Riding the KTM 1390 Duke

RAD Paarl

Franschhoek Pass is the greatest race track in the world. 

Some people might say that it isn’t a race track based purely on the fact that it has other vehicles on it and road laws and things. What do these people know?

For people who may have not had the opportunity to visit this ribbon of tarmac perfection, Franschhoek Pass runs from the mountain-lined dorpie of Franschhoek, over the nearby Franschhoek Mountains and ends 25km later at the Theewaterkloof Dam. 

Thats where Donovan Fourie Rode the new KTM Duke 1390… and Joni Tollner & RAD Media got some pics.

The road agencies call it the R45 but that’s a terrible name for a race track. The most entertaining road deserves the most entertaining bike.

Step forward the new Super Duke R from KTM. RAD Paarl to be precise and thats just down the road from Franschhoek. 

Previously, this machine was a brute, and those were the days when it was a 1290. Now, it is a 1390cc – that’s nearly 1400cc in a sport bike V-twin. A truly maddening number when not long ago, the world thought 1000cc was already too much. Technically, the new SD is a 1350cc but we won’t let the truth get in the way of a good story.

This extra brutishness has upped the horsepower figure to 190 while the torque has seen its muscle grow to 145Nm. More so, the people at RAD Paarl have fitted it with a Stealth slip-on exhaust, upping the thunder to earthquake proportions.

People of Cape Town might wonder at the bewilderment of this story surrounding Franschhoek Pass but need we remind them that we Vaalies from Jo’burg have mountain passes that compare to the Cape’s in much the same way that Boksburg has a beach. 

Please give us a moment to be awe-struck.

The pass starts as you leave the café-lined streets of Franschhoek and begins climbing the mountains that, up until this point, had been only looming. It’s a short shoot up the steep side of the mountain before the peak. The first section is fun but only after the peak does everything properly fit together. 

The other side of the mountain is less steep and meanders down a valley that naturally forms the greatest race track in the world. 

The road is smoother than many racetracks. In fact, the road is smoother than Cape Town’s own Killarney racetrack. And it flows better too, with delightful, medium-paced switchbacks and one corner in particular circles far beyond 180º in third gear leaning bliss.

The Bike:

Thank goodness I’m on a Super Duke. More so, thank goodness I’m on a modern Super Duke. The first generation of Super Duke from back in 2014 was a beast. It was an untethered beast. A bull in a China shop, thrashing its horns wildly at everything. It was wild. It was fun.

It was also a handful. It was the sort of motorcycle that you had to brace for impact before opening the throttle. Make sure the coast is clear, take a deep breath and open the throttle…

It was like coaxing a tiger – adrenaline-fuelled but you felt lucky to get out alive. The motor was deeply explosive and giggle-inducing but not the best at managing speeds through corners. And it was through the corners that you got a worrying feeling that the front wheel wasn’t quite attached to the motorcycle. So you opened the throttle at heavy lean, an atomic bomb went off and the front wheel disappeared into the undergrowth. 

Rhino's have striking front ends. KTM's more so.

KTMs were not for sissies. 

KTM also didn’t have the same know-how then about building a road chassis that they do now. It was only in 2017 when the MotoGP project began and look how far they’ve come. Four years ago, at a time when Brad Binder won KTM’s first MotoGP race, the Gen Three Super Duke was launched and guess what? It handled.

The front wheel was no longer some distant myth but was now stalwartly attached to the motorcycle and, more so, acting like Rudolph’s luminous nose guiding everything else in the right direction. Riding a Super Duke was now an act of daring precision rather than a heart-stopping choice from a lucky packet.


For the 1390, the chassis has not changed much, it’s only altered slightly to accommodate a different motor and to make space for a bigger fuel tank with another 1.5L of go juice.

The mostly unchanged chassis is hardly anything to complain about. That of the previous generation was good. Good enough to keep.

Franchhoek Pass Became Dukeville for the weekend.

Then there is what the Super Duke is most famous for – the motor. The Gen Three motor was far less explosive than the previous two – not slower but the throttle represented a speed moderator rather than the red button in the Oval Office. 

For the 1390, the Super Duke gets 49cc more piston to bring the capacity up to 1350cc. It also gets a new ram air system and a new 10L airbox to help the bigger 75º V-twin muscles breathe. 

It’d be very disappointing if these changes had resulted in very little boost in power. 

These days, such things happen, especially as factories struggle to meet the ever more stringent Euro emission laws. 

KTM has made the 1390 Euro5 compliant, a move that famously adds weight and saps power, hence manufacturers boost capacity and breathing to just match their previous outputs. Luckily, the Ready To Race brand doesn’t roll like that, so while the 1390 does meet Euro 5 emissions, it also sees its horsepower output go from 180 to 190 while the torque steps up from 140Nm to 145Nm.

The Freedom 301 pub. Very cool spot!

And once again, the throttle is more than a trigger. When you open the throttle 100% then, yes, you will feel shock waves. You will have a bike that cannot accelerate into the rev limiter in the first three gears without the wheelie control on unless you fancy going upside down.

At partial throttle – like is necessary when in the middle of a corner or maybe behind a half-blind tannie in a Peugeot straddling the solid line in the middle of the road – it purrs like a kitten. Or perhaps a tiger. A very nice tiger. With a sunny disposition and a belly that’s already been filled. In short, the bike no longer tries to bite you for the sin of poking its incandescent loins.

From the cockpit, everything looks much the same as before with the same button layout and much the same TFT colour dash layout. It has every electronic gadget available, however better refined. At this stage, you can hardly feel the wheelie control desperately trying to keep the front wheel down. There are the usual three rider modes as standard – Rain, Street and Sport – plus two optional extras with a Performance and Track mode. With that, the gear-shifter is reversible should the rider prefer an upside-down race shift.

While the cockpit might look the same, the outward appearance is noticeably different. Gone are the smooth, praying-mantis-style “eyes” on the previous model and now it looks like a praying-mantis that has turned into a zombie. The LED daytime lights (that are adjustable) form a sort of skull while two stacked LED lights look like the zombie’s eye sockets.

Not only does it want to kill you, but you can’t kill it back.

The Conclusion:

There’s an element of stupidity to motorcycling and that’s just the factories meeting a demand – we are a bit stupid. If we were completely sensible beings we would all be driving Korean hatchbacks very slowly to maximise safety and minimise expenses.

Wouldn’t that be a dull world indeed?

At the very least, we as motorcyclists could be riding the range of affordable, frugal motorcycles that are adequate for getting from A to B again with minimum costs and risks.

No, humans are not like that. We take risks, we enjoy thrills and try to do things just because we can. Such as riding massively overpowered motorcycles with no fairings. 

It might be stupid but it is fun. It is what we like to call living. 

Thanks to companies like KTM who help us remember how good it is to be alive.

Thanks again to RAD KTM in Paarl for the loan of their Super Duke 1390 R. This bike is on sale for R389,000 but that price very much depends on how many extras and electronic packages you buy.

KTM SA has not hosted an official media launch of this bike just yet, but we guess that there will be more on this and the new 990 soon.

The more the merrier.

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