KTM 890 Duke R review: the best handling road bike… in the world?

The KTM 890 Duke R is one of the most astounding motorbikes we’ve ever ridden. This is a £10,649 honey badger of a thing that shows how incredible engineering can create a machine that feels utterly sublime to ride – and unlike any other road bike we can think of.

Watch the video below to find out why or read on for more thoughts.

What is it?

It’s a £10,649 middleweight upright naked bike with an 889cc parallel twin engine putting out 121hp at 9,250rpm and 99Nm of torque at 7,750rpm. The engine’s sat in a bike that weighs just 176kg fuelled and ready to go – that’s basically the same as a fat pigeon.

The 890 Duke R is set up with no pillion seat or pegs (but they are available from dealers), which hints at the fact this is a bike that’s designed to rip around with its rider’s hair mostly ablaze. You also get fully adjustable high-end WP Apex suspension, super-sticky Michelin Power Cup 2 tyres and Brembo Stylema brakes that usually don’t exist on bikes at this price point.

Superbike-spec brakes on a bike that weighs the same as your last wee? Mega.

Superbike-spec brakes on a bike that weighs the same as your last wee? Mega.

Put bluntly, the 890 Duke R is equipped to lean over like the Titanic with an inner-ear infection.

How does it ride?

It’s fair to say that the 890 Duke R’s engine isn’t the star of the show, but that’s only because the handling is so outrageous. Still, the parallel twin feel incredibly potent, and revs quicker than you’d think. Forged pistons and con-rods help it spin up faster than the rest of KTM’s 890 line-up of bikes, and it has some seriously aggressive cams too.

The 890 Duke R’s parallel twin has had a working over to make it pretty angry

The 890 Duke R’s parallel twin has had a working over to make it pretty angry

It punches hard enough to pop little third-gear wheelies off crests, or longer, loopier ones in second gear. It’s entertaining, although it doesn’t have an especially memorable rumble from either the airbox or that high-level exhaust.

But you honestly won’t give a toss of a horse’s dingleberry when you get to a corner.

Is it really the best handling bike on sale?

There’s something about the 890 Duke R’s geometry and quality of components that gives it a completely, utterly, unflappably, mind-bogglingly amazing sense of adhesion to the road surface. It turns in super quickly, but at any degree of lean angle it feels as if it could flip right back over to the other side in a blink of an eyelid faster than a government U-turn. It’s outrageously agile.

But it also delivers bucketloads of confidence. When you’re committed to a corner at a decent speed you sense the grip from those Power Cup 2 tyres glueing you to the road, and the suspension deals with just about any imperfection the UK’s crazy paving can throw at you.

Factor in the astonishing braking power from those Brembo Stylemas and you have one heck of a motorcycle. It’s one that eggs you on, daring you to not brake at all for the next corner. The front fork and tyre combo gives you so much feel for the road that you end up trail-braking harder and harder into corners.

Power Cup 2 tyres are another ingredient in the delicious handling cake

Power Cup 2 tyres are another ingredient in the delicious handling cake

And it just laps it up. It’s all a bit silly, and it’s a lot of fun – albeit an intense sort of fun that requires a lot of brain power to make the most of. This makes the 890 Duke R a very fun bike for short weekend blasts, but not exactly a relaxing ride for banging out miles.

Comfort-wise, it’s acceptable rather than extraordinary. The rider’s seat is thin – great for butt-feel, less good for long-distance haemorrhoid evasion unless you go for one of the many optional ergo seats. The shape of the 14-litre fuel tank also cut into our knees a bit, so if you’re much over 6’2″ you’ll want to take a test ride to make sure you fit. On the flip side, the 834mm seat height is unintimidating for most riders of average height.

What about the rest of it?

As you’d expect, the 890 Duke R has a huge treasure chest of electronic safety aids, from the (optional) up-and-down quickshifter/blipper to the six-axis computer brain that controls the traction control and ABS. The TFT dashboard’s bright and packed with info, but it isn’t huge at five inches from corner to corner.

The screen’s not huge and the switchgear is a generation old, but you can forgive all this when you just ride the thing

The screen’s not huge and the switchgear is a generation old, but you can forgive all this when you just ride the thing

As with most modern KTMs, you’ll have to pay to unlock the optional Tech Pack (£678) to access the track mode, which will allow you to ease back the riding aids to pull wheelies. The pack also includes the quickshifter/blipper, but not cruise control, which is another £225.

Should I buy one?

It feels odd writing this, but the KTM 890 Duke R is a bit of a bargain. Sure, £10,650 isn’t peanuts in anyone’s book, but it gets you a bike that’s had clever money spent on it – all the important components are as high-end as you like, while the bits you don’t really notice are a little less fancy. The switchgear, for example, isn’t KTM’s latest and greatest. But it does the job.

An absolute weapon for the price of a very average middleweight bike. The 890 Duke R is blinding value for money

An absolute weapon for the price of a very average middleweight bike. The 890 Duke R is blinding value for money

The result is a bike that feels unlike any other road bike we’ve ridden. Where its bigger brother, the 1290 Super Duke R, has a focus on stupid stunts and arm-wrenching torque, the 890 Duke R has a similar laser focus, but on going around corners very, very fast.

It’ll put a huge smile on your face, and it’s one of those bikes that defies belief. Go and have a test ride and let us know how you get on…

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