Driven: KTM 790 Duke by Mieke Oelofsen
Just think how pleased Duke Nukem would be to know a whole day is celebrated in his name?
After a winter slumber, and obviously too much food gathering if my riding pants are anything to go by, it was a scramble getting my butt to RAD Moto on time Saturday morning for Duke Day. Add a U-turn after realising I don’t have my license, indecisiveness about which t-shirt would be politically correct to wear and which helmet would compliment KTM orange, and I arrived somewhat on time and dishevelled. I felt the disapproving stares as I desperately tried to wipe my smeared mascara from below tearing eyes in the mirror of my S1000RR.
After locating Andy from KTM and being introduced to my stud of a ride for the day; Duke Nukem we’ll call him, I had a few minutes to awkwardly stand around and take selfies with all the Dukes. Only afterward, upon closer inspection would I notice some rather peculiar photobombs.
I settled easily onto the KTM 790 Duke, keeping it in Street Mode for a “smooth, comfortable, controllable” ride through midmorning traffic as we went down Witkoppen and Cedar roads and took a shortcut to the meeting point. The mirrors, positioned on the edges of the handlebars on this demo, made me squeeze my eyes shut whenever the gap between cars appeared too narrow, fully expecting it to clip an SUV mirror. The mirrors can be mounted toward the inside of the bars, but it depends on where you’re comfortable. Perhaps the width of the handlebars is accentuated by the narrow tank and front end, with the riding position keeping you flush against the tank. In Street Mode the throttle is smooth, and the up-and-down quick shifter performs beautifully, even under medium load.
As indicated on my Hazard Pay application, I can now say I have tasted burning rubber and had to refrain from letting my smile spread too wide afterwards as the KTM 790 swept me off my feet (literally) and carried me at warp speed over the dam bridge.
All day I’ve been amazed at how easily an outsider like myself just gets absorbed into the group, with people ready to chat and share their experiences astride their Dukes or ask about my experience of the 790 Duke. Duke riders are from all walks of life, some with different ideas on how riding gear should be worn, but with a universal affection for anything amber in colour. I was also surprised to learn how many Duke riders have given up cages completely for a more adventurous commute to work, whilst knowing exactly how many Woolies packets fit in the panniers.
For the ride back to RAD Moto I decided to turn up the heat a bit as my date with KTM 790 Duke was to end soon. Unfortunately, and much to my regret, I was not able to take him home with me. With some help I was introduced to the other riding modes and decided to give Track Mode a go. The differences between each is easy to grasp, and even easier to apply. Rain Mode, much like it implies, ensures maximum grip with early intervention. Sport Mode will put a spring in your step afterward with its more direct throttle, whereas Track Mode allows you to adjust traction control and even switch off anti-wheelie if you’re up for it. For the brave and skilled, Supermoto mode keeps the ABS active on the front, but allows intentional slide on the rear.
The KTM 790 Duke is called ‘The Scalpel” in ad campaigns for good reason; it is precise, and it will slice the riding inhibitions out of you. It’s light frame and spot-on handling makes weaving through crawling traffic a breeze, until you look at the uncluttered cluster and realize they’re not really dragging feet, just that you’re hauling ass. The KTM just soaks up the bumps as we leave behind Pecanwood, taking the R512 into Broederstroom and the Pelindaba road into Lanseria. The wind at speeds in excess of 150kmh can become bothersome, but KTM does have windshield options to remedy that. The brakes are super-efficient when utilized, but the engine braking perfectly suited my riding style and the irregular traffic intervals we encountered. Upon re-entry into an urban setting with unmoving cages all around, the heat from the engine and upper-right-side mounted exhaust did make me squirm in discomfort at some tardy red lights. The 87Nm of torque and an exhaust note to signal daring intent really spoke to my inner thrill-seeker, and only after arriving home did I realize why prison uniforms are also orange.
KTM 790 Duke
Price R149 990.00
Engine 799cc 4 stroke parallel twin
0-100 < 4.5s
Top Speed < 220 km/h (we did not limit)