2023 KTM 790 Duke review - Same Duke, new tricks!

2023 KTM 790 Duke review - Same Duke, new tricks!

The 2023 KTM 790 Duke is back on the Austrian roster for 2023. It may have travelled via China, but it’s most definitely here and with some improved features when compared to the original 2018 machine.

The 2023 KTM Duke 790 took a tried and tested theme and brought it bang up to date thanks to advanced electronics and that headline ‘scalpel’ handling. It wasn’t around for long though, and was quickly superseded by the 890 Duke in 2021.

The thing was, you couldn’t convert the 890 to be A2 compliant, and while that isn’t a huge deal in the UK, thanks to convoluted and costly motorcycle licencing laws, it is a big deal in some other markets.

That’s forced KTM to bring the 790 Duke back into the market, and it’s being joined by the 790 Adventure, another bike that had a short-lived time in the range. This review though is solely focused on the Duke, you can find our full 2023 KTM 790 Adventure review here.

What’s new with the 2023 KTM 790 Duke

To stand back and look at, graphics aside, there really isn’t a clue that this bike isn’t exactly the same as the machine released in 2018 - and that's not a bad thing. KTM nailed the styling of the middleweight the first time around, and it doesn’t seem to have aged a day.

The fresh graphics with ‘790’ decals spanning the angular bodywork look great, and the new moody grey colour is a nice touch for those who aren’t a fan of orange.

Even the engine is, outwardly at least, very much like the previous version of the bike, although it’s down on power and produces 93bhp compared to the 105bhp produced by the 2018 machine. Torque on the other hand is exactly the same as the old bike, with 64lb ft of juicy mid-range grunt to play with.

2023 KTM 790 Duke Price

Another element of change for the model is the price. This new middleweight contender comes in at £7,999 which is less than the original 790 Duke. It’s pretty impressive to hear that in a world where everything is getting more costly and expensive, KTM has managed to bring out a bike that has actually got cheaper. Okay, KTM has had some help on this front, and it comes from its manufacturing partner in China, CFMoto.

It is handling all the manufacturing of the new 790s, although they’re being built on a dedicated KTM line that’s managed directly by KTM staff. If you aren’t worried about where your bike is built (and really, why should you be) there’s a canny saving to be had. If you are bothered about where the person who bolted on your footpegs lives, spend another £3,599 and buy the 890 Duke R, they’re all still built in Austria.

2023 KTM 790 Duke review

For this press test, we met up at KTM’s Silverstone HQ, and set off on an A and B-road blast west, through the Cotswolds, over the Malvern hills and onto our overnight digs outside Aberystwyth. It was only around 135 miles, but every inch of the route was a perfect hunting ground for the little 790 Duke. 

Jumping on the KTM for the first time I’m doing my best to spot the ‘Made in China’ elements of the bike, there really is nothing to tell you it’s not still the same 790 that was getting churned out of the factory in Austria a few years ago. The display is still as neat and easy to read, and if anything the menus within seem more refined and made a bit more easy to navigate. I thumb the starter and there is still that unmistakable sounding engine ticking over beneath me. The engine sound of all the Dukes is great, and the new 790 is no different. Raw at tickover, angry in the mid-range and with all the snap crackle and pop of a race bike on the overrun. Lovely stuff.

After a few miles of hacking along dual carriageways, we finally hit some decent roads in the Cotswolds, and begin to make progress. It’s still not totally dry, having pissed it down the night before, and the one thing I’m nervous about is the patches of dry then damp asphalt you encounter mid-corner. The bike handles this fine, and even in the ‘Road’ riding mode, the traction control is still intuitive enough to cut in and prevent the back from stepping out. The tyres don’t seem to be quite as astute, and when coming into turns even off the throttle I can feel both ends starting to slither about beneath me.

Slightly soggy roads aside, the rest of the bike’s handling is spot on. The KTM handles stopping, turning, and getting out of corners like a pro. Its slim dimensions, 174kg dry weight and responsive geometry mean it’s thriving on the undulating routes. And as the road gets drier, the KTM gets more and more into its groove. The ride quality from the WP suspension is actually pretty good, although there’s no adjustability on this bike as standard. If you aren’t keen on the stock settings you’ll either have to live with it, pay more for the 890 or shell out £1,400 for a WP fork and shock upgrade. On these roads, in this weather, I’m more than happy with the overall balance of the bike. It’s sporty enough without being a boneshaker, yet still plush enough to let you know what’s going on beneath.

As with all the other mid-range Dukes, the 790 gains a trick IMU-controlled cornering ABS and traction control system, with J.Juan calipers and master cylinders front and rear. For a supposedly budget setup, you’ve got a decent set of stoppers, with adjustable span levers, bags of power and a nice feel at the lever. The Duke is also equipped with a Supermoto mode, which keeps the cornering ABS on the front wheel while disabling the system at the rear. Other standard electronics come in the form of lean-sensitive traction control, a full-colour five-inch TFT dash, LED lights all around, and three riding modes (Rain, Road, and Sport). When you roll out of the dealership, you’ll have a bit more support, with KTM’s Demo Mode allowing you to explore Quickshifter+ (up and down instead of just up), Motor Slip Regulator (prevents rear locking under downshifts), Track Mode, a tyre pressure monitoring system, and Bluetooth connectivity. Once the 932-mile trial period is done you have to make a choice to keep the bike stock or splash out on some or all of the system you had before. For general road riding and the odd track day, the £723.97 Tech Pack will have you covered, giving you Quickshifter+, Motor Slip Regulation, and Track Mode. For more focused on track performance the £361.51 Track Pack further adds, Anti-wheelie off, launch control, spin adjuster, and engine map selection to the Duke’s hefty bag of tricks.

Nearing our overnight stop, I’m treated to a stretch of road that’s not dissimilar to the mountain mile on the TT course. It’s fast, proper fast, with flowing undulations and fast sweepers that have the bike wondering whether it's going left then right, or up then down. It’s the one part of the ride that really lets the engine shine and also helps to highlight some of the improvements KTM have made to the engine since it was first revealed. I never really got on with the gearbox of the quickshifter of the first-generation 790-powered bikes. It never really seemed to me like the two things were quite working in sync. Occasionally I’d get a smooth shift, but for the most part, I’d get fed up with fighting with the shifter and opt to use the clutch. That’s not the case anymore, and not only does the gearbox shift faultlessly but the quickshifter works, really bloody well! It matches the rev nicely coming down the gearbox, and up-shifts quickly and cleanly without feeling abrupt. 

2023 KTM 790 Duke verdict

We pull into our overnight digs shortly after the best stretch of road we’ve ridden all day. There are glamping pods sitting waiting for us, with beers in the fridge and a hot tub on the boil. The thing is, I don’t want a beer, or a hot tub, or even a beer in a hot tub. I just want to ride that road for another 30 miles. You can see Aberystwyth in the distance, bathed in late afternoon sunshine and looking lovely - I'm sure there's an ice cream shop down there somewhere... Threading its way along the valley to it is that same road that we’d just been riding, and it looked like it was only going to get better. 

Sadly more riding is not on the cards, and I console myself with a cold one while wondering who KTM has managed to improve on the 790 Duke, fix all of its glitches and bugs and relaunch it at a price that would have undercut the original by a considerable amount.

It’s not cost-cutting on the parts, and it’s not like KTM has massively pegged back the spec - aside from the lower power output it's got pretty much everything you need. It simply comes down to geography, and leaning on the partnership KTM has with CFMoto. Many will bemoan the fact these bikes have a connection to China, but in many cases, they will be the very same people who watch films on a Hisense TV and make phone calls on a Huawei smartphone.

If you’re the kind of person who isn't bothered by outright power, but wants to have all the technology and gadgets you normally find on a top-spec sports bike (and don’t mind where your bike is made) the KTM 790 Duke gives you it all, in a sweet handling and good looking package, just like it always did.

2023 KTM 790 Duke review

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