KTM 790 Duke review, road test: Sharp handler yet forgiving and packed with safety aids

The KTM 790 Duke is crammed with features, has explosive performance, lots of safety aids, is fuel efficient and is generally an enjoyable motorcycle.

By:December 23, 2019 5:16 PM

Why do manufacturers make fast sports bikes and launch them? It is for that weekend ride or if one has access to racetracks, unlock the full potential there. More often than not, sportsbikes cannot and will not be used on a daily basis. They tend to be heavy, cumbersome to park (find a safe spot) and at the same time, are not as fuel efficient. It is perhaps this very reason that commuters are brought in. However, this story isn’t about a commuter motorcycle. It is on the KTM 790 Duke. A motorcycle which we all have been waiting for and was launched recently. While we didn’t get a chance to test its mettle at the race track, we took it to some twisties, put it through the commuting chore and at the sametime, tried exploring its capabilities. How well did all this come together? Is the 790 Duke the next big bike for you? Read on to find out.

Engine, performance and features

The 790’s engine is perhaps not the only link for it being a KTM. I will emphasise on this point later. The KTM 790 Duke starts with the typical note that you usually expect from models that roll out of the Austrian motorcycle maker’s facility. The starter is modelled on the lines of a Ducati motorcycle. On, engine check and ignition. If you’ve ridden the first-gen 390, you will find the 790 Duke to be a bit more linear in its power delivery. This being said, unintentional power wheelies are a part of the package. This is if you go a bit harsh on the throttle. Except for the Rain mode, I found the 790 lifting its front wheel up everytime you wring the throttle to the stop. Speaking of which, there are several other modes on offer – Track, Sport and Street. Furthermore, one can customise each option and this can be done on the move too. Boy oh boy! The modes actually change the character of the motorcycle and while the basic premise stays the same, performance goes from manageable to explosive. Use track mode and the throttle response (configurable) makes the 790 lunge for the horizon. 170kmph comes up real quick. However, my test motorcycle had come with a rear tyre that was at the end of its life. This caused the motorcycle to wobble at anything above 170. I did though manage to see 192kmph on the speedo once before chickening out.

Hot, hot, super hot! No, I am not talking of the 790 Duke’s design. In fact, reams of paper might not be written about the design aspect, for sure. You see, I am riding this 105PS/86Nm, 800cc, twin-cylinder bike in the city and right now, my underthighs are almost well cooked. My pillion is also complaining of the heat though the exhaust shield is doing its job well and is barely warm. The temperature gauge on the meter console hasn’t shot up yet but is inching closer to the frag end. The rider who came to drop off the bike said that it shut down on him once due to the heat. Typical KTM traits then. The company’s range of motorcycles hate slow moving traffic. Point proved. The city is where you might not want to use the 790 Duke at all or sparingly. Chappal riders are in for a hot treat on this one!

Exhaust note? The 790 Duke has a mix of typical KTM exhaust note as well as that of a twin cylinder motorcycle. While you do get those repeated looks from the riders ahead (by the time, they can turn their heads to the normal position, you’re already a blur), the engine note isn’t as enticing as say, the three- or four-cylinder bikes in the price range. The bi-directional quickshifter makes mincemeat of gearshifts and the engine even rev-matches thereby making for safer gear changes sans wheel hopping. This KTM has got a lot of features and multiple free customisation options. One can even adjust the clutch balance through the multi-information display. I am pretty sure that there is more to be explored in terms of the MID customisation and other details.

The point that I discussed earlier that it will be touched upon later, is the looks. The 790 looks much smaller in flesh. It has got all pointed edges, just like the new 390. The instrument console is vivid and legible even under bright sunlight. The fuel tank is a bit raised but the 14-litre capacity meant that refuels are less frequent. On a full tank of gas, the 790’s MID shows 22.3kmpl with a constant speed of 80kmph. This translates to a range of almost 300km. More than enough, when you’re out touring. In fact, put on a windshield and you’re good to go. This KTM does have long legs. The brakes are up to the task and in spite of repeated high speed braking attempts, there was very little brake fade. In fact, the lightness (kerb weight of 189kg notwithstanding) of the entire package means that one will think they are riding a 200cc motorcycle and not a near 1000cc unit. The clutch is super light and the mirrors too have a decent vision. The latter (borrowed from the other Dukes) also stays put at triple digit speeds. I also like the fact that the ground clearance is sufficient for two-up riding. No speed bump scrapes or anything.


Handling and ride quality

I got an answer as to why they call it the Scalpel. It is because of the razor sharp handling. Turn-ins are real quick and while the competition might need three-point u-turns, the Scalpel doesn’t. It is as easy to handle like the Hero Xtreme 200. Trust me, it is. You will not feel intimidated on this bike in the traffic, unless you do something really stupid. Like opening the throttle slightly more aggressively. Unfortunately, I couldn’t explore the handling prowess in a proper fashion because of the aforementioned worn-out rear tyre. However, in the hands of a more experienced rider, the Scalpel will truly come alive. The ride quality as well as the pillion comfort pleased the missus. She had enough space to move around and the prominent grab rail helped too.


This brings me to the question. Given the budget of Rs 11 lakh, on-road, will I buy the KTM 790 Duke? The short answer is no. It is not my type of motorcycle. At my age, I am leaning more towards the adventure tourers. This being said, riders who are looking to explore four-cylinder performance with a two-cylinder motorcycle need not look any further. There are very less motorcycles right now in the market that offer this level of performance, features and service back-up as KTM. If you can live with the heat in the traffic, there is not much to fault with the KTM. I for one will want a better heat dissipation technique on the KTM 790 Duke, suspension tuned for adventure touring and knobby tyres. The grapevine says that the 790 Adventure isn’t far away and that is one motorcycle I wouldn’t mind putting money on.

Technical specifications

Engine: L8C, 799cc, oil-cooled, parallel-twin

Power: 103hp@9,000rpm

Torque: 87Nm@8,000rpm

Gearbox: 6-speed slipper clutch

Kerb weight: 189kg

Fuel tank capacity: 14 litres

Brakes: Dual, four-piston 300mm discs (front)

Single, two-piston 240mm (rear)

Suspension: 43mm inverted WP forks (front)

Pre-load adjustable WP monoshock (rear)

Price: Rs 8.64 lakh, ex-showroom


Images: Aniket Mokal and Lijo Mathai

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