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KTM reveals details of it's new 890 DUKE R midweight weapon

KTM has had a smash hit with the 790 Duke, its first ever parallel-twin model launched two years ago powered by the LC8c (as in, liquid-cooled eight-valve compact) engine. Dubbed ‘the scalpel’ by many for its focused design and pared-to-the-minimum weight and bulk, it’s provided Europe’s largest manufacturer with a unique contender in the lucrative middleweight sector. And it’s been a top seller thanks to being competitively priced and fun to ride.

With its highly distinctive sharp-edged styling by Kiska Design, the 790 Duke has filled the pretty big gap between the single-cylinder 690 Duke and 1290 Super Duke V-twins in the Austrian firm’s roadbike range, and in doing so has brought an entirely new level of electronic sophistication to the mid-size sector, with features that some 1000cc Japanese Superbikes don’t even have.

Now KTM has gone one step further – actually, make that several steps – with the debut of the 890 Duke R at this year’s EICMA show in Milan. Lighter, more powerful and even more purposeful than its kid sister, this is clearly aimed at topping the middleweight sector in terms of outright performance and razor-edge handling, once again at an affordable price.

“We’re focusing here on the hardcore KTM naked rider, with a bike that’s developed for very aggressive street and track riding,” says Dutchman Adriaan Sinke, KTM’s Head of Product Management.

The 890 project dates back to 2012 when KTM engineers first began work on creating the LC8c parallel-twin motor. “We always intended to develop a 790 Duke R which was in our planning from the start,” states Sinke. “But then during the development programme, it got to the point that we weren’t happy with our prototype – it wasn’t enough R, not enough KTM. So we decided to produce just the 790 Duke to start with, and then go full attack on the R, and make it what we believe a KTM Duke R should be.

“So we basically tore up the spec sheet of the original, and went back to the drawing board to figure out how far we could take that engine and that chassis – and the 890 Duke R is the result.”

The result is a package that’s more intuitive to ride than the already super-friendly yet fast 790 Duke. The engine is even more of a gem than its forebear, pulling hard and strong from just 2000rpm on part-throttle, or wide open in sixth gear from 4000 revs. 

“We think this bike is for an intelligent rider who doesn’t have the biggest ego, who realises that power to weight is more important than throwing down 180 horsepower on the bar at night,” says Adriaan Sinke. “This is someone who’s a very enthusiastic motorcycle rider, who really understands where the gains can be made. For this reason I’m convinced that the 1290 Super Duke is not at risk because of the 890 R, so we won’t be selling against ourselves.

“They’re different beasts – one is a 180hp monster, and the other is a 120hp super scalpel – we call it the evil twin!”

KTM’s engineers have done it again – they’ve successfully tackled the hardest task in two-wheeled development, and made the best better still by improving on what was already a market-leading motorcycle. They’ve produced a machine that’s a significant step up from the basic model in what is already a stellar platform.

No less an authority than Jeremy McWilliams, who’s been one of the test riders involved with the project from the start, and was responsible for the final mapping of the Keihin electronics, concurs. We were racing against each other at the Goodwood Revival a couple of weeks before I flew to Austria to ride the 890 Duke R.

“You’ve got a treat in store,” said Jezza as we sat together waiting for riders’ briefing to start.

“It’s nearly everything you could look for in a real world roadbike – it’s light, slim and fast, plus it feels very refined. We put a lot of time into getting the engine characteristics just right, and I’ll be surprised if you don’t like it, because in my opinion it gives the 1290 Super Duke R a serious run for its money as the best bike in the KTM range and a candidate for being the best real-world performance bike money can buy. Have fun!”

You know what? He’s right – and I did!

Check out our ‘first ride’ report in Vol 69 No 11