690 Duke R
After stepping off the SMC R or Enduro R, the Duke R felt almost restrained and sensible; it’s lower, heavier, bigger, better-equipped and generally feels like a proper street bike. But compared to most other bikes on the road, this most glamorous and expensive of the LC4 range is focused and purposeful; built for maximum entertainment on twisty tarmac or, better still, a racetrack.
The Duke R isn’t changed since its launch last year, but it’s distinctly different from the standard 690 Duke on which it’s based. That bike, launched two years ago, introduced the twin-plug LC4 engine, and was equally significant because it reflected KTM’s aim of softening the notoriously hardcore Duke and making it more appealing to a wider audience.
The Duke R takes things sharply back in the opposite direction. As its R initial suggests, it’s basically a hotted-up version of the Duke, inspired by the machines that were raced in the European Junior Cup. Its chassis is upgraded with fully adjustable, 43-mm WP suspension, which, perhaps surprisingly, has a generous (by street bike standards) 150 mm of wheel travel at each end, 15 mm more than the standard bike’s. It also has Brembo’s top M50 calliper and higher-specification master cylinder, rather than the normal radial four-piston job, to bite its single 320-mm front brake disc.
Other mods include the addition of crash-bars bolted to the chrome-moly frame tubes, and a top yoke anodised orange to match. An Akrapovic slip-on silencer adds a couple of PS to the otherwise standard 690-cc engine, bringing the maximum output to 71 PS at 7,500 RPM. The R bike also has rear-set footrests and comes with a pillion seat cover for a suitably racy look. Other than that its angular white, orange and black shape is identical to that of the standard Duke.
After a quick warm-up spin on the standard model I was surprised to find that those rear-set and higher footrests were the most obvious difference as soon as I’d climbed aboard and pulled away. The wide and slightly raised one-piece ‘bar gives a similarly upright, in-the-wind riding position to the other models, but the lower seat (at 865 mm it’s still quite high by most roadster standards) and sporty footrests put more weight through your legs.
Straight-line performance at most speeds was much like that of the other models, the Duke R’s extra couple of horsepower helping compensate for the fact that, at 149.5 kg wet, it’s a few kilos heavier. The biggest difference in perceived speed probably came from the Akrapovic silencer, whose pleasant thrapping note encouraged plenty of revs.
With its taller gearing (though unchanged from the standard Duke’s) the Duke R was slightly more relaxed at higher speeds, and happy to sit at an indicated 130 km/h plus for as long as I was prepared to hold on into the wind. Or until the fuel ran out, of course; the Duke models get 14 instead of 12 litres capacity, so would be good for 250 km even if ridden hard.