First impressions: KTM's 2018 790 Duke

We swap the 690 Duke for its bigger brother

AFTER a wet, rainy and cold ride North (I say North, but I only mean to Silverstone) this morning I swapped my KTM 690 Duke for one 100cc bigger, and a whole lot more powerful.

Despite sharing the same name, the two are chalk and cheese. While the 690 is tall, light and forgiving, the £8,499 790 is squat, solid and set in its ways, much like editor Alan...

And that isn’t at all a bad thing. Powered by KTM’s parallel-twin LC8c engine, the 790 Duke is, understandably, far more capable than its younger sibling. The twin powertrain is not only more potent, but also smoother, better balanced and altogether more exciting – there’s a reason why KTM dubbed it the Scalpel.

Making 105bhp and 63.4lb-ft at 8,000rpm (the 690 makes 72hp and 54.5 l-ftb), this unit is responsive, free-revving and bloody greedy – in Sport mode the range read 150 miles from full but it probably managed less than two-thirds of that. And even in the dulled down Rain mode it still drank like a fresher at an open bar.

But its thirst is offset by its performance. Arm-wrenching torque is available from low down the rev range (unlike the 690), while power builds steadily.

The 790 boasts a brilliant sounding, Euro4 compliant exhaust. Just shut the throttle and decelerate and listen to the gurgle, which offers a V-twin-like soundtrack thanks to a 75-degree crank offset and 435-degree firing interval. 

The non-adjustable WP suspension is as solid as the hard seat, but well suited to the bike’s aggressive nature. For my 56kgs it could do with a little softening for comfort on longer rides, but on twisties or tracks I imagine it would be perfect.

So far, I’ve only ridden around 130 motorway miles on the Duke, so I’ve yet to get a complete impression of its handling. But what I can say is that while the bars are adjustable to 12 different positions, the standard set up suits me spot on. A tubular steel frame using the engine as a stressed member allows the 790 Duke to be compact, boasting a wet weight of 174kg.

To my eyes, the 790 looks more like a transformer than a precise surgical instrument. The split headlamp has a very personified look to it, while the mish-mash of bodywork looks like something could well fold out from it. The colour TFT is akin to that of the 690 and riding modes are easily adjustable on the go.

That’s not to say it’s a bad look – not at all. But while the 690 has a basic charm to it, its bigger sibling is controversial – like marmite, you either love or hate it.


Strange choise of words. Thought the 690 was older, if smaller.

I road tested the 790 Duke last week. Great chassis and the engine is lovely. The mid range grunt is intoxicating.
Two things made me decide against it though :
1 It really needs a flyscreen - just enough to take a little of the wind pressure off the shoulders and chest. I found it got pretty tiring pretty fast when blatting along a good A road for a while.
2 the low speed constant throttle fuelling is really off. Lots of hunting and staggering which didn't go away even in different gears. I'm pretty sure that KTM can fix this with a firmware upgrade, but for real world riding as you go through towns and villages this is currently a real blocker.

I think that these are just teething troubles and once KTM fixes them this will be a fantastic bike to own and ride.

That's the big no-no - needs to be super smooth as this is otherwise a fine town bike.

WoodBurner's picture

I had a test ride this week (60 minutes on a mix of open and town roads) and the fuelling for me was fine for town riding. I used "Street" Mode and it was smooth and predictable. I think the throttle response is a bit keen / jerky for town riding if you use Sport or Track mappings but Street and Rain are really smooth. Can't comment on the screen issue as I wasn't at a constant "motorway" speed for any length of time. Certainly no worse than my MT09 (which has the Sport Screen fitted). Handling is very good and the up/down quick shifter is brilliant. Riding position is very natural and slightly front biased - more so than my MT09 which feels too high and vague at the front. I'll be trading in my MT09 if the deal is right.