Sharpening the Scalpel: The KTM 890 Duke

Photo credit: KTM

What’s better than a KTM 790 Duke, but costs less than an 890 Duke R? That’s right friends, KTM have just thrown the wraps off a new base model 890 Duke. And it looks damn sweet, too.

Photo credit: KTM

KTM’s 790 Duke, affectionately labelled ‘The Scalpel,’ captivated riders when it launched in 2017. A mid-sized parallel-twin with an Austrian firecracker up its exhaust pipe, it stirred the emotions of riders young and old—myself included.

Photo credit: Bjorn Moreira / ZA Bikers

It didn’t take KTM long to eke more power out of the twin, and soon the top-spec 890 Duke R joined the fold. The ‘non-R’ 890 Duke is the latest edition to the Duke line-up—promising less weight, more power, increased agility, new electronics, and more flair in the styling department.

Will the 890 Duke redefine the reference point for street riders—like the 790 originally did?

Photo credit: KTM

When it comes to styling, the 890 Duke’s design emphasises its sporty nature. Its sharp lines and new graphics feel more mature than the ‘R,’ but funkier than the 790—which is the perfect balance, in my opinion.

Photo credit: KTM

Under the hood, bigger is better—100 cc bigger, to be precise. This translates to 10 hp and 5 Nm more than the 790 at the same RPM, putting the numbers at 115 hp at 9,000 rpm and 92 Nm at 8,000 rpm. That allows you to hold onto those gears longer, and have smoother throttle inputs at lower rpms.

Photo credit: KTM

KTM have cleverly increased the rotating mass by 20 percent, which in turn ensures better cornering stability, and smoother engine response at half throttle and below. Surprisingly, KTM claim that all this performance won’t increase your fuel spend; the 890 sips a light 4,8 l/100 km from its 14 l fuel tank.

Photo credit: KTM

Like most of KTM’s current range, the 890 Duke lets you customise your riding experience. You get the same TFT display as the Duke R, with rider modes to adjust throttle response and traction control levels. The ‘Ready to Race’ crowd can spring for the optional ‘Track’ mode, where you can adjust everything from wheelie control, rear wheel slip, throttle response and launch control. For those looking for more riding engagement, the 890 Duke comes with an optional quick-shifter.

Photo credit: Bjorn Moreira / ZA Bikers

Out the box, the 890 Duke comes equipped with upgraded KTM branded callipers, which stop twin 300 mm floating discs at a light pull of a finger. Cornering ABS has been thrown at the Scalpel to ensuring stability under braking, and safety when the going gets tough. I’m happy to see the 890 Duke shod with Continental’s new ContiRoad tyres, providing the perfect balance for wet and dry conditions. (I wasn’t a fan of the 790 Duke’s Maxxis Supermaxx STs.)

Photo credit: KTM

Although the 890 Duke has grown in capacity, it hasn’t picked up any weight—coming in at the same 169 kg dry weight as the 790. KTM has upgraded the suspension to handle the extra punch, and has made changes to the ergonomics to suit a wider range of riders. Up front, you’ll find a beautiful set of 43 mm WP APEX forks, with a gas-assisted shock at the rear.

Photo credit: KTM

So what kind of rider is the 890 Duke for? I reckon the everyday rider who’s looking for a fun and practical bike to keep the adrenaline flowing. It’s the kind of bike you end up getting to work early on—then decide to go ride a little longer with the remaining time. It’s not an 890 R, but honestly it might be better for nine out of ten riders.

Photo credit: KTM

KTM haven’t expressly said that they’re discontinuing the 790 Duke in favour of the 890, but we’re expecting that to happen. On paper, it’s a worthy successor—like the love child of the 790 Duke and the 890 Duke R. But we want to ride it to make sure.