21 Jul 2012

More on the KTM 690 Duke

Basic running-in is now completed on my new bike and the 1000 kilometre service has been done, very efficiently, by a small dealer called Squal at Rambouillet, about 50 kms west of Paris on the road to Chartres. I also had the seat changed for a more comfortable KTM accessory (and it works). This dealer is so much better than the people I bought the bike from (at Dardilly, just north of Lyon), who not only forgot to fit some of the mods that I ordered, they also neglected to hand over the service schedule and guarantee, not to mention other stuff that I may have already mentioned. Incompetent and unworthy!

Taken in the Troncais forest, a famous source of oak for wine barrels. This was a fortunate but accidental pilgrimage as I just happened to go through this beautiful hardwood forest early one morning, having taken a wrong turn. The KTM looks perhaps a bit more more laden that in reality, with my helmet and back pack on top. The stuff was all light anyway.

So off we head on mainly small roads for an 800 kilometre meander down to my holiday place in South-West France. A bit loaded up, but not too much and well balanced enough to test the KTM's handling on the small, mostly deserted minor road network that is one of the joys of biking in France. As the kms pile up, I notice that the motor begins to loosen up a bit, protesting a bit less less at trickling through towns. In fact it becomes almost flexible below 3500 rpm, although she still protests a bit by making its chuntering and rattling sounds if I forget to drop down a gear or two entering urban areas. The acceleration is amazingly good for a bike that size. In fact it behaves more like a twin than a single-cylinder, buzzing up between 4,000 and 7,000 rpm, but with none of the bottom end slog that you feel from the old-style singles. Bit of a buzz-box in fact, with the vibes that go with that. Nothing insupportable mind you; just making you feel its there and metal bits are moving around quite fast. And the handling is just fantastic. The bike hangs fairly low but has been really well designed to have plenty of ground clearance and I expect I'll need to take in onto a race-track to find its limits, as I just don't dare on open roads. It feels like it could lean forever!  It is very stable at all times, with the supension perhaps showing some limits when banked over and hitting a rough patch. At high speed it doesn't budge, and you can even stay upright for a while when stopped without putting foot to ground, making town work really easy. Slinging the Duke from one bend to another is a pure joy, and you can even get on the front brake a bit if you are over-enthusiastic coming into a bend without the bike righting itself violently. 

Any moans? Very minor, as we all know that perfection is not of this world. With the KTM tank bag on, getting the ignition key in and out or even turning the thing can be a bit fiddly. I definitely recommend the KTM Power Part seat as a necessary replacement for the original seat, whose rear wad makes you feel your coccyx too much. The silencer makes a subdued and tinny sound at slow speed. One can live with that and it gets better as one speeds up, but I am sure that this can be improved and also let the motor breath a bit better. We shall see when the replacement part I have ordered arrives. Braking is good and the incoporated ABS system seems efficient. I have only felt it kick in once so far, so have not really hauled on the brakes that much yet. I also recommend fitting the hand-guards. Apart from taking the edge off cold wind, they probably saved me a broken finger when some silly car driver negelected to look in their mirror before pulling out to overtake. The bang on the car's side mirror barely scraped the guard which is well braced and I kept the bike upright enough to use suitable hand language on the driver.

And so what about the roads? French roads fall into 4 official categories. Motorways (called autoroutes). These are very good, blue coloured as to their signs, and nearly all toll paying and costly (in addition to the fact that fuel in the stations along these is more expensive than off them). And they are totally boring on a bike. National main roads (route nationales) have a lot of radar and police on them, especially on the busy sections. They are marked red on the signs and, on a bike, are to be used mainly for getting into and out of major cities. Minor local roads, or routes départementales are link roads between major ones and between smaller towns and villages. They have far less traffic, few or no radars, and can be in perfect condition. One needs to watch out for gravel in the summer when they have been patched up, and sometimes they can get a bit ratty, but, on the whole, they are a joy to ride. Yes, France is an agricultural country and you need to watch out for tractors and stuff. But there is space for all and plenty of it. The final category concerns local lanes in each village or commune. 

Ride safely and enjoy the summer.....if you are in the Northern Hemisphere