Top 10 Best KTM Dukes

KTM’s Duke is celebrating its 30th birthday – but what are the best models of the many versions over the last three decades?

KTM Duke generations

This year marks the 30th anniversary of KTM’s wild, naked roadster, the Duke, with the very first variant, the 620 Duke, launched in 1994.

It’s been a hugely successful and important model line for the Austrian firm. That first Duke was effectively KTM’s first pure road bike. The company up to that point had concentrated on enduro and motocross machines and the Duke was, to all intents and purposes, a street Supermoto version of its then-biggest enduro.

That first Duke was also so successful it effectively changed the direction of the whole company. The 620 spawned a successor, the Duke II, in turn leading to a whole family of Dukes – and Super Dukes – which form the backbone of the hugely enlarged firm today, which now also owns Husqvarna, GasGas and, very recently, MV Agusta.

But what Dukes have there been, exactly – and which were (and are) the best? Here’s our pick of the top 10, in chronological order…

1994 620 Duke 1

 The original Duke was born out of a need for KTM to change. The original KTM Motor-Fahrzeugbau AG fell into insolvency leading to the creation of a new company, KTM Sportmotorcycle GmbH, in January 1992 which was keen to not to repeat the mistakes of the past. As a result, it focused on its new ‘LC4’ liquid-cooled single-cylinder engine and decided to create a road version of its 620 Enduro.

The result, the 50bhp ‘Duke’ (although initial prototypes were called ‘Terminator’, due to the popular film at the time), with minimal bodywork, tubular steel frame and aggressive attitude, was not only KTM’s first four-stroke road bike but a big hit, prompting a whole new KTM dynasty.

 1999 Duke II

 The success of the original, curvier-styled Duke, led to the creation of a successor, the Duke II, this time with more angular styling (again by long-time KTM designer Gerald Kiska) and an updated and enlarged 640cc version of the LC4 engine. The style (and success) of this more modern variant set the template for a whole series of single-cylinder Dukes which followed.

2005 990 Super Duke

 Of course, Duke and single-cylinder engines were never, along with its off-road machines, going to be the entirety of KTM’s output. The popularity of adventure bikes such as BMW’s market-leading GS led to KTM’s first 950 Adventure in 2003 powered by the new, 75-degree, 942cc ‘LC8’ V-twin which would form the backbone of KTM’s ‘big bike’ range for the foreseeable future. That bike in turn spawned a new roadster variant in 2005 dubbed the Super Duke powered by an enlarged, 999cc version of the engine. In 2008 KTM then launched the uprated R version, the 990 Super Duke R.

2008 690 Duke

2008 also brought the first 690 Duke, a purer and even more aggressive update to the original Duke with an underslung exhaust and aggressive, elbows-out riding position along with a punchy, powerful, further enlarged single-cylinder engine and revised tubular steel trellis frame – a blueprint, in fact, for what would become a whole Duke dynasty.

 2011 125 Duke

The first fruits of this more aggressive, simplified, but also potentially modular approach, came with the first smaller capacity Dukes – the Duke 125. This compact and lively machine was also fully A1-licence compliant (ie 15PS) and impressively light, manoeuvrable and novice-friendly, thus becoming hugely popular not just for being desirable but also for being practical and affordable for up-and-coming bikers. Updated successively since it received another makeover for 2024.

 2013 390 Duke

But the 125 was just the start of the new, smaller Dukes. In 2012 it was followed up by the 200 Duke, effectively identical to the 125 but with a bigger bore engine. This model was short-lived in the UK but survives to this day in other markets. While 2013 saw the arrival of the first 390 Duke which, with around 42bhp, is A2-compliant, a punchy power delivery and ultra-nimble manners has proved a big success. This, too, was significantly updated in 2017 and now for 2024.

2014 1290 Super Duke R

Back to the big bikes. Following the success of the 990 Super Duke, KTM took its big Duke to the next level with the introduction of the 1290 Super Duke R (which had been internally referred to as ‘The Beast’) in 2014. With a monster 1301cc V-twin producing around 170bhp, it was the most powerful super naked then available and also introduced a variety of pioneering electronic rider aids.

2016 1290 Super Duke GT

One spin-off of the bigger Duke that’s often overlooked, despite it proving a great all-rounder, is the GT sports-tourer version with fairing, luggage and more. In truth, the original, the 990 SM-T, wasn’t a Duke at all, instead being based on the short-lived 990 Super Moto variant (SM-T standing for Super Moto Touring). But the idea lived on and was revived in 2016 in the form of the 1290 Super Duke GT, which had Super Duke mechanicals (and excitement) but extra practicality and comfort. The updated 2019 version is even better still.

2018 790 Duke

Think all Dukes are Supermoto-style singles or ‘Super’ V-twins? Think again. In 2018 KTM introduced a new era of performance and style for its Duke family by replacing the old 690 with the all-new 790 Duke featuring a powerful new 105bhp parallel-twin engine and even more cutting-edge electronics. That bike in turn was replaced by the even more powerful 115bhp 890 Duke in 2021, although a version of the 790 Duke, built in China by partners CF Moto, has now returned to KTM’s line-up priced under £8000.

2024 990 Duke

KTM is partly marking the Duke’s 30th anniversary this year with not just one, but four either new or significantly updated Dukes for 2024. So along with the updated 125 and 390 versions, there is also a virtually all-new 1390 replacement for the 1290. Best of all, though, in our view, is the all-new 990 Duke which, not to be confused with the 990 Super Duke of old, is powered by an all-new LC8c parallel twin producing 123bhp and with all-new styling, uprated electronics and more.