KTM 890 Duke R review 'Keep Throttle at Max' for the most joyful bikes around

I could be wrong, but I think I’ve discovered the antidote to all the doom and gloom surrounding the planet at the moment.

It’s called the KTM 890 Duke R, and it’s much cheaper than developing a vaccine.

As I flung it happily through a sinuous series of twisties and sweeping A-roads in glorious winter sunshine, my thoughts turned to what exactly makes KTMs such a joy to ride, from tiddlers like the 125 Duke, as eager and lovable as a Labrador puppy, all the way up to monsters like the 1290 Super Duke R.

I think it starts with the seating position.

On superbikes such as the Yamaha R1 or the ridiculously titchy new Honda Fireblade, your knees start to ache after 20 minutes, and gangrene sets in after 40, although you don’t notice because of the pain in your wrists and your neck from leaning on the bars and peering out from under the rim of your visor.

Comfy: The riding position is compact but natural
Comfy: The riding position is compact but natural

Great bikes, if you know a good physio, but KTMs prove that you don’t need to suffer for their art.

You’re sitting more upright, perfectly placed to grip the tank lightly with your knees, rest your hands just as lightly on the bars, and fling yourself into corners as delicately and precisely as on any sportsbike, but just as fast, and with the added bonus that because you’re more upright, you can actually see where you’re going – which I always think is a bonus in corners.

Add to that mix light weight, perfect mass distribution, short wheelbase and steep fork rake, and before long on any KTM, you’re cornering by instinct rather than conscious thought.

In short, if you don’t have fun riding a KTM, you’re already dead.

Wheelies: Entirely possible if you switch off some of the safety measures
Wheelies: Entirely possible if you switch off some of the safety measures

And so to the bike itself – I’d just been riding the aforementioned 1290 Super Duke R, and the 890 is like its enthusiastic little brother.

At 176kg wet, it’s 33kg lighter than the 1290, and although it’s 121bhp compared with the bigger bike’s 180bhp, that’s more than enough for fabulously lusty acceleration which is noticeably swifter than its impressive predecessor the 103bhp 790 Duke.

The gearbox isn’t quite as slick as on the 1290, showing an occasional reluctance to change down to first even when using the clutch and leading to some enthusiastic clutch slipping pulling away from junctions, but it was no big deal, and the real joy of this bike, as I said above, is scalpel-like cornering, with cornering ABS as a safety net if you run out of skill halfway through a bend.

Sweet: The pin-sharp handling is as enjoyable on track as road
Sweet: The pin-sharp handling is as enjoyable on track as road

The WP suspension, developed with the wisdom of former MotoGP star turned KTM guru Jeremy McWilliams, is now fully adjustable to make it even better if you’re lighter or heavier than the average rider, and the brakes are better than on the 790 as well.

So if you like the sound of the 1290 but for some inexplicable reason don’t have 15 grand down the back of the sofa, walk this way.

Unless you’re Jeremy, it’s just as much fun in the world for five grand less.

*Bike supplied by Phillip McCallen Motorcycles

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Neat: Looks good from all angles

Engine: 890cc parallel twin

Power: 121bhp @ 9,250rpm

Torque: 73 lb ft @ 7,750rpm

Colours: White/black/orange

Price: From £10,399

Burnout: It's obvious he's not paying for his own tyres
Burnout: It’s obvious he’s not paying for his own tyres


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