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Future classic: KTM 990 Super Duke R

KTM, until then best known for its offroad models, rocked the motorcycling world in 2005 when they presented their first proper road bike, the 990 Super Duke. Despite the model designation, it was powered by a 1000 cm3 DOHC, 4-valve V2 pumping out a healthy 120 hp. The bike’s spectacular CrMo trellis frame was complimented by aggressive styling by KISKA, KTM’s usual partner-in-crime.

The suspension consisted of a 48mm USD and a monoshock, both fully adjustable and from the KTM-owned manufacturer, WP. Also brake components were of superior quality, and made by Brembo.

The bike was raw, appraised by journalists and loved by hooligans. But that wasn’t enough. In 2007, KTM updated the Super Duke with radial brakes, changes in ECU software and some styling updates. In the same year, however, they launched something utterly insane, namely the 990 Super Duke R.



The 990 Super Duke R was a bike for those, who think the normal version was a bit lame. It was an extremely hardcore, track-focused version of the standard model.

The changes included a solo seat unit, which was about as comfy as a two-by-four, sharpened steering head angle, which was complimented by a steering damper. The rear shock travel was increased by 10mm and the front for got stiffer springs. The exhaust headers were made by Akrapovic and the engine redline was brought up by a 1,000 revs to 10,000 rpm, which together consisted of a power increase to 130 hp. As is fitting for a track tool, the bike was equipped with axle sliders front and rear. In the beginning, there was just one colour option, matte black with orange frame, which was anything but discreet. The style was complimented by liberal use of carbon fibre.

The 990 Super Duke R was incredibly raw and uncomfortable, but again, incredibly fun. It wanted to have either wheel in the air at all times, and the slight change in steering geometry made a world of difference, with the R turning in more willingly and keeping the line better as well. It was even more loved than the standard version by the enthusiastic minority and the motorcycle press, but as such it never became that big of a success, and during the years KTM softened it up, until in the end the R (in the end the only available version) was essentially equal to the normal Super Duke of the past years.

990 Super Duke R is a bike, which, I believe, taught the manufacturer a great deal. It was too extreme for the masses – as one KTM representative told me on a later model launch:
– We used to build a lot of bikes that the press and the few real hardcore riders loved, but they didn’t really sell at all. When we made them more accessible, people started buying them.

That’s probably a fact. On the flipside, however, a part of the 990 Super Duke R’s appeal was that it was a bike that demanded a lot from the rider, whereas I could give a 1290 Super Duke R to my mum to ride. This is why the 1290 Super Duke R will never be as charming as the first version of the 990 Super Duke R, although it is a better bike in every way.


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