Skip to main content

KTM 1290 Super Duke R Motorcycle Review: Unleashing the Power

In the moments before an epic battle between the characters Goku and Frieza of Dragon Ball Z Kai, Frieza (the bad guy) taunts Goku (the good guy) and fires off a volley of energy blasts. None, however, faze Goku. In that moment, Goku stares Frieza down and delivers, “I am the warrior you’ve heard of in the legends, pure of heart and awakened by fury. That’s what I am. I am the Super Saiyan!” Goku becomes enveloped in a fiery energy and his power is magnified 10,000 times.

In context, Frieza is tarmac, and Goku the KTM 1290 Super Duke R.


My first experience with KTM’s 1290 Super Duke R came some years ago and suffice it to say, it left an impression. The naked brass-knuckled street fighter was everything I could ever want in a motorcycle. Not only could the Super Duke R handle daily duties thanks to its comfortable upright seating position and soft seat, but when you grabbed your Moto GP super-suit and streaked off toward a great back-road or your local track, you were rewarded with a track-focused monster featuring a power-band similar to the energy unleashed in the heart of a thermonuclear explosion.

And at the end of my time with the last Super Duke R, I’d have said the motorcycle was a perfect specimen. Nothing could be bettered or changed without making it slightly worse. Why mess with excellence? KTM, however, thought otherwise. Late last year, the Austrian manufacturer updated the Super Duke R to feature more power, a new suite of electronic aids and displays, restructured suspension geometry, and some minor changes to the riding ergonomics to make an already powerful Saiyan into the Super Saiyan you see before you. It’s a fierce machine that’ll give your riding the power to decimate all.

Like launching a Space Shuttle, twist the Super Duke R’s throttle and you’re met with acceleration that’d give most astronauts a run for their money. More brutal than the last Super Duke R, the new motorcycle’s acceleration caught me off guard the first time I laid into its phenomenal throttle. The front wheel almost instantaneously comes up off the ground as if the wheel and pavement are forced apart through magnetic repulsion. Shift into second and the bike settles back onto the pavement — just for a moment. Then the front tire is back in the air as the speedometer climbs with lightning-like speed.

Just how powerful is this bike though? For us mere mortals, the math works out to be 177 horsepower and 104 lb-ft of torque. For a motorcycle that weighs just 430 lbs sans rider, that’s a hell of a power-to-weight-ratio.

KTM 1290 Super Duke R 3
Sam Bendall

To tamper the front wheel’s bird-like nature, KTM’s new suite of electronics features an “anti-wheelie” control that allows the rider to select if they want to unicycle the Super Duke R. Accomplishing this task is no easy feat, with the anti-wheelie mode working through the motorcycle’s traction management system to reduce the amount of torque sent to the rear wheel upon throttle application. Turning the system off, however, has the real potential for getting you into trouble, and becoming very addictive.

Where KTM might have gone too far in its quest to make the Super Duke R better is in the motorcycle’s suspension. The updated Super Duke R now features stiffer front springs and a re-valved rear shock that makes cornering that much better, but the stiffened springs somewhat sacrifices everyday rideability. I wouldn’t call it a jarring ride, nor would I call it as comfortable as the previous iteration. It took just a few hundred feet to notice the revised geometry, and after a couple of miles, I wish KTM hadn’t touched anything beside the engine.

Along a scenic stretch of distorted and twisted road inside Los Angeles proper, I summoned the KTM’s Saiyan ancestry and unleashed the torrent of power kept deep inside the motorcycle’s soul. Through each corner, my knee got closer to the tarmac and my speed increased. It’s an amazing machine, one that can easily intimidate even the most experienced riders with its laundry-list of performance stats. Yet, when you’re carving canyons, it’s capability is approachable when you give the Super Duke R its proper respect.

KTM 1290 Super Duke R 2
Sam Bendall

Farther and farther toward the ground I leaned until the inevitable happens: I scraped my knee. It feels like it could go further still though, like the Super Duke R is gyro-stabilized. I don’t remember the previous version being so accessible. And here, riding on the buttery pavement, the revised suspension makes sense. Take the Super Duke R anywhere with some undulation or broken pavement, however, and it becomes less sensible. But there isn’t time to think about the bike’s capability, or lack thereof, as the turn abruptly ends in a long, upward straight. Wheelie-ho!

The straight ending, I coax the front wheel back to Earth with a dab of rear brake. As the tire touches down onto the pavement, I grab a handful of front brake and plant my butt as firmly into the rear of the motorcycle’s seat as I can. The brakes grab with such force, my body lurches forward toward the bars and at this moment, I’m supremely glad I grabbed AGV’s new Carbon Modular helmet for this ride. With so much mass lurching forward, its feather-like weight reduces the overall momentum and keeps my neck from real strain.

Where KTM absolutely hit it out of the park is with the new dash. Gone is the split analog dial and monochromatic digital display, replaced in favor of a TFT unit that makes switching between riding modes, and reading the gauges, an absolute breeze. However, as this motorcycle is an absolute hooligan, you likely won’t be looking down much. You’re more likely to be looking skyward.

To me, KTM’s new 1290 Super Duke R is the best motorcycle on the road. The Super Duke R has the right look, the right power, the right daily abilities, and though it costs $17,999, for what you’re getting, that’s a deal when you consider its supercar beating performance. It’s so good, you’ll be quoting Goku as you dip into the 177 horsepower, screaming into your helmet, “KAMEHAMEHA!”

Editors' Recommendations

Amanda DePerro
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Amanda DePerro is a Midwest-based freelance writer and journalist who loves video games, gardening, and true crime. She is a…
2025 BMW M4 CS: intentionally intense and emotional
The BMW M4 CS shows its motorsports roots on the street and on the track
2025 BMW M4 CS driver side profile shot parked in a garage with a corrugated wall.

I can imagine BMW M4 engineers sitting around a table, saying, "OK, now let's give them THIS!" followed by laughter with vicarious diabolical joy, thinking about how much fun drivers will have. BMW intentionally designed the 2025 BMW M4 CS to deliver "a more intense, emotional driving experience." The strategy to reach that goal was two-fold: less weight and more power.
Why the BMW M4 CS matters

With BMW's deep bench of M series cars for enthusiasts, the automaker can focus on the needs and preferences of specific groups of drivers for each model or variant. BMW slots the stunning M4 CS between the M4 Competition Coupe with M xDrive and the track-focused, limited-edition BMW M4 CSL. The M4 CS is lighter, has tighter handling, and produces 20 hp more than the Competition Coupe with M xDrive, but it stops short of the race car harshness of the Nurburgring-record-setting M4 CSL.
2025 BMW M4 CS: the defining features

Read more
Defender revamps luxury in 2025 lineup with signature 110 Sedona Edition
Defender makes it easier to add luxury with 2025 lineup curated packages and 110 Sedona Edition
2025 Defender 110 Sedona Edition parked on desert sand with rocky hills in the background right rear three-quarter view

Defender goes luxe. Jaguar Land Rover's 2025 Defender brand lineup bumps up the luxury and personalization options for the hardy adventure vehicle. All Defender models can be ordered with updated passenger comfort features. Defender KAI simplified buyer options selections with curated packages. The 2025 110 Sedona Edition, offered only for the 2025 model year, combines a selection of the new option packs with a deep red and black color treatment inspired by the Sedona, Arizona, desert terrain.
Why the 2025 Defender 110 Sedona Edition matters

Jaguar Land Rover owns the Defender brand. Renowned since 1948 for its ruggedness and multi-terrain capabilities, the Defender is sold in 151 countries. With its 2025 lineup, Defender adds luxury and comfort to its go-anywhere performance capabilities. Defenders are sold with various powertrains in different countries, including gas, diesel, and hybrid engines. This new lineup marks a significantly increased emphasis on customer preferences.

Read more
What we know about Toyota’s next-gen RAV4 so far
What to expect with the next-gen RAV
toyota rav4 future suv rhv my22 0005 v002 16x9 s1qfww8ry

Since its debut in 1994, the Toyota RAV4 has been a perennial favorite among consumers who want something with a little more versatility than a traditional sedan but don't want to go the full-blown SUV route. Initially dubbed as an acronym for "Recreational Activity Vehicle with 4-Wheel Drive," Toyota has since changed that mantra to "Robust Accurate Vehicle with 4-Wheel Drive." We're not entirely sure what "accuracy" Toyota is referring to, but it has been able to target a core (and ever-expanding) audience, which has allowed the RAV4 to celebrate three decades of success this year. Now in its fifth generation, which began in 2018, it seems about time for the RAV4 to transition to another generation, which should be coming in the next year or two at the most. The following is what we know thus far about what to expect with the next-gen RAV.
What powertrain will the new RAV4 have?

Though in terms of size, the RAV4 more closely resembles the Corolla, its larger proportions and slightly heavier curb weight dictate that it will more than likely use the larger Camry's powertrain lineup for propulsion. The 2025 Camry, which is now offered solely as a hybrid in North America, currently uses a naturally-aspirated 2.5-liter DOHC inline-4 cylinder engine with Variable Valve Timing-Intelligence by Electric motor (VVT-iE), which produces a net of 225 hp for front wheel drive models and 232 hp with available all-wheel drive. This sounds like the perfect starting point for the next-gen RAV4, as Toyota tends to use the same motors across its lineup with little change.

Read more