Sometimes the best surprises are the unexpected ones. This is certainly the case with the all new 690 Duke. Wow, what a surprise!
Okay, now I am sure you are wondering just what a full fledged street bike is doing on the flickering pages of Enduro360. It started with an innocent enough question; “Do you want to test the new Duke?” Obviously the answer was affirmative. I can’t honestly say that I was even aware that there was a new 690. But it has a motor and a full tank of gas. That covers most of my criteria for testing.
Before you accuse me of being way off my beat, hear me out. The KTM 690 Enduro R is a model we have spent thousands of miles on and is one of the best in class. The Duke version of the 690cc LC4 motor gets some very intriguing new features. Inquiring minds will want to know.
Most of you know me as the hard core enduro guy, but there was a time, long ago, when that was different. Back then I worked at an Italian sport bike shop, owned a Ducati and lived at the foot of the famous Highway 2, Angeles Crest. Most everyone then knew me as the Euro sport bike guy who owned a dirt bike.
So I think the Duke is a topic of sufficient general interest for us to talk about. I am a little rusty at scratching up a twisty back road, so I keep to a more reasonable pace these days. I still dread the day I have to tell a manufacturer that I threw their shiny bike away on the pavement. The only thing I cannot bring to this review is a good comparison to other contemporary street machines. Obviously I have not tested any others lately.
LC4 Street Cred
For all my street bike background, I confess that the KTM versions are often an enigma to me. But the Duke is making me rethink some of that, I hear it calling to me. The single cylinder Duke concept goes clear back to 1997 when the original LC4 motor was stuffed into a street chassis. Over the years there have been a number of different street legal LC4 bikes.
While I longed to own a 640 Adventure, it came down to the sad fact the old motors were never very endearing on the street. Some were tolerable, but others felt like paint can shakers. Ultimately they were all versions of a dirt motor trying to get by on the street, always a compromise.
Jump forward to the current generation fuel injected LC4 in the form of the 690 Enduro R. It is light years ahead of the old motor in every way. Off road it does a very nice job of covering a wide range of tasks. But once the Enduro R hits the pavement, the compromise part of dual sport starts to show.
Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t bad, it just does not scream out for more tarmac. A couple of years ago when we tested it for MotoUSA, alongside the BMW F800GS, we dreaded the highway miles of our Idaho trip, partially due to motor and more so because of the miserable seat. More recently, the Husqvarna TR650 showed how much more street bias its BMW based motor has. The Husky would feel at home spending the entire day on the slab.
My initial fear for the 690 Duke was that it would have this fabulous street chassis, but with a power plant that would feel inadequate or out of place. In short, I expected the motor to vibrate like the Enduro R at speed. Turns out my fears are completely unfounded and that means there are some big changes inside.
What is New?
The new Duke arrived in Europe last season as a 2012 model. It made a big splash and is now here in the States. As for new, there is plenty to talk about in both the motor and chassis. The biggest items on the motor list are the twin plug head and drive-by-wire fuel management system. In the head, each spark plug has its own spark map. Compression ratio gets a modest boost to 12.6:1. From the cylinder on down, the Duke appears to share all the same specs as the Enduro R. Transmission ratios are the same, but gearing is a tall 16:40.
As for the throttle body and drive-by-wire system, I don’t have any specific detail on either, other than to say they work very well. The Magura master cylinder and slipper clutch remain on this motor.
On the chassis, the brakes get a full ABS system. Like the ADV bikes, the system can be switched off. In the front is a massive radial mounted 4 piston Brembo caliper on a 320mm floating rotor.
As near as I can tell, nearly all the chassis parts are unique to this model, other than some very KTM looking bars, no dirt bike parts to be found. It all contributes to a very complete and integrated feeling street bike package.
The stressed member trellis frame gives lots of free space down low for the huge exhaust system. The shorty style muffler is stylish looking and keeps the sound muted. One of the very few things lacking from the Duke is a great muscular exhaust note.
The cockpit layout is somewhere between Buell and Monster. The seat is flat with firm padding. The rider’s knees tuck into the fuel tank and the body work provides some wind deflection off the legs. The wide, flat bar and rear set pegs give the requisite street fighter stance. The peg mounts are offset and can be reversed to raise the pegs providing more ground clearance.
Overall my 6’1” frame is at the top edge of the size/comfort scale. I fit well, but there is no extra room to move around. The low 33” seat height will fit many riders well.
On the flip side, KTM made a very conscious effort to keep the price point in check for the US version of the Duke ($8,999). For the most part this just means that there are not many fancy machined or polished parts on the chassis. A steel side stand and matte finish cast clamps are examples of this.
Unfortunately, it also means that the 690 gets a bare bones suspension package, both ends are nonadjustable. The basic 43mm inverted fork and shock seem out of place on a bike with so much performance potential.
The very first impression when climbing aboard the Duke is that everything is in the right place. Unlike the Enduro R, the fuel tank and filler are up front, air filter is under the seat. It seems like this configuration has somehow saved some space too, particularly with the lower seat height. Beyond that, the general feel is very similar to a Ducati Monster, a theme that shows up in many other aspects of the ride. Things are off to a good start!
The most of the ride experience centers on the 690 motor. There is no part of it that I can directly relate to the Enduro version. It is more powerful and far smoother. A few months ago when we tested the 690 Enduro and the Husky TR650, I spent much of the time examining how they stacked up to each other on the street. The challenge with the 690 was that vibration would start to creep in at just under 65mph. It would come through both the bars and pegs.
There is no vibration at all on the Duke. Even holding the throttle to redline in third gear brings no significant vibes. There is always a bit of a rumble, enough to let you know it is alive, but not the kind that leaves you with tingling finger tips.
I can’t really say how the vibration was eliminated. Rubber mounted bars are the most obvious change to the chassis. Motor mounts are slightly different on this frame also. The configuration of the counterbalancer remains unchanged. I think most of the change comes from the new head and fuel management.
As for the power, it is a torque monster. From 3,000 rpms it pulls with authority. With the exception of a small flat spot around 4k, it pulls strong all the way to redline. There is a bit of deception going on inside this version of the LC4. While it feels like it is all torque, aggressive riding sends the needle to redline surprisingly fast. It is so smooth, the revs sneak up on you.
Putting out a claimed 67 horsepower, this thing is fast! It is the kind of horsepower single cylinder race bikes could barely touch just a few years ago. The package is so civilized too. The tall gearing of the six speed transmission keeps the motor typically just above a purr.
Shifting into high gear does not come until around 65mph. Yet, I found myself often pulling away from stops in second gear. So it made me wonder, would it do the same in third? Finding a long stretch of open road, I did a few experiments. In third gear, the 690 will launch from a dead stop with just a little clutch work. It then pulls strong until it hits the rev limiter at just over 80 miles per hour. Who really needs all those other gears anyway?
What is there to know about the drive-by-wire system? Technically, I am not sure, I don’t have any real details. From a rider’s view, it just works great. The bike starts, idles and pulls very smooth. It takes a deliberate effort to get it to start bucking at very low revs.
The slipper clutch is fantastic. No matter how aggressive the downshifts are, the rear always stays calm. The clutch pull from the Magura hydraulics is also very light. The transmission shifts smooth, but aggressive downshifts will require a deliberate stomp on the lever.
The front brake is strong with good feel. I could never work it hard enough to feel any action from the ABS system. The rear is the weak point. With a short wheelbase and forward stance, there is not much weight left on the rear wheel. The pedal feel is slightly spongy and the ABS system kicks in quickly. The front easily compensates for overall power, but it would be nice to have a little better feel in the rear when setting up for corners.
The shock is by far the most significant shortcoming of the whole package. It is fine for casual riding, but once you start to push it, it is not up to the task. Hit some rough pavement while leaned over and you find yourself astride a bucking bronco. The 43mm fork is much better. It can be harsh at times, but typically not enough so to throw the bike off line.
The seating position is quite comfortable. The wide sculpted seat gives good support. The natural forward cant holds the body into the wind. For a tall rider, the position feels natural, but there is not any extra room to move around either.
For novice riders, the light clutch, smooth throttle response and ample torque make this bike very easy to ride. The low seat helps slow speed maneuvers. Like the Enduro R, the trellis frame limits the steering lock, so be careful around the parking lot. The Duke has the easy manners of a Buell Blast, but with the persona and muscle of a Ducati Monster. At 330 lbs, there is a giant killer lurking inside.
Our average fuel consumption was 55mpg. The rear subfender is screaming for a sleek replacement option. There is a nice storage compartment under the passenger seat. The 3 position map switch is standard and mounts under the seat. In testing I found the standard position to give the best all around ride.
Every time I rode this bike, I found something new to like. It is the big bore single that has always seemed elusive. With vibration gone and some serious power, it is a small package with a big punch. It screams “ride me”!