The KTM 790 Duke has finally arrived in India! The Austrian brand with a sizeable 49 per cent ownership with India's very own Bajaj Auto, KTM has surely and certainly established itself as a brand synonymous with performance, agility and handling. But the middleweight KTM 790 Duke took its time to finally make it to India, and now that it has, we got to spend a few laps around Bajaj Auto's test track in Chakan, on the outskirts of Pune. And we have to admit, it's one extremely likeable motorcycle! The marketing folks at KTM call it The Scalpel, and it's a moniker which the 790 Duke rightly and aptly deserves!
Engine and Performance
At the heart of the matter is the LC8c engine, short for liquid-cooled, eight-valve, compact engine which is a 799 cc, DOHC, liquid-cooled motor, which boasts of a lot of top-spec components; one-piece forged pistons and connecting rods, Nikasil-coated cylinder sleeves, and dual counterbalancers, designed to keep the engine running smooth and any vibrations at bay. The parallel-twin has claimed maximum power of 103.5 bhp with peak torque of 87 Nm. The 75-degree crank offset, with an uneven 435-degree firing order makes the engine pop and crackle, and that is something which is quite likeable. But sound is something else, and actual performance, another matter.
The first thing that hits me around the first lap around the small-ish track is how compact, light and easy to handle the 790 Duke is. With a dry weight of just 169 kg, it's a bike which feels immediately comfortable, and the 825 mm seat height seems almost tailor-made perfect for my near 5'10" frame. The series of left-right-left-right tight corners were dismissed without any sense of the bike losing composure, and there's ample pulling power from as low as 3,500 revs, perfect for in-city duties. The ride-by-wire system works seamlessly, and the fuelling feels perfect; no on-off, jerky throttle response, and there's smooth acceleration, in any gear. You can actually potter around 4,000 revs all day, and the 790 Duke will behave impeccably; a thorough gentleman, almost like the soft-spoken, studious type class toppers who seem to somehow be always on their best behaviour.
Around the bowl at the far end of the track, I downshifted rapidly and dipped the bike in third, at around 80 kmph, and no, there's no sense of losing that calm, sensible demeanour. It's only when I open the throttle and let the revs climb swiftly, the ferocity of the engine becomes apparent. North of 6,000 revs, the politeness is shrugged off, and the digits climb rapidly hitting over 200 kmph with nonchalant ease, before it's time to slam on the brakes ahead of the sweeping left hander at the far end. You're quickly reminded that this two-wheeled gent has a very prominent bad boy streak which can be summoned with the slightest twist of the throttle. There's an up/down quickshifter for clutchless upshifts and downshifts, and a slip and assist clutch for aggressive downshifts.
Ride and Handling
The marketing folks at KTM have nicknamed the 790 Duke The Scalpel, underlining its agility and precision, combined with what is certainly above average performance from the LC8 engine. The surface of the test track is smooth and there is no reason or cause for complain there. The Maxxis Supermaxx ST tyres have been designed and developed specifically for the 790 Duke, and they offer superb grip, even when leaned over, and for my limited sport riding skills, they seemed to offer more than enough confidence to keep pushing the bike faster and harder around the corners. Unlike the KTM 390 Duke though, the 790 Duke doesn't use a steel trellis frame. The steel molybdenum tubular steel frame uses the engine as a stressed member, and in the dynamics department, there's no reason to find fault with the 790 Duke's point-and-shoot capability. It's sharp, accurate, agile and precise - everything the marketing folks boast of, and some more.
The KTM-branded brakes are actually designed and developed by Spanish brand J Juan Braking Systems. The four-pot radially mounted calipers gripping 300 mm twin discs on the front wheel offer sure-shot stopping power, and instant deceleration, even from speeds above 200 kmph, without leaving any sense of trepidation, or things not panning out as planned. Going fast is one thing, but stopping power is also important, and here, the KTM 790 Duke did not disappoint either.
More experienced riders may nit-pick on the lack of adjustability on the 790 Duke's suspension system, but for the time I used it on the track, it left me little to complain about. The 43 mm WP upside down forks offer good feel on the front end, and the rear suspension, also from WP, offers just preload adjustment. The ride is taut, but supple enough over the track surface. For real world conditions though, we'll have to reserve our judgement till we actually get to ride the 790 Duke out in the real world.
Electronic Rider Aids
The KTM 790 Duke though has a comprehensive electronics suite powered by 18 input sensors and an inertial measurement unit, which powers the lean sensitive anti-lock braking system (ABS), traction control (called the Motor Slip Regulation system)and anti-wheelie and launch control system. There are four riding modes on offer - Road, Rain, Sport and Track, with Track mode offering customisation even in throttle response (Track, Sport, Street) and nine levels of traction control settings, as well as full power, with a choice of switching the anti-wheelie system on or off.
During my excursion with The Scalpel, I stuck to Track mode for the most part. The electronics package works seamlessly, and it will permit you to take many liberties with the 790 Duke, even around a small technical track like the Chakan test track. In fact, I doubt the same level of confidence and agility will be offered by any other middleweight naked in such a sharp, and tight track as the 790 Duke does. Yes, it's that good! The traction control also is lean angle sensitive, as is the ABS, and adventurous riders have the option of opting to switch off ABS in the rear wheel in Supermoto mode, for rear wheel lock-up; you get the drift!
The KTM 790 Duke is a cracker of a motorcycle! Compact, lightweight and versatile, it's not a tightly wound-up motorcycle with a sudden surge in power which will take you by surprise. There's ample pulling power in the low and mid-range, and it can be a revelation if you do begin to explore the higher end of the powerband, clicking rapidly through the gearshifter. At ₹ 8.63 lakh (ex-showroom), you may argue that it's on the expensive side, with non-adjustable suspension and all. After all, it's a KTM, and with the Bajaj parentage (if only partially), it should have been at least a lakh or lakh and a half more affordable to make it that much more irresistible. At that price, it's still more affordable than the Triumph Street Triple RS, or the Ducati Monster 821, but it's still more expensive than the Suzuki GSX-S750. And considering it should be the logical upgrade from existing KTM 390 Duke owners to be within the KTM family, "The Scalpel" does seem like an expensive proposition.
But if you don't consider the price, the KTM 790 Duke is still an excellent choice, as a daily in-city commuter, or even carving out the corners of a racetrack or a twisty mountain road. It's relatively light, surgically precise and has more than enough performance to keep most riders suitably entertained. If I were looking for a streetfighter, the KTM 790 Duke lists out among the top three or four middleweight nakeds in my consideration. Yes, it could be all the bike you need!
Action Photos: Suvil Susvirkar