Long termer: KTM 790 Duke

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Ross has been getting to know KTM’s Chinese-built naked. Here’s the lowdown on his first month.

This month:

Rider: Ross Mowbray, 6ft 1in
Cost new: £7999
Spec: 95bhp/87Nm
Engine: 799cc, LC8c parallel twin
Kerb weight: 174kg
Tank: 14 litres
Seat: 825mm (32.4in)
Miles this month: 500
Miles on clock: 825
Average mpg: 42.4mpg (18.2km/l)
Current tyres: Maxxis Supermaxx ST

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I love a middleweight naked. Spend any time on one and it’s immediately clear why they’re so popular with the bike buying masses. Quick and capable enough to make rapid progress, but without the silly licence-losing amounts of power and compromised comfort you’d get from a ‘proper’ sport bike. I reckon they’re probably the perfect option for road riders who like pressing on.

I’ve ridden a whole host of the current crop, including Ducati’s Monster, Yamaha’s MT-09, Triumph’s Street Triple and KTM’s 890 Duke. They’re all good in their own slightly unique way, with enough variety in price, performance and styling to suit a whole range of riders. There are also a couple of new bikes, in Suzuki’s GSX-8S and Honda’s Hornet – which have received favourable reviews, though I’ve not had the chance to put them to the test just yet.

There is another option though. KTM’s 790 Duke has just made a comeback. Dropped from the range a couple of years ago, it might seem like a bit of a strange decision on the Austrian factory’s behalf to reintroduce it… It’s already got the all-singing, all-dancing 890 Duke R, so why would KTM want to risk eating into sales by reintroducing a bike that’s in the same sort of ballpark?

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Well, it’s actually a bit of a crafty move. The 790 was a big success for KTM, selling in excess of 29,000 units before being upgraded to the 890 Duke (due to increasingly stricter emissions regulations forcing it to up capacity in order to maintain power). With the 890 Duke better equipped and consequently more expensive, the resurgent 790 Duke is better placed to challenge some of the less expensive competition and offer plenty of bang for your buck for those working on a slightly tighter budget.

KTM has managed to keep costs down by working together with Chinese firm CFMOTO, who will be building and badging the bike on KTM’s behalf. I know that’ll turn a lot of you off – for various reasons, there’s still a lot of animosity towards bikes built in China – but there’s no denying that CFMOTO is going from strength to strength.

It’s really upped its game in the last three or four years, with a range of bikes which hold their own against the more established European and Japanese competition (with prices to match).

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But the big question is how well it stands a year of use and abuse? We’ve begged one from KTM to find out.

First impressions are good. The build quality of the new 790 Duke looks just as good as the previous generation. In fact, the bike looks pretty much identical to the ‘old’ 790 across the board.  But that’s not entirely the case. KTM and CFMOTO have made some subtle changes, including revising the engine (with 20% more rotating mass to help improve handling and stability).

It’s a brilliant motor. Fun, flexible and free-revving with enough bite and bark to put a smile on my face every time I ride it. It loves to be worked hard – and part of the beauty of these middleweight nakeds is that you can actually push them right to their limit on the road, in a way I wouldn’t feel comfortable on a big superbike.

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The chassis is great, too. It’s unchanged for 2023, which means there’s non-adjustable 43mm WP Apex forks up front and a spring-preload-adjustable WP Apex shock at the rear – plus a pair of radial-mount four-piston calipers on hand to help haul it up. It’s sharp, agile and surprisingly easy to ride, with the Maxxis Supermaxx ST tyres providing plenty of grip on dry roads. The weather’s been so good that I can’t comment on how well it holds up in the wet, but I’m certain I’ll get a chance over the coming months.  

It’s pretty comfortable, too. I’m over 6ft and expected to feel a bit cramped on the Duke, but I’m perfectly at home perched on top of it. The wider bars help. The only issue I’ve had was during a long day of almost exclusively motorway miles. I had to fight to keep my head in position at anything around 70mph – though with no screen and a relatively aggressive forward leaning riding position, it’s not a problem exclusive to the KTM. And all was forgotten as soon as I got back on a twisty section of road.

It’s been a cracking first month with the KTM 790 Duke. There’s an awful lot to like about it – and with a £7999 price tag I think it represents excellent value for money (even if there are other, slightly cheaper options). I can’t wait to spend more time getting under its skin over the coming months.

Pros

+ The engine is a wonderful thing that thrives when being pushed hard – and has enough punch to hold its own with much bigger bikes in the hands of the rightrider

+ It handles so well. I’ve ridden Dukes before and so I knew it’d be good – but it’s even better than I remembered. 

Cons

The KTM’s not built for long-distance comfort. A couple of two-hour stints on the motorway felt like a bit of a battle, with my head and neck aching like hell after fighting against the wind for the whole journey.

Stay tuned to see what Ross thinks of the KTM 790 Duke with another month under his belt!


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