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First launched almost two decades ago, the KTM 990 Duke has come full circle

Back in 2005, the 990 was the first Super Duke, but here we are some 19 years later and the so-called midsized Duke has reached the capacity of the original Super Duke. Back then it made 89kW (119hp), now it makes 92kW (123hp). To be honest I expected more, however the new Duke is about 12kg lighter, way more efficient and would run rings around the old V-twin.

After recently giving an 890 Duke R a good thrashing through some of my local twisties, I was pretty keen to see how KTM would improve on the already excellent package for the Duke’s 30th birthday. I expected some minor changes but was quite shocked to find that the 990 has received the highest amount of changes in the fleet – with KTM claiming 96 percent of its parts are new.

Obviously KTM didn’t need to reinvent the wheel here, but it has gone hard on the updates. The chassis has been stiffened significantly for improved handling and feeling for the rider. But making a stiffer frame can reduce traction, so the swingarm has been redesigned as an enclosed-lattice design that is 1.5kg lighter and reduces stiffness for improved rear-wheel traction.

990 duke

Rear suspension needed only a slight tweak to suit our tester

The chassis now runs down the outside of the swingarm pivot, rather than inside as on the 890, which makes the bike feel slightly wider at the footpegs. The aim of these frame and swingarm changes is to maintain the 890’s agility but introduce some stability that was lacking. The rear subframe is now a cast item integrated with the airbox and air intake (under the seat) to reduce weight and the number of parts.

The LC8c parallel-twin engine has been revised to meet strict Euro5+ emissions while maintaining the power and torque we all want. It has more aggressive cams and longer valve openings, while being smoothed out by increasing the rotating masses. The full stainless exhaust system features a more conventional-looking side-mounted muffler to mimic the aggressive stance of the Super Duke R while meeting emissions requirements.

As ever, the suspension is WP Apex equipment. Similar to the 390 Duke the open-cartridge fork features five clicks of compression and rebound up front. At the rear you’ve got C-spanner adjustable preload and five clicks of rebound. KTM assures us that less clicks doesn’t reduce the window of adjustment, it just makes each click more noticeable. I could have wound some preload on the rear for my weight but, other than that, it felt well sorted. After all, the suspension has been developed on mountain roads rather than racetrack conditions like the Super Duke R’s.

990 duke

The combination of quality brakes and supple suspension gave great confidence in a run down the mountains

The wheels have been upgraded to those of the Super Duke R with the rear adapted for the dual-sided swingarm. The front brakes are essentially unchanged from the 890 however the new wheels mean the front discs have a different mount which shaves 1kg of unsprung weight off the front end.

The electronics are a big step on the 990, now sharing its package with the Super Duke, so say hello to five-level wheelie control that, rather than stopping wheelies, helps hold them at the desired height. What a time to be alive! In standard trim there are three ride modes – Rain, Street and Sport. Rain mode reduces power and throttle response and increases traction control. Street and Sport both have full power, with more aggressive throttle maps while reducing TC intervention and allowing larger wheelies.

If you add on the track pack, you get Performance mode and Track mode as well as a two-way quickshifter. In these modes you get nine levels of TC as well as unlocking Launch control, lap timers, telemetry data like lean angles and braking forces and you can turn the wheelie control off. You can also select supermoto ABS. It runs the same nine-axis IMU as the Super Duke so all the ABS modes and TC is lean-angle sensitive doing its best to keep you rubber-side down.

TFT screen is the control centre

The five-inch colour TFT screen is the control centre and, with the app and connectivity unit will handle your navigation, phone calls and music. The full LED lighting features the same new headlight as the Super Duke R (that many may dislike but, I’m telling you, it looks great in real life). It kind of gives off an angry and unapologetic look, which suits the Duke to a tee. Above all, it is functional as the beam is now filled in better with no dark spots and the switchblocks are backlit.

Onto the highway and up to the mountains, straight away I was excited by the bottom-end torque of the new 990 engine. It sounds unreal even with the Euro 5+ muffler. The air intake roars from under the seat and the front wheel lofts into the air through second gear and into third. The wheelie control is pretty cool, but if you are too aggressive, it’ll pull the throttle bodies closed and bring the front down. To get the most out of the wheelie control you need to keep a steady throttle and it will keep it at a safe height throughout the gear. Even on the highest setting most wheelie aficionados will not be content, so best switch it off before impressing the kids at the bus stop.

Belting along the back roads of Almeria, the 990 Duke was so composed. The bike is roomy and the seat worthy of a full day of riding. The seat is now angled upwards slightly at the front to stop your butt sliding forwards continually and this is welcomed. The handlebar is adjustable at the triple clamps and at the ’bar risers, but I didn’t try it – the bike fits me like my old pair of summer gloves.

It may not look it but the seat is all-day comfortable, another example of the work put into this extensive model update

When the road turned up into the mountains I kind of switched my brain off and rode by instinct, which brings the best out in the Duke. I could hardly make the bike get upset no matter what I did to it – except maybe getting too excited on the downshifts and coming out of the corner almost at the redline and having to change immediately. The 990 has stacks of low-down grunt. It will pull out of 15km/h switchbacks in third gear if you want it to – it hardly cares what gear you’re in – it’ll power on all the way to the rev limiter, but it is hardly worth it. Punching out of the corners I could feel the bike holding power back as I was leant over and feeding it in as I made the bike more upright, the fancy electronics doing their job. I was having so much brain-out fun I was shocked to all of a sudden see snow, followed by a warning on the dash that ice may be present – and it most certainly was!

Now where are those heated grips? Bugger, still not a standard feature on the Duke. Luckily the new 990 is happy to also plod along at more socially acceptable speeds, something I didn’t feel from the 890 Duke R I rode. The KTM engineers may have been onto something and made the Duke a more rounded bike while still keeping the crazy hoon machine ready in your back pocket.

Span-adjustable levers

Descending the mountain and into the warmth was like a dream. The brakes were strong enough and I coud push it deep into corners with confidence in the front end. Changes of direction were easy thanks to the lively chassis and wide handlebar. I could get my knee down easily. I never once felt like I pushed it beyond its comfort zone.

The 990 won me over. When I rode the 890 I didn’t love it until I got it into some tight twisty backroads, whereas the 990 feels comfortable, powerful and composed on the way to the twisties and also when you get there. It’s over $10k less expensive than the Super Duke R, but nowhere near $10k short on fun. It’s a yes from me.

PROS: Plenty of power and smooth delivery, very agile but composed at the same time.
No heated grips and tech pack is extra outlay after 1500km to keep features unlocked.

New 15 percent stiffer frame to increase stability, coupled with a less rigid swingarm for increased rear grip. Closed lattice swingarm looks nicer and saves 1.5kg.
Wheels taken from the Super Duke R but modified for the dual-sided swingarm. Looks great and the front disc mount shaves off 1kg.
The 990 gets the same electronic package as the Super Duke R. That means five-level wheelie control plus telemetry info like lean angles, acceleration and braking forces.
Completely redeveloped LC8c engine looks similar but is tweaked for more power and torque, smoother power delivery and stronger reliability.
A point of much discussion, the LED glassless headlight saves 700g, looks rugged and functions much better than the outgoing one.


990 duke

Capacity 947cc
Type Parallel twin, DOHC, four valves per cylinder
Bore & stroke 92.5mm x 70.4mm
Compression ratio 13.5:1
Cooling Liquid
Fueling EFI, 46mm throttle bodies
Transmission Six-speed
Clutch Wet, multi-plate, slipper type
Final drive Chain

Power 91.7kW (123hp) @ 9500rpm (claimed)
Torque 103Nm @ 6750rpm (claimed)
Top speed 220km/h (tested)
Fuel consumption 4.7L/100km (claimed)

Type Bosch EMS
Rider aids Cornering ABS, cornering traction control, quickshifter, launch control
Rider modes Rain, Street, Sport, Performance and Track

Frame material Tubular steel
Frame type Trellis
Rake 65.8 degrees
Trail 100mm
Wheelbase 1476mm +/-15mm

Type WP Apex
Front: 43mm upside-down fork, compression and rebound adjustable, 140mm travel
Rear: Monoshock, rebound and preload adjustable, 150mm travel

Wheels Cast alloy
Front: 17 x 3.5 Rear: 17 x 5.5
Tyres Bridgestone S22
Front: 120/70ZR17
Rear: 180/55ZR17
Brakes KTM, Bosch ABS
Front: Twin 300mm disc, four-piston radial calipers
Rear: Single 240mm disc, twin-piston floating caliper

Weight 179kg (wet, no fuel, claimed)
Seat height 825mm
Width Not given
Height Not given
Length Not given
Ground clearance 195mm
Fuel capacity 14.8L

Servicing First: 1000km
Minor: 15,000km
Major: 30,000km
Warranty Two years, unlimited kilometres

Price $20,090 (ride away)
Colour options Electric Orange or Metallic Black