The Evolution of KTM’s 1290 Super Duke R (Gen 1 vs Gen 2 vs Gen 3)

KTM has produced 3 generations of its flagship “Supernaked” bike: the 1290 Super Duke R. Although the media has given this bike ample coverage, what’s become apparent is that there are a number of misconceptions and misinformation about the differences between each generation, specifically relating to features to power output. We find ourselves in the privileged position of having ridden all 3 bikes extensively and having owned both 2nd and 3rd gen bikes. As such, we are going to provide a definitive guide to the differences between the 1st, 2nd and 3rd generation KTM 1290 Super Duke for you, our wheelie-loving readers.

From left to right: 1st Gen SE, 3rd Gen, 1st Gen, 3rd Gen, 1st Gen.

Level Setting

If you’ve done your own research and have been confused by some of the data you’ve seen about this bike, you are not alone. Horsepower and torque figures specifically have been a source of confusion, with certain press mentions stating that maximum output has been the same across the generations and others claiming increases in either Horsepower (HP) or Torque (TQ). Let us begin with a spec sheet comparison that has been scrubbed and reflects the most accurate data. Note however that the HP and TQ numbers we are showing here are those claimed by KTM for stock bikes (values calculated at the crankshaft, not at the wheel, which is standard for all motorcycle manufacturers) and that we will dive into actual power output on the dyno later in this analysis.

In The Saddle

You can’t ride a spec sheet though. What’s most important is how the bikes feel to a rider. Here are some of our thoughts. For reference, you can also read our full reviews of the 1st gen and 2nd gen bikes.

Gen 1 (2014-2016)

At the time this bike was launched, it was particularly disruptive to the then-emerging Supernaked bike category. The reason is simple: it was (and remains today), the only contender in the category that is purpose-built to be a naked bike. Every other bike in the class has a chassis and motor that was derived from a fully faired Superbike (for example, the BMW S1000R came from the S1000RR, the Aprilia Tuono came from the RSV4, the Ducati Streetfighter came from the 1098 Superbike and later, from the Panigale V4, etc). This served as the foundation for the 1290 SDR platform (“Giant Supermoto”) and set it apart from the competition with both positive and negative traits. This is an important aspect of the evolution of this platform, as subsequent generations have been attempts at better exploiting these strengths, while chipping away at the platform’s inherent limitations.

Without a doubt, the greatest strength of the Gen 1 was its motor, particularly the amount of torque it generated at any part of the rev range. Secondly, the bike has a playful character that takes itself less seriously than the other bikes in the class, rather embracing wheelies where competitors were more concerned with outright performance. This is also the 1st gen’s greatest shortcoming: when ridden hard, the bike can have a somewhat vague front end created by a very upright seating and handlebar position and a rather soft front suspension setup. This is easily remedied via aftermarket parts (and better yet, technique refinement) but was a common lament from Gen 1 owners.

By today’s standards, one could point to the electronics as being another limitation. Traction control and wheelie control were combined in this generation, meaning that riders would need to disengage traction control altogether if they wanted to sample some of the bike’s wheelie and slide antics. Adding insult to injury, the bike defaults back to having the traction control and ABS on, every time the bike is turned off, necessitating a “race dongle” (KTM part # 61312953044) in order to retain the settings.

Even with all that said, the Gen 1 bikes are still competitive, even by modern standards and offer a great value for prospective owners who can overlook the bike’s few shortcomings. Search any KTM forum and you will find many a happy owner with over 60,000 problem-free and hard-ridden kms on this bike with only routine maintenance.

Gen 2 (2017-2019)

After the wild success and media fanfare of Gen 1, KTM went back to the well and provided a host of updates to the bike. Although considered the 2nd generation SDR, some might argue this bike is more of a “Gen 1.5” as the differences between Gen 1 and Gen 2 are minimal compared to the jump from Gen 2 to Gen 3.

For Gen 2, the front suspension was stiffened, the handlebars moved further forward and lower, striking a better balance between comfort and performance but ultimately giving the bike better front end feel. Tweaks were made to the motor and improved on an already well-fuelled and powerful package, yielding a slightly higher redline (+500 RPM) and faster revving character. In the real world, these powertrain changes were less evident (the Gen 1 motor was and still is fantastic) and were likely more a result of KTM’s need to achieve ever-more-stringent Euro 4 emissions standards and to give the marketing team something to talk about.

On the electronics side, traction control and wheelie control were separated, finally allowing riders the ability to toggle systems independently. In a true act of foolishness, KTM decided to charge extra for features such as “Track Mode” (which allows for the aforementioned wheelie control to be toggled on and off) and for “unlocking” the quickshifter (the hardware for which is already on the bike). For all the love we have for KTM, this “tax” will always feel like a gouge to the customer on a high priced flagship bike and something we lament about at every opportunity.

When it comes to weaknesses, the 2nd Gen was very well-rounded but was often criticized for still having a little too much “supermoto DNA” in the chassis department when compared to its superbike-derived competition. It had also gained a little weight over the first generation bike (much of it to meet Euro 4 compliance) and the user interface of the electronics had some idiosyncrasies which annoyed owners (for example, it was not possible to be in track mode and still see the time or air temperature). Truthfully however in our opinion, the 2nd Gen bikes were very well rounded and offered a very good balance of comfort and performance for street riding while still being fun on the occasional track day.

Gen 3 (2020+)

Whereas the first and second generation bikes were quite similar, the third generation offers a more significant change, with 90% of the bike’s parts being new.

The majority of the Gen 3 bike’s changes are centred around handling. KTM achieved this in 2 ways: Designing a brand new chassis that’s stiffer and more performance-oriented (no longer shared with any of its siblings such as the 1290 Super Duke GT) and losing weight. The motor was revised (again, likely to meet emission standards and for marketing purposes) but this time, the “seat-of-the-pants dyno” appears to confirm some of what we are seeing in the data (shown later on): the bike has a new sense of immediacy and even more of a knockout punch, aided by the chassis which is a little less (but is still very) wheelie-prone and translates wright wrist action into forward drive more effectively. The difference in power delivery here feels more pronounced than the jump from Gen 1 to Gen 2 and may also be affected by the reduced weight (thanks to lighter wheels, subframe, motor casings, etc).

Handling was further sharpened by a rethink of the Super Duke R’s suspension setup, moving to a linkage system on the rear shock and a new front end that adds 3-stage preload adjustment. Coming from the 2nd generation bike, the 3rd Gen requires mental recalibration when choosing cornering lines. Where the old chassis felt like a supermoto that you would muscle into corners, the new bike takes a line effortlessly and holds that line much more like a superbike-derived naked would. The seating position on the Gen 3 is also more superbike-like, with a dished seat that locks the rider in position compared to the previous generations that had more of a bench-style seat that allows for fore-aft movement.

On the electronics side, the display got bigger (more of a “nice-to-have” or luxury in our opinion) but more importantly, the user interface matured and now displays information in a way that’s more useful to the rider (yes, you can do wheelies and still know the outside temperature or time of day). Slide control and cornering ABS were added via a 6-axis IMU but again, more a sign of the times in our opinion than something that was necessary for most riders.

As in all things motorcycling, there are tradeoffs to these decisions. Although still much more comfortable than any sport bike, the more committed riding position is less relaxed and harder on the wrists. As with all 1290 Super Duke R generations, there are 2 selectable handlebar mounting positions on the top triple clamp, so many Gen 3 owners have opted to move the bars back to aid with comfort while still enjoying the new chassis’ improved handling characteristics. In becoming Euro 5 ready/compliant, the stock exhaust is large and quiet, detracting from the bike’s character unless (or until?) an aftermarket unit is fitted. Fuel capacity has also been reduced to accommodate a larger airbox but in our real world comparison, results in around the same range as previous generations thanks to improved fuel efficiency. Finally, 3rd Gen, due to its new chassis and geometry is less wheelie-prone and has a narrower balance point which may be a deterrent to certain riders. By no means is it hard to loft the front end but suffice to say that the 1st and 2nd generation bikes are more eager in this department.

Sidebar: Let’s talk about Power Output

Going back to our chart and commentary above, there is an open question about power output over the 3 generations. Claimed horsepower at the crank is misleading so what we have done is compile data only from industry publications and plotted this data to present a more objective view.

We limited our analysis to data from major publications (and did not include independent owners’ dyno graphs or 3rd party vendors such as exhaust manufacturers) for a few reasons. First, one might surmise that publications use the same dyno over time and that their dyno is calibrated along the same parameters, eliminating some of the variability from one dyno to another. Second, we wanted data from stock bikes which is not a given when looking at independent data. Lastly, aftermarket companies are by definition biased in their need to show gains from their products and may show less favourable “before” numbers to make the “after” look more attractive.

Data sources are detailed in appeendix below

Interestingly, this visualization would support our real-world perception that a) KTM has increased horsepower in each subsequent generation and that b) there is a bigger jump in power from Gen 2 to Gen 3 than from Gen 1 to Gen 2. We would need to get 3 stock bikes (one of each generation) on the same dyno to conclude this more definitively but believe the current data to be directionally accurate.

Data sources are detailed in appendix below

Conclusion on Horsepower and Torque Output

Applying the generally-accepted 15% driveline loss (accounting for difference in HP between crank and rear wheel), one would expect a 180 HP bike to dyno at 153 HP (180 HP x 0.15 driveline loss = 27 HP loss and 180 HP at the crank – 27 HP driveline loss = 153 HP at the rear wheel) which would jive with the extensive amount of dyno data that has the 1st Gen bike delivering ~152 HP at the wheel. From there, the subsequent generations have both gained power through the use of more exotic or innovative technologies within the powertrain (titanium intake valves, increased compression, improved fuel delivery, higher redline, etc), while becoming increasingly emissions-friendly.

On the torque side, all 3 generations appear to be within a small margin of each other so improvements (if any) are likely around the torque curve itself (ex: making more torque available earlier in the rev range), and less around peak output.

So Which One Should You Buy?

Buy Gen 1 if: You are on a budget or want to spend less, enjoy the more supermoto riding position and are OK with more primitive electronics (side benefit: less sensors = less things to break = better long-term reliability)

Buy Gen 2: For similar reasons to Gen 1 but you want more capable electronics

Buy Gen 3 if: You prefer more sportbike-like handling, less supermoto and want the latest electronics

Appendix (Sources & Raw Data)

We have included, for your reading pleasure, many of the data sources used for this analysis. If you have additional data, we ask that you share it so that we can further refine this analysis.

Summary of Dyno Charts from Media Publications (stock trim / no modifications)

1st Generation Dyno Charts

2nd Generation Dyno Charts

3rd Generation Dyno Charts

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