An IAM friend of mine who has owned multiple European and Japanese bikes recently said, "There is a special corner of Hell reserved for MV and Moto Guzzi owners who can expect the full dealer workshop maintenance experience". It was a tongue in cheek retort to someone he knew questioning the reliability of KTM's. Indeed, several of my friends formed the shape of a cross with their fingers when I announced the intent to buy a Duke 790. I guess that it's a widely held belief with some substance that Japanese bikes are generally more reliable than European or American ones but what's it really been like to own the 790 since March 2019?
Let's start by saying that I was aware that KTM's had a bit of a mixed reputation before I bought one but the test ride was so exhilarating (HERE) that I just had to own one. I've rarely laughed out loud inside my helmet but I did multiple times on that day.
The 1500 km review with all the early accessory purchases is HERE and there have been multiple other posts about various bits and pieces. However, after 18 months ownership and 15,000 km, I thought it might be useful to pull together some thoughts about real life ownership over that time. The distance covered ought to have been nearly twice that, but that's what C-19 and two eye surgeries do for you!
I needed a bike which had good performance plus excellent handling more than outright power and speed because of where I live in the countryside and also my IAM work. It needed to be light because of my age - 73 next month for a bit of future-proofing and it's filled the bill perfectly. Leaving aside all the rational reasons, I also wanted a bike which had a bit of "mongrel" in it!
HANDLING. In a word, outstanding. Light weight and steering geometry makes cornering effortless. It's not called The Scalpel for nothing. It's very forgiving too. If corner entry speed is a bit too high, just lean it some more - no drama. That's all that needs to be said apart from noting that good handling also noticeably reduces fatigue on a run. Ditto for ergonomics with respect to fatigue - my ageing body needs all the help it can get and the KTM is close to perfect for me. Tyres naturally have a bearing on handling and the OEM Maxxis pure sport tyre get a black mark. They were fine in the warmer, drier weather when I first bought the bike but as soon as it got colder and wetter, grip reduced dramatically. A front end slide saw the Maxxis removed at a little over 3000 km and replaced with Bridgestone T31 sport touring tyres. An excellent all round tyre with plenty of grip in all conditions. However the front hoop was badly losing its profile at 6000 km although the rear was fine. I suspect that countersteering to maintain good progress on the twisty roads where I live contributes to that. At 8000-odd km, they were replaced with Michelin Road 5's which have been genuinely outstanding, no matter what the conditions are like. They have currently covered 4000 km and are in great condition. The other great feature is the turning circle. Immeasurably better than my last 2 bikes and ideal for narrower roads without having to do a 3 point turn or even worse, having to step off it due to a misjudgment! (Ummm...... I did this a few years ago on my 2009 Street Triple which had terrible lock. Almost made it.....)
BRAKING. The stock brakes and pads were ok (the word "adequate" springs to mind) but I fitted EBC HH pads during lockdown as I knew from fitting them to previous bikes what sort of performance gain to expect. They delivered the expected performance but I suspect they exacerbated an issue which I'd noticed before they were fitted. At low speeds (say <20 km/hr), gently applying the front brake creates a slight snatch like the pads are grabbing then slightly letting go. This becomes more pronounced if more lever pressure is applied. Sticking a magnetic dial indicator on the forks and checking disc runout revealed a couple of things. The front right hand disc has a runout of 0.07mm. This is within the manufacturer's tolerance of 0.1mm but the difference between high and low points is only just over 90 degrees. The front left hand disc has a runout of 0.13mm which is outside tolerance and the difference between high and low is approximately 180 degrees apart.
A trip to my dealer a few days ago led to the service manager describing the slow speed braking performance as "aggressive" and he is following up with KTM to get the disks replaced under warranty. I should add that at higher speeds, the brakes perform perfectly and I automatically compensate for the deficiency at the lower speed. It still needs addressing though.
THE ENGINE AND TRANSMISSION. An absolute delight and proof that you don't need a big capacity bike to go fast in most road conditions as it's the power to weight ratio that has a lot of relevance until aerodynamics takes over. The 790 has plenty of torque but the quickshifter is a really useful tool for keeping the bike in the right rev range. I use the quickshifter on downshifts all the time for engine braking in combination with the throttle to keep things smooth as opposed to relying on the brakes. It gets used less on upshifts as it requires reasonably large throttle openings to make smooth changes and I tend not to wring its neck on most occasions. With the stock muffler, the engine sounds great too with a decent bark and a few pops on a trailing throttle. No intention to fit a louder muffler as I prefer not to draw attention to myself.
The only slight downside experienced to date is a very slight misting of oil from the cam cover rubber seal at the camshaft ends. It's nowhere annoying enough to have it fixed properly until a future service requires the cam cover to be removed. A temporary fix has been to paint flexible sealant along the join at those points and it works perfectly - no more misting.