2 Jul 2012

Return of the big thumper: my first test ride of the KTM Duke 690

On the way back, taking a break from the joys of the small twisty roads that link the villages of Beaujolais. This is in the vineyards of Fleurie, complete with tank bag and helmet.

So there it is now, sitting in my garage, the big plonker from KTM that I have been thinking about ever since I saw it released at the beginning of this year and read the first reports. Rode it up from Lyon last Saturday on small roads, avoiding motorways until the last, inevitable, stretch into the big city. Not just on account of it being brand new and requiring variable speeds while running in, but also becouse I dislike riding on motorways.

and again

I took delivery of the bike last Friday from the KTM dealer just north of Lyon, at a place called Dardilly. These people are friendly enough, but not too efficient. About half the modifications I had asked for over a month ago when I ordered (and paid for) the bike had not been carried out when I turned up, as expected and confirmed, to collect the machine. I had to wait around for hours while they struggled to find the parts (or not) and offer vague explanations. In the end I took it without some of the stuff it was supposed to have on it, so I have to carry the mandatory U-lock in a tank bag, instead of clipped onto the frame, there is no electrical supply for my navigation system, and the rear bag is not available although all of this had been verbally confirmed by them. I had asked for the nasty garish stickers on the tank and front light fairing to be removed and they had to do that when I was there. They said that they deliver their new bikes with a full tank of petrol but, when I checked, there was room for at least another 5 or 6 litres, which they duly put in.

In addition to the above, the guy who showed me the machine clearly doesn't know it that well since it has, under the passenger seat, a small dial to vary the programme of the ride-by-wire throttle and he told me that position 2 is the standard position. This I duly selected for running in the machine and my first steps, only to find that the bike was very jerky at low speeds in towns. Whilst reading the manual that evening, I discovered that 3 is in fact the standard position, whilst 2 is the "racing" mode and 1 is the soft setting for town and tricky surfaces. Okay, that's enough griping, let's hit the road!

The first impression is that this KTM single makes a noise like a large sewing machine when you start it up. Very disappointing for what is said to be (and maybe is) the most powerful single-cylinder road bike ever produced! In fact the delivery from the single cylinder is pretty smooth and it doesn't always feel like a single. Anyways, now I know what to buy for the next modification, and have indeed found a silencer produced in Spain that should make a difference buth in looks, sound and feel. We shall see when it arrives. Here is a picture of one...

As to the sound, I am told that things get better as you speed up, but I cannot really hear that for the wind, so.....All the rest is easy, with bars, pegs and controls falling easily to hand. I had to adjust the gear shift down a bit to suit my way of sitting, and may do the same for the rear brake pedal. As soon you start rolling, you can feel how light the whole thing is and how well balanced it is. And later, when the pace moved up a few notches after a couple of hundreds k's on the clock, this impression of stability remained. This bike has one of the best combinations between a low centre of gravity to give it low-speed stability, and wheel base length to ensure high-speed stability, that I can remember experiencing on any bike.

Remember this machine is still running in, and I have been pretty careful so far, only occasionally revving it up to 6000 rpm, but it has plenty of poke coming out of corners as from about 4000 rpm. Below 3000 or thereabouts it tends to baulk and rattle a bit. It only weighs about 150 kilos when dry, for an annouced 70 bhp. That's a useful power-to weight ratio. The tyres are some excellent Michelins that I couldn't fault, after their share of running in of course. I have still to try them in the wet though. The real joy of this machine has to be its handling. It will go exactly where it is pointed, has leaning capacity beyond my bravery, and is always stable, even if a series of sharp bumps can test the firmish suspension a bit. The brakes seem very good too. The mirrors offer a good enough view of behind and don't vibrate too much. The instruments are simple and clear and, joy of joys, will tell you what gear you are in which can be useful as the engine hates being used  seriously below 3,000 rpm. The gearbox seems fairly precise and has a clutch that is not exactly an anti-dribble, as I understand it, but which does prevent the rear wheel from locking if you drop down gears sharpish coming into a bend.

So what are its defects? I mentioned the exhaust sound. But number one has to be the standard seat. When I first tried the machine over a short distance, I quite liked it. One feels well ensconsed and it is initially confortable enough. But sit on this thing for 2 hours riding and you will find your tail end suffering in the region of the coccyx. There is a kind of rolled wad that forms the rear of the seat and this punishes that part of your body mercilessly, to the point that I found myself sitting back on the firm passger seat for long straight spells. Need to change that seat fast! I see that KTM have one in their catalogue of extras, but why not fit it in the first place? Obviouly this bike is not cut out for long hauls down the motorway, but it will do legal speeds in its stride and without pummelling your neck. One has to remember it is a mono and so vibration is a part of the game, but, so far, I have not found this unbearable. But then I am used to twins, not multis...

On the way back, after staying in a small, ordinary but friendly hotel in Villié-Morgon, I stopped for luch in the village of Irancy, near Auxerre and Chablis. If you go that way, I strongly recommend a bar/restaurant in the main street called Le Soufflot. Run by Fabien Espana, who also rides a Triumph 675 and pays scrum-half for the Chablis rugby team, it has a lovely bright dining room made in a covered courtyard with vines growing inside. The food is very good, the service friendly and there is a good wine list at very decent prices. Further south the road that leads up from Autun to Château-Chinon is pure joy for bikers !

Le Soufflot Irancy,
Rue Soufflot
89290 Irancy
tel : 06 79 89 57 82


  1. Were are the girls ?
    We all want .... “Fleurie Michetons”.

    1. The bike is much nicer without the orange stickers on its tanK.
      Many happy rides!