Long-term test update 2: KTM 690 Duke

A month of firsts: first service, first track day on this bike and the first faulty dash seen by KTM

SORRY if it’s been a while, I’ve been away on a couple of launches recently – for the updated Honda CBR500R/CB500F, new Suzuki SV650 and Moto Guzzi V9.  That means less time spent riding the 690 Duke, but even so, I think it’s safe to say that we’re still firmly in the honeymoon phase.

It’s because the KTM has so much character – it’s punchy, light and engaging and so far it’s been capable of putting a smile on my face every time I’ve ridden it - and that includes a fair few dreary morning commutes into central London.

After getting back from the above launches and jumping back on the KTM, I can’t help but feel pretty smug about riding something that I find so entertaining. It’s a bike that’s a potent distillation of all the fun stuff I like about riding bikes.

It’s recently been back to KTM HQ for its first service, which was the ideal chance to start changing things. After the bike had been given the once over, I ditched the standard silencer in favour of a carbon-tipped titanium Akrapovic can, which weighs slightly less and looks loads better than the original item.

It’s not much louder than the standard silencer, but does pop a bit during down changes and on a closed throttle – something that I’m quick to try and induce at any opportunity. I need to get rid of the removable baffle, which looks like it can just be unbolted but one end is riveted in so needs drilling out to unleash a more meaty engine note.

I took the KTM on a track day at Brands Hatch Indy just a couple of weeks ago. I wouldn’t usually be that keen to take part in a March track session, but with the KTM serviced and all its revs available guilt-free, I couldn’t help myself.

I wouldn’t want to ride the 690 at a top-speed track like Silverstone but round Brands Indy, it was superb, with the layout feeling like it catered well to the Duke’s agility and engine.

Handling wise, the 690 proved itself a peach round Brands Indy because it revels in being thrown about aggressively, something that’s no doubt partly due to how light it is. It’s a bike that can be hustled round with absolute compliance on track and road. One of the things I particularly like about it is that its deftness at changing direction doesn’t require face melting speed to become evident – it’s there at any speed and the feels as alive and engaging at 40mph as it does at 95. That’s one of the reasons why it’s so enjoyable on the road.

Round the circuit there was always enough grunt on tap for surging drive out of every corner. The power was really easy to exploit too, feeling well matched to the Indy layour, and although the 690 isn’t going to smash any top speed records, it never felt breathless or underpowered. Obviously I got outgunned coming on to the start/finish straight, but as soon as I was entering Paddock Hill Bend again, the Duke’s poise, brakes and exploitable punch soon put me back on equal terms.

The suspension deserves a mention too, with the non-adjustable USD WP fork feeling supportive under hard braking because it compresses in a controlled, predictable way. I’ll need some more track time before I decide whether I’m missing out not having the tricker adjustable front forks on the R model. I left the preload adjustable shock alone because it felt like it was working well for me – telling me what the rear Metzler Sportec M7RR tyre was doing, or possibly about to do when driving out of corners.