First Ride: KTM 1290 Super Duke R

First Ride: KTM 1290 Super Duke R

Everyone loves a beast. Whether romancing a beauty or in the heart of a scrum you know a beast is big, powerful, dependable and yet with a heart of gold.

In the world of motorcycling it’s a different matter, or at least it used to be. The beasts of my younger years were genuinely beastly with handling traits better suited to boats. We rode them because there wasn’t any other option if you wanted to go fast, and we pretended we enjoyed taming these two-wheeled monsters when really we were constantly battling the fear.

Riding a beast these days is a very different experience, especially if you ride KTM’s top-of-the-range sport bike. The Austrian manufacturer, whose company slogan ‘Ready to Race’ aptly describes its attitude to building bikes, used the code name Beast to describe the fledgling Super Duke R project.

They were so pleased with their new creation that the Beast became less of a code name and more of a marketing gimmick as its debut approached. Expectations had been raised, visions of a snarling naked bike that could rip through space and time at the flick of your wrist had all bikers weak at the knees.

Claiming victory in 2015’s South African Pirelli Bike of the Year competition confirmed that the hype had just about been matched by the bike, though what confused some was that this Beast also had a restrained, almost sophisticated side.

Two years down the line the Beast has been to finishing school and emerged with its few rough edges polished and its electronic brain stuffed with more magic than ever.

But even when you’re riding sensibly, short-shifting through the gears, caressing the throttle like it’s made of ancient parchment, there’s always a hint of barely restrained brutality. And then you nudge the throttle a little further than you intended and all hell breaks loose — 140Nm of torque, with 70% of that available from just above tickover means instant, massive grunt is on tap at all times.

Acceleration is of the disorienting kind, it takes time for your brain to adapt to the rapidity with which things happen on the Super Duke R. There’s no futuristic technology at work here, just a 1300cc normally aspirated V-twin that generates 140kW and redefines what you thought was quick.

It may not be a traditional superbike with its naked look and relatively relaxed riding position, but that engine will put to shame most bikes that dare to call themselves sporting.

If I’ve made it all sound a bit overwhelming, then I’ve badly misled you. The electronics package is so smart it can provide a useful safety net tailored to your own riding experience. Traction and slide control, the ability to electronically limit wheelies or launch the bike from standstill, cornering ABS and adjustable riding modes mean the Super Duke R is, unless goaded, an absolute gentleman of a motorbike.

Hit a selection of handlebar-mounted buttons in the correct sequence though, and that all changes. Gone are the good manners, the safety net has also disappeared and the only thing keeping this beast even remotely in-line is you, the rider.

It’s fantastically exhilarating, occasionally terrifying and totally addictive. But you will be glad those same buttons can return the beast to his box and allow the Super Duke’s gentlemanly side to reappear.

Prices start at R215 000, though the model I rode had all the buttons and topped R230 000. Get the buttons, you’ll be glad you spent the extra money. – Mat Durrans