There are a ton of bikes in the market that promise power, excitement, and precise handling, but none fill that role quite like the KTM 790 Duke from a price-to-performance standpoint in the Philippines. The 790 Duke is a bit of an outlier in the world of sport-naked motorcycles not just because of its punchy and very orange styling, but also because even if it may be a few years old at this point, it also set the ground rules for what a middleweight motorcycle should carry in 2023 back when it was first introduced in 2018.
Did you notice that other manufacturers playing in the middleweight lineup had to do a bit of catch-up with regard to the electronics and powertrain package? The 790 Duke already had all of those “advanced” technologies way back then, and it was one of the catalysts that spurred the middleweight motorcycle segment into what it is today. It’s been five years since its introduction, so here are five reasons why it’s such a ‘cheater bike.’
In a world where bigger and more powerful bikes often go over the 200 kg mark, here comes a bike that feels lightweight and agile on the go. The KTM 790 Duke weighs at just 189 kg loaded up and ready to go. This bike is even lighter once you slap on an aftermarket exhaust system, ditching the rear passenger seat in favor of a cowl, and taking off the foot pegs. You can get even lighter by going with a racing exhaust system which involves removing the heavy catalyst and saving about five kilograms of weight. That and you can even go with lighter but quality braking components, lighter wheels, and even ditching the headlight altogether if you’re really serious about lightening it up for the track.
A few racers created a 790 or an 890 Duke project bike for the track, and it’s not impossible for this bike to weigh in as little as about 170 kg when all was said and done. Of course, you don’t have to go that far in the pursuit of weight-cutting. The bike feels very lightweight to ride even without all of those modifications which goes to show just how “Ready To Race” it is from the showroom floor. Still, it’s a road bike so please put back all of the legal stuff, okay?
Power and torque
Now this might be a touchy subject since the 790 Duke is currently matched and even outgunned by some of its competitors. The bike is working with a 75-degree crank pin offset which makes it sound and behave like a V-Twin, but in the compact size that a parallel-twin can deliver. KTM wanted to mimic the bigger LC8 engine’s characteristics, but shrink it down and lighten it up. The net result here is that the bike has a peak power figure of 103 hp and a staggering 87 Nm of torque. While other multi-cylinder bikes with similar displacement figures will punch out power figures that are well above the Duke’s, KTM fires back with a boatload of torque.
When KTM was figuring out the nickname for the bike, it appears that they didn’t make the engine the highlight. While it is called “the Scalpel” thanks to its svelte figure and its precise handling, the engine will hit you like a sledgehammer. It’s also thanks to the bike’s setup and specs that everything feels manageable and refined.
It’s also worth mentioning that while other bikes will require you to wring them out to get any amount of torque, the 790 Duke’s peak torque figure is available very early into the rev range. As early as 5,000 RPM, you will feel the full rush of the bike’s power and torque pulling on you earlier compared to a four-cylinder or a three-cylinder engine. While this bike has pretty great straitline speed, it’s really the starts and the corner exits that it gains an edge over the competition, that and it is such a lightweight machine. Also, legend has it that this bike is a wheelie monster thanks to all that torque, so throttle responsibly!
Sorted stock suspension
Taming that compact torque monster of an engine is a set of WP suspension components. While you may lament KTM for fielding such a nice bike with a non-adjustable fork and a pre-load-only rear mono-shock, the setup is quite sorted and one of the best non-adjustable setups we’ve tried. Paired with the lightweight and rigid chassis of the 790 Duke, the suspension is quite the treat and miles ahead of other Japanese middleweights with similar setups. It punches well above its price point but only falls short because it’s not adjustable.
If you don’t want to get into the dark art of tuning your suspension, or if you just want to set preload and forget it, the WP Apex set on the 790 Duke is well sorted for a stock setup. It works well with the bike and is suitable for Philippine roads given that it has enough travel and it works well with the Duke’s chassis. KTM tuned the setup for road riding which means that the bike is perfect for most rides, save for the demands of a racer with specific settings and needs. Now, if you’re serious about making this bike handle like its on rails, just imagine what it could do with an adjustable fork and monoshock. Just saying.
Six-axis IMU/Rider aids
Now, another key spec in the KTM’s arsenal of features is a Bosch Six-Axis Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) that measures the bike’s lean angle, speed, and other parameters like rider input to smoothen things out and keep things rubber-side-down. In case you are worried that all that power and torque may be too much for you, or in case you are scared to twist the throttle, know that the IMU is not only there to help you ride better, but it is also there to keep you safe.
Because of the system, the KTM 790 Duke has access to Cornering ABS, Motorcycle Traction Control, Motor Slip Regulation, and even Supermoto Mode which allows the system to deactivate the rear ABS so you can back it in. Apart from that, there is also a wealth of riding kit activated on the 790 Duke which includes an up-and-down quick shifter, Street, Rain, and Track Riding modes, throttle response modes, and even an anti-wheelie mode. Yes, that’s right, this bike likes to pop its front so much that KTM had to put an anti-wheelie function in the system.
When it comes to rider aids and features, KTM has all of the trimmings and then some. Other bikes may not be as well-equipped and ready to go from the dealer. We know that a couple of manufacturers actually charge extra for features like this to be added, but KTM is generous enough to just hand it to you right out of the gate (for the Philippine market).
Another aspect of the 790 Duke that makes it such a cheater bike is its ergonomics. There was once a time when sportbikes were the nimblest and the fastest around a bend, but KTM has been challenging that notion ever since with its family of Dukes. You don’t have to be bent over backwards to get a bike that handles like it’s on rails. In my experience, sportbikes are great and fit for purpose, but if you want a bike that you can ride all day and then get killer lean angles and corner exits, then the 790 Duke fits that bill splendidly.
Its upright ergonomics, flat seat, and wide handlebars, also allow it to be a bike that you can take on a long ride. It’s a jack of all trades, so to speak. The upright posture means that you can also ride the bike however you want. The 790 Duke suits a number of riding styles which include sport or track riding, and moto gymkhana, and even supermoto. It’s not impossible to think that KTM actually did infuse its know-how from its supermoto bible and put it into the Duke. However, the ergonomic package means that you can ride this bike however you want and while your buddies are bent over backwards on their sportbikes, you will be upright all the way and that’s worth its weight in keeping you fresh for the next corner… and the next… and then on.