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KTM 790 Duke Prototype | Bike Tests | Latest Tests

Next year, KTM will look to strengthen its European dominance with a 790cc street scalpel powered by an all-new parallel-twin – Sir Al got an invite to ride the prototype

KTM is Europe’s largest motorcycle manufacturer, with 203,423 bikes sold last year under its KTM and Husqvarna brands. Until now, the only multi-cylinder motorcycles the Austrian company has made have been 75º V-twins, but that’s all about to change.

For the past 15 years, the V-twin format has essentially fuelled KTM’s growth to be Europe’s top roadbike manufacturer, to go alongside its undisputed world crown as the king of the off-road sector, earned by its ready to race single-cylinder products. Its 75º LC8 engine was designed in-house and powered the 950R works racer on which Fabrizio Meoni won the 2002 Paris-Dakar Rally. This duly reached production the following year in the 950 Adventure, and various derivatives of it – up to and including the mega-motor powering the current 1290 Super Duke – have all been based on that same V-twin platform.

But that’s all going to be turned on its head with the debut of the 790 Duke at the EICMA Milan Show on November 7. This will be powered by an all-new 800cc parallel-twin motor designated the LC8c – as in ‘compact’ – and it will go into production in March as a 2018 model.

KTM’s engineers, led by Philipp Habsburg, the company’s head of R&D, have been working on this new engine for the past three years. While it will initially power two distinct variants – the Duke streetrod and the multi-purpose 790 Adventure – expect a range of different models using the same engine that will in time represent KTM’s best-selling on-road segment. That’s the expectation of KTM AG board member Gerald Kiska, whose Salzburg-based Kiska Design company has been responsible for designing every KTM model since 1992, when the company’s current president Stefan Pierer took control of the bike maker.

That includes the design of the unpainted black 790 Duke prototype I found awaiting me at the KTM Technologies building across theroad from Kiska Design, having been summoned to Salzburg for an exclusive first look at this significant new model in KTM’s history, including a brief getting-to-know-you first ride on this well-used development mule.

“We think we have a good offering in the entry-level and lower-capacity on-road sectors with our smaller singles made in India by our Bajaj partners,” Kiska says. “And for sure we have a super-competitive product at the top end with the different Adventure models and the 1290 Super Duke, including the GT.

By Alan Cathcart

Read the full story in the current issue (Vol 67 No 09) on sale now