Riding new and unfamiliar motorcycles is one of the best aspects of working for a motorcycle magazine. But what I enjoy even more is riding updated versions of motorcycles I’ve tested before, particularly those on my short list of favorites. What I love about them is still there, but performance has been elevated, refinements have been made, and features have been added. That’s very much the case with the 2023 KTM 1290 Super Duke GT.
Derived from the 1290 Super Duke R – a 180-hp naked sportbike known as “The Beast” – the sport-touring GT was introduced in early 2016. Rider’s former EIC Mark Tuttle got a first ride on the 1290 Super Duke GT at the global press launch in Mallorca, Spain, and he gushed about it in his review, calling it “nearly flawless, the perfect sport-touring bike for a rider who doesn’t want to give up sportbike levels of engine performance and handling.”
I’m not above petty jealousy, and Tuttle’s hi-pro glow after that launch made me green with envy. Good guy that he is, Mark twisted the arm of Tom Moen, KTM North America’s head of marketing, to get us a pre-production 1290 Super Duke GT as soon as one arrived on our shores. I flogged and hogged it for nearly 2,000 miles, obsessively guarding its keyless fob like Sméagol with the One Ring, and then I logged another 1,500 miles on a production version, disappearing from the office for days at a time.
Two years later, we tested a 2019 model, which featured updates to the GT’s engine, suspension, comfort, and instrumentation. We had mixed feelings about the refresh of the angular styling, but you can’t see what a motorcycle looks like when you’re riding it, and that’s where the magic happens. Every staffer, to a person, was strung out like an addict on the 1290 Super Duke GT’s torquey Twin and heroic handling.
So you can imagine our heartbreak when the GT disappeared from KTM’s lineup for a few years, forcing us to get our fix elsewhere.
KTM 1290 Super Duke GT: Back With a Vengeance
KTM has been on a roll. Its Austrian parent company, Pierer Mobility AG, has seen 12 successive years of record sales, and at the end of 2022, its three core brands – KTM, Husqvarna, and GasGas – posted a combined 13% increase over the previous year. Annual U.S. sales have topped 100,000 units and $1 billion in revenue, and last year, it surpassed Yamaha in terms of sales volume.
In 2022, KTM built and sold 268,575 motorcycles. That’s a far cry from the 6,300 motorcycles KTM produced in 1992, the year Pierer Mobility purchased the company out of bankruptcy.
On March 28, I attended the grand opening for Pierer Mobility’s new North American headquarters in Murrieta, California. CEO Stefan Pierer spent $53 million on the development, his single largest investment ever.
After enjoying the festivities and touring the facility, I loaded a KTM SX-E 3 electric dirtbike (look for a test in a future issue) into the back of my 4Runner and a 1290 Super Duke GT onto a trailer.
“Where are the GT’s saddlebags?” I asked Andy Jefferson, KTM North America’s media relations manager.
“They’re no longer standard in the U.S.,” he said. “They’re available as accessories, but they’re on backorder.”
List price for the 2017 model was $19,999, and side cases were standard. They were also standard equipment on the 2019 model, but the MSRP had increased to $20,499. The base price for the 2023 model is $19,799 – back below the crucial $20K mark – but the side cases are now optional. Although they weren’t available for this test, the 30-liter bags are priced at $824.99. Our test bike was equipped with the optional Tech Pack ($999.99), which adds the Track Pack, Motor Slip Regulation, Hill Hold Control, and Quickshifter+.
Helmet: HJC RPHA 91
Jacket: Fly Racing Off Grid
Gloves: Fly Racing FL-2
Pants: Fly Racing Terra Trek
Boots: Fly Racing Milepost
What makes the Super Duke GT so super is its 1,301cc LC8 V-Twin, a potent, versatile engine that’s a true workhorse in KTM’s stable; it’s also found, in various states of tune, in the 1290 Super Duke R Evo, 1290 Super Adventure R, and 1290 Super Adventure S. This V-Twin is no appliance-like powerplant that hums quietly, as dull as listening to a classic rock station with the volume turned down. No, the big LC8 turns it up to 11, making its presence known with visceral power pulses and an authoritative bark from its single exhaust pipe. Sucking fuel and air through a pair of 58mm throttle bodies and compressing it to a ratio of 13.2:1, in Sport mode the 1.3-liter mill laid down 158 hp at 10,000 rpm and 92 lb-ft of torque at 9,400 rpm at the rear wheel on Jett Tuning’s trusty dyno.
While the 1290 Super Duke GT is pretty incredible, it’s no Hulk ready to explode in a rage with one mistimed input. Rather, the GT is a well-behaved beast, one with finely tuned throttle response and easily controllable power. A full complement of electronics allows the ride experience to be tailored to conditions and provides a wider safety margin. Three standard ride modes (Sport, Street, and Rain) adjust throttle response and engine output, and the optional Tech Pack adds two extra modes – Track and Performance – with unique throttle-response settings, launch control, a nine-level rear wheelspin adjuster, and the ability to turn off wheelie control.
A 6-axis IMU provides inputs for KTM’s Motorcycle Stability Control, which includes cornering ABS with two modes (Road and Supermoto) and lean-angle-adaptive traction control. WP semi-active suspension has three damping modes (Sport, Street, and Comfort) and four presets for rear spring preload.
Ride quality and responsiveness are good in all three suspension modes, but differences between them came into sharp relief while making passes on a tight, rough section of road during our photoshoot. In Comfort mode, the chassis felt too loose, and I struggled to find confidence while cornering at speed. Switching to Street increased the sense of tautness, and my confidence ratcheted up accordingly. But it was in Sport mode where the GT’s damping felt the most disciplined and well-controlled, allowing me to dive deeper and push my limits.
For most of this test, I toggled back and forth between the Sport and Street ride modes, and I left ABS in Road mode. I didn’t take the GT to a track day, but with its new, grippy Continental ContiSportAttack 4 tires, I’m confident it would hold its own. Having said that, hypersport tires like the SportAttack 4s may not be the best choice for longevity. Performance mode is the street-oriented version of Track mode for those who want to be able to adjust traction control on the fly and loft the front wheel. (Yes, this is still a review of a sport-tourer.)
Confident handling has always been one of the best characteristics of the Super Duke GT. Its chromoly-steel trellis frame is strong and light, its chassis geometry balances responsiveness and stability, and its curb weight is a respectable 517 lb. New lighter wheels reduce unsprung weight by 2.2 lb, giving the GT even lighter steering response without ever feeling twitchy, thanks in part to the standard steering damper. The bike rolls in and out of corners with ease, and it stays planted when firing out of corners like a cannon. Brembo Stylema front calipers pinching big 320mm rotors and a Brembo radial front master cylinder allow speed to be scrubbed off with finely tuned authority.
Rather than just tacking a windscreen and saddlebags on a 1290 Super Duke R, KTM invested significant development resources to make the GT suitable for touring. It has a frame-mounted fairing with integrated LED cornering lights, a hand-adjustable windscreen, a larger 6.1-gal. fuel tank (compared to 4.2 on the SDR), and a longer rear subframe that better accommodates a passenger and loaded saddlebags.
Standard comfort and convenience features include cruise control, handguards, heated grips, tire-pressure monitoring, self-canceling turnsignals, and the KTM Race On keyless system, which uses an electronic fob to power on the bike and to lock and unlock the steering and fuel filler cap.
Compared to the Super Duke R, the GT has more relaxed ergonomics, with lower footpegs, a taller and wider handlebar, and seats that are larger and more supportive. Rider ergonomics can be dialed in with an adjustable handlebar, adjustable levers, and three different positions for the shift and rear brake levers.
Updates for 2023 include a larger 7-inch color TFT display with new graphics, Turn by Turn+ navigation that integrates with the TFT via the KTMconnect app, and redesigned switches with adjustable backlighting. Like several other KTM models we’ve tested, the GT has two customizable quick-access buttons that allow the rider to change ride mode, damping mode, etc. without going through the menu, and information shown on the bottom of the main TFT screen can be customized with four favorites.
Also new are two storage compartments that fold away inside each side of the fairing. Due to the proximity of the fork tubes, neither can be opened unless the handlebar is turned one way or the other to move the nearest fork tube away from the inner fairing. The left storage compartment has a USB charging port, but the compartment itself is too small for my iPhone, and I doubt many other smartphones would fit either.
Fountain of Youth
My invitation to join AARP should arrive in a few months, and the older I get, the harder it is to stay in shape. These days, mysterious aches and pains come and go, injuries take longer to heal, and what hair I haven’t lost has turned gray. But as soon as I swing a leg over a motorcycle and fire it up, I feel like Benjamin Button. My biological clock switches into reverse, and I feel younger, friskier, more alive.
Every motorcycle has this effect to some degree, but a few, like the KTM 1290 Super Duke GT, have extra mojo. Riding them is like taking a pill packed with special vitamins A, C, and E (adrenaline, confidence, and excitement).
This bike is the pointy end of the sport-touring spear, and it’s sharper than ever.
2023 KTM 1290 Super Duke GT Specs
Base Price: $19,799
Price as Tested: $20,799 (Tech Pack)
Warranty: 2 yrs., 24,000 miles
Type: Liquid-cooled, transverse 75-degree V-Twin, DOHC, w/ 4 valves per cyl.
Bore x Stroke: 108.0 x 71.0mm
Compression Ratio: 13.2:1
Valve Insp. Interval: 18,000 miles
Fuel Delivery: Keihin EFI w/ 56mm throttle bodies x 2
Lubrication System: Dry sump, 3.8-qt. cap.
Transmission: 6-speed, hydraulically actuated slip/assist wet clutch
Final Drive: Chain
Frame: Chromoly-steel trellis & cast aluminum single-sided swingarm
Wheelbase: 58.3 in.
Rake/Trail: 24.9 degrees/4.2 in.
Seat Height: 32.9 in.
Suspension, Front: 48mm inverted fork, semi-active damping w/ 4.9-in. travel
Rear: Single shock, semi-active damping w/ 6.1-in. travel
Brakes, Front: Dual 320mm discs w/ opposed 4-piston radial calipers & cornering ABS
Rear: Single 240mm disc w/ 2-piston fixed caliper & cornering ABS
Wheels, Front: Cast, 3.50 x 17 in.
Rear: Cast, 6.00 x 17 in.
Tires, Front: 120/70-ZR17
Wet Weight: 517 lb
Horsepower: 158.0 hp @ 10,000 rpm (rear-wheel dyno)
Torque: 91.9 lb-ft @ 9,400 rpm (rear-wheel dyno)
Fuel Capacity: 6.1 gal.
Fuel Consumption: 35 mpg