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6 February 2024

KTM 790 Duke Bike – Ultimate Street Weapon

In 1934 Hans Trunkenpolz founded a repair workshop in Mattighofen, Upper Austria. It became one of the largest car and motorcycle garages in Upper Austria. Iin 1953, Hans started building his own Motorcycles under the name of ‘Kronreif, Trunkenpolz, Mattighofen’.
Kronreif meaning motor-vehicle, Trunkenpolz was the founder and Mattighofen was the location.
KTM as it came to be known, now have a rich and successful motorcycle pedigree. Countless world championships across a wide range of disciplines from Motocross to Endurance to Moto3 and much more. They have become one of the most successful motorcycle brands in history. KTM has been one of the world’s fastest-growing motorcycle manufacturers for some time now. 2016 was the company’s sixth consecutive record year and in 2018, they unleashed the 790 Duke on the world.  
KTM say they have forged the ultimate street weapon. With the agility of a 600, with the raw punch of an 800.
Small, light and fast, the KTM 790 Duke is powered by the brand new LC8c parallel twin engine. It’s the most compact power plant of its class, kicking out 105 hp at 9,000 rpm and the whole bike weighs in at just 169 kg dry.
When you first swing your leg over, the Duke feels small, like a 250, narrow and short. It’s purposeful and uncomplicated. Aesthetically, the 790 is maybe not prom queen material. She’s more like that troubled girl that scares you slightly but you just know she’ll be a whole lot of fun……..and she is.
Press the starter and it barks into life. The parallel twin sounds like a V twin, with a powerful and potent rumble.
Kick it into 1st gear and roll out. Immediately, you feel how agile the chassis is. It falls in to corners easily and feels so alive. The first couple of miles were taken gently and cautiously, the last thing i wanted was to have to make a call KTM to explain how i broke their bike.
Once you start increasing the pace, the 790 really starts to make sense.
It’s great at commuting, it’s noisy, torquey and very easy to maneuver, making light work of slicing through town. As you leave the 30mph confines and the road start to open up and the pace increases, the KTM loves it. The harder you push, the better it gets, It really is a little hooligan.
It’s fitted with a quickshifter as standard so going up and down through the 6 speed box is effortless, helped by a slipper clutch (PASC™). I found a couple of false neutrals on the way up through the ‘box but put it down to the bike having been a press bike that’s probably seen it’s fair share of abuse.
There’s a funky ultra lightweight chrome-molybdenum steel trellis frame with bolt-on aluminum rear subframe and very cool looking die-cast aluminum open lattice swingarm and at the sharp end you’ll find 43mm upside-down WP suspension forks fitted with progressive springs.
Out back is a WP suspension, gas-assisted, directly linked rear shock, also with progressive spring and 12-stage adjustable preload.
Front brakes are KTM branded, radial 4-piston calipers with a radial front brake master cylinder working on twin 300 mm front brake discs. TI thought the whole lot was excellent, needing little more than 2 fingers.
KTM’s 790 Duke has ride mode technology with customizable track mode as standard. This wild child is among the best equipped bikes in this arena, with ride mode technology with customizable track mode as standard. It Boasts an array of tech usually seen on bikes costing twice as much; Cornering ABS including Supermoto mode (for backing it in), lean-angle sensitive motorcycle traction control (MTC), motor slip regulation (MSR), Quickshifter+, and even launch control work seamlessly to make this a very serious weapon.
The compact and neat TFT dashboard works with KTM MY RIDE which is a smartphone app that is an awesome tool, click the link to see what it can do.
There’s a simple menu switch on the left bar that is backlit. That doesn’t sound like a big deal but it’s really good at night. Lights are all LED but we didn’t get to try the headlight in the dark.
KTM have fitted Maxxis Superamaxx ST tyres which on my test ride on dry, warm roads, were great. It had a brand new rear tyre so I took a few miles to wear it in but they felt very stable, loads of grip, easily able to get a knee down without feeling it was anywhere near the limit of grip.
KTM say the goal with the 790 Duke was to create the ultimate street weapon. Ultimate is a big boast but it is really, really good.
In my opinion it was all the bike you’ll ever need. You can jump on it and pop to the shops or head off to a track day, it will easily do everything and do it bloody well.
The only issue was the complete lack of protection. It’s a naked bike so no fairing, not even a fly screen. On a commuter it’s not even slightly an issue but the 790 is fast, so you’re at mad speeds most of the time. On dual carriageways and motorway it’s tiring but…….don’t go on them!
Brilliant, fast, light and more fun that any bike has a right to be. That’s how i’d sum the KTM 790 Duke. Accelerating hard, throwing gears at it with the quickshifter doing it’s job, cutting through the countryside at daft speeds. Looking for trouble, adrenaline pumping, the parallel twin barking and shouting “is that all you’ve got”.
Riding the 790 Duke was a pure, visceral experience. I keep catching myself daydreaming about it now, imagining gunning it out of a corner or flicking from side to side through a roundabout.
Thanks very much KTM. I won’t forget you….