The Scalpel – one month and 1500 km down the track

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The Scalpel – one month and 1500 km down the track
From Geoff James

By way of a brief recap, I wanted a lighter bike as a concession to age (and short legs) and for various reasons, my personal choice boiled down to the Triumph Street Triple or KTM Duke 790, nicknamed “The Scalpel” by the factory.  Having owned a Triple 675 for 6 years and briefly tried a 765, I knew what wonderful bikes they are and was pretty relaxed about owning either the Triumph or KTM as both would meet both my functional needs and importantly, touch my soul in a way that my GSX-S 1000 didn’t.

The previous post detailed the test ride on a demonstrator Duke and the effect it had on me, actually laughing out loud inside the helmet.  I’d already done plenty of research on the Triumph and Duke and it was the fun factor and potentially wild nature of the Duke that sealed it.  Part of the research involved being put in touch with a Kiwi professional engineer, Rodney O’Connor; who had worked for both KTM and Triumph design teams whilst travelling overseas.  Rodney gave some great insights as to the workings of both companies which were extremely valuable.  However, the most valuable bit of information he gave was this (reproduced verbatim):

“It’s not the way the coin lands that decides for you, but your reaction to the way the coin lands that will tell you the decision you want to make”

After riding the Duke, I did a mental coin toss simulating the Street Triple coming out on top.  I actually felt disappointed and that reaction clarified and sealed the decision to buy the Duke!  Amazing how a simple bit of advice made the decision so clear.  Thanks a million Rodney…. and Blair who made the introduction!  You really do need to listen to your heart as part of the buying process if you want complete satisfaction.

Sooooo….  here we are, one month in and about 1500 km on the clock.  Would have been a lot more had it not been for hosting UK friends we hadn’t seen for 34 years, then copping a virus which laid me low for a week.  Thought I’d take the opportunity to detail my experiences and thoughts so far.  Naturally, these comments are personal for my particular needs.

Day 1… about to ride home from the dealer – laughing already

ERGONOMICS
Excellent for my 5’7″ height.  At 825mm seat height, it’s 15mm higher than my Suzuki but the shape of the seat is such that it allows my legs to be in a more vertical position at a standstill.  This amply demonstrates that both seat height and shape both have a bearing on suitability.   The seat is firm but surprisingly comfortable.  Longest day in the saddle so far has been 500 km with minimal stopping and whilst I’ve been aware of pressure on my butt towards the end, it hasn’t been distracting.

No complaints about seat comfort

On the Suzuki, I fitted lowered footpegs to relieve the pressure on damaged knees.  There has been no need to do this on the KTM as it’s even more comfortable than the Suzuki with its modified setup.  The upright riding position provides excellent all-round visibility – an important safety feature in traffic.

The KTM weight at 169 kg without fuel is about 40kg lighter (yep, that’s one heck of a lot!) than the Suzuki and has a lower centre of gravity.  That’s a massive benefit to my ageing body, particularly at low speeds, parking or just wheeling it about.  A lightweight bike was my No 1 criterion (coupled with performance) and the purchase has hit the spot in this respect.  Performance aspect shortly!

TECHNICAL FEATURES
The electronics package on the KTM is really impressive and is controlled through the TFT screen.  The basic riding modes are Rain, Street, Sport and Track with ABS and Traction Control being lean-angle sensitive too!  It also has launch control and anti-wheelie options if you’re pushing the performance envelope but they will be features to play with a bit further down the track. A steering damper is standard.  Being a typical guy, I haven’t read and memorised the manual from cover to cover yet!

The photo below shows the TFT display in its normal riding mode.  The black background is “night mode”, designed to reduce glare.  In brighter light, it has a white background.  A sensor auto-detects light levels.  Some reviewers have found this feature a little annoying (e.g switching when riding under tree cover) but it doesn’t bother me in the slightest.  The display shows all the normal stuff – distance covered, distance before next fill-up and so on.  Approaching the rev limit, the screen above the rev counter line starts flashing KTM orange as a visual cue that it’s time to think about changing gear!

TFT display in low ambient light mode

One technical feature I do use is the quickshifter.  This could be easily dismissed as a toy for wannabe racers but not needing to use the clutch is surprisingly useful in a normal road environment.  Downshifts are silky smooth and very fast so that any disruption to the bike’s drive/stability is minimal.  Smooth upshifts require a reasonable amount of throttle and for this reason, I still tend to use the clutch most of the time.  However, when gassing it, the benefits are the same as downshifting.  In any event, the gearbox is an absolute peach and engaging first gear in particular is the tiniest of “snicks”, compared with the big clunk on the last bike.

Quickshifter behind the engine

I’ve only used the headlight in twilight conditions as opposed to complete darkness but the LED light comes in for particular praise on road tests.  No reason to doubt it from what I’ve seen so far,

That’s bright, that is!

PERFORMANCE (aka Wossit do, Mister?)
The engine
In the real world, brute horsepower isn’t a good indicator of the ability to make progress on public highways.  Power to weight ratio, torque characteristics and handling all have significant influence.  Comparing the power to weight ratio of the KTM and GSX-S1000, they come out at 0.62 bhp/kg and 0.69 bhp/kg (dry weight) respectively so close enough not to really matter.  Sufficient to propel the KTM to a top speed of around 230 km/hr which is more than adequate for this old geezer!

The claimed torque of the KTM is 86 N-m compared with 106 N-m of the Suzuki but the KTM isn’t having to accelerate as much mass.  From the perspective of owning both bikes, the Suzuki is definitely better but not by much under most conditions.  Snap overtakes at any speed in any gear are a breeze, aided by the quickshifter of course.

Sexy pipework!

The engine note is one of the features which I found attractive.  The standard muffler has quite a bark without attracting too much attention and pops a little on the over-run.  The “big bang” 435 degree firing order makes it sound a bit like a Ducati V twin with Termignoni end cans when revving.  At lower revs, it sounds more like a large capacity single cylinder trail bike.  In summary, I like it a lot!  One of the more well-known applications of “big bang” technology was on the 2 stroke NSR 500cc Honda GP bikes in the 90’s which Mick Doohan and others rode.  Uneven power pulses made the engine power delivery easier to control, better traction and less tyre wear.  Maybe it applies to some extent on road bikes too!

Handling
In a word, exceptional. Very little countersteering required on bend sequences to point the bike where you want it to go – you can just chuck it around.  I guess this is a combination of the light weight and steering geometry.  Less fatiguing than a larger, heavier bike.  Everything I expected it to be.  Tyres are the purpose-designed Maxxis pure sport.  I’ve no complaints about them so far in warm conditions or even wet mixed with warmth in rain mode and they are now virtually worn to the edges.  However, in the colder, wetter months; they’re probably going to exhibit lower levels of grip associated with pure sport tyres under those conditions.  When the time comes, they’ll probably be replaced with Michelin Road 5’s like I had on the Suzuki.  A great all-round tyre in both wet and dry conditions.

Brakes
Haven’t really had to use them in anger but “adequate” is the word that comes to mind.  Damned by faint praise I suppose.  As time goes by and if any real shortcomings arise, I’ll pop a set of EBC HH pads in as that’s done the trick on both the Street Triple and GSX-S 1000.

Fuel Consumption
Before purchase, this was the aspect which bothered me a bit with the KTM having a 14 litre tank.  Living way out in the countryside, my journeys are usually several hundred km and having a reasonable range is important.  I’ve been pleasantly surprised.  If the instrumentation is fairly accurate, fuel consumption during the break-in period has equated to a range of between 270-300 km which is quite acceptable.

QUALITY OF FINISH
Too early to tell in the longer term but the paintwork, plastic and alloy looks really good with a lot of attention to detail.  Bolts are mostly normal hex head with the Torx 6 point star in the centre for better grip than either Phillips or Allen keys.  The toolkit provides various sized bits.

ACCESSORIES
I’ve always avoided accessories with purely cosmetic function but nonetheless, seem to have made quite a dent in my wallet in terms of aftermarket stuff from around the world to meet my particular needs.

The finished article (for now)

Starting up front, an Ermax flyscreen from France.  Minimal impact at low speed but at higher speeds, wind blast is moved up to the shoulder area.  One possible unintended consequence is that the screen disintegrates squishy bugs, then fires the pulverised remains across my visor with the accelerated slipstream.  Will have to see if my observation is correct.  Extortion clearly isn’t the sole province of the Mafia.  The French manufacturer wanted over NZ$100 in shipping costs alone.  You know how it is when you desperately want something – grit your teeth and pay up!  That’s exactly what I did.  Quality is excellent which takes some of the pain away.

The R&G crash protectors and Pyramid front guard extension came from the UK and shipping rates were pretty fair.  I had both on my Suzuki and knew what I was getting.  I’ve also fitted R&G anti-slip tank protection.  That’s the matte finish area at the rear of the tank and it blends in nicely with the matte seat and matte plastic cover below the tank.  Wasn’t really interested in the anti-slip properties and bought it simply for paintwork protection from being scuffed with my riding gear.  I also bought a CNC-machined attachment to increase the foot area of the sidestand.  The original foot is quite narrow and I could foresee plenty of scope for it sinking into a soft verge, followed by lots of embarrassment and ego damage!

Nice alloy side stand pad

The best value for money accessory has been the tail pack on the rear seat.  It’s waterproof, expandable (it’ll allegedly take a helmet) and has padded straps to convert it to a back pack.  Bought via eBay from Hong Kong for NZ$60 delivered.  Given the price, I didn’t have particularly high expectations about the quality but I can’t fault it!

Fantastic value for money and looks like it was designed for the bike

A radiator guard is a possible addition to the accessory list but at least the front guard extension keeps the crap and stones from the front wheel pretty much away from the radiator.  At least with the accessory list more or less done and dusted for now, Jennie won’t be scanning our bank statements and rolling her eyes!

NIGGLES AND DISLIKES
A bit early to tell but nothing major at present.  The chain clearance under the swingarm is pretty close which makes lubricating it somewhat more difficult, even using my ABBA Superbike stand.  Not a big deal though.  Of slightly more concern is correctly setting chain tension when the time comes because of the proximity to the swingarm – will have to do some reading about that.

Not much clearance between chain and swingarm

TO SUM IT ALL UP SO FAR
“Character” is a word which means different things to different people.  Modern bikes are normally so good that it’s hard to separate one from another apart from looks.  In the case of the KTM, the engine note and characteristics, looks and overall performance all genuinely add a point of difference.  This is obviously personal to me and is also influenced by the bikes I’ve previously owned.

Do I still think I made the right choice between the KTM and the Street Triple?  Unequivocally yes.  I would have been happy with either but the Duke adds an extra dimension of excitement.  To go back to my slightly tongue in cheek comment in the previous post…..  the Street Triple is the smooth, sophisticated chick who is classy and exciting, perhaps a tad predictable but still delivers a great performance.  The KTM is the slightly dodgy chick, a bit wild and unpredictable and fun but delivers a sensational performance that lights your fire. Definitely wouldn’t take her home to meet your mother!  Like the dodgy chick, the KTM encourages immoderate behaviour.  I can’t sum it up better better than that!

A fellow IAM member took it for a short ride today.  When he returned, he had a massive grin on his face and his first words were, “If I owned this, I’d really be risking my licence”.  Enough said!

More on the KTM after a bigger distance has been covered.

Out and about on Bad Girl Lola!

Words and Images by Geoff James Not Boyd Motorcycles.
For more write ups by Geoff head over to his blog Confessions of an Ageing Motorcyclist

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