KTM 690 Duke Vs. Kawasaki ER-6n road test

The KTM690 Duke and Kawasaki’s ER-6n have plummeted out of the ugly tree, clattering every branch along the way. is that all?

One man’s beauty is another man’s toad, or some such proverb is often quoted when referring to a visually challenged offspring. Usually behind the proud parent’s backs. To their faces expressions such as ‘he has his mother’s eyes’ which translates to ‘he has dad’s double chin and saggy jowls’ or ‘he looks healthy’ which means ‘I’ve never seen such a fat child before, better re-enforce the cot’ are used to avoid troublesome family feuds.

So what would the family members say of these two bikes? Kawasaki’s ER-6n is now well into its terrible twos, but its quirky looks are only being emphasised by Kawasaki with increasingly more vivid paint schemes. Like a Goth failing to plaster white face paint over a particularly luminescent zit on the centre of his/her (they all look the same to me) forehead, Kawasaki refuses to allow the ER to blend into the background of its range. Having started the ball rolling last year with vomit yellow this year sees an eyeball-melting green introduced. And good on them for such bravado. If you have it, why not shout it out.

Then we have the Austrian entrant into Miss What-in-the-World. The problem with KTM is that it’s hard to actually single out a bike in its range that looks particularly odd. They all look insane. From the angular RC8 to the mean, yet purposeful, 990 Adventure every bike from the Austrian manufacturer has its own unique style, matched to the clean, yet vibrant choice of colours. Orange or white for show, black for mean and moody. The 690 Duke errs much more towards the standout with its angular looks. I don’t know what it is, but looking at the faces of these two bikes I can’t help but be reminded of insects, and the Disney film A Bug’s Life. The KTM’s face reminds me of one of the evil locusts, while the ER-6n’s is more of a friendly bumblebee.

And this character is reflected in the way they ride. The ER-6n is friendly, warming and willing to give a pleasant experience with a sting in its tail while the Duke zips around with an eye out for trouble and an urge to cause it.

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Sit on the KTM and it feels odd. I was expecting a street bike’s riding position with a low seat height and wide bars. But the Duke isn’t a street bike, well not in the traditional sense. I’d call the Duke a streetmoto, it’s a combination between a street bike and a supermoto. It has the supermoto’s tall suspension, hard seat and upright riding position, but the bike’s styling is more road than off-road inspired. Whatever it is the Duke has one purpose in life: to entertain.

From the moment you fire the 690 single into life the fun starts. Much like the 690 Supermoto, which is to all intents and purposes the same bike, just in a different set of clothes, the Duke is a riot to ride. KTM claim the 690 engine is the most powerful single around and with a genuine 63bhp. As long as the rev counter is above 3,000rpm the Duke flies, it’s peppy, slick and revs with indecent haste to the rev limit. Like the Supermoto the Duke comes with KTM’s ride-by-wire throttle and it’s near faultless in its performance, as long as the revs are up. Allow the needle to drop below 3,000rpm and the Duke tries to shake itself to bits until you drop a gear and get it back in the sweet spot. For a bike aimed at the newer rider it’s a bit disconcerting, but that’s just a character of a single, something Kawasaki has done away with by using a parallel twin on the ER-6n.

There is something very pleasant about the 650 motor Kawasaki has made for the ER range. It’s not the fastest thing by a long shot, but it works in a beautifully low-key and understated way. Much like a comfortable set of pants, you don’t realise how good it is until you try something less forgiving. Where the KTM stutters and struggles at low revs the Kawasaki gets on with it and forges ahead. Yes, it lacks the top end thrills of the 690 single, and has a slightly mono-tone engine delivery and exhaust note, but it’s a damn sight easier to live with. And it isn’t slow, the ER will cruise at over 80mph where the KTM is starting to run out of puff. Although neither is destined to do that much mile-munching.

As I’ve already mentioned the KTM comes with a seat directly off a supermoto, which means it’s made of granite, or the Austrian equivalent. And pillions don’t get it much better, from what I can tell they get to sit on twin aerodynamic humps on the seat, which don’t look very accommodating at all. In comparison the Kawasaki’s sumptuous seat is a joy. Miles can be covered on the ER, as long as you are prepared to put up with a bit of windblast and don’t mind burying your head in the clock for a few minutes of shelter every now and then. But all changes when you hit the busy city streets.

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In town the KTM is stunning. I don’t think that there is a better town bike on the market. It carves through traffic like a drunk tramp through a crowd thanks to a gigantic steering lock, high vantage point and lightweight handling. It’s amazing how fast you can chuck it around and how quickly tight spots open up in front of you. The ER has a slight advantage when it comes to a narrower handlebar width, but the KTM simply murders it for rush-hour red mist filtering. For a more sedate town crossing the ER is very good and has all the necessary attributes such as a huge steering lock and light clutch, but you just can’t beat the thrill of caning the KTM between cars. And this thrill continues outside the city streets.

The Duke is a back road demon. It’s more solid on the road than the 690SM due to better suspension and a slightly altered weight distribution. The Duke has more weight over the front wheel, making the front more in tune with the road’s surface than the slightly vague feeling of a supermoto. But no matter how fast the KTM tackles the corner the ER won’t be far behind. Despite budget suspension the Kawasaki is a great handling bike, and it does it all in a slightly more nonchalant fashion than the KTM. There is no huge revs from the engine or flick-flack from side to side, it’s solid, secure and very accommodating. This is a bike, remember, aimed at the less experienced, it just happens to be very good and more than capable when it comes to the upping the pace should the need arise.

The big difference between these two bikes is  cost. Where the ER-6n tips the scales at a featherweight £4,295 the KTM weighs in at a chunkier £6,195. Is the KTM £2,000 more of a bike? In build quality certainly. This is the ER-6n’s biggest let down. From the terrible speedo to the budget suspension you know you are buying a machine built to a cost. But it is still a brilliant bike that punches above what its price tag suggests. New riders will adore the ER, and I’m a huge fan. The KTM feels a quality product. From the perfectly fitting bodywork to the inch thick paint on the swingarm and frame you know a lot of time has been spent constructing it. The stutter at low revs was disappointing but expected from a single and the hooligan element was inline with most machines from the Austrian manufacturer.

As for their looks, well I don’t think either bike could be called ugly, or even challenged. I much prefer the expression ‘fresh,’ I just have the feeling the KTM 690 Duke will stay fresher for longer than the Kawasaki ER-6n.


Kawasaki ER-6n

Price: £4.,295
Engine: 599cc, liquid-cooled, dOHC, 8-valve parallel twin
Power: 65.4bhp @ 8,500rpm
Torque: 50lb.ft @ 7,000rpm
Front suspension: telescopic, non-adj
Rear suspension: Monoshock, adj preload
Front brake: 300mm disc, two-piston calipers
Rear brake: 220mm disc, one-piston caliper
Dry weight: 174kg (claimed)
Seat height:  785mm
Fuel capacity: 15.5l
Top speed: 124.5mph
Colours: blue, black, green

KTM 690 Duke

Price: £6,195
Engine: 654cc, liquid-cooled, dOHC, 4-valve single
Power: 63bhp @ 7,500rpm
Torque: 48lb.ft @ 6,500rpm
Front suspension: WP USD, FULLY-adj
Rear suspension: WP Monoshock, FULLY adj
Front brake: 320mm disc, four-piston caliper
Rear brake: 220mm disc, one-piston caliper
Dry weight: 148.5kg (claimed)
Seat height:  865mm
Fuel capacity: 13.5l
Top speed: 115mph
Colours: orange, white