. It's a lot sportier and more aggressive than the Monster, with a front end feel that’s more relatable to the superbikes upon which many of these bikes are derived from because it puts you in touch with the front of the bike.

Suspension

The KTM’s sharper, sportier handling and primed posture owes much to its WP suspension, which is more taught than the Ducati’s Öhlins kit.

Where the Ducati’s gold bits up suck bumps better and operate with a superlative plushness, the KTM’s adjustable WP kit doesn’t have quite the same level of refinement. But although it’s a bit harsher, the Super Duke R boasts more refinement in other areas and when getting a move on, I’d rather be on the Super Duke because it's more stable and precise feeling when it comes to devouring your favourite B road.

Get frisky with the KTM’s throttle and the rear moves less under hard acceleration. Slowing down and changing direction comes with more composure and support becasue the forks are firmer - slower to compress and rebound.

The KTM just manages its weight much better than the Ducati, and spending a few days on one is a reminder that I need to twiddle some of the knobs on the Ducati’s suspension to get it feeling sharper.

Brakes

Both bikes are anchored by the best and I’m not talking about Ron Burgundy; front wheels on the Monster and Super Duke are flanked by a pair of radial four-piston Brembo monobloc calipers.

With 330mm front discs, the Ducati’s are 10mm bigger than the KTM’s and although the power on offer from each setup is equal, the KTM’s front stoppers feel like they've got a touch sharper initial bite. With the pads in my Monster having covered over 3,000 miles now, I think it could be time for an upgrade. 

Equipment

Both bikes are bristling with the latest technology including traction and wheelie control, quick-shifters/blippers and each bike has a gorgeous colour TFT screen.

The Ducati’s screen and menu system is better than the KTM’s – it’s intuitive, simple to use and makes customising ride modes and setting preferences a doddle. The KTM’s screen is also very good, but its usability and functionality isn’t quite at the level of the Ducati's.

The KTM’s electronics are a bit more intrusive than the Ducati’s – which is happy to let the front wheel float above the ground with a hint of throttle, especially over undulations in the road, making for a cheeky character.

The KTM has a couple of cool features the Ducati lacks: a keyless ignition and cruise control. With the key within two letres of the bike, you can start it up and lock/unlock its electric steering lock and open/clsoe the petrol cap. You might thik it's a useless gimmick, but when it came to living with the KTM, it's a feature that grew on me immediately. Cruise control is also useful for motorway work and it's easy to set and adjsut using the button on the left switchgear.

The Ducati’s ride position is the less aggressive of the two and compared to the KTM, you sit in the the Ducati more, whereas the KTM's riding position sees you perched on top of a super firm seat. The Ducati definitely edges it for comfort, but with cock all wind protection, neither of these is a bike I’d immediately pick for a long-haul stint.

We like

Big power from both bikes, but unless you only want to have the kinds of rides that’ll see you apologising to a magistrate, the Ducati shoud be enough - it is enough for me, most of the time. The KTM’s handling, balance and the more refined and precise ride it offers beats the Ducati. Proximity key is great too.

We don’t like

The Ducati feeling soft in comparison to the KTM – it needs its suspension tweaking to firm it up and its gearbox isn’t as good as the KTM’s.

The Monster vs The Beast: Verdict

WHAT ARE you looking for? If it’s a bike that’ll egg you on and be relentlessly thrilling when you want to get a move on, the Super Duke R is the one to go for because it’s got more power than the Ducati, comparable top-notch electroncis, plus the chassis parts to make it all exploitable in the right hands, and composed too,

If you want something that’s going to be constant source of amusement on the road, with heaps of shove and plenty of class nad a bit more comfort, the Ducati is the one.