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It’s amazing how far single-cylinder engine design has come. The introduction of the modern four-stroke motocross racer in the 1990s was the main driving force behind development, while the advent of the Moto3 class in Grand Prix roadracing in 2012 ushered in even more advancements. KTM was one of the first to take on the challenge of creating a modern four-stroke single streetbike, the Austrian dirtbike manufacturer introducing the Duke 620 way back in 1994. Twenty-two years and four different design iterations later comes the 2016 KTM 690 Duke.

The previous 690 Duke was the most powerful production single to date, but the new model is even stronger. Two key design elements have enabled KTM to reach an even higher level of power and smoothness: the introduction of KTM’s Ride Mode technology along with a revamping of more than 50 percent of the LC4 motor’s mechanical components.

This latest Duke is geared toward maximum performance, but it’s also designed to be user-friendly for beginning riders. Even the chassis, which retains the same lightweight stainless chromoly-steel trellis-type frame as previous Dukes, received some subtle-yet-significant changes to improve handling. The new bike also gets some slight tweaks to its styling while retaining the minimalist, narrow lines so beloved by Duke enthusiasts.
2016 KTM Duke 690 on-road action

To test the new Duke, KTM invited the world’s motorcycling press to the Canary Islands off the coast of North Africa. There we spent a day riding around the spectacular island of Gran Canaria, which offered fast and slow sections of road as well as a variety of surfaces.

As far as comfort goes, the new 690 Duke fit my 5-foot-10 frame just fine. The controls were easy to reach and I was able to put my feet flat on the ground. We started off on the highway, which I suspected might be painful, but I was wrong—the single purrs as smoothly as a multi. Throttle response at freeway speeds is very precise with no lurching or uneven revving, and there is plenty of acceleration even in top gear. Part of the engine overhaul was to smooth out the torque curve from 4,000-7,000 rpm and the engineers hit the mark.

After hammering down the coast road we reached the mountains, and maneuvering on these tight-and-twisty roads is where the Duke shines. The revised chassis offers exceptional control and feel, and power delivery is spot-on. Response from the new ride-by-wire throttle system is smooth and predictable. KTM claims the 690 churns out 73 horsepower (a 7 percent increase from last year) and torque is up to 55 lb.-ft. (a 6 percent increase). That may not seem like much, but for a single it’s amazing.

The 2016 KTM 690 Duke comes in two colors: the classic KTM orange or white. There’s an array of Power Up Parts plus the Track Pack, which offers the same traction control, Supermoto ABS, and Motor Slip Regulator (MSR) that comes on the Duke R sold in Europe.

KTM put a lot of effort into smoothing out the motor. For starters, there’s a new cylinder head with a second balance shaft to reduce vibration. The intake valves run directly off the single camshaft, while the exhaust valves are actuated by a rocker arm. A new, more oversquare cylinder design with a bigger bore (up 3mm to 105mm) and shorter stroke (down 4.5mm to 80mm) lets the engine rev 1000 rpm higher. A new crank assembly features a more compact, lightweight, plain-bearing connecting rod holding a forged piston. The addition of a resonator chamber positioned directly after the new Keihin 50mm throttle body is equally important in controlling throttle response. All of these features, in conjunction with a new dual-spark ignition with different maps for each plug, have played a role in the motor’s newfound smoothness. Even the redesigned, lightweight muffler plays a role in added performance, as well as noise reduction.

Chassis-wise the Duke strikes a fine balance between aggressive handling and comfortable cruising. This was achieved by lowering the swingarm pivot 4mm and reducing the steering offset from 32 to 28mm, which increased trail from 115 to 122mm. The WP suspension consisting of a 43mm inverted fork and a linkage-actuated gas-charged shock worked just fine considering the only adjustment is for shock spring preload.

Flog the Duke hard and the chassis moves around a bit, but it’s nothing you can’t handle. The front-end feel with the added trail allows you to attack corners with confidence. Turn-in is easy and mid-corner stability is solid. The rear end holds the bike up well and the balance front-to-back is good even under hard acceleration. The spring rates are reasonable for a rider of my 150 lbs. A new, narrower seat lets you move around more freely, plus the foam is plenty comfortable. Even under hard braking, care of a single Brembo four-piston radial-mounted caliper grasping a 320mm rotor up front, the Duke stayed in line. Braking performance was great with a linear feel all through the lever pull, not overpowering but at the same time firm and responsive. The bike comes fitted with 17-inch, 10-spoke forged-aluminum wheels shod with Metzeler MR77 tires in a 120/70 front and 160/60 rear sizes.

One of the key selling points of the 2016 Duke is its electronics package. Just like its bigger siblings, the 690 comes equipped with the latest Bosch two-channel ABS. It also has three ride modes: Sport, Street, and Rain. The former two provide the same peak power, although Street mode offers gentler delivery, while the latter reduces output. A four-way switch on the left handlebar lets you select ride modes and also control the new TFT dash display. Interestingly, the tachometer bar graph changes color according to rpm, and there’s a night display that aids visibility in the dark. That’s pretty high-tech for “just” a single, but it really makes the 2016 690 Duke shine.

Whether a single-cylinder streetbike is worth R60 000 is a question buyers will have to answer themselves, but the fact is this is a great motorcycle for beginning riders and advanced enthusiasts. Whichever you are, you won’t be disappointed.


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