KTM 890 Duke R Review
Motorcycle Test by Adam Child ‘Chad’; Photography by Joe Dick
Some bikes are outstanding on tight back-roads – in their element between 50 km/h and 160 km/h, dancing from apex to apex, and far away from the boredom of the highway. Over the years I’ve been lucky enough to have ridden some of the best, going back to Aprilia’s two-stroke RS250, Yamaha’s early FZR600 and more recently MV’s F3 675 FC. And now, despite a lack of racy bodywork, the KTM 890 Duke R makes it onto this dream list.
This parallel-twin is a most singular and focused machine even by KTM standards. Clearly, no one at the original design meeting raised their hand to ask about pillion comfort, tank range, or about adding luggage or touring ability. The brief was simple: design a bike to be great through the twisties – and that’s what KTM have done.
As you’d expect, KTM have not scrimped on the suspension components. Quality WP APEX forks are easy to access and adjust and the WP on the rear is fully adjustable, including high and low-speed compression damping. The ride height has been increased by 15 mm compared to the Duke 790, which the new 890 is based on, giving greater ground clearance and, in theory, sharper handing with a steeper swing-arm angle to reduce rear squat.
Weight has been significantly reduced – just removing the pillion seat and pegs throws 3.3 kg in the bin (the pegs and seat come in a box with the bike should you want to ruin the handing with a pillion). The result is one of the best handling production bikes currently available.
Combine a lightweight chassis (166 kg dry), that quality suspension, Brembo radial Stylema brakes normally only associated with ‘top-end’ superbikes, Michelin Power Cup 2 track rubber, then add development rider and former MotoGP star Jerry McWilliams into the mixture, and it’s the perfect storm for an apex eating, lean-happy bike.
On the road you immediately feel this. The set-up is sporty and light yet the 890 is not jarring over bumps and imperfections. Suspension travel is the same as the 790, so this isn’t a solid race bike for the road, instead it has a split personality and is actually quite plush… almost comfortable.
Yet, when you ride a bumpy section of road at speed, it’s unflappable, unfazed and remains planted. Often a road bike that works on bumpy roads can turn into a wallowing blancmange on a racetrack and, conversely, a firmly sprung track bike with limited travel can become a frightening, tank-slapping mess on really bumpy lanes – but the KTM does it all. From perfectly smooth roads to unnamed motocross-inspired back roads, the KTM is unfazed. Hugely impressive.
KTM could possibly have saved some money on the brakes because the Brembo radial stoppers are incredibly strong, and the faintest of one-finger pressure on the span adjustable lever is enough to bring a halt to proceedings (disc size is up from 300 to 320mm compared to the 790). Pull with any force and the 890 Duke R stops quicker than a cocky flying into your window.
This is due to a combination of factors: its high quality brakes, excellent forks and incredibly light weight. For extra fun you’ve also got the option to switch into Supermoto mode, which retains ABS at the front but allows the rear to lock up for slides.
Mid-corner the Duke is as festive as an alcoholic in happy hour. The impeccable front end feeling and grip as well as feedback from the great rubber encourage you to lean that little bit more, release the brake earlier and carry the corner speed. Again, the suspension copes with everything you can throw it despite being laid on its side. The handing limitation is your bravery, not the bike, whatever the road.
On the exits pick up the throttle early and drive towards another bend. It’s so much fun. It will change direction without effort, the wide bars and almost supermoto stance allow you to attack unfamiliar roads without breaking into a sweat. All my journeys on the KTM took longer than expected as I always took a B-road long cut, then sometimes did a U-turn and had another go.
The 890 Duke R could arguably be a little racy and quick-steering for some, especially new riders. It’s not as soft and user-friendly as, say, a standard Yamaha MT-09, but it would run absolute rings around a stock MT-09. In this class of middleweight nakeds, the KTM is top dog in the handling stakes.
Powering the fun (and endless, immature giggles) is that usable, versatile and smooth 890cc parallel twin. The engine started life in the 790, but was bored and stoked, which now means power is up 16 hp to 119 hp, and torque is up about ten per cent.
119 hp may not sound much, but it’s around the same as a 600 supersport machine and, because I’m old, similar to a Suzuki TL1000S, which at the time was an ‘animal’ (and heavier than the KTM). The engine feels very V-twin like. It’s not as vibey as parallel-twins usually are, and there is a charismatic bark to the exhaust.
The fuelling is generally excellent, perhaps a little too snatchy in the optional Track mode, which we had fitted to our test bike. Our test bike was also blessed with the optional Quickshifter+ (an up and down quickshifter, $415.95), which syncs and matches the revs perfectly, feeding through effortlessly smooth, clutchless gear changes.
There is more than enough usable torque from low down and through the mid-range, and you certainly don’t need to play with the gearbox in search of power. That said, I couldn’t help myself as the clutchless shifts are so sweet and that exhaust such an Austrian chorus.
The 890 Duke R is deceptively quick on the road, and accelerates rapidly without any hesitation, the rider aids doing there upmost to prevent the light front end from lifting. Yet despite having fun, dancing on the gear lever and enjoying the torque, it’s not intimidating.
When you look down at the speedo you’re not doubling the speed limit and facing jail if you get caught. Unlike larger, more aggressive supernakeds which are ripping your arms out their sockets when the fun kicks in, it’s fun below 160 km/h.
There are a plethora of rider aids keeping both wheels on the road, plus an optional ‘Tech Pack’ for $895.95. The Tech Pack includes a software upgrade which adds a nine-stage spin adjuster for adjustment, ‘Track’ riding mode, the ability to disable the anti-wheelie, launch control, the Quickshifter+ and MSR, a Motor Slip Regulation that prevents rear wheel lock-up on downshifts. Essentially the Tech Pack gives you greater control and finer adjustments over the throttle, slip control, and anti-wheelie, and also, obviously adds the auto-blip down quick-shifter capability.
In standard trim you get cornering ABS and lean sensitive traction control (MTC) that is more advanced than previously. In stock form you are down to a choice of three rider modes: Rain, Street and Sport. I’m in two minds; do you really need the ‘Track Pack’ with advanced riders aids and the ability to be more precise with the rider aids? Probably not.
The KTM’s excellent chassis and natural mechanical grip means any rider aids are questionable in perfect conditions. In the wet I’m sure the sporty Michelin tyres are possibly not the best, but you can simply flick into rain mode provided by the standard package. It all depends on how and where you ride. The Quickshifter+ would be on the shopping list, but if you don’t intend to ride on track or pull wheelies, you don’t need to turn off the anti-wheelie nor refine the slip control. Intriguingly, cruise control is also listed in the accessories for $260.95 although you will also need the switchblock to match which sets you back a further $150.95, showing there is a practical side to the KTM after all.
Ok, it may not be as rounded as the Triumph Street Triple perhaps, but it’s ability to cut it on track or on bumpy back roads translates around town. Again the fuelling is excellent, the gearbox is smooth, and if you want to show off at the traffic lights, you can flick into Supermoto braking. The KTM tears up city traffic like an angry dog with a newspaper, the mirrors are not bad, the ergonomics friendly enough, levers span adjustable, and the clocks are clear.
In comparison to the 790, you sit higher up with a seat height of 835 mm and more forward, the lower bars are slightly further away. The pegs are also set back slightly but it’s still comfortable and not too racy. For reference, I’m only 170cm (5ft 7in) and ‘fit’ the KTM; taller and larger riders over six-feet may want a test ride before purchasing.
It’s a shame the 890 doesn’t have the full-colour TFT clocks. In today’s world they’re a little dull, and I’ve never been a fan of the ‘four-block’ KTM switchgear. The more time you spend with the KTM, the more you get accustomed to the switchgear, but it’s not intuitive, still not on par with the competition. On several occasions after stopping, I’d forgotten to deactivate the TC or forgotten which mode I was in. I know from past KTM experience that once you’ve had a few days in the saddle it becomes second nature, but it should be easy straight out of the showroom.
I love the look of the KTM 890 Duke R. It’s bold, racy and most definitely a KTM. When you turn up to a bike meeting on a Japanese bike, it can sometimes get lost in the crowd, but not the KTM.
It’s very bold, I can see it appealing to a young ‘Ready to Race’ audience, but does the average naked middle-weight bike owner want something so dramatic. Also, due to its lightness, and like many European bikes, it doesn’t feel quite as solid and robust as a big Japanese bike, even though the components used are the very best.
890 Duke R Verdict & Track Impression
Like almost every KTM I’ve ridden in recent years, I’ve come with away with a few niggles, but they are completely overshadowed by the fun factor, handling and how the bike makes you feel. The handing is class leading; on the road a well ridden KTM could give just about any sportsbike a run for its money. It’s like a modern day Aprilia RS250, it’s that good. Yes, it may not be for everyone, but in terms of fun road bikes, it scores 10 out of 10. Any bike that can turn a crap day into one of the best with a twist of the throttle is a winner for me.
What works on the road is amplified on the track, what a brilliant, well balanced controllable track bike. The KTM 890 proves you don’t need 150-200 hp to have fun, I loved every lap. The steering is accurate, pinpoint, you’ll never miss an apex again. There’s a huge amount of ground clearance and feedback mid-corner.
On the exit the power is usable, you don’t have to wait to get on the power or rely on the electronics, just drive forward to the next corner. On the brakes it’s superb, you can brake so deep and just allow the forks/tyre to find grip. Yes, on long straights you’ll get smoked by 1000cc Superbikes, but when they are all tired and going home before the last session you’ll still be riding and having fun.
I didn’t want to come back into the pits, it’s not hard work, the 890 Duke R is one of the easiest bikes I’ve ever ridden on track and the lap times weren’t bad. I can’t praise this bike enough – well done KTM.
Only a limited number of KTM 890 Duke Rs initially landed in Australia and the next shipment is landing on our shores about now with dealers already taking pre-orders. If you’re keen to get your hands on one, you might need to talk to your local KTM dealer a little sooner rather than later. The price of admission is $17,495 + ORC.
2020 KTM 890 Duke R Specifications
|Engine Type||Two-cylinder, four-stroke, DOHC Parallel twin|
|Bore / Stroke||90.7 / 68.8 mm|
|Power||89 kW (121 hp) @ 9,250 rpm|
|Torque||99 Nm @ 7,750 rpm|
|Starter / Battery||Electric starter / 12V 10 Ah|
|Fuel System||DKK Dell’Orto (throttle body 46 mm)|
|Control||8 V / DOHC|
|Lubrication||Pressure lubrication with two oil pumps|
|Engine Oil||Motorex, Power Synth SAE 10W-50|
|Cooling||Liquid cooled with water/oil heat exchanger|
|Clutch||Cable operated PASC™ Slipper clutch|
|Engine Management / Ignition||Bosch EMS with RBW|
|Traction Control||MTC (lean angle sensitive, 3-Mode + Track mode optional)|
|Frame||CrMo-steel frame using the engine as stressed element, powder coated|
|Subframe||Aluminium, powder coated|
|Handlebar||Aluminium, tapered, Ø 28/22 mm|
|Front Suspension||WP APEX, Ø 43 mm|
|Rear Suspension||WP APEX shock absorber|
|Suspension Travel Front / Rear||140 / 150mm|
|Front Brake||2 × Brembo Stylema four piston, radially mounted calipers, brake disc Ø 320 mm|
|Rear Brake||Brembo single piston floating caliper, brake disc Ø 240 mm|
|Abs||Bosch 9.1 MP (incl. Cornering-ABS and super moto mode)|
|Wheels Front / Rear||Cast aluminium wheels 3.50 × 17″; 5.50 × 17″|
|Tyres Front / Rear||120/70 ZR 17, 180/55 ZR 17|
|Silencer||Stainless steel primary and secondary silencer|
|Steering Head Angle||65.7°|
|Wheel Base||1,482 mm ± 15 mm|
|Ground Clearance||206 mm|
|Seat Height||834 mm|
|Fuel Tank Capacity||Approx. 14 liters / 3.5 liters reserve|
|Dry Weight||Approx. 166 kg|