KTM’s First Parallel Twin: Race-Ready And Rearing To Go

KTM launches a fresh assault, this time on the mid-displacement, naked-bike market with the 2018 790 Duke, first of its name. The Austrian bike builders have nicknamed it “The Scalpel” for its precise control over power delivery and lean angle with a race-tastic chassis and new, 100-plus horsepower mill. A robust electronics suite brings an alphabet soup of goodies to the table, and ABS, traction control and variable power-delivery ride modes are just a few of the features on the menu. Even with the dearth of body panels, it’s easy to see the Duke DNA in the details that leave no doubts about its heritage. A bold move in such a competitive market, so let’s see what else KTM throws in to sweeten the deal and be competitive in a crowded field.

Continue reading for my review of the KTM 790 Duke.

  • 2018 KTM 790 Duke
  • Year:
    2018
  • Make:
  • Model:
  • Engine:
    Parallel-Twin
  • Displacement:
    799 cubic inches
  • Price:

2018 KTM 790 Duke Design

2018 KTM 790 Duke
- image 783565
The factory says it didn't build the 790 to take on any particular model, but instead seems to have sought its own path to fit the naked-sportbike mold.

The factory says it didn’t build the 790 to take on any particular model, but instead seems to have sought its own path to fit the naked-sportbike mold. A cut-down front fender leads the way with just enough coverage to keep the fling off the radiator and the rider with struts that also form a shield for the swept area of the inverted front fork tubes.

Vertically stacked LED headlights come split within the minimal headlight housing that establishes the angle-of-the-dangle that sets the tone for the rest of the bike. Just behind the blackout front end, a little extension off both sides of the tank (can’t really call them fairings) picks up that same angle for a direct tie-in to the rest of its extended family, but the rest of the 790 from there back is far too Spartan to have much in the way of distinctive features.

The 3.69-gallon fuel tank dominates the flyline where it peeks up out of the tank cover to hold the filler cover at its zenith for easy access with a steep drop off to the saddle. A hop-up to the pillion pad acts as a butt-stop to keep the rider aboard under hard acceleration and elevates the (very brave) passenger for better visibility while giving the Duke an aggressive, nose-down/tail-up stance.

As with the front lights, the rear indicators are all modern LED emitters that are infinitely more visible than their incandescent predecessors, and they ride atop the hangey-downey plateholder that doubles as a mudguard extension. Oh yeah, the 790 is a definite candidate for a hugger, just sayin’.

The upswept exhaust follows the lines of the subframe and come in tucked ever-so-tightly to same. Remember that brave passenger? Well, you’d do well to advise her to mind the proximity of the muffler to her right leg, not that she’d be able to ignore the BTUs coming off it. If you’re into racing your bike, or at least looking like you do, the factory offers a pillion cover that will tighten the looks of the rear end right up.

There’s no doubt that no matter the genre, KTMs tend to look like nothing else in the world, and this one is certainly no exception with plenty of that angular panache to go around, but don’t let the almost-austere exterior fool you, there’s some really juicy stuff under the hood.

2018 KTM 790 Duke Chassis

2018 KTM 790 Duke
- image 783561
Precision steering geometry gives the Duke a lithe eagerness in the corners that is sure to endear itself to its pilot.

In spite of the wide-open design and lack of body panels, there is very little of the chrome-molybdenum steel frame to be seen. That’s because the factory went the way of most nakeds and used the engine as a stressed member to replace the downtube/cradle section in its entirety. In a move to further reduce weight, the dead space within the subframe gets repurposed to serve as an airbox and eliminate yet another source of weight and bulk.

The die-cast swingarm is pragmatic almost to a fault with an industrial look that’s raw and unrefined but also strong. Up front, a 24-degree steering angle and 3.85 inches of trail over a 58.07-inch wheelbase gives the Duke a lithe eagerness in the corners that is sure to endear itself to its pilot. Although it runs a set of non-adjustable, 43 mm, inverted front forks, the 790 delivers a better-than-average ride ahead of the preload adjustable shock out back, both from WP.

Dual, 300 mm wave-cut brake discs work with four-piston calipers to slow the front with a 240 mm disc and uni-pot anchor out back, all under the watchful guise of the ABS feature. This isn’t just any ABS either, it’s the “cornering” variety that measures lean angles and modulates the braking effort to match the remaining available traction. If you’re into sliding the rear end around a bit, and have the skillset for it, you can switch to the SuperMoto ABS mode to disable the anti-lock protection at the rear wheel only. This plays right into the factory’s assertion that the 790 is “race-ready” off the floor, but the real magic is in the engine-control electronics.

Frame: Chromium-Molybdenum-Steel frame with engine as stressed element, powder coated
Subframe: Aluminum, powder coated
Steering Head Angle: 24°
Trail: 3.9 in (98 mm)
Handlebar: Aluminum, tapered, Ø 28/22 mm
Front Suspension: WP-USD Ø 43 mm
Rear Suspension: WP shock absorber
Suspension Travel Front/Rear: 5.5 in / 5.9 in (140/150 mm)
Front Brake: 2x radially mounted 4 piston caliper, brake disc Ø 300 mm
Rear Brake: 2 piston caliper, brake disc Ø 240 mm
ABS: Bosch 9.1 MP (incl. cornering ABS and Supermoto ABS, disengageable)
Wheels Front/Rear: Cast aluminum wheels 3.50 x 17’’; 5.50 x 17’’
Tires, Front - Rear: 120 70 ZR 17 - 180/55 ZR 17
Silencer: Stainless steel primary and secondary silencer

2018 KTM 790 Duke Drivetrain

2018 KTM 790 Duke
- image 782698
KTM's first parallel-twin engine boasts an extensive alphabet soup of acronyms that is a nearly complete electronics package given the available technology.

The lean-angle sensor that keeps the ABS constantly tuned for vehicle roll also feeds the traction control (MTC) with data that it then uses to tailor power delivery to meet the available traction as well. Yet another layer of contact-patch protection comes in the form of the motor-slip regulator that increases engine speed when excessive backtorque is detected with a slipper clutch to help limit that backtorque in the first place. It also sports a switchable anti-wheelie feature to help steady your holeshot with a push-button Quickshifter Plus feature that eliminates the need to use the clutch altogether for even faster progression up the gear range. And that ain’t all.

A four-channel Ride Mode feature manages the various safety systems with a setting for Sport, Street or Rain plus a programmable Track setting that let’s you mix and match your own performance parameters. The traction control also comes with 9 levels of intervention with settings that are appropriate for slicks separate from the street-tire values. Short of adding helium tanks up top or adding training wheels, there is little more the factory can add in the way of fandanglery to protect you from yourself. This really is a nearly complete package given the available technology.

Now let’s take a look at the crunchier bits of the drivetrain. The engine itself is kind of a big deal, because after all, this is KTM’s first parallel-twin powerplant. It runs with a pair of 88 mm bores and a short, 65.7 mm stroke, but a 75-degree offset in the crank pins keeps it from being a twingle while giving the engine a lope at idle; nice and lumpy, just like I like it.

Dual over-head cams time the 8-valve head with a 42 mm Dell ’Orto throttle body to manage the induction under the direction of the ride-by-wire throttle. It boasts not one but two oil pumps with a heat exchanger that uses coolant to draw excess heat off your engine’s lifeblood and flush it out through the radiator. Total power clocks in with 105 ponies at 9,000 rpm and 64 pounds o’ grunt at 8 grand, plenty for its 383-pound wet weight.

Engine: 2-cylinder, 4-stroke, DOHC parallel twin
Displacement: 799 cc
Bore x Stroke: 88 x 65.7 mm
Power: 105 hp (77 kW) @ 9,000 rpm
Torque: 64.2 lb-ft (87 Nm) @ 8,000 rpm
Compression Ratio: 12.7:1
Starter/Battery: Electric starter
Transmission: 6 gears
Fuel System: DKK Dell´Orto (throttle body 42 mm)
Control: 8 V / DOHC
Lubrication: Pressure lubrication with 2 oil pumps
Cooling: Liquid cooled with water/oil heat exchanger
Clutch: Cable operated PASC
Engine Management/Ignition: Bosch EMS with RBW
Traction Control: MTC (3-mode + Track, disengageable)

2018 KTM 790 Duke Price

2018 KTM 790 Duke
- image 783563
Available in Europe, but it won't be here until 2019.

It’s still TBA at this time, but since it won’t be available in our market until next year, price will be forthcoming. U.K. dealers show a £8,499 asking price, so I imagine the U.S. price will be somewhere around the $10k mark. Available colors are black and orange, like you didn’t already know that.

Colors: Black, Orange
Price: TBA

2018 KTM 790 Duke Competitors

2018 Ducati Monster 821
- image 773267
2018 KTM 790 Duke
- image 783572
Looks-wise, KTM takes a beating against the Italian's passionate nature, but the Duke rolls with more fandanglery than the Monster.

After looking at the almost abrasive angularity of the Duke, I felt I needed to give my eyes a break with something a bit more curvaceous, and of course Ducati had just the thing with its Monster 821. Similarly Spartan, the Duc carries a minimal front fender and even less in the way of body accoutrements with absolutely nothing left to the imagination. An exposed Trellis frame adds to the look in spite of its blackout treatment over similarly monochromatic territory for an industrial feel not unlike that of the Duke’s yoke.

The rest of the ride adopts a sort of flow that, to mine eyes, have much more of a sensual quality. An almost voluptuous fuel tank describes a much more gentle descent to the narrow waist and a more comfortable scoop shape in the saddle. Yeah, I’m going to be the shallow one and say that looks-wise, KTM takes a beating against the Italian’s passionate nature.

Duc packs in a few extra cubes with, wait for it, 821 cc tucked away in its L-twin plant. It packs the power too with 109 horsepower and 63 pounds o’ torque against 105/64 for a slight edge in brute strength, but how do the electronics stack up? Well, Duc runs its proprietary Riding Modes, Power Modes, Traction Control and ABS, but no wheelie control and the quick-shifter is optional equipment. Bottom line: the Duke rolls with more fandanglery than the Duc. Probably does it for less money, too since I expect the Duke to barely break 10 K while the Monster rolls for almost 12 K, but we’ll know for sure soon enough.

He Said

“Yeah, you can pencil me in as impressed with the tech and performance, but the KTM is still so fugly! I mean, I respect them, but the aesthetics just don’t do it for me. Good thing KTM isn’t hinging its hopes on my personal taste, right? At the end of the day, you don’t have to look at it if you’re the one on it...”

She Said

My wife and fellow motorcycle writer, Allyn Hinton, says, “This is in the same flavor as maybe the 390. or the Super Duke as far as looks goes. It’s a brand new parallel twin and on paper, at least, it looks like a very capable bike. There will be more than a few folks I know that’ll be chomping at the bit to put it through its paces. As we get closer to 2019, we’ll have more info as far as price. It looks like it could be a sweet deal considering the electronic yummy-goodness included.”

2018 KTM 790 Duke Specifications

Engine & Drivetrain:
Engine: 2-cylinder, 4-stroke, DOHC parallel twin
Displacement: 799 cc
Bore x Stroke: 88 x 65.7 mm
Power: 105 hp (77 kW) @ 9,000 rpm
Torque: 64.2 lb-ft (87 Nm) @ 8,000 rpm
Compression Ratio: 12.7:1
Starter/Battery: Electric starter
Transmission: 6 gears
Fuel System: DKK Dell´Orto (throttle body 42 mm)
Control: 8 V / DOHC
Lubrication: Pressure lubrication with 2 oil pumps
Engine Oil: Motorex, Power Synth SAE 10W-50
Primary Drive: 39:75
Final Drive: 16:41
Cooling: Liquid cooled with water/oil heat exchanger
Clutch: Cable operated PASC
Engine Management/Ignition: Bosch EMS with RBW
Traction Control: MTC (3-mode + Track, disengageable)
Chassis:
Frame: Chromium-Molybdenum-Steel frame with engine as stressed element, powder coated
Subframe: Aluminum, powder coated
Steering Head Angle: 24°
Trail: 3.9 in (98 mm)
Handlebar: Aluminum, tapered, Ø 28/22 mm
Front Suspension: WP-USD Ø 43 mm
Rear Suspension: WP shock absorber
Suspension Travel Front/Rear: 5.5 in / 5.9 in (140/150 mm)
Front Brake: 2x radially mounted 4 piston caliper, brake disc Ø 300 mm
Rear Brake: 2 piston caliper, brake disc Ø 240 mm
ABS: Bosch 9.1 MP (incl. cornering ABS and Supermoto ABS, disengageable)
Wheels Front/Rear: Cast aluminum wheels 3.50 x 17’’; 5.50 x 17’’
Tires, Front - Rear: 120 70 ZR 17 - 180/55 ZR 17
Chain: X-Ring 520, 5/8 x 1/4"
Silencer: Stainless steel primary and secondary silencer
Dimensions & Capacities:
Wheel Base: 58.1 in ±0.6 in (1,475 mm ± 15 mm)
Ground Clearance: 7.3 in (186 mm)
Seat Height: 32.5 in (825 mm)
Fuel Tank Capacity: (approx. 14 liters)
Dry Weight: 372.6 lbs (approx. 169 kg)
Curb Weight: 383.6 lbs (approx. 174 kg)
Details:
Colors: Black, Orange
Price: TBA

References

Ducati Monster 821

2018 Ducati Monster 821
- image 773266

See our review of the Ducati Monster 821.

KTM 390 Duke

2015 - 2016 KTM 390 DUKE
- image 778069

See our review of the KTM 390 Duke.

KTM Super Duke R

2015 - 2017 KTM 1290 SUPER DUKE R ABS
- image 674497

See our review of the KTM Super Duke R.

All images featured on this website are copyrighted to their respective rightful owners. No infringement is intended. Image Source: ducati.com, ktm.com, photographer credit: R. Schedl

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