Johannesburg - On the face of it, it's a big ask. But for KTM, the off-road motorcycle maker that re-invented itself as a manufacturer of Grand Prix machines, the bigger the better.

The brief was to take the 1290 Super Duke R, arguably the biggest, baddest, most intense short-range hooligan tool on the market, and turn it into a comfortable long-range sports-tourer - without pulling its claws.

So they fitted new cylinder heads with revised porting and re-wrote the ECU mapping for a more linear power delivery. Peak power is down by only 3kW, from 132 to 129kW at 9500 revs, torque is unchanged with 144Nm at 6750rpm - and the quick-shifter is still there for butter-smooth upshifts without closing the thottle.

But, even on the hottest of the three engine modes, the hair-trigger power delivery of the R gives way to a deceptively linear power feed. Deceptive because, despite a modicum of V-twin vibes to warn you that Something Important is happening down there, the 228kg GT gathers momentum way quicker than you're ready for.

Quick enough to get you into trouble, especially within the confines of a technical race circuit such as the new Kyalami, which is where the launch ride was held. Smoother power delivery or no, this is still one very quick motorcycle.

Also read: Ridden in SA: KTM 1290 Super Duke R

It is however, way more comfortable and easier to ride than the R, thanks to a wider, less deeply dished saddle (KTM insists it's also softer, my bum tells me it's just as plank-like), slightly lowered footpegs, and wider, taller handlebars (adjustable, by the way), providing a more relaxed seating position for both you and your navigator.

Then they ditched the R's 18-litre fuel tank in favour of a 23-litre long-range can (this was apparently the most difficult part of the conversion, trying to squeeze in the extra volume without getting too close to hot machinery and cooking the contents).

A neat, rather angular frame-mounted half-fairing replaces the too-low headlamp nacelle that spoils the R's looks, pushing the instrument pod up into a more natural position, and a typically tall, narrow Matighofen-style screen that can be hand-adjusted on the fly provides more than adequate protection for high-speed cruising.

The rear sub-frame has been extended and beefed up, to handle the extra weight of hard luggage. the mounts for KTM's proprietary panniers are built in; any aftermarket top box will be an easy fit.

The extra 15kg all this adds isn't noticeable; thanks to the extra leverage, the GT can be made to turn in just as sharply as the R; it actually feels more planted, possibly due to a little more weight on the front.

Iron Butt material

A lot of the extra comfort is provided by the WP semi-active suspension, borrowed from the all-terrain Adventure, but with much shorter travel. In Comfort mode it's disconcertingly smooth, if a little remote, while the Street mode has a lot more feedback, without any harsh choppiness.

Sport mode, says KTM, is about the same as the R. It tells you exactly what's going on between tyre and tar in exhausting detail - not recommended for day-long rides unless you're trying for an Iron Butt run (1600km in less than 24 hours, something for which this bike is eminently suited).

A befits the company's new R239 999 sports-touring flagship, the gizmotronic menu reads like alphabet soup, including lean angle-modulated anti-lock braking with Supermoto mode (which lets you lock up the rear wheel but not the front) traction control, overrun compression relief, cruise control, hill hold, LED cornering lights, self-cancelling indicators and tyre pressure monitoring.

Like all KTMs, it feels tall and narrow when you first fling a leg over it; once on the move, however, the ergonomics are superb. Nevertheless, at heart it is still a Super Duke hooligan tool, which makes it a very sporty tourer indeed.

FACTS

KTM 1290 Super Duke GT

Engine: 1301cc liquid-cooled 75-degree V-twin.

Bore x stroke: 108 x 71mm.

Compression ratio: 13.2:1.

Valvegear: DOHC with four overhead valves per cylinder.

Power: 129kW at 9500rpm.

Torque: 144Nm at 6750rpm.

Induction: Digital electronic fuel-injection with two 56mm Keihin throttle bodies.

Ignition: Electronic ignition system with digital timing adjustment and dual spark plugs per cylinder.

Starting: Electric.

Clutch: Hydraulically actuated multiplate wet slipper clutch.

Transmission: Six-speed constant-mesh gearbox with final drive by chain.

Front Suspension: 48mm WP semi-active inverted cartridge forks adjustable for preload, compression and rebound damping.

Rear Suspension: WP gas-charged semi-active remote reservoir monoshock adjustable for preload, low and high-speed compression, and rebound damping.

Front brakes: Dual 320mm discs with Brembo M50 four-piston radial-mount monobloc callipers and switchable ABS.

Rear brake: 240mm disc with Brembo twin-pot opposed-piston calliper and switchable ABS.

Front tyre: 120/70 - 17 tubeless.

Rear tyre: 190/55 - 17 tubeless.

Wheelbase: 1482mm.

Seat height: 835mm.

Kerb weight: 228kg.

Fuel tank: 23 litres.

Price: R239 999.

Warranty: Two years, unlimited distance.

Service Intervals: 15 000km.

Motoring.co.za

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