2019 KTM 790 Duke first look

Nov 07, 2017

So often, the production bike we actually get our hands on is a disappointingly watered-down version of the prototype that manufacturers got us excited about. Apparently KTM is setting out to break that trend with their all-new 790 Duke.

Dubbed “The Scalpel,” this bike looks to be closer to the teased prototype than we could have hoped.

For their newest middleweight streetfighter, KTM is introducing an all-new 799 cc parallel-twin engine. The liquid-cooled engine features four valves per cylinder actuated by dual overhead cams. It features dual balancer shafts, one in front of the crankshaft and one in the cylinder head between the camshafts. KTM claims this will give the engine an extremely smooth characteristic.

2019 KTM 790 Duke
The new 790 Duke will offer a class-leading power-to-weight ratio. KTM photo.

According to Hubert Trunkenpolz, KTM’s CSO, who introduced the new bike at EICMA, this new 790 Duke will make 105 horsepower at 9,000 rpm and 63 foot-pounds of torque at 8,000 rpm. KTM claims that with a wet weight of 418 pounds, the new 790 Duke will have a class-leading power-to-weight ratio. Considering bikes like the Kawasaki Z650, Yamaha FZ-07, and Suzuki SV650 are all claiming somewhere around 70 to 75 horsepower and weigh in around 400 to 440 pounds, KTM’s claims are well founded. If their numbers are correct, the new Duke will make roughly 29 percent more horsepower than any of these bikes.

2019 KTM 790 Duke
Based on the press photos, I am hopeful for a performance-oriented suspension. KTM photo.

One of the areas where the competition is really lacking is suspension. The new 790 Duke will utilize an inverted 43 mm WP fork up front and a WP shock at the rear. The fork uses split function technology which separates the rebound and compression damping duties to individual fork legs and features progressively wound springs. The rear shock utilizes a progressively wound spring as well and will feature adjustments for preload. A steering damper is also included as standard equipment.

While I will reserve my final judgement until I ride it, I was really hoping KTM would introduce more adjustability to the suspension on the new 790 Duke. Then again, the new suspension on the 390 Duke impressed me and it’s not adjustable. Wait and see, Dunbar, wait and see.

2019 KTM 790 Duke
Supermoto mode allows for the rear wheel to be locked up under heavy braking. KTM photo.

The dual front brake calipers feature four pistons which clamp down on 300 mm discs. They are radially mounted to the bike and are just branded as “KTM.” The 790 Duke will feature KTM’s Cornering ABS system. There is also a Supermoto mode that allows for ABS to be shut off at the rear wheel while remaining enabled at the front wheel. 

As if all of that isn’t enough, KTM gave the 790 Duke the most competent electronics package in its class, all controlled by a TFT dash. In addition to Cornering ABS, the new Duke gets four rider modes: Sport, Street, Rain, and Track. These modes control throttle input, traction control, and anti-wheelie control. Much like on the 1290 Super Duke R, Track mode allows riders to separate and customize the levels of interference they would like from each of these electronic controls and it also introduces launch control.

2019 KTM 790 Duke
Sophisticated electronics allow the rider to dial in as much or as little protection as desired. KTM photo.

KTM’s Motorcycle Traction Control (MTC) is a lean-angle-sensitive system, so it will react differently depending on how far the motorcycle is pitched over in a corner. As I mentioned earlier, MTC interacts with the machine differently depending on which ride mode is selected. Sport mode will allow for the most amount of slippage for aggressive riding, Street mode limits wheel slip to keep things in check for everyday riding, and Rain mode intervenes at the slightest sign of wheel slip. In Track mode, users can use Spin Adjust to dial in varying levels of MTC or it can be shut down completely.

The 790 also comes with Quickshifter +, which allows for clutchless up or down shifts. If you’d like, you can turn it off and use the PASC clutch, which has both slipper and assist features to eliminate chatter during aggressive downshifts while also offering the rider an extremely easy clutch pull. This works in conjunction with KTM’s Motor Slip Regulation (MSR). Standard as well, MSR is an engine brake control system that works with the throttle-by-wire system to modulate the throttle if an abrupt downshift is too much for the slipper clutch to manage on its own.

2019 KTM 790 Duke
It's obvious KTM packed a lot of bike into this middle-weight package, but what's it gonna cost?KTM photo.

I’ve used a lot of these features already, but the difference is, I used them on the $18,000 KTM Super Duke R, which required nearly an additional grand to add the track mode and performance pack. Which leads me to my biggest question I still have for the new 790 Duke: What’s this thing going to cost?

At first glance, some could consider this competition for bikes like the aforementioned Japanese middleweight nakeds, however, with the list of features that KTM is stacking onto this bike I would expect to see it priced comparably to something like Triumph’s Street Triple line or the newly updated Ducati Monster 821.

2019 KTM 790 Duke
I expect this bike to be a big hit for KTM. KTM photo.

With that being said, if they can release it with an MSRP closer to $10,000, I suspect they will capitalize on buyers looking at those Japanese middleweights as well as those looking at the slightly more powerful European counterparts. Based on my time on both the 390 Duke as well as the 1290 Super Duke R, I think KTM’s new 790 Duke may be just the right middle-of-the-road machine their lineup has been lacking.

We will have to wait a while to find out, however. This bike isn't set to hit the United States until the fall of 2018 when it'll debut as a 2019 model.