2019 KTM 790 Duke first ride review
At long last, the 2019 KTM 790 Duke is here. It's seven years now since the Austrian bike maker had us taste blood with the 200 Duke, redefining performance and handling for small capacity machines. The 390 Duke that followed only had us salivating for more. And about six years later, we finally have a 'big' Duke on sale in India. Of course, the middleweight naked segment has grown exponentially - in terms of importance and the number of options both, over the last few years. But what has made the 790 Duke stand out right from the time it broke cover internationally is its positioning. Like the smaller Dukes redefined our idea of affordable performance, the 790 Duke has been hailed as one of the most compact, sharp and agile middleweight nakeds. And after what seems like an achingly long wait, the 790 has made its way to our shores. Worth the wait then? We swung a leg over at Bajaj Auto's test track near Pune to decide.
The 2019 KTM 790 Duke is the newest entrant in the middleweight naked motorcycle segment in India and is also the Austrian bike maker's first big bike in the country, following the hugely successful 200 Duke, 390 Duke and 125 Duke as well
KTM's has likened the 790 Duke to a scalpel for its dynamics but the bike looks so sharp, it was probably shaped using one! The edgy design has a familiar air about it, as the headlamp design is exactly the same as the 390's. The 110-section front tyre and twin 300mm discs are quick to clear any doubts about this being the 790 though, and the fuel tank also looks very distinctive with its 'hump' and sharp extensions. The trellis frame is a highlight too - not so much for the way it looks, but for the fact that KTM probably shrink-wrapped it around the engine - that's how compact the frame is!
The rear subframe on the 2019 KTM 790 Duke is a lightweight, aluminium unit bolted onto the main chassis and integrates dual air intakes, helping make the motorcycle extremely compact for a middleweight naked
The bolt-on, aluminium rear subframe integrates air intakes on both sides, which has contributed to making the motorcycle compact too. The rear end is relatively simpler looking though of course, the superbike sized, 180-section rear tyre makes for an appealing stance. Most importantly, the 790 looks surprisingly small in the flesh and is not significantly bigger than the 390 Duke! Then there's the instrument cluster which is a full LCD display and is quite compact but packs in a lot of stuff and is also very legible even in harsh sunlight.
KTM charted new territory with the 790 Duke, as it is its first ever motorcycle to use a parallel-twin engine. KTM calls it the LC8c where the 8 denotes the number of valves while the c is for compact. And the engine is very compact as it is packaged pretty tightly. At 105PS and 87Nm the 799cc motor's outputs sound just about on par with the competition, or even lesser, but at 169kg dry the Duke is one of the lightest middleweight nakeds around. This, coupled with the engine's strong bottom end and midrange grunt and even stronger top end performance, as also the engine's quick revving nature, make it one seriously quick motorcycle. The bike devoured corners at a feverish pace, as putting the power down is very easy. Keep it under 5,000rpm and the Duke also feels surprisingly friendly and even novice riders will find it easy to ride.
The liquid-cooled, 799cc, parallel-twin engine powering the 2019 KTM 790 Duke is the manufacturer's first ever parallel-twin motor and offers 105PS and 87Nm
But give it the stick and 790 Duke responds with an aggression that's sure to make experienced riders break into a smile. There's a progressive feel to it all too - the torque is sent to the rear wheel in a very linear fashion, albeit with some serious alacrity. I reckon the 790 Duke will clock a sub 4 second 0-100kmph time and in fact 200kmph was dispatched with utmost ease down the test track's straight. The linear engine performance also ensures excellent drive out of corners and of course, with the electronics having your back, opening the throttle at corner exits quickly comes naturally to you on the 790 Duke. Overall, the engine is seriously potent while also feeling very refined, as you would expect from a manufacturer of KTM's repute. The gearbox works well too, offering light, precise shifts and the bi-directional quickshifter works like a charm every single time, especially when it comes to hammering down the gears before corners.
The power delivery from the 2019 KTM 790 Duke's engine can be extremely friendly at part throttle, but give it the beans and the bike can be quite a hoot to ride, especially in a straightline and getting to speeds above 200kmph is quite easy
The 43mm upside down front forks from WP are non-adjustable while the rear monoshock only offers preload adjustment. On track not once did I feel the need for adjustment though, that's how well tuned the setup is. The suspension at both ends is perfectly in sync with each other and offers a firm, planted feel at all times. Be it braking hard from high speeds, barreling at over 200kmph or leaning deep into corners, there's immense confidence offered by the suspension, in conjunction with the chassis. The 790 Duke is also very forgiving and in fact with the confidence it offers, the bike goads you into attacking corners and hunting for apexes at speeds higher than you expect yourself to. That said, riders upgrading to their first middleweight naked are sure to be impressed with the friendly dynamics, while those used to big machines will appreciate its sharpness and agility, especially the stability even when you flick the bike violently from one side to another.
The combination of the 2019 KTM 790 Duke's well-tuned suspension, sorted chassis, bike's light weight and sticky Maxxis tyres make it quite a corner carver as it feels extremely agile and well-planted
While it remains to be seen how the ride quality is on our roads, the test track we rode on has a few bumps, including mid-corner ones and the 790's suspension soaked them up well. A big credit for the handling also goes to the Maxxis tyres. The 790 is probably the first big bike I've ridden shod with Maxxis rubber and I'm thoroughly impressed with the grip levels even at the very edge of the contact patch, especially the 180-section rear, which has a rounded profile. Then there's the brakes, which impress with their progressive bite and allow you squeeze a handful of the lever without having to think twice and let you shed speeds quickly.
The 2019 KTM 790 Duke has one of the most advanced electronics suite in its segment currently, including stuff like cornerning ABS which can be quite a boon
All that handling and performance would be hard to rein in without electronics, and the 790 Duke boasts one of the most comprehensive suites in its class. There's Rain, Street, Sport and Track modes available to choose from, with altered levels of power delivery and ABS intrusion. Track mode allows further customisation. Then there's wheelie control, cornering ABS and launch control as well. Heck, the 790 Duke also comes with a steering damper as standard!
With its heady mix of performance, handling and technology, the 2019 KTM 790 Duke is quite a hoot to ride and is a machine that will enthrall novice and experienced riders alike
At launch, many felt the ex-showroom price of Rs 8.63 lakh is on the higher side. But having thrashed it around a test track I can confirm the bike is priced rather well. More so when you compare it to similar specced European motorcycles - in terms of the electronics particularly - like the Triumph Street Triple RS and Ducati Monster 821. Sure, it is more expensive than Japanese rivals like the Kawasaki Z900 and Suzuki GSX-S750 but if you have any doubts about the pricing the Duke will be more than happy to convince you with its stunning performance and handling. It can be astonishingly easy to ride or an absolute hooligan, depending on how you want it to behave. Personally I'm a fan of Supermotos for their fun factor and the 790 Duke gets really close to those levels, without actually being one. And yes, as KTM rightly calls it, the 790 Duke is quite a scalpel.
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