Test Drives

January 31, 2017

2017 KTM Super Duke GT

Photo: Brigitte St-Pierre/Hugo Fournier/Guy Caron Inc.

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Distant playgrounds are within reach of KTM’s new sport-touring superbike
By Guy Caron

Blending in with the flow of traffic moving at 120 km/h, I look for an opening. Dressed in white track leathers and riding a big orange motorcycle, I look like a mad escapee from the Orange Julius company. Not much subtlety here, but plenty of conspicuity.

I go for an opening, hit the resume button, and discover that if I accelerate slowly back to my set speed, about 30 km/h faster than the motorists in the left lane today, the pick-up is smooth. Accelerate harder before extending my right thumb to the switch and the cruise control adjusts for it—a very cool feature. With the generous torque of the 1301 cc 75-degree V-twin (claimed 106 lb-ft or 144 Nm at 6750 rpm) I don’t want it all unleashed at the touch of that hard-to-reach button. That cruise control works well, from 40 km/h all the way to its limit of 200, in fourth, fifth and sixth gear.

The bottom three gears are there mainly to put to the test the very good traction and wheelie control. When I want to access the whole stable of 173 claimed horses I can turn off those functions, but I’ll need to be ready to manage either a spinning back tire or a front wheel going over my head until I shift into fourth.

I get to the Autodrome Montmagny circuit a bit late for the photo session. A quick clean-up of the bugs on my helmet and the angular and sharp front end of the KTM is all I need to be ready to hit the track. My leathers are clean, thanks to the adjustable windscreen that I pulled up to the highest position with one hand, on the fly. A quick toggle through the ride mode menu, the WP semi-active suspension goes from Touring cushy to Sport and well controlled, the engine mapping from smooth to very responsive. I put a knee down on my second lap around the tight portion of the track we use for the shooting today. Hugo got drafted to be the camera operator and he’s doing pretty good.

So is the Super Duke GT. It’s terrific fun here despite the bike’s sport-touring designation—that orange blood is seeping through. The Ready to Race slogan that is attached to the brand from Mattighofen is apparent. I can flick the 228 kg (measured with the tank full and sidecases attached) machine from side to side in the left/right/left transition without effort. The wide handlebar, narrow waist, and supermoto like riding position give me the confidence to throw the Super Duke GT around even if the track is dirty after a drifting night. Hugo will blow the pavement clean later; for now I ride around on marbles and just enjoy the technologies that keep everything lined up while braking or on the gas. The TC cuts in quite soon but it does make for some strong corner exits with no drama, and I can get the best out of the Pirelli Angel GT rubber. I was a bit worried about ground clearance, because the pegs are quite low, but the Bosch IMU (inertial measurement unit that also manages the cornering ABS/TC and wheelie control) keeps the suspension up in the stroke and I only touch the extension tip of the side stand at about 45 degrees of lean. And that extension can be removed; they pay attention to the details those Austrians!

In the sport mode I can pull on the adjustable Brembo lever that operates a radial master cylinder attached to M50 callipers pinching 320 mm discs and feel the front end dive in a natural way to ease steering input on corner entry. In the Touring and Comfort mode the Bosch 9ME system introduces anti-dive to keep the bike level no matter how hard I brake.

As with the traction and wheelie controls, ABS can be turned off or set to Supermoto mode. That permits locking the rear wheel to slide into turns, which can definitely be fun.

The symmetrical 30-litre side cases can be detached easily, revealing a svelte rear subframe exempt from unsightly brackets. I’d be tempted to leave them off if not for the practical aspect; each can hold my medium size Arai Crosair X, albeit with careful positioning. They also balance the lines of the KTM; the 23-litre tank with the cornering light attached up front is quite voluminous when you look at it from some distance. Without the cases it looks like a weightlifter on ballerina legs. I’m five-six and the 835 mm seat height puts me on my toes, but it’s easy to manage with the narrow mid-section and the wide tapered aluminum handlebar that I’ve adjusted to the closest of four positions, a 10-minute job. The clutch pull is light and the transmission works flawlessly, with or without the quickshifter that operate on upshift only. The saddle is firm enough and lets me move my back end around. It complements the relaxed riding position to give long distance ability for the exploration of twisty playgrounds near or far. Heated grips are standard but hand guards are not—they’re likely the second thing I’d add to the machine. The first one would be an automatic chain oiler; with no centrestand and looking at long distance travelling, it would be a good investment on the Super Duke GT.

Cruise control, heated grips, a 23-litre tank feeding that strong but quite fuel-efficient V-twin, riding modes that are easily accessed when you’ve learned the procedure, top-notch semi-active suspension, and comfortable ergonomics make a complete package that’s very well thought out. If only it came with some kind of license protection.