Long term update: Dancing with the Duke

Two months and 1,200 miles in...

Long term update: Dancing with the Duke

FOLLOWING our frantic first 500 miles, the Duke and I have been taking things a little slower.

He (I feel obliged to call it a he due to the masculine moniker) was delivered post-first service while I was on holiday and it was a welcome surprise to find him looking clean and mean in a new set of clothes.

I’d gone to town on the KTM Powerparts wish list and specced more than two grand’s worth of kit – a full exhaust, a belly pan, crash bars, to name just a few. Of course, it wasn’t all to be fitted at once, instead parts would be added and swapped over the course of our six months together.

At first glance, the Duke in my garage didn’t look much different from the one I’d dropped off at KTM’s Silverstone HQ a couple of weeks earlier. But on closer inspection I noticed a cluster of carbon and a couple of tidy additions.

A numberplate carrier really smartened up the rear, at a cost of £166.44, while carbon radiator covers at £82.80 each and a carbon chain guard and clutch cover, both at £99.54, gave the bike a subtle stealthiness.

The only performance enhancing addition was wavy brake discs at the front and rear, at a cost of £208.20 and £116.28 respectively. Stopping power feels similar to before, although I’m taking the Duke on a track day next month to really put that to the test.

In total, this little lot came to a tidy £855.60 – whoever said motorcycling was a poor man’s transport?

We’re now two months and nearly 1,200 miles in, and the Duke continues to delight at every opportunity. We’ve done a couple of longer trips – 300 miles of motorway on a single cylinder, unfared bike is no mean feat – but the rest of the miles have been made up of ambles around my native Hampshire. I say ambles, but what I mean is mad hooligan-esque dashes – you can’t really do anything else on a Duke.

What it lacks in long-distance ability, the 690 makes up for in sheer shouty fun – its bright colour, chuckable nature and fruity engine makes sure of that.

Down low, the Duke struggles. You can’t really ride it at less than 3,000rpm without having to constantly cover the clutch, which makes filtering through traffic tricky, and induces serious hand-ache. That’s a quirk of the single cylinder, and an annoying one at that. Because apart from the sore paw, the Duke makes a remarkable inner city steed. It’s tall enough for me to see over cars, bright enough for other drivers to see me (hopefully) and light and agile enough to dart between the imbeciles that occupy London’s roads.

But luckily, I’m spending less time in the Capital these days, and more on the wonderful roads the South of England has to offer.

The Duke is at home here. Opening up the throttle releases a faceful of torque – 74Nm at 6,500rpm. It remains agile and easy, with that upright motorcross position allowing for ultimate command of the machine. It may not be the most powerful of bikes – making 73hp – but I’m beginning to realise that power isn’t everything

In the spirit of yobbo, I’ve been experimenting with wheelies (on a closed road, of course…). Turning off the traction control is the trick here, allowing the front to lift nicely after raising the revs and dropping the clutch. If you really wind it on, the wheel even skips off the ground of its own accord. I’ve a long way to go until I’m reaching Alan-type heights, but it’s a start and the 690 is the perfect bike for the job.

There have been a few teething issues – one of the rear indicators frequently hops from its mount and hangs forlornly on a couple of cables, and on the last ride I noticed that the rear tyre felt very spongey. Checking it confirmed that it had dropped by 6psi, but I’ve yet to find the source of the leak.

But there’s nothing so bad as to write home about, and with summer now in full swing let’s hope it stays that way. The Duke and I have a lot of dancing to do.

For more information on the KTM 690 Duke, click here