KTM Duke 990

1st SA Ride: The New KTM Duke 990

RAD Paarl

The KTM Duke 990 in Paarl

Story: Donovan Fourie, The Bike Show.

A week or two back, we did a story on the KTM 1390 Super Duke blasting up and down Franschhoek Pass. Of course the 1390 is a big deal – the Super Duke is always a big deal. It’s the Thor god of thunder of motorbikes. But the 990… well, read on.

While the 1390 was hogging the headlines, KTM also snuck in another new model, one that doesn’t have the thunder of the 1390 but certainly can brew up a storm. In fact, maybe an even bigger storm.

And it has big shoes to fill. KTM’s badass street legal range earned its badass-ness when it launched the 950 motor that adorned something called an Adventure. 

Afterwards, KTM upgraded that to the 990 which also became an Adventure but more so started a line of Dukes that were extra super, so super they called it the Super Duke.

Nowadays, you need numbers in your name like 1390 to earn the Super part which is why the 990 is merely a Duke and this seemingly made it angry. 

At 999.8cc, the original 990 was bigger than the current bike’s 947cc. The original also had a 75º V-twin, one of our favourite engine layouts, whereas this one has a parallel twin. Yes, the parallel is more compact and easier to build, but it has never given the same feel that a proper V-twin has. 

But, let’s give the new kid a chance, shall we…

The KTM Duke 990 outside the RAD Paarl dealership. Behind it is the 1390 Super Duke, a bike the 990 might overshadow in circumstances.

From RAD Paarl, the KTM dealership in the mountainous town of Paarl in the Cape, there’s a road heading up the adjacent mountain to the Afrikaans Monument. The road isn’t the longest but it winds up the mountain beautifully. Like every road in the area. Like a racetrack, which every road in this area basically is. 

 

You leave RAD Paarl, turn left out of their driveway into the road where there is a steep uphill crossing a bridge. Obviously, because we are manly men that do manly men stuff, I’ve put the 990 in full power mode, I’ve turned the traction control and wheelie control off and now I’m going to see what this new pretender can do by opening the thrott…

Those roads in the Fairest Cape...

The motor barks mightily, thrusts the motorcycle forward and launches the front wheel into an attempted orbital flight. The once cocky rider suddenly swallows a humble pill and admits that “Holy crap, this thing is strong. Scarily strong. Perhaps, scarier than the 1390…”

Let’s look into this before we make bold claims. 

This new boy puts out 121hp, one more than the original 990, and 103Nm of torque, three more than the original. Yet it feels like more. Part of that might be because RAD Paarl fitted this bike with the aftermarket Akrapovic slip-on exhaust, so it might not be Thor god of thunder but it certainly has his soundtrack. 

And 121hp won’t quite batter the ground into an earthquake but it’s a lot when you look at the chassis. Despite all the Euro emission and sound laws throwing mounds of bureaucracy onto this model, the new 990, at 179 kg without fuel, weighs a bunch less than the original. And you can feel it.

More so, this bike is small and compact – you feel almost like you’re sitting on the handlebars. The 1390 feels like a long-nosed chopper compared to the 990. And the 990 therefore turns on a dime. Think left and left it goes. The same goes for turning right. It’s effortless. However great steering comes at a cost, one KTM seems to think is worth it…

KTM Duke 990
The motor is a 947cc parallel-twin.
The business view of the 990 Duke. There’s a new button layout and the graphics on the TFT dash are excellent.
KTM 990 Duke
Some sexy nakedness.

Short, sharp and light motorcycles with powerful motors tend to be a tad lively – the front wheel jumps, the bars move around and it can be a bit daunting. At no point did it feel dangerous, as though it would throw the rider off or, worse, tank slap into oblivion, however, if you’re a rider who doesn’t feel comfortable with a bike moving around and twitching, you might not enjoy it.

 

It takes experience to learn what dangerous feels like versus twitchy, and that’s perhaps where KTM is aiming this bike. They call it The Sniper and no casual shooter uses a sniper rifle. This is a bike for the person who knows what a bike feels like, who knows how to trail brake into a corner, who knows how to use the throttle to balance the bike in a corner, who knows how to use their body to counteract the signals from the bike.



KTM Duke 990
This bike is all about body english and feel...

The 1390 is faster – there’s no doubt about that – but the 990 has its own kicks. The 1390 is a rollercoaster taking its occupant on a thrilling ride of a lifetime. The 990 is a bobsleigh where its occupant is trying to eke out every bit of advantage and add every bit of extra G-force to the equation. The 990 is a rider’s bike. And a damn good one.

KTM 1390 Super Duke
The Super Duke
The Duke

The Super Duke has been my favourite motorcycle ever since they first launched the insane 1290 version. It’s the bike I’d take over all others. Now, I’m a little torn between it and the 990.

That’s the greatest compliment I can bestow on a motorcycle.

The money starts at R264,999

Get down to RAD and check it out…

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