The third generation KTM 1290 Super Duke R burst onto the super naked scene in 2020 with a new frame, suspension components, and a revised 1301cc V-Twin engine.
Still aggressively styled, still finished in orange, and still happiest on one wheel, it is now more refined than ever before – with a claimed increase of 3bhp and less weight to muscle around, yet easy to live with in town and less inclined to chuck you off the back when you twist the noise tube.
With an ant-like LED face tucked between a set of broad jagged shoulders, it looks fast standing still – with 30 seconds of riding confirming it’s even quicker on the move. It may be more grown up than ever, but it’ll still carry you from zero to jailtime faster than you can say ‘sorry officer.’
For 2022, this sophistication has continued with the introduction of a new Evo model. Starting at £1550 more than the standard bike in 2022, it gains semi-active WP Apex suspension for a claimed greater usability on a wider range of road surfaces. It also gets quicker action throttle – decreasing the twist of your wrist by 7 degrees to 65 and allowing you to reach full throttle faster.
The suspension upgrade means less time fiddling in the garage finding your ideal spring set-up, with multiple options for stiffness available at the click of a button – allowing for easy changes whether you’re bimbling into town, tackling the commute, having a B-road tear up, or scratching your way around Donington Park.
There are three modes as standard, with extra settings available if you’re prepared to shed out a few extra readies – including a clever ‘auto’ setting that changes the damping according to your inputs You can also unlock an anti-diving function to keep the front high under braking to reduce energy transfer.
In its standard guise, the ‘comfort’ and ‘street’ settings provide a firm but fair set-up for the road that satisfies even the twistiest of lanes, however many will still find the cheaper standard R to be all the bike they ever need. That said, for the ultimate in spring adjustment and less time twiddling with tools in the garage, the Evo is the one to have.
Ride quality & brakes
The Evo lightly dances through bends like a Duke half its size, thanks to its semi-active WP Apex suspension and grippy Bridgestone S22 sports road tyres. There’s also beefy Brembo stylema calipers up that eagerly bite onto 320mm discs without any intrusion from the lean-sensitive ABS.
The standard R features manually adjustable WP units that are far from bargain basement, but flexibility of the new bike allows it to lightly flick from corner to corner without hesitation – only heightened by the optional £252.79 ‘Suspension Pro’ package.
The Evo gets ‘Comfort’, ‘Street’, and ‘Sport’ damping modes as standard, with spring preload also adjustable by 20mm in 10 increments of 2mm. Purchasing the ‘Suspension Pro’ package will also unlock ‘Track’, ‘Advanced’, and ‘Auto’ options.
As standard, the two softer spring settings are all you’ll ever need on the road – offering a firm but fair set up for my 60kg frame, but the optional ‘Auto’ function is where things get really impressive – altering the stiffness of the ride depending on how aggressive your inputs are as a rider.
The result is a circa 200kg 1.3-litre super naked that feels as playful and predictable as a novice-friendly middleweight. It doesn’t run wide in corners and anchors itself to the tarmac under acceleration – never squatting or weaving through the bars with big handfuls of throttle.
It’s also surprisingly good over distance, too. Despite having chuff all wind protection and hunching the rider over the wide bars like the world’s biggest supermoto. There’s cruise control, a nicely padded seat, an easy reach to the bars, and the engine mellows out in top gear to generate minimal vibes through your hands and feet.
The 1301cc V-twin is unchanged on the Evo, but that’s quite alright with us. A 177bhp powerhouse crammed inside a glossy orange trellis chassis, it barks menacingly on tick over and aggressively sucks in the tarmac before it with the slightest twist of your wrist.
Winding on the throttle is addictively good, but it’s not all about high-speed antics. Both the R and the Evo get three throttle maps as standard, which are controlled through the colour TFT dash and deliver varied degrees of ferocity.
Sport mode is the most aggressive option – providing the full fat 177bhp and lowering the traction control to allow for front end lift. Street mode is your halfway house for daily riding – giving you full power more electronic intervention. Finally, Rain mode gives less power and full traction control to avoid any slippery mishaps. Other track-focussed settings are available as optional extras.
I found swapping between Street and Sport to be the best, with a gentle early throttle response in both settings allowing the bike to remain perfectly manageable on even the coldest of early mornings. A gentle tank of fuel also returned 41.8mpg – enough for a theoretical 147 miles from its 16-litre tank.
The Evo will also mellow out into an effortless high-speed mile muncher too; generating next to no vibrations in top gear at constant motorway speeds – only helped by the electronic damping. It’s also gentle around town however can feel clattery below 3000rpm if you find yourself in a gear too high.
Despite costing the thick end of 18 grand out the crate, KTM actually charge you £361.51 extra for a quickshifter and auto-blipper. Our test bike came with it installed and whilst perfectly smooth coming down the box, occasionally snagged false neutrals between second and third, and fifth and sixth.
Reliability & build quality
Although the Evo is new for 2022, almost all of it is pinched from the 2020-on 1290 Super Duke R. As such, a quick glance at MCN owners’ reviews of the standard bike reveals an average of 4.5/5 stars for reliability – with only one criticism for an awkward indicator switch.
There’s no reason to believe that the Evo will behave any different, however the bike did throw up a ‘preload error’ warning on our test at around 290-miles-old – effectively extending the rear shock to its tallest position and requiring a quick pitstop to switch the bike off and on again. After that it was good as gold.
Value vs rivals
At £17,899 out the crate, the 1290 Evo is not cheap – with some throttle maps, suspension settings, heated grips, and even an up/down quickshifter coming as optional extras.
Our test bike came fitted with the Tech Pack, which bumps the price up by £1059.18 (2022 prices) and includes a quickshifter and blipper, the ‘Suspension Pro’ package, an adaptive brake light, and ‘Motor Slip Regulation’ – which allows the slipper clutch to balance the throttle under harsh deceleration to prevent any rear lockups. It also had the £180.36 heated grips, which provided me with perfectly toasty hands at as low as six degrees on our test.
Some of these extras justifiably cost more cash, as they won’t appeal to all buyers, but at the thick end of 18 grand as standard, having to pay extra for a quickshifter and blipper is not on – especially when it then occasionally misses shifts between second and third, and fifth and sixth. It’s buttery smooth coming back down the box though.
Outside of salty add-ons, your £17,899 does buy you a beautifully finished motorcycle, with no unsightly wires, minimal plastic, and a glossy exposed frame that contrasts against the understated matt bodywork. Still, it remains £1550 more than the standard R and for some road focussed riders that will be hard to justify.
What’s more, the super naked class is absolutely chock full of options featuring semi-active springs, so the Evo’s got its work cut out to take the top spot. This includes the Yamaha MT-10SP, and Aprilia Tuono V4 Factory – which won our 2021 Best Super Naked MCN Award.
The KTM 1290 Super Duke R Evo is dressed to the nines in tech. On top of your electronic springs, there’s also a lean-sensitive electronics suite, a full colour TFT dash, LED lighting everywhere, chunky Brembo brakes, quality Bridgestone rubber and more.
Paying extra will unlock more electrickery too, including more suspension and throttle settings, quick shifters, blippers, and heated grips. You can also take this modification further with a list of PowerParts ranging from luggage, to race exhausts and extra stickers, to a heated seat.