Yamaha YZF-R1 vs KTM 1290 Super Duke R

Yamaha YZF-R1 vs KTM 1290 Super Duke R

When I was a nipper, if you had the latest sportsbike parked up in your garage, you were considered pretty gosh-darn cool. If it had a fairing and a fast-as-fudge engine, you were ‘the man’. But times change and most of us will have seen a bit of a shift in fashion as more and more folk go down the supernaked route, rather than having a balls-out, ballistically fast superbike for that Sunday morning scratching session. And who can really blame them, when you’ve got weapons like Aprilia’s Tuono, Ducati’s Street Fighter, Yamaha’s MT-10 or KTM’s Super Duke – to name but a few? At the last Fast Bikes mag Annual General Meeting (down the pub) we had a discussion about why this might have happened. And we came up with loads of reasons; some reasonably sensible, others complete poppycock. Was it because they are more comfortable, more affordable, more quirky? Different people buy different bikes for a multitude of reasons but I’m sure we can all agree on one thing – the deciding factor for most of us has to be the riding experience.


Once we’d agreed on that, we knew exactly what we had to do. The plan was simple: to pitch one against the other to determine once and for all which option can provide the superior riding experience on the road.

The guinea pigs in our highly scientific experiment were to be the Yamaha YZF-R1 and the KTM 1290 Super Duke R, stalwarts of the superbike and supernaked sectors, respectively. Bruce and I would me talking them up hill and down dale in our quest for the truth to find out just how different these two types of machines are, and which we`d most like to take home to meet our mothers.

But before we get into the nitty gritty, let’s remind ourselves of the differences between a superbike and a supernaked. There’s probably no better place to start than the looks; one has big wide ’bars, one has clip-ons, for the most part. One has fairings, the other doesn’t, for the most part. One looks mega racy, the other doesn’t, for the most part. Over the years, naked bikes have become more and more sporty looking, seemingly in an attempt to replicate their sportier counterparts at the superbike end of the showroom. The KTM Superduke in our test is possibly one of the least sporty-looking nakeds, having almost an off-road, supermoto type stance to it, whereas the R1 is one of the most race-bike-esque of the sportsbikes. Chalk and cheese, you might say.


KTM 1290 Super Duke R


Looks are one of the most subjective things about a bike, or about anything for that matter. A bike that I like the look of might look crap to you, and vice versa, but what is undeniable is the image that is attached to sportsbikes when ridden on the road. Let me try and explain what I mean by way of an analogy: how many times have you seen someone in a Ferrari and thought “knob”? Although we hate to admit it, when you are sat at traffic lights on your R1, in your one-piece racing suit, it’s kind of the same thing to a lot of people, who’ll be very quick to tar you with the ‘boy racer’ brush. I don’t actually care about that, they can think what they like and they are probably only jealous (just like we are all jealous of the Ferrari man), but if I was a little more concerned about what people thought of me, or the image I was portraying, I know that I could get on a supernek’ in my jeans and jacket (or even textiles, if I’m feeling really old) and I’d instantly feel as though I had a little bit more decorum (little do the onlookers know that I’m just about to pull a few 100mph stand-up wheelies on my Super Duke).

I’m not saying that naked bikes look boring, far from it, but I do think superbikes look better; they look more finished. More polished. Yes, the naked bikes do sometimes look like they have a bit more character, with their quirky design cues and interesting shapes – but they rarely give me wood. I want a bike in my garage that gives me a stirring in the loins every time I look at it and I like riding a bike that makes me look like I’m a sporty rider. It feels like it’s the pinnacle of technology – like a World Superbike or MotoGP machine. Just like the knob in the Ferrari that thinks he’s driving a Formula 1 car. Maybe I’m just like him.


Yamaha YZF-R1


Built for comfort

The next biggest differential between these two options are the ergonomics. We’re all getting older (and some of us are getting fatter, too) and sometimes the idea of banging around for an hour or so at a time on a stiff-as-you-like sportsbike on a Saturday morning doesn’t have the same appeal to it as it might have done a few years (and a few stone) ago. And that’s where the supernakeds claw back a few much-needed points in this test. The R1 is a perfect example of a race bike for the road – your arse is high and your wrists are low, taking more than enough of your body weight, even before you start braking. In town, you might feel like a pretty cool cat, but aside from that, it’s not actually a whole lot of fun. You’ll feel every bump and before long, your wrists will start aching. Not on a Super Duke though. You can be sat up in perfect comfort, without a care in the world.

But what you tend to get with a superbike, over a supernaked, is power that’s a little bit more peaky from an engine that likes to rev a bit more. Our Yamaha and KTM pairing are perfect examples of this. Both bikes have got an astonishing punch of power, reasonably low down in the rev range that does keep on building but while the KTM’s power builds gradually until it reaches its early rev limit, the Yam builds aggressively, with power that gets stronger and fiercer with every revolution of the engine. To put it in perspective, the Yamaha makes its most power at 13,500rpm, whereas the KTM makes its peak power at 8875rpm.

But it’s all about character, isn’t it? They both have a lot of character, but in very different ways. As a road bike, you can’t really say one is better than the other as far as the character of engine performance goes – they are both way faster than you could ever legally (or probably safely) use on the road anyway. It comes down to a question of taste, and what you want your bike to do. If you are going to be taking it on track at every opportunity, then you might want that revvy, peaky power that you’ll find in a Superbike engine. If not, you might be content with a motor that’s got bags of bottom end that will have you up on the back wheel before you can say Bob’s your uncle.



On rails

Not only do nakeds tend to be a bit less powerful than sportsbikes, they tend to be a bit cheaper too. But that doesn’t make them cheap, good heavens, no. These days, with supernakeds coming with all the same trick parts as Superbikes, and sometimes more, they are far from the poor man’s alternative to a Superbike. The Super Duke for example is £15,699, which is cheaper than the £16, 947 base model R1, but not by a fortune. But for your £15,699, you get full WP suspension, and all the electronics that you could ever wish for, complete with a six-axis IMU, which means, like on the R1, your ride can be fully customised.

What all this means is that supernakeds can now be seriously good handling bikes. Gone are the days when if you wanted a fast naked, you had to get yourself a big heavy Suzuki-B King or Honda CB1300, or suchlike – because they might have been fast in a straight line, but they aren’t going to handle like an all-singing, all-dancing modern supernaked. The Super Duke has got proper brakes, decent wheels and a mega chassis, so when it comes to throwing it about on the street, or on the track, it will keep any Superbike honest, and the same can be said for most of the other tricked-up supernakeds on the market – some of them even have aero packages now!

Of course, a Superbike is going to beat a supernaked on a track or when it comes to doing some serious scratching, but really, for 95%of the time on the road, a decent naked bike wouldn’t have a problem holding on to the shirt tails of even the best Superbike on anything from bumpy back roads to fast sweeping A-roads.



Decisions, decisions

There is a strong argument for both options here and as time goes on, the lines between the two are becoming more and more blurred. Both can be ridden fast on the road, or the track, both can be comfortable and uncomfortable, both can look absolutely ace, and both can be dumbed down and made easier to ride if you don’t fancy having full, unadulterated power. But if I had to make the decision, and if money was no object, I think I’d have to go for the R1 – the Superbike; it’s just the right bike for me. I like riding on track, and you’ll always do a better lap time on a sportsbike because it’s more focused. That said, you could take the KTM on track and still do well in the fast group; it wouldn’t look completely out of place. And the type of riding I like to do on the road too makes more sense on the R1. I don’t want to do 1000 miles in a day, or roll round town at 30mph, if I did, the KTM would probably make more sense. I want to ride fast and hard, and that’s what the R1 has been designed for, and that’s why it’s good at doing it.

But if you told me that you’d prefer the KTM, a supernaked, over the R1, I wouldn’t argue with you. I wouldn’t tell you you’re wrong. Because one day, maybe in a few years’ time, I might be just like you.


What are they good for?

There are striking differences between supernakeds and sportsbikes, but here’s a list of plus-points and virtues each has to shout about…

Supernakeds: What are they good for?

Easy scratching With their high ‘bars, low pegs and more forgiving set-ups, nakeds are generally a lot easier to hop on and hoon the hell out of.Admittedly,when pushed to the absolute limits, their higher-set weight, long forks and awkward aerodynamics can work against them, but that’s not likely to bother you when you’re cutting shapes on your favourite back roads.With that bit less power and reduced focus, a supernaked is often the choice of weapon for unadulterated tomfoolery.

Cunning stunts If you love your wheelies, endos and skids, a supernaked is arguably the most applicable choice for big laughs from little effort. Their short wheelbases, poky motors and relaxed riding positions often mean they are the ideal choice of machinery for messing around on. Wheelies, in particular, are far easier with your head up high, the handlebars wide and a motor with grunt that kicks in lower. Just like riding an overgrown motocross bike, sliding the rear around can often bemuchmore doable… along with a whole host of other tricks. 

Sportsbikes: What are they good for?

Lapping it up If all you care about is smashing lap times, a sportsbike has a huge edge over any naked. This is usually because the frame and suspension aremore track inclined, the power delivery is more progressive, and the top end poke is normally greater. Usually, sportsbikes also have more track-specific electronics, focused more so on finding tenths against the stop watch than stopping you at the traffic lights. The riding position is also a lot more circuit friendly, keeping your weight low and the connection between the rider and front wheel much more akin – so your confidence and grip levels are usually higher when scraping the living daylights out of your elbows.You’re also more likely to have greater ground clearance on tap.

Pub ammo If you want the pinnacle in tech and a bike that replicates the ones you see on TV, sportsbikes are your winning choice. Nowadays, we’re seeing street machines mimicking their circuit-inclined siblings more than ever, with greater crossover of technologies and design. In essence, you’re more likely to top trump your mates down the pub when talking about your sportsbike’s split throttle bodies and GP-inspired chassis than you will with a naked. Not forgetting tomention sportsbikes normally make the most power of any two-wheeledmachinery, and there’s no topping that. 

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