2015 KTM 1290 Super Duke R Track Ride Review

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Jeremy McWilliams. Maybe you’ve heard of him? Former MotoGP racer and all-around badass on a motorcycle. Well, I passed him. On the rear wheel. Going 30 mph faster.

To be fair he was on a KTM 690 Duke R and I was on a full-on race modified 1290 Super Duke R. Details, details… How did this happen? By a stroke of luck, I was invited to attend KTM’s “Duke It!” press event in Khao Yai, Thailand. As McWilliams led me onto the front straight of Bonanza International Speedway I uncorked the “Beast” and blasted past. I’ll take it anyway I can get it.

During the “Duke It!” event KTM has every Duke model on hand from the diminutive 200 Duke all the way up to 95% race ready 1290 Super Duke R. For most of the day I focused on the 390 Duke, as it was MotoUSA’s first crack at the new US model. But Thomas Kuttruf, KTM’s PR Manager, slyly smiled and pointed at the slick-shod 1290 just before a session. It was my turn to experience the very best a Super Duke R can offer. This led to 20 minutes of exhilaration with none other than Jeremy McWilliams leading the way.

(Above) The race seat and rear cowl tidy up the rider’s compartment for a no frills, yet effective position. (Middle) The Akrapovic Evolution Compete Exhaust System provided a claimed 12 horsepower gain on the 1290 Super Duke R. (Below) Upgraded Galfer rotors upped the braking performance on the track-ready 1290 Super Duke R.

The 1290 Super Duke R is a potent machine is stock trim belting out 151 horsepower at the rear wheel according to the MotoUSA dyno. With a host of KTM Power Parts the level of nastiness (a good thing) is ratcheted up, both in performance and handling. Fitted with an Akrapovic Evolution Compete Exhaust System, KTM claims a 12 horsepower gain over the stocker along with a 13 pound reduction in weight. Your wallet will be lighter to the tune of $2400 as well… Included with the track-only exhaust is a new high-flow air filter and ECU mapping. Fire up the Akrapovic-equipped Super Duke and your ears perk up by its slightly raspy tone and a dash display that reads, “NOT LEGAL.” Nothing good is these days, is it?

CNC rearsets provided five-position adjustment.

The Akrapovic upgrade is a track-only unit.

Grab a handful of right grip and the Super Duke R rockets out of the corners with more intensity than the stock unit, but it is still controllable thanks the torquey engine character and KTM’s stellar traction control system. McWilliams warned during the morning rider meet that disengaging the TC system entirely would end in tears on the less than perfect traction conditions of Bonanza, even with pre-heated Dunlop N-Tec slicks. Beast is the perfect description of the hyped up Duke, but it’s a beast on a leash that lets anyone feel like a hero. Totally insane, but totally rideable.

With more go on tap, the stop becomes even more important. $520 of floating 320mm Galfer wave front rotors and a 240mm wave rear rotor deliver more stopping power and feel. With McWilliams showing me how deep I could really get into the brakes before the tightest corners, I was able to see the true difference between the stock and Power Parts Rotors.

Of course, power and brakes are nothing if you can’t get through the corner worth a damn. While the stock 1290 is no slouch in the handling department, I’ve found it in racetrack conditions to be too soft. Not the case with the $1700 WP Competition Cartridge Kit and $1350 WP Super Competition Shock. The extra stiffness and damping gave more control while leaned over and pushed hard. On corner exit there was no hint of wiggle or twisting up of the chassis. KTM’s CNC Triple Race Clamp provides a more rigid feel up front and overall the chassis upgrades deliver more precision while braking and accelerating.

Jeremy McWilliams twisting the throttle on the race-ready 1290 Super Duke R.

In addition the super spendy – yet fantastic – exhaust, brakes and suspension, the Duke was fitted with niceties such as CNC rearsets that gave five-position adjustment, a carbon fiber front fender and upgraded levers and guards. A race seat and rear seat cowl tidy up the rider’s compartment for a no frills yet effective position.

The 1290 Super Duke R is a highly capable track weapon in this race trim.

I’ve been a huge fan of the 1290 Super Duke R from the first time I rode it, and this upgraded version of the “Beast” is one of the best motorcycles I’ve ridden on the track. It might be missing a cowl but it is a highly capable track weapon in this race trim. Heck, you can even pass Jeremy McWilliams.




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