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Better Still

August 21, 2019

In true KTM fashion, the company’s newest Sport Tourer emphasizes sport bike-like features. It could be considered the most radical long-distance bike on the market

Story by: Alan Cathcart

Photos by: Heiko Mandl

While KTM is already Europe’s largest motorcycle manufacturer, it continues to ramp up its sales. One of its palpable hits that helps to drive that increase is the most expensive model in its entire range: the 1290 Super Duke GT, which first launched three years ago. KTM, an Austrian company, offers a unique take on sport touring – with emphasis on the “sport.” The sales figures indicate that this model completely addressed KTM president Stefan Pierer’s concerns before it appeared. “I don’t think a sport tourer in the classic way matches 100% with KTM’s brand identity,” he told me. “Our customers expect something sporty made the KTM way – not like other manufacturers do it.” Well, that certainly describes the GT, which since its 2015 launch has provided its owners with the dazzling performance and benchmark handling of the “take no prisoners” Super Duke R streetfighter (a.k.a. The Beast) combined with everyday practicality and user-friendly convenience. The combination is a successful marriage of opposites.

Body of the 2019 KTM 1290 Super Duke GTDespite being the first ever KTM V-twin on-road model with touring pretensions, the GT has been such a hit that KTM has devoted some of its R&D budget to making the bike better still. So, at Intermot 2018, KTM unveiled the seriously improved 2019 version of the model and, just a short time later, the company asked me to come ride it for a day. My test-ride conducted in glorious sunshine and on superb riding roads running up and down the hills and valleys of KTM’s Upper Austria hinterland. 

The 2019 Super Duke GT is even more fun to ride than before, as it is a sharper, stronger and more refined version of its predecessor in every way – a fact underlined by the outgoing 2018 model GT, which Luke Brackenbury, KTM’s PR manager and my riding companion, had brought along to compare with the new bike. Swapping back and forth between the two was an education: I never would have thought that the outgoing model would seem quite so dated, as it had set new sector standards during its 2015 release. 

A New Visual Identity

Front Wheel of the 2019 KTM 1290 Super Duke GTPart of the contrast between the two bikes is visual. Just looking at them both side by side as you walk toward them, it’s evident that the new model’s heavy style facelift by Kiska Design has given the 2019 GT more presence, as well as a greater sense of substance than before. The new, shapelier windscreen is also quite a bit more protective at speed than the older model’s and is safely adjustable with one hand while on the go and through nine positions over a range of 50 mm. Despite the extra protection the windscreen gives when raised to the max on fast stretches, it doesn’t drum at higher speeds. Cruising at 160 km/h with the V-twin engine running at 6,500 rpm was surprisingly relaxing for a neo-naked sports tourer offering excellent protection, very little residual wind blast and no excessive noise. 

The 2019 GT’s redesigned front end also features wider and more protective side pods for the unchanged 23-litre fuel tank. These pods contain a pair of storage compartments to hold stuff, such as freeway toll tickets and the credit cards to pay them, quite apart from the key for the bike, which for the first time on a KTM features a keyless remote system. You don’t even need a key to unlock the fuel tank, so you use the key only for the lockable panniers. There’s also a USB port in the left-hand compartment for recharging your phone, etc. – although be warned: there isn’t room for larger such devices. 

The GT’s facelift also features a new and quite distinctive headlight comprising six forward-facing ultra-bright LEDs within a central aluminum housing. More LEDs deliver the daytime running lights and incorporate self-cancelling indicators. The three-stage lean angle-specific LED cornering lights are mounted within the fuel tank spoiler; these lights are linked to the Keihin ECU’s lean-angle sensor and increase in intensity as you lean the bike over, thus directing light into the apex of a turn. 

Some Things Stay the Same

2019 KTM 1290 Super Duke GTAs before, the GT shares the same orange tubular steel-trellis frame as the Super Duke R while retaining the same steering geometry, which is matched with a 1,482 mm wheelbase. The GT has a longer, stronger rear subframe versus the R version to give a passenger extra space and thus greater long-distance comfort via lower footrests. This feature also facilitates fitting the optional, specially designed hard panniers. The 2-into-1 exhaust’s right-side silencer is also mounted lower that on the R version to make room for these.

Settle aboard the GT’s quite tall 835 mm seat, which delivers a pretty spacious riding position with the footrests set quite to the rear so that your toes don’t touch the ground at reasonable lean angles; nor do your legs get cramped when riding for long stretches. That sense of spaciousness is extended by the wide one-piece handlebar mounted on the upper triple-clamp, which delivers a commanding riding position via any of the four positions the handlebar can have and its flatter shape yields a more upright and much more relaxed stance than on the Super Duke R. 

The specially designed hand guards…

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