The KTM 690 Duke is part of a proud model line. While most manufacturers have gone down the easy route and opted for either more capacity or more cylinders, the third generation KTM 690 Duke proves that you need neither to entertain the rider. At 654cc, the 690 Duke is massive for a single-cylinder, and so long as you're graduating up from a smaller machine, you won't be disappointed. The KTM LC4 engine revs hard and fast, pulling like a water-buffalo from low, but with just 5,000 revs to play with (everything below 3,000rpm is useless) you'd better get that left foot tapping to give the motorcycle a chance. Delivery can be changed through its mapping system for the fiddle freaks out there.
Find the right environment, like the track behind Seacon Square, which is called Gymkhana track, and the only thing that can touch it is a professional rider training on his 450cc supermotard. Here, the KTM 690 Duke makes complete sense – although the KTM 690 SMC is even more logical. The lightweight engine means the ancillaries strapped to it don't have to be made from anything too substantial – although the KTM 690 Duke feels solid. The frame is light and purposeful, the swingarm industrially sparse, the can is made stumpy and set low to aid balance, and if there's no need to stop the motorcycle from 250km/h then why have two or more calipers? As soon as it rolls into this racy setting, the KTM 690 Duke becomes a toy through and through. Even with the strange geometry making the motorcycle feel as if it's already pointing upwards, the motorcycle still pings between turns like a mosquito eying up AI. Gas hard out of a turn in first gear and the rear Dunlop Alpha-10 slips, grips and then continues turning on its shoulder, Brake hard and it obeys in an instant, with downchanges executed easily and with as much or as little fuss as your style demands thanks to the balanced APTC slipper clutch. Its 650cc rivals are ultimately faster but overtaking the KTM 690 Duke in Bangkok city traffic is a mighty almost suicidal task.
Turn out of the busy city and onto the open road and the tables are reversed – although not to the degree you'd think. Of course, speeds are down on the KTM 690 Duke (and vibration up), but if you think you're going to breeze past the plucky KTM on you 650cc parallel-twin Kawasaki, then you'd better get serious.
So long as you're not knee deep in corner, the KTM 690 Duke works well turning positively despite the lack of weight over the front. The WP suspension is top notch, even if the rear's set too low. The potential is enormous. Riding hard on unknown roads is perfect, the KTM 690 Duke giving you a fine view of what's to come and not needing to be lent over too far makes it a perfect motorcycle for Thai roads. But if you should come across longer, smoother turns, or know a road inside out, you'll find the KTM 690 Duke isn't as happy as the front tire scrabbles for purpose. It works on track because of the dramatic weight transfer. In less pronounced situations it's more of a problem.
And then there's the price. 630,000 THB is a lot of money for a motorcycle like this. You'll need to properly fall in love with this motorcycle, live in busy Bangkok, not far from Seacon Square so you have a kart track nearby. All this is probably why the KTM 690 Duke is in Thailand only available if ordered.