Roland gets Royal
MAG member Roland Brown rides the SuperDuke and concludes that "it's the most brilliantly entertaining superbike that money can buy..."
After the first set of bends I was wondering how I could ever have doubted it. Doubted that KTM's rip-snorting, revamped-for-2007 Super Duke would have the poise and controllability to be a total blast - rather than a bit of a handful - on the ultra-twisty roads in the mountains near Tarragona on Spain's north-eastern coast...
In fact those doubts had started disappearing the moment I'd flicked the agile yet reassuringly precise Super Duke into the first hairpin, and had almost disappeared by the time I'd accelerated out again on a thrillingly strong yet controllable torrent of V-twin torque. Suddenly I was wondering not whether the Super Duke would be too much for these roads, but how on earth I'd imagined that any other bike could have been as much fun.
To be fair, I'd had a few good reasons for those doubts. When unleashed two years ago, the original Super Duke, KTM's first pure-bred streetbike, was impressively capable as well as seriously fast. But even its greatest admirers (count me in there) had to admit it was a bit extreme. Its throttle response was a bit sharp, and its handling could get lively at times. Its inevitable naked-bike lack of practicality was also unnecessarily increased by a feeble fuel range, due largely to a tank that held just 15 litres.
All of which gave KTM some clear aims for the Super Duke's first revision: add some engine refinement, handling stability and fuel range, while making sure not to lose the raw excitement that made the bike special. While they were at it the Austrian firm took the opportunity to freshen up the styling, keeping the angular, edgy lines which, in conjunction with typical orange, black and grey paint options, means the Super Duke retains its status as one of the most distinctive bikes around.
The LC8 engine format of 999cc, dohc eight-valve V-twin, with cylinder spaced at 75 degrees, is retained along with most components. But the combustion chambers have been reshaped, valve timing is new, the spark plugs have been repositioned, and the plugs themselves are new. The injection system has also been revised, as has the exhaust system with its catalyser-holding, Euro3-meeting pair of under-seat silencers.
Although the basic chassis layout remains, the chrome-moly tubular steel frame is modified to give a slightly shallower steering angle, while new fork yokes mean trail is unchanged. Suspension is by multi-adjustable WP units, as before, with the 48mm usd forks and cantilever monoshock both getting slightly firmer springs. Brembo supplies new 17-inch wheels plus radial four-pot, four-pad calipers to grip the 320mm front discs.
After throwing a leg over the fairly tall seat, the obvious differences were the new instrument panel (digital speedo, analogue tacho) and the wider fuel tank, which now holds a much more useful 18.5 litres. The upright, roomy riding position still felt suitably aggressive. The KTM pulled away with the deliciously urgent feel of the old model, snapping forward enthusiastically as I wound open the throttle in the lower gears.
It was quickly clear, though, that those refinements had had the desired effect. The old model's slightly raw, jerky throttle response was gone, replaced by a much smoother action that would make town riding, in particular, notably easier. At about 5000rpm there still seemed to be a slight reluctance to hold a steady speed, which might prove slightly irritating on occasions. But in general the bike was impeccably behaved and distinctly more rider-friendly than its predecessor.
And it still had plenty of that famous Super Duke stomp, as it proved on those fabulously twisty roads in the Llanos de Urgel mountains inland from Tarragona. Winding back the throttle was like twisting the ear of a wounded bull - which then stampeded forward, snorting with deep and evocative fury from those under-seat silencers. The best moments were when it spontaneously lifted the front wheel out of tight second-gear turns, while I held the bars tight and cackled like a maniac.
Such was the motor's midrange grunt that it offered the option of short-shifting through the efficient six-speed box or chasing the revs towards the slightly higher 10,700rpm redline. Top speed is about 150mph, if you've got the neck muscles to get there. On these roads I didn't have the space but the Super Duke stormed to an indicated 130mph in a flash and was still pulling when I had to call on the powerful and very controllable radial Brembo set-up.
KTM's chassis tweaks have also had the desired effect, evidenced by the way the bike flicked into ultra-tight hairpins and faster turns alike with superb poise, yet also stayed stable both in mid-corner and as it was fired out on the other side. The firmed-up suspension was welcome, as the old model's standard settings were slightly soft for aggressive road riding. And the modifications really showed their worth in the afternoon, when we headed for the nearby Calafat circuit.
For a naked roadster the Super Duke was impressively at home on the track, without even needing to pause for adjustment. On standard road settings it was very fast and well controlled, ably supported by its impressively grippy, standard-fitment Dunlop D208RR radials. And when firmed up a bit to KTM's pre-determined sport settings it was better still; a stunningly sharp weapon with few unfaired rivals as a serious track-day tool.
Heading back that evening on the distinctly less interesting N340 main road, I had time to reflect on practicality, most obviously the lack of wind protection. That hadn't been an issue on the track or sun-kissed switchback roads. But as I droned along under darkening skies on a dull, busy main road, I was conscious of my neck and arms getting a fair work-out from the wind above about 80mph. The bigger tank and improved economy should give a range of well over 100 miles, and although the seat seemed comfortable I'd guess that many riders will be glad of a break by fill-up time.
Personally I could put up with that, perhaps with the help of the taller screen that is available as an accessory along with a street-legal Akrapovic exhaust. There will always be more comfortable long-distance bikes than the Super Duke, but this is a thoughtfully revised machine that successfully corrects most of the flaws of its predecessor. KTM have managed to add refinement, handling ability and range without compromising the bike's essential character. It's sweeter running, more stable and easier to live with. And it still gets my vote as the most brilliantly entertaining superbike that money can buy.