2007 KTM Super Duke First Ride

The winds of change are blowing through KTM headquarters and the sound is eerily similar to the howling exhaust note from a 75-degree V-Twin a few hundred rpm shy of redline.

KTM’s assault on European motorcycle manufacturing supremacy is being led into battle by a quartet of new-age warriors including the dual-purpose 990 Adventure that’s back for another tour, the all-new 950 Supermoto, a single-cylinder 690 Supermoto and the undisputed commander of the Orange Army, the striking 990 Super Duke.

If there is any doubt as to the impact this collection is going to have on the sales floor, know this before passing judgment: The Super Duke is wicked fun to ride (And the rest of the troupe is equally exciting, albeit for distinctly different reasons). When American consumers realize this, their innate desire to be different could make for some interesting movement in the KTM sales curve.

After a day of flogging the Super Duke and its siblings around the tight and taxing Streets of Willow circuit, it was clear that this machine is more than just a shot across the bow of any manufacturer with a streetfighter in its line up. It’s merely the first salvo. A successful tour of duty in the U.S. would be helpful as KTM attempts to move from the second largest producer of motorcycles in Europe to the largest. As a company that reported 84,421 units sold during the 2005-2006 model year without a serious effort to sell streetbikes, KTM’s march towards the front should raise alarms at a few particular centers of operations in Italy and Germany.

Just looking at the Super Duke, its razor sharp edges seem capable of inflicting a flesh wound with its pointed and geometrically precise styling. From tip to tail, the lines of the bike have an industrial, almost futuristic look that demands it be ridden hard, right here and now.

If KTM can get a foothold in the American market, it could take over as king of the European manufacturers.

The majority of the hard components, including the trellis frame and outer fork tubes, are either made of black materials or coated black. This accentuates the glimmer of gold emanating off the exhaust system and contrasts agreeably with the aluminum engine cases. This dark and sinister theme is emphasized further with the black five-spoke wheels and the satin-finish on the urethane cover of the 4.8-gallon fuel cell, front cowling and fenders. Although the traditional orange version pictured here looked good in photos, the black and anthracite versions looked even better in person. Considering the array of KTM hard equipment options including light weight carbon fiber Dymag wheels, slip-ons and front fender, the Super Duke can easily be transformed into one of the sickest looking weapons around. You get the point. The bike looks bad-ass and has the right stuff on paper, but does it have the muscle to back it up on the battlefield?

Climb aboard this burly beast and the first thing you notice is how accommodating the cockpit feels. The seat is comfortable but it is a stretch to touch the ground for my stumps because of its 33.6-inch height. The rider’s hands are greeted by an ergonomically correct bar position and an unobstructed view of the road ahead which combine to offer up an ideal perch to command this bike from. The controls are both clean and functional, with no gimmicks or gadgets to confuse or befuddle. At the center of it all is a tidy instrument cluster that backlights orange in the dark. It includes a digital speedometer, analog tach, tripmeters, temperature gauge, clock and assorted warning lights. No sign of a fuel gauge means it could be a little better. The tapered moto-style bars have vibration-dampened mirrors that actually provide a decent blur-free vision of the carnage left in the Super Duke’s wake.

The 2007 KTM 990 Super Duke will not be found on many superbike starting grids in the United States, but if you happen to line up next to one you had better be ready to rumble because it is right at home on the track.

Fire up the 999.9cc 75-degree V-Twin LC8 powerplant and revel in the character people love about Twins. Its exhaust note sounds great despite being stifled by its politically correct mufflers and feels eager to be uncorked from the moment it comes to life. The LC8 rumbles like a modern high-performance Twin off idle and smoothes to a staccato purr when the revs approach the top of the tach. Its Keihin electronic fuel-injection system was both smooth and responsive while connecting corners at the Streets of Willow. In addition, this latest version meets the strict Euro 3 emission standards as well. The digital speedo would read between 120-130 mph at the end of the short straightaway even if the drive out of the final turn was less than stellar. 

The Super Duke pulls hard off the bottom and builds in a linear fashion as the tach sweeps quickly to its indicated 10,000 rpm redline. Keep the beat in the 6,000-8,000 range, around the claimed 74 lb-ft torque peak, and the reward is an abundance of power for pulling power wheelies out of the corners, as demonstrated over and over again by the more skilled journalists and stunt riders on hand at this event. Leaving black stripes on the track during acceleration and shredding the holy hell out of the rear tire is merely a couple examples of the hooligan behavior willingly exhibited by the Super Duke. If you don’t care to draw attention to yourself, this might not be the bike for you.

Cornering is not a problem for this apex-strafer. It’s mindlessly easy to snap through the turns thanks to its wide bars and light weight (claimed to be about 400 lbs dry). That ability to flick easily comes at the price of a bit of stability in particularly fast back-to-back transitions which typically tax any bike that isn’t set up ideally for a rider’s weight and style. But, really, the only concern regarding its cornering potential was ground clearance, as its sidestand regularly augured in on high-g corners. Some additional compression damping helped the problem but didn’t make it disappear. Keep in mind this is not a pure sportbike anyway – it’s a streetfighter first and foremost, so it doesn’t need to be absolutely flawless on the track.

Action pictures like this fail to do justice to the wicked looking anthracite version of the 990 Super Duke.

Toss the Super Duke into the slower tight-radius turns and it dispatches them with precision. The more curvy and flowing the track the better it responds. The leverage available from the wide bars and supermoto-esque riding position don’t hurt in this scenario either.

And, for a bit of context, we recently put four of the best naked sportbikes through the gauntlet in our 2006 Euro Streetfighter Comparo, and we devoted a day of testing and photography at Willow’s sister racetrack, Horsethief Mile, just a few hundred yards away from the Streets. With this background, I can say without hesitation that the Super Duke’s handling, chassis and suspension performance are on par.

Taking a look at the Super Duke’s chassis geometry gives a clue as to why it performs similar to the track-friendly Ducati Monster S4R. Its steering head angle of 23.9 degrees is just 0.1-degree sharper than S4R, while its 101mm of trail is only 5mm more. And in wheelbase terms, the SD’s measures in at 56.6 inches compared to the Duc’s 56.7 inches.

The Super Duke’s 4-piston radial-mount mono-block calipers and 320mm floating dual discs inspire confidence and handle any braking duties required during aggressive street riding.

The backbone of the Super Duke chassis is a light chromoly tube trellis frame, weighing in at a scant 22 lbs. An aluminum rear subframe supports the rider, passenger pegs, exhaust hangers and electronics. Suspension is provided WP – a fully adjustable 48mm inverted fork soaking up bumps at the front and a fully adjustable rear shock attached to the long aluminum swingarm keeping the 180/55ZR-17 inch rear tire wedged to the track on the back. The 120/70-17 front tire stuck to the rough Streets surface all afternoon, leading the bike through its twisting layout without error.

The Super Duke is capable of charging deep into turns thanks to the powerful 4-piston radial-mount mono-block calipers and massive 320mm floating dual discs. The radial-pump master cylinder provides a deft connection to the pads whether you’re trying to trail-brake deep or just scrubbing off massive speed in a straight line. It makes no difference what braking strategy is chosen because the system is more than non-commissioned personnel will ever need for patrolling the mean streets of Anytown U.S.A.

It would be nice to offer up some insight as to how well the Super Duke behaves on the real-world streets of California, but if given the choice between dodging the fuzz on Angeles Crest and turning laps all day at the race track I wouldn’t change a thing. You will have to make that judgement for yourself though I believe it will be fine. There really is no better way to reveal how hard a performance machine like this can be pushed than in a controlled environment.

After logging some serious track miles on the 2007 Super Duke, it’s obvious this new street strategy and subsequent plan for world domination is not to be taken lightly. Any motorcycle rider with a penchant for being a hooligan and who likes to stand out in the crowd is going to be attracted to the Orange Army’s fearless leader. Meanwhile, back at KTM HQ, the reinforcements are being developed as you read this. Along with a sportier Super Duke ‘R’ the most anticipated machine on the horizon is the RC8 Superbike, due to be released in Europe sometime in 2008.

The KTM Riding Experience rig will be heading your way soon. Make sure you take the opportunity to test ride one of these new KTMs – you’ll thank us later.

With an MSRP of $13,998 the 990 Super Duke has all the right stuff, from its vicious V-Twin powerplant, state-of-the-art braking system, real-world riding position and top-shelf suspension components effectively bundled with looks that kill. In the end, this soldier should be a force to be reckoned with in the battle for Streetfighter supremacy here in the U.S.

Furthermore, if your interest is piqued but you’re still not ready to enlist in the Orange Army, then there is one more thing to consider: A test ride. The KTM Riding Experience is going to be at a motorcycle event near you starting in the Spring of 2007. For the first time, KTM USA will be offering test rides on its street line-up so the public can have an opportunity to check out what it has to offer before you put your money on the line.

Let us know what you think about the 2007 KTM 990 Super Duke in the MCUSA Forum.