This Hooligan Gets An Upgrade

Story by Costa Mouzouris// Photos by KTM
April 23 2024

It can cruise around town, but it prefers to assault back roads with technical aggression.

Thirty years ago, KTM introduced the first Duke model. Supermotard, now known as Supermoto, was relatively big back then, and many riders were transforming dirt bikes into road bikes by installing 17-inch wheels, a bigger front brake, and performing some minor suspension work. These bikes proved to be exceptionally nimble on pavement, and lots of fun to ride. KTM made lots of dirt bikes — some of them street-legal — but it had no dedicated street bikes. Then, someone at KTM put 17-inch wheels on the 620 E/XC enduro, a bike powered by the 609 cc liquid-cooled LC4 single that made an impressive 50 horsepower. However, it wasn’t enough to just swap wheels; the bike had to look like a dedicated road bike, and not a converted dirt bike. That’s when KTM designer Gerald Kiska drew up entirely new bodywork that included a funky, dual-headlight bikini fairing — the Terminator was born. Ah yes, “Terminator” was an early project name for the new KTM street bike. The name eventually settled upon was Duke, paying homage to “The Duke,” famed motorcycle road racer Geoff Duke.

The first KTM Duke hit the streets in 1994. It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t comfortable, and it vibrated like a jackhammer. But it was a lot of fun to ride, hard. It was the original hooligan bike. The Duke line expanded through the years with more models, and with more engine variations in larger and smaller displacements. We went to Spain to ride one of the latest variations of KTM’s original hooligan bike: the 2024 990 Duke. Three decades on, we discovered that it still embodies the spirit of what a Duke was meant to be: Super agile and a lot of fun to ride.

A Brand New Duke

KTM held a 30th anniversary press event for the Duke in Almeria, Spain, where we were introduced to the new 990 Duke. The 990 replaces the 890 Duke, and it is built on an entirely new platform — KTM folk crunched the numbers and said that 96 per cent of the components of the 990 Duke are new. It does share some components with its brawnier sibling, the 1390 Super Duke R EVO (like the wheels, for example), which is also new (see sidebar), and it is physically bigger than the 890 it replaces.

It has an all-new chromoly steel-tube frame and a diecast aluminum subframe. The biggest change in the frame is at the swingarm pivot: the previous frame had inboard pivot bearings, while the new frame now runs outside the swingarm and is 15 per cent more rigid overall.

The swingarm, too, is a new design, now with internal ribbing. Duke two-sided swingarms (Super Duke’s is a single-sided unit) had distinctive external ribbing, but it now appears…


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