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Celebrating 25 years from the release of the very first KTM 620 DUKE back in 1994, we take a closer look at the impressive history of KTM’s iconic single-cylinder machine through the last quarter of a century.


KTM 620 DUKE MY1994 @ KTM

With KTM starting its journey as a motorcycle manufacturer in 1953, visitors at the KTM Motohall will find three milestones in the brand’s 66-year-long history on display in Mattighofen. Alongside the R 100 [1953] and the Penton Six Day 125 [1968] – which kickstarted KTM’s rise into becoming the world’s leader for off-road bikes – visitors at the KTM Motohall can admire the model year 1994 KTM 620 DUKE, KTM’s first road bike with a 4-stroke engine.

After the former KTM Motor-Fahrzeugbau AG became insolvent, KTM Sportmotorcycle GmbH was launched in January 1992. The new company was keen to learn from the mistakes of the past when, at times, over 40 different types of machine had been in production at the same time, from bicycles to numerous different mopeds right through to off-road bikes. With this in mind, KTM focused in particular on the ultra-modern LC4 engine, a liquid-cooled single-cylinder 4-stroke engine, making it the envy of its Japanese competitors. The concept was simple: stick to just the essentials and build a high-performance and high-quality machine around the potent single-cylinder engine that was already winning in top level enduro competition.

Even the E-starter was left out to begin with. Of course, it was clear that KTM would not be able to survive in the long term with just the Hard Enduro and a small range of 2-stroke Enduros and e-start bikes, so the developers soon started thinking about a road bike, also powered by the LC4 engine. At the time, supermotard replicas were vastly popular: these were easy-to-handle motorcycles based on Enduros, but with 17-inch road wheels—the term “supermoto” was still unknown at this point. Riding these fun bikes along windy lanes could drive the riders of significantly larger motorcycles to distraction. A bike like this—practically a go kart on two wheels—was a logical choice as there was already a suitable vehicle to base it on in the KTM 620 ENDURO.


Terminator prototype @ KTM

KTM designer Gerald Kiska’s initial design still bore the now-long-forgotten project name “Terminator”. Nonetheless, it was nearly impossible to tell that this bike was based on the Hard Enduro. A striking front fairing with ellipsoid double headlights combined with an orange-metallic paint job gave the DUKE its unique appearance. With 50 hp, the KTM 620 DUKE was the most powerful single-cylinder on the market at the time.

There is also a nice story behind the name. Two weeks before the presentation, the exhibition bike still needed a distinctive name. Project Manager Wolfgang Felber recalls that he was on his way to the executive floor with a list of different suggestions when he ran into Kalman Cseh, who was responsible for these matters, on the stairs. Cseh liked the suggestion “Duke” right away; not so much due to its reference to legendary racer, Geoff Duke—who was almost unstoppable in the 1950s on his Norton single-cylinder bikes—but more for its royal connotations. Ultimately, the stickers designed by the graphic designers did include the English multiple world championship winner’s nickname, “The Duke”, so he was indeed honored after all.


KTM 620 DUKE MY1995 @ KTM

The DUKE—today often called DUKE I to distinguish it from later models—was only available each year in a limited run and in a certain color: orange in 1994, black in 1995, yellow in 1996, black again in 1997 and the “last edition” in 1998, which already had the larger 640-cc engine, was orange once again. So, exclusivity was also included in the price.

After this, between 1999 and 2006, the KTM 640 DUKE II was built, still considered by many to be another two-wheeled piece of art. Gerald Kiska had perfected the edge design familiar from the automotive sector for motorcycles and since then all KTM motorcycles have borne Kiska’s angular lettering. And long before anyone in the automotive industry had thought of LED headlights, the KTM 640 DUKE II was the only motorcycle recognizable as a KTM just from a glance in the mirror. This was due to its two ellipsoid headlights, one on top of the other, a unique styling element in the motorcycle sector.

For many years after the “original DUKE”, there weren’t even any KTM bikes with two headlights, let alone with two of them positioned one on top of the other. With slender cast aluminum wheels and two silencers directly underneath the seat, it was no longer possible to tell that this bike was based on an Enduro. As with the first DUKE before, the DUKE II was available in a different color each year. Titanium, orpheus black, arctic white, chili red and lime green were just a few of the options. The DUKE II also remained rather exclusive, not least due to its elevated price.


KTM 690 DUKE MY2008 @ KTM

The highlight at the 2006 INTERMOT 2006 motorcycle show was the polarizing KTM 690 SUPERMOTO, which was to be the forerunner to a whole range of sporty KTM single-cylinders. The completely redesigned single-cylinder with electronic fuel injection reached 63 hp, meaning KTM could still boast the ‘blue ribbon’ of the most powerful single-cylinders among its portfolio.

The third generation of the DUKE, which followed in 2008, was different to its two predecessor models in that it bore no similarity to an Enduro, either visually or technically, but had been designed from scratch as a road bike. Highlights included the steel tube frame, a cast swingarm and above all the short silencer underneath the engine, as previously featured on the KTM RC8 superbike. In 2010, the KTM 690 DUKE R followed, upgraded with a host of KTM PowerParts and easily recognizable thanks to its orange frame, a feature of all KTM R models.


KTM 690 DUKE MY2010 @ KTM

A successor to the KTM 690 DUKE III then came in 2012, with space for a passenger and long-distance capability. The engine now had a full 690-cc capacity, so the DUKE retained its status as the most powerful single-cylinder engine available. The KTM 690 DUKE R was considerably more sporty in terms of its look, tuning, and seat position.

The current version of the KTM 690 DUKE has been around since 2016. With an advanced electronic engine management system and a second balancer shaft, the 690 LC4 engine offers a level of sophistication previously unseen in a single-cylinder engine, while delivering an impressive 73 hp.

What began 25 years ago with a now legendary cult classic continues today with the KTM 690 DUKE, with its modern styling and state-of-the-art technology. All this means that the DUKE has remained the most powerful series-production single-cylinder motorcycle for a quarter of a century.

Long Live the DUKE!


KTM 690 DUKE MY2018 @ KTM

The very first KTM 620 DUKE and some of the most iconic DUKE models ever produced can be viewed at the KTM Motohall.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of our special feature celebrating 25 years of KTM DUKE history.

1993 KTM 620 DUKE prototype @ KTM

Images: KTM, Kiska


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    • De Dementor
      There is a lot more thought and design that goes into a pair of motocross goggles than you think. Scott Sports shares some of their secrets…
      PC @MitterbauerHGoggles have been stretched awkwardly across helmets, smashed remorselessly by roost, thrown away by motocross racers during motos but also lovingly prepared, washed and placed on shelves with old helmets for posterity. They are often an under-appreciated piece of riding kit but utterly essential for anyone who has followed a friend or competitor on a stony trail or tried to plow across a muddy track in the rain.
      PC @RayArcherThere is a wealth of products on the market and several specialized brands in the optics business; goggles can cost 50 euros and last a few rides or can be than three times as expensive with some serious engineering behind them. Scott Sports are one of the proponents of goggle technology for bikes and the snow and have been introducing new concepts and innovations like face-fitting frames, lens-locking and a wide field of vision for three decades.   
      The American-Swiss company also has a strong link with KTM. For four years Scott has held a special place in the KTM PowerWear catalog, and they have provided wares for the Red Bull KTM Factory Racing team in both Enduro and Motocross, meaning the crucial race-tested and dependable eyewear for the likes of Josep Garcia, Nathan Watson, Jorge Prado, Tom Vialle and Rene Hofer.
      There is also another quirky connection: Mattighofen, Austria, is not only the fount of the finest offroad bikes but also Scott’s main European hub for goggle production. In the same town, only a few kilometers away from the KTM assembly lines, is the GBM Kunststofftechnik & Formenbau factory with a workforce of around 100 people; half of which is dedicated to Scott with almost half a century of molding experience. GBM churns out nearly 1,000,000 goggles a year at full tilt.
      PC @SchedlR.Watching how a goggle like Scott’s Prospect – and the new Fury model – goes from a complex CAD diagram to a boxed item ready for shipping is a revealing process. It might look like a lump of brightly colored composite, plastic and fabric but a seemingly basic piece of kit can actually take up to three years from conceptualization to design and manufacturing, and then small refinements of the product to ensure things like the widest possible fit in the largest spread of helmets. The Prospect has to protect and be highly functional in terms of preventing things like sweat, dust and sand dropping into the goggle. It also has to provide optimum vision and lenses that don’t fog, don’t distort and even react to ambient light. It has to stay firmly fixed on the face and around the helmet. It has to allow ventilation and airflow. It has to be versatile and effective when it comes to the application of tear-offs and roll-offs. Lastly – or perhaps most importantly for some riders – they have to look pretty cool and fit together with bike graphics or other kit.
      The heart of all this service begins with the steel mold. It can take five-six people up to three months to craft this large lump of metal that casts the frame of the Prospect. The steel can be ground to 1000th of a millimeter and a very precise outline. The most complicated molds can cost in the region of a quarter of a million euros: not much room for failure! The steel casing has to withstand 400 bars of pressure and eventually is used to make thousands and thousands of goggle frames a month. When Scott eventually come up with a successor to the Prospect – as they did with their previous Tyrant and Hustle goggles – then the mold goes into storage and is kept in an ‘archive’. Scott could easily make a 30-year old goggle again if they wanted to.
      PC @RayArcherIn production the mold will contain colored resin that is melted at 220 degrees and then the frames are popped out while at a quarter of the temperature. The colors of the Prospect frames come from a resin decided between Scott & GBM and there is a wide palette of choice. The material can also be manipulated so the nearly indestructible frames can be flexible and then very tough in other areas. For example, construction around the nose bridge.
      For the most fanciful color schemes Scott/GBM have used a technique called Water Transfer Decoration. Fine films of paint and design are suspended on top of a water tank and a set of blank goggle frames are then dipped into the solution. They are dried, washed (to remove excess film), dried, varnished and dried again. The slight imprecision of WTD means every pair of goggles created like this is almost unique.
      PC @SchedlRThe dry frame passes to the foam stage where Scott’s special triple layer technology is glued by hand. The goggle moves along the line for the lenses, which are also clipped into place by GBM’s workers. Very light TruView lenses are cut from massive sheets of Lexan (polycarbonate) and are then treated with anti-scratch and anti-fog formulas. There are 10 different colors alone for the Prospect. Once cut and punched in the giant press and piled ready for use the lenses are heated and bent into frames and where the advantageous lock system – thanks to four pins – comes into play.
      The lenses pass a strict (and dramatic) ballistic test in the factory. At one stage Scott were shooting a 3mm steel ball at 112 meters per second from a few meters distance at sample goggles. The pellet would dent but not break the lens. This resilience is almost three times what is required for CE regulation for motocross and more than half of what is necessary for street visors on helmets. Scott’s parameters for safety are therefore far advanced of the minimum level. Their demand for pristine optical performance comes from a second examination at GBM where a laser tests for clarity. It measures UV (all of the Prospect lenses are 100% UV protective) and if there is any distortion or disorientation as a final quality control.
      PC @TaglioniSThe last room before boxing contains the large machines with reels and reels spitting out kilometers of wildly colored straps and the advanced but secretive fastening system that allow Scott to be proud of this particular aspect of the Prospect’s specs.
      Advanced-level goggles have not become any cheaper in the last ten years but the likes of the Prospect and competitors such as Oakley’s Front Line and 100%’s Armega mean that riders are getting well-thought and carefully crafted products that could make the difference in a race, rally or ride-out.
      Click here to see the latest KTM PowerWear Scott goggles.
    • De Dementor
      Posted in Bikes Are Naked bikes still the rage? Looking at KTM’s Street portfolio then you’d think so with at least two new models coming to showrooms this year in the forms of the KTM 1290 SUPER DUKE R and the KTM 890 DUKE R. We asked some key figures in orange – as well as ex-racers like Jeremy McWilliams and Chris Fillmore – if the genre remains vibrant and in-demand as the new decade begins…
      We call them ‘Naked’ but, really, they are definitive motorcycles: the way bikes used to be and have always been since the 1980s boom towards sports machines and the notion of the superbike. The fact that virtually every major manufacturer has a significant interpretation of ‘Naked’ is indicative of the choice and versatility that riders want on crowded and patrolled roads.
      For KTM the ‘Naked’ motorcycle is still utterly relevant. On the KTM website there are options for Travel, Sports Tourer, Naked, Supermoto and Supersport but in 2019 the DUKE range accounted for 100,000 of global sales (almost 40% of the total) with the accessibility, young appeal and build quality of the KTM 125 DUKE hoisting the bike as the best-seller in the range.
      2020 represents the fourth year that the manufacturer will be present on the MotoGP grid and with four works bikes they already equal Yamaha and Honda and surpass Suzuki and Aprilia in terms of presence. With an emphasis on performance the factory push their 2020 KTM 1290 SUPER DUKE R to the fore. The crazy depth of torque and a brand-new chassis from the overhauled roadster gives new impetus to the ‘BEAST’ tag: a bike without the clothes but very much in disguise as a rip-roaring sports machine if desired.
      PC @KTM“It is definitely our top-of-the-range Street performance product,” confirms Head of Product Management Adriaan Sinke. KTM are forging ahead with their belief in Naked bikes. In a dizzying eighteen-month spell of development-and-launch the KTM 1290 SUPER DUKE R now has the KTM 790 DUKE and KTM 890 DUKE R for company.
      The Euro5 emission-ready KTM 1290 SUPER DUKE R is at the top of the tree and boasts the kind of output, refined handling (a vastly stiffer and superior chassis/frame concept) and electronics (MTC, MSR, varying ABS, 6D lean angle sensor) to match most 2020 incarnations on the market. Therein lies a paradox: how do KTM continue to fabricate a simplistic motorcycle that provides the sensations, comfort and thrills that customers demand while also hiking the level of sophistication?
      “It’s really tough actually,” Sinke admits. “The market demands more technology. For even the biggest Naked bike stalwart you cannot ride them without electronic fuel injection or throttle management… Traction control is becoming more and more of a standard feature and is slowly becoming a must have for daily riding. It is possible but not in an everyday situation. One of the keys with this bike was trying to give the rider the feeling of control more than on the previous model. We have always had quite good traction control, but we wanted the rider to have more depth of feeling, how the power was coming in, that the bike was sliding and it was helping them to drive forward. We wanted them to have that sense of ‘I’m the master of what my motorcycle is doing’. You don’t want a good rider to switch off the traction control, you want a good rider to enjoy the possibilities he can explore by using traction control.
      PC @KTMTo explore the extremities and advantages of the KTM 1290 SUPER DUKE R, KTM let journalists and testers have free reign around the technical Portimao racetrack in southern Portugal for the official presentation. Circulating the WorldSBK venue opens up the valves. It allows the 180hp and 140Nm potential of the LC8 engine to boom, and the new handling shine throughout the weave of dips and turns. Riders also toggle through the full range of the nine-level Traction Control setting and revitalised Track Mode; innovations that former MotoGP rider Jeremy McWilliams helped refine.
      The Irishman has been a key figure in the evolution of the KTM 1290 SUPER DUKE R since the first ‘BEAST’ in 2013. His track work has allowed KTM R&D to examine the limits of the motorcycle and create a stable-and-secure yet thrilling offering for the road. “I think we like Naked bikes because we have a bit more control of them,” he opines. “We’re on top of them, we have more leverage and a wide bar position. You have more torque on this motorcycle than I think anything else out there on the market today. Torque is our friend: when you have that much on tap it makes the riding experience that much more fun. It doesn’t really matter what gear you exit the corner on this bike. We never use second gear here at Portimao. We don’t need it because third has so much push to get it off the corner at any speed. You can become a bit of a hooligan on this and you can also ride it as sedately as you want. There is a lot of variety thanks to the electronic settings. A lot of options.”
      PC @KTMMcWilliams is clocking laps with another ex-Grand Prix star, Alex Hoffmann and also American Chris Fillmore, who used to compete in AMA Superbike with the RC8. “When it comes to Naked bikes then it depends on your goals with motorcycling,” Fillmore says. “If your goal is not to be a full-on racer then they are ten times more comfortable than a sportsbike on the street. They still work unbelievably well on the track and I was getting within 2-3 seconds of my RC8 lap-times on the old generation of the SUPER DUKE and this version is even better thanks to that stiffer frame. It is like a comfortable superbike: you still have all the technology and the performance, but everything is geared more towards being comfortable on the street…although, honestly, you don’t lose that much for the track.”
      PC @KTMThe idea of the KTM 1290 SUPER DUKE R on a circuit seems a little alien, especially considering the latest fad brands have towards the production of high-performing and highly expensive track models in the last half a decade. The KTM 1290 SUPER DUKE R does not disappoint however and can be tweaked to get as ragged or as assuring as any rider wants. “If you are a good rider then you can be very fast on a SUPER DUKE R,” promises Sinke. “The chassis, torque and brakes: it’s a really good package. We hope we are able to convince a few track riders to pick it up and I’m sure we will. You will ride the SUPER DUKE R on the streets but if you want to go to the track then you won’t need two bikes.”
      The new KTM 1290 SUPER DUKE R’s engine numbers are eye-widening for a v-twin. For ‘scratching’ or a competitive environment then it’s a clear asset. But are those figures still appealing for customers in 2020? Fillmore believes so. “I think riders are still hung up on horsepower because it is an ego-thing,” he smiles. “My father owns a bike and he had to buy the fastest, biggest, latest, greatest and, for me, I think if people took a step back and even looked at the midweight category – I think the KTM 790 DUKE is one of the best bikes for everybody – then their experience would be just as good as any sports bike. The KTM 1290 SUPER DUKE R is great because it has all the torque and all the power but it is all very manageable with the electronics. I think people are too hung-up on a number. On the street there is always a speed limit. This is one of the best streetbikes because of the torque. At 3000rpm you are immediately in the meat of the power on this bike. You don’t get to use much power on the street and the torque gives you that excitement instantly. In comparison – inline fours – you have to be screaming and already going 100 to get into the power and where they pull at the top end. This is a bottom-end fun.”
      “I think in our hearts there are still a lot of ‘youngsters’ out there who have grown up, made their money and can buy these types of bikes,” concurs Sinke. “The fun factor of controlling something with so much power is still there, and it will take quite a while before that attraction dies down. In fifteen years we might have electric superbikes but I think that fascination with power and speed will always be present. Being a bit of a bad boy and being a bit naughty almost defines a bike like this: something powerful but playful at the same time.”
      In that sense KTM almost seem duty-bound to fashion something as radical and extreme as the KTM 1290 SUPER DUKE R. “Yeah, probably,” Sinke confesses. “The bike is ‘in-your-face’ and that is our brand in every possible way. It is amazing to ride this bike and be shot out of the corners. Do I need this bike? Of course I don’t. A KTM 790 DUKE has plenty of power to tackle any mountain road…but to have that power and torque under your right hand is really a lot of fun.”
      A Naked bike doesn’t hide much, and in the case of the KTM 1290 SUPER DUKE R then even less with that edgy and purposeful styling but the truth is that there is a vast world of experience within, and with the slightest touch of that right handlebar grip. That mystery and sense of discovery is what keeps KTM striving towards the ‘ultimate’ Naked bike. They have hit the mark with the 2020 KTM 1290 SUPER DUKE R: a creation with MotoGP nuance drip-feed into its DNA and an influence that trickles down into the rest of the DUKE line. “Naked bikes are almost the epitome of what a motorcycle is about,” concludes Sinke. “We sell immense volumes of the small DUKEs so there is definitely a big market for it. It doesn’t have a big fairing or a bunch of stuff that you don’t need on a bike. It’s an important market for us and it is definitely continuing.”