KTM Super Duke R

KTM’s Super Duke R.

KTM Duke

Brutal Sophistication…

Words: Séan Hendley & Jason Wessels

Pics: René Swart Photography

 We’ll start by saying that, the week before we picked up the R, we had the GT Rendition. That was great.  A very fast tourer. We fully expected the Duke R to be a proper handful. And to be absolutely frank, I was just a little apprehensive…


Let’s Face it. 

The Duke has quite a fearsome reputation, especially the earlier models. Short wheelbase, wildly snappy power making it wheelie happy at the touch of a throttle, twitchy as a coke dealer at a police banquet and as belligerent as all hell. 

Quite honestly, I am tired of fighting with overly powerful and wayward handling bikes. When I was younger and was worried about the size of my manhood it was fun, exciting and hugely thrilling to ride those types of machines. Knocking around in my mid-fifties I just want to enjoy the simple pleasure of riding a really well put together motorcycle that does everything so well, so intuitively and yet is still surprisingly quick and exciting at the twist of a wrist without making you soil your rods… 

Enter KTM’s latest Duke . It surprised the heck out of me!”

Guaranteed, with a machine this special you have all already studied the specs, but I’m going to run through some of my favourite highlights for 2023 and just some thoughts on each:


Look at the minimalistic lines and unique styling. 

What’s not to like? This bike shouts aggression. Love it!


Then there’s that 180hp and140nm’s out of a 1301cc naked V-Twin bike that weighs a mere 180kg. 


Well now. That’s a one-to-one power to weight ratio… on a wheel base that is less than a metre and a half! 

That right there is what had me a bit wobbly at the knees.


But – and this is where my initial trepidation stepped in:

The words “Too Much” and “Wild” come to mind – super aggressive and pretty difficult to just ride… In fact if we remember correctly, you had to sign a waiver when you bought one. 


KTM is aware of that.

The latest  iteration has been refined just a bit with the trickery of updated suspension and chassis geometry and is just so very much more rideable. Power delivery is more linear and predictable, with decent low-down torque for bumbling around at low speeds, but somehow it still manages to rev into the stratosphere and deliver insane top end power and acceleration.


The one thing we all noticed is how silky smooth and light the PANKL gearbox is and how quickly it changes. Shorter shift times means more time on the gas, faster acceleration and quicker lap times, and believe me, this bike really gets its ass in gear and hustles along ridiculously quickly.


Another feature we all really enjoyed is the PASC slipper clutch, a big V-Twin that can quite easily whip you over the bars when you roll off too quickly. When the engine experiences extreme back torque during aggressive downshifting the clutch opens partially to prevent the rear wheel locking up.

KTM Super Duke R
The Engine is the star of the show...
KTM Super Duke R
What would you like to adjust sir?
KTM Super Duke R
Beautiful isn't it?

That headlight is super sexy. It serves a proper purpose other than showing you the way, that’s where the RAM Air Induction is situated, reducing the chance of low air pressure and improving the fuel burn rate – basically, more power!


Then, just look at the rest of it! 

The exhaust it is a thing of beauty – not the usual ugly, compliant lump begrudgingly bolted on to keep the tree hugger happy. At 60mm in diameter and designed by somebody who apparently loves bikes it looks the business, sounds the business and does the business. Couple that with the induction noise and you have a machine that really gets your blood pumping. 


Suspension – Well, C’mon… WP Apex keeps the Super Duke so planted with such great rider feedback that you feel part of the bike and not just a passenger, inspiring so much more confidence to go even faster and lower and climb on the brakes so much later. That linkage at the bottom of the rear shock really helps to smooth out South African roads but still givesyou a full track riding feel when burning up the track or carving up the mountain passes.

KTM Super Duke R
The Headlamp actually hides Ram Air Induction...
KTM Super Duke R
WP Apex Suspension of course!

Brakes are top drawer Twin 320mm floating rotors clamped by big 4 piston Brembo Stylema monoblocs up front and a 240mm out back with a twin piston calliper all controlled by some serious electronic ingenuity that can be switched off at will… and we’ve yet to find their limit or get squirley on the track.

Ergo’s, now pay attention.  I am tall, taller than most in fact and have great difficulty finding a bike that I fit on. I dropped off the GT version of the Super Duke when I collected this one and I battled to get comfortable on that machine, so I was quite worried about the Super Duke R, which looks smaller… but somehow it just fits me better. By the time I had ridden out of KTM SA’s office and back to our office, I was completely in love with the R because of the ergonomics and the seating position.

Software and Electronics – It’s a KTM, we need more pages to tell you about it all…  

I spent more than a week wandering Gauteng on the Super Duke R. 

I found reasons to go places just so that I could ride it and usually got lost along the way and had to make big detours to find my way back. 

I even phoned KTM SA head office and made an excuse to keep it longer. 

KTM Super Duke
Even for a tall bloke like Sean, the R is comfortable


Tuck in and roll on and the scenery quickly becomes a blur and the road ahead focusses down to an arrow point in front of you and you feel like you are a nuclear warhead skimming over the surface. The feedback from the chassis and suspension is so good it feels like your hands extend through the forks and clamp directly onto the front wheel, and the same is true for the rear wheel.

You become part of the Super Duke R and riding at speed becomes as easy as and as natural as walking or running or breathing. 

You don’t have to think about… you just do it – intuitively. 

Drill her into a corner, clamp late on the hooks just before clipping the apex and spank it hard out the other side – then thank the good creators of this machine for their wise inclusion of wheelie control as she lifts her wheel and gently puts it down again making me look a lot more proficient than what I am.

A Few more corners like that and many more thanks sent up to the creators at KTM for the inclusion of slip control, wheelie control and various other bits of intuitive software inclusions and I back off the gas to a bit more sensible riding… for a little bit anyway.

Bumbling around town at anything less than 80 kmh and the top half of the gearbox becomes redundant.

I found anything over third gear at town and suburban speeds had the big Duke chugging a little bit around 4,000 rpm, so either ride faster or just stick to the bottom of the box.

It has more than enough torque and is quite comfortable at those speeds. 

Get out on the open road and you can try touring, but the snorting and growling induction noises and the sweet handling doe something wicked to your soul and you’re off like the proverbial ‘Bat outta hell’ again. 

This engine just revs so beautifully and so sweetly that you really and truly just can’t help yourself. 

It sounds gorgeous and is so smooth at the top of the rev range, bounce off the rev limiter, change up on the quick shifter while hard on the gas and with an encouraging pop from the exhaust you’re trying to find the rev limiter again.

 The Absolute Mind Blow here is the fact that this bike is so quick and exciting but it doesn’t feel like it is trying to kill you. The firm track suspension and chassis is not trying to buck you off on our crappiest SA roads littered with potholes. 

KTM Super Duke R
KTM has a Duke for every occasion.

This Super Duke R is just so easy and so friendly to ride, it does everything so flippen well and so easily that I just didn’t want to get off of it. 

Other bikes I have reviewed I rode for a week or two and enjoyed them but would let others ride it or leave it in the garage here and there and would begrudgingly return them to their owners. 

Not so with this one. It was like my arse was super glued to the seat and I am acually properly ‘Dik the moerin’ that I had to give it back… In fact, it took quite a stern telephone call from KTM SA to make me relinquish it.

Of all the bikes I have ever ridden in my life, and that figure is in the hundreds, this has to be one of my absolute all-time overall favourites. 

Yes! Really!

KTM Super Duke R
Jason Wessels

2nd opinion:

Jason Wessels is a very lekker bloke and a significantly better rider on the track than we are – and he also looks a lot prettier on a bike. So we let him have a spin on it at Red Star Raceway and this is what he had to say:

 I had a  fantastic time riding the 2023 KTM 1290 Super Duke R at Red Star. 

I have a long history with KTM. In 2011, I raced the RC8’s and they were really raw, very powerful and very fast. I have also ridden the older generation Super Duke very extensively – that was a proper handful – and then gotta ride this one today aaannnnddddd… 

Super Duke R
The RC8 had no electronic gadgetry...

This bike is still on the standard gearing and I was quite surprised that it was so short. It is absolutely fantastic around the track. It is so smooth, so powerful… and the electronics, Wow, you can really feel the difference between the different modes. We started in ‘Track’ mode, but I wasn’t entirely happy with the engine braking, I then changed to ‘Performance’ mode which did seem to significantly increase the engine braking. We then played around a bit with throttle settings, ABS on and off, slip control, etc. and each setting made a big difference. I finished the day in the ‘Sport’ setting which had a nice balance of everything and worked very well overall. The Quick Shifter is just sooo silky smooth and the gearbox is really refined compared to the older bike and the older LC8 engines. 

Out on the track this bike in standard trim got 242 kmh down the back straight, I banged three gears down into the corner and it turned in with ease, that slipper clutch works well. The engine braking, the whole package on this bike is very superbike feeling. 

Out of the box it’s… there is probably only one other motorbike, which is the Aprilia RSV4, that handles around a track as easily and as comfortably as this one. The wheelie control is great, it wheelies out of the turns and puts the power down where you want it. 

The throttle control – in fact, the whole electronics package is just so smooth, so easy to use and just makes this bike so rideable for, I would say, any sort of rider around a track and it is so comfortable that you don’t get tired riding it because of the more upright position.

Such a crazy, crazy good ride and such a big difference from the old one. 

The centre of gravity has changed, which makes the bike much more rideable especially around a track. Even with the standard tyres, the standard exhaust… what a weapon hey, to bring to a track day and just have a lot of fun without having to do anything to it.”

KTM Duke R
The more upright position means less track fatigue.

The thing I really want to talk about is the traction control and engine braking.  

I felt huge input from the traction control moving across different surfaces…

You can actually physically feel it working. When we were at redstar they had put bitumen down on the track just to seal it, so there were a lot of slippery surfaces that still need to be bedded in. You could actually feel the traction control kick in more on the slippery surfaces than on the older, unsealed surfaces. 

Engine braking:

We did change it on the modes right through to ‘Performance’ and I felt the biggest difference in ‘Performance’ mode with the actual engine braking going into the turns. 

In ‘Track’ mode I found that it would engine brake and then release to let the bike be a bit free and I would basically overshoot the turn. In ‘Performance, the engine braking is a lot more aggressive, I could engine brake and hold the line. 


Those are the two most significant things that I felt on this bike that have been refined. I would say, at least fifty percent better than the previous Duke models. We never had them on the RC8’s back in those days – they were just raw with no rider assist. 

The latest Duke is very, very nimble, turns in very quickl and holds the line very nicely.

It doesn’t feel top heavy, this one without a doubt feels a lot more superbike, able to hold the line wherever you put the motorbike. You can basically get your knee down and rail it through the turn and get on the power whenever you want. 

Such an agile bike and very easy to ride.”

KTM Duke R
KTM Duke R

Electronic selection is actually pretty simple.

“Something I noticed at around 240 kmh down the back straight… Okay, I am only 1.7m tall, but I got very little wind noise in my helmet and very little buffeting, so somehow they have the aerodynamics quite spot on. I’m not sure what the top speed is on the road, I don’t ride on the roads too much these days, but flat out down the straight it is comfortable. A big difference that I found on this model compared to the older model, I’m not sure about the seat height but it definitely feels like you sit deeper into the motorcycle and that makes all the difference.

“In a nutshell this is probably the most fun motorcycle you can buy, it’s an all-rounder. You just don’t want to stop being on the back wheel, it is just so easy to pop the wheel up and just ride it through the quick shifter so smoothly all the way through the gears… Ja, just an exciting, exciting motorcycle to ride… I love it.”

KTM Duke R

In Summary.

The LC8 engine is still a marvel of modern performance, but thanks to lots of refinements and a better torque curve it feels far less snappy and is much better for you. 

You still get that ridiculous hit of torque, but it no longer bullies you, which translates to a great riding experience.

Go and ride one. We are pretty sure you’ll love it as much as we do.

It’s quick,, light, hard revving, easy and surprisingly comfortable to ride.

Spend some proper time in the seat and we guarantee you’ll be a Duke fan!

Super Duke R
Super Duke R
Super Duke R



  • TORQUE140 Nm
  • COOLINGLiquid cooled
  • POWER IN KW132 kW
  • CLUTCHPASC (TM) slipper clutch, hydraulically actuated
  • DISPLACEMENT1301 cm³
  • DESIGN2-cylinder, 4-stroke, V 75°
  • FUEL CONSUMPTION5.6 l/100 km


  • ABSBosch 9.1MP 2.0 (with cornering ABS and SUPERMOTO ABS)
  • FRONT BRAKE2 x Brembo Stylema Monobloc four piston, radially mounted caliper
  • REAR BRAKEBrembo twin-piston fixed calliper, brake disc
  • CHAIN525 X-Ring
  • FRAME DESIGNChrome-moly tubular space frame, powder-coated
  • SEAT HEIGHT835 mm

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