Think KTM, and a couple of words spring to mind:
Not only has the renowned Austrian manufacturer of navel-orange dirt bikes dominated the prestigious
Dakar Rally for seven straight years, it's giving the Japanese a run for their money in motocross, supercross, super-moto and every other two-wheeled off-road sport.
Since 1995, KTM's been dabbling in the street market with its Duke 620, Supermoto and Adventure dual sports, all of which can be ridden both on and off road. But with the 2007 990 Super Duke, KTM's literally trying to build its street cred with a pure street model that's sure to claim the company a few of the 700,000-plus street bikes that are sold in the U.S. each year. Beat-'em-up dirt bikes may be a hefty one-third of the market, but the cash register really goes ka-ching with street bikes, where the prices, and profits, are higher.
At $14,000, the Super Duke is priced at the middle to high end of the street bike pack, but you get what you pay for. The liquid-cooled four-stroke loads a lot of fun and fast dirt bike-inspired technology into its 406-pound chromoly frame.
Despite the softballing of its name, the 990 Super Duke is actually 999.9 cc, but KTM is calling it a 990 because a European competitor one country to the south had already staked its claim to the 999. Such a name would also have drawn too direct a comparison between the two bikes, which are, at best, fraternal V-twins, sharing similar trellis frames but radically different bodies and brains.
The Super Duke's LC8 motor is, for the most part, the same as the 2007 Adventure's, only the focus is on top-end, rather than bottom and mid-range, power. Swapping out the pistons for ones that are domed also gives the Super Duke a slightly higher compression ratio -- 11.5:1 versus 11:1 for the Adventure.
Considering the motor was refocused for high-rpm performance, I didn't find it wanting during green-light scuffles with other bikes or ear-splittingly high-revving. The bike's peak horsepower is 120 at 9,000 rpm, and it "orange"-lines just 800 rpm later. Yes, the analog tachometer is decked out in the company's see-it-from-a-mile-away company color.
Acceleration was linear and, for the most part, smooth, though the throttle was a little hesitant when accelerating and decelerating slowly. Whether that minor annoyance was due to the bike's tuning, its tall gearing or unsynced throttle bodies and KTM's new-for-'07 electronic fuel injection, I don't know. KTMs tend to take a few thousand miles to break in, and my loaner had only 200 miles on the odometer when I got it. Over the 450 miles I put on the Super Duke, the low-speed throttle situation did improve, but only slightly.
KTM admits the company was in a rush to get the Super Dukes to the U.S. The bike is so highly anticipated that some dealers have had deposits on it since 2004, when the first-generation Super Duke came on the market in Europe. So, to get the initial batch of '07 Super Dukes to the U.S., production was rushed. Screws on the clutch springs have also been called into question, prompting KTM to add those screws to dealers' pre-delivery inspection checklists.
Otherwise, the Super Duke's multi-disc clutch is self-adjusting and hydraulic, which makes it maintenance free. That is, if you decide to use it. Shifting gears, you don't need to engage the clutch because the six-speed transmission has a dirt bike-style claw shift. You can just kick it up and down -- no harm, no foul to the transmission -- though the shifting's a lot smoother when you squeeze the lever.
Being a naked bike, the Super Duke is, of course, happiest when the clutch is out of the picture and the throttle's wide open. Riding around Lake Hughes this past weekend, I found high-speed cornering among its many fortes -- thanks in part to a suspension package that's adjustable six ways to Sunday, and syrup-sticky D208RRs. The soft and grippy Dunlops come stock on the Super Duke, which is good or bad news, depending on how rich you are. The tires are designed to last a maximum of 1,000 miles on the track or 3,000 miles in the street. Either way, a new set costs $400 plus. Add labor and you're up to $500.
At least the bike's fairly fuel efficient, thanks to the Keihin EFI and a catalytic converter. I got about 200 miles on a single 4.8-gallon tank, which is made from urethane instead of metal or, as KTM has been using on its dirt bikes, nylon. Not only does the urethane tank allow KTM to carry its Transformer-like bodywork through to the tank design, it's nonporous, so it also meets evaporative emissions requirements.
So does the catalyzed and pleasantly bass-y dual exhaust. An added bonus: the pipes. Tucked under the tail within sizzling range of tender thighs, each has welt-preventive heat shields.
The heat shields are not the most attractive things I've ever seen on a bike. They're one of a few questionable design decisions, such as the seat lock -- awkwardly located in the middle of the passenger seat -- and the 1-inch wind "spoiler," a misnomer if ever there was one.
But overall, the Super Duke is an excellent first effort for a straight-up street bike. It bodes extremely well for KTM's future street endeavors, like its upcoming full-fairing sport bike, the RC8, due within two years.
2007 KTM 990 Super Duke
Base price: $13,998
Powertrain: Liquid-cooled, DOHC, 75-degree V-twin, four valves per cylinder, six-speed
Displacement: 1,000 cc
Horsepower: 120 at 9,000 rpm
Torque: 74 pound-feet at 7,000 rpm
Bore and stroke: 101 mm by 62.4 mm
Dry weight: 406 pounds
Seat height: 33.6 inches