KTM 790 Duke Review
KTM calls the 790 Duke the ‘Scalpel’, for its razor-sharp handling capabilities. But is that aspect enough to keep one hooked onto this street bike when considering day-to-day saddle time?
Pros: Razor sharp handling, potent mid-range, electronic gadgetry
Cons: Lacks premium feel, limited suspension adjustment
The 790 Duke is what truly defines a KTM. It is the first motorcycle in the bike maker’s portfolio to get a parallel-twin motor. Till now it had been producing singles and V-twins for its motorcycles in India. Also, the 790 has been available in the international market for about three years, following which, KTM has finally brought the motorcycle to Indian shores.
KTM refers to the 790 Duke as the ‘Scalpel’ for its razor-sharp handling capabilities. But is that aspect enough to keep one hooked onto this street bike when considering day-to-day saddle time? We had this motorcycle with us for a couple of days and have managed to traverse the motorcycle on open roads, city roads and even through streets clogged with traffic. So, does the Scalpel make it or break it in our road test review, let’s find out!
The 790 costs a little under Rs 10 lakhs on-road in New Delhi. And for that kind of money, it isn’t a cheap motorcycle. KTM has given the 790 a very minimalistic look which is prominent from every angle. Except for the fuel tank, there is hardly any metalwork or plastic around the motorcycle. The styling is similar to other naked models by KTM and someone can mistake the 790 for a much-cheaper 390 Duke. Quite a downside when you’re shelling out a good load of money.
But, looks aside, there is a lot to be appreciated about this motorcycle. Unlike other road-going KTM models sold in the market which feature a trellis frame, the 790 gets a two-spar tubular frame with the engine acting as a stressed member. It is accompanied by an exposed cast aluminium subframe which combines in keeping the weight low. Besides that, the adjustable levers for the clutch and brake, an easy to operate switchgear, grippy seat texture and well-finished pedals are the factors that speak of quality where needed.
The first thing you’ll notice right after taking the 790 off the stand is its weight. Tipping the scale at 187kg (kerb), it is on par with the Street Triple RS, but feels notably lighter on the move. The seat height is set at 825mm which can be a matter of concern for someone whose height is less than mine, which is 5ft 6in. Once on the bike, there is a lot of room to move on the seat. The way the seat contours with the fuel tank provides a narrow waistline giving ample space to tuck the knees.
Next is the riding triangle. The flat single-piece handlebar, rear-set footpegs provide an aggressive yet upright riding position which is quite comfortable. Meanwhile, the seat is typical KTM-type cushion-wise, manageable for a full day of riding.
The 790 comes with non-adjustable inverted forks up front and a monoshock at the rear with preload adjustment. Despite the firm setup, the bike handles road undulations, bumps, cuts and minor potholes well. At higher speeds, the setup provides a strong feedback as to what is happening at the wheels and how much one can push further. Due to the communicative setup, there is sufficient time to realise and take corrective action if needed.
The 799cc liquid-cooled twin-mill is an absolute gem. The eagerness on opening the throttle and the availability of the strong torque-curve from the mid-range is pure delight and highly addictive. Just open the throttle hard after exiting the corner and the front starts to lift as it just skimps the road surface giving a crazy adrenaline rush.
Another aspect about this motor is how vibration-free it is while running. Thanks to the dual-countershafts, the vibrations don’t feel bothersome at any point across the rev-band. There is a buzz felt at the seat and on the bar as the revs go up, which is normal.
Given the limited availability of open roads, we managed to clock 205kmph before the fifth cog could hit the rev limiter. Meanwhile in the city, the 790 isn’t like its smaller siblings that need frequent gearshifts to prevent the engine from juddering. Fourth gear with 30kmph is possible and so is sixth gear at 50kmph.
When attacking twisties, the 790 is an absolute hoot. With the right entry speed and intended line, this Duke will take you through it as if it’s on the rails. The grip levels from the Maxxis tyres and suspension setup keep the bike planted while asking for more speed and lean with more time spent on the saddle. In the city, the 790 Duke can switch lanes on a dime and the acute cornering radius allows you to take u-turns without breaking a sweat.
The J.Juan brakes with KTM branding are a big assuring factor. Even with one-finger operation, there is a strong bite with a progression that lets you modulate the intensity even while cornering.
One of the biggest USPs of the 790 Duke is its electronics package. It comes with four riding modes - Rain, Road, Sport and Track, each with increasing level of throttle sensitivity and lesser intervention of traction control. It is only in the Rain mode, that the peak power output which stands at 105bhp is reduced for better traction and rideability. The Track mode allows complete customisation on the level of traction control along with anti-wheelie and launch control settings. There’s lean-sensitive ABS which lets the rider apply the brake with harder intensity in the mid-corner phase, should the need arise. Next, is the bi-directional quick-shifter that works like an absolute charm especially when downshifting, thanks to the crisp auto-blipping of the throttle. There’s also the TFT colour screen for the user-friendly instrument console.
The 790 Duke is a motorcycle that you simply fuel up and enjoy. Nevertheless, to give a figure on its fuel efficiency, we managed to achieve 18.1kmpl in the city on our designated test route. With a fuel tank capacity of 14-litre, the 790 cango about 250km before running dry.
Fitness of Purpose
The KTM 790 Duke is a street naked and a maniac one at that. Its main reason for existence is to offer that rush of adrenaline, to convey a sense of hooliganism that you don’t want to mess with and to readily take on the corners as if there is only one path left.
On the other hand, you can do a full day of riding, easily commute in the city with a pillion, brake hard, scalpel your way through traffic and pop wheelies at traffic lights.
Yes, the 790 Duke is feisty and demands an equivalent amount of respect and skill to tame it. However, it also possesses the kind of electronic gadgetry which covers up the rider’s mistakes by a considerable margin. For its price, it has all that you need for a perfectly rideable motorcycle but not so much in terms of finish and appeal. It is a motorcycle that wants to be ridden hard and doesn’t give a dam about how gorgeous or striking it looks. And if that is what you’re looking for, the 790 Duke a.k.a. the Scalpel is the one you’d want in your garage.
Photography by Kapil Angane and Kaustubh Gandhi
Full Review-Hide Review