It was on a small winding back road through Janda Baik in the hills north of Kuala Lumpur that a small family of buffalo wandered out of the forest, forcing me to slow down while they passed. As the smallest of the herd skipped across the road with slow but powerful movements that only buffalo can achieve, the similarities between bike I was sitting on and the beast in front of me were plainly apparent and the name ‘the little buffalo’ was born; a little rough around the edges but enough low down power to make it a truly useful and engaging motorcycle.
Now I don’t go around naming motorcycles for the fun of it. Only bikes that truly strike a chord with me get that privilege and after only 2 days messing around on the KTM 690 Duke R had done exactly that. While the 690cc single-cylinder, 4-stroke, dual spark (with separate mapping), liquid-cooled engine doesn’t have the top end power (70Hp) to play with the litre bikes on the open highway in 6th gear, when the roads narrow and the corners tighten up, the 70Nm of torque comes into its own, providing unstoppable surges of tractable acceleration out of the corners, quickly reaching redline as it pulls through the smooth power curve. While a lot of work has gone into balancing the big single, its still a little more vibey than its multi cylinder counterparts, reminiscent of the reassuring rumble of a reliable old tractor and nothing to complain about as it merely adds character to the bike. The 10000km service intervals are testament to the reliability of this bike. Crash bars ad to the ruggedness
That’s where the little buffalo metaphor ends and the rest of the bike becomes very ‘KTM’. A set of WP forks take care of the front end with compression damping set from the top of the left fork and rebound damping on the right avoids any interference between the two circuits and adjustments are easy, perfect for when you want a more comfortable ride through the city then wind the compression up for a day at the track or while having a little fun on some back roads. In the back a WP monoshock with spring preload, high/low-speed compression damping and rebound damping adjustment keeps power on the ground while raising the rear of the bike, giving a slightly higher ground clearance for razor sharp steering and more aggressive lean angles.
While armchair racers will scoff at the lack of twin disc brakes on the front wheel, and sub 100Hp figures, the fact is that by keeping the bikes weight minimised, the KTM engineers have eliminated the need for excessive Hp and braking force. The chrome-moly frame and die cast swing arm weigh in at 13kg combined, while positioning the pre-silencer underneath the engine helps to centralise the mass, making the 690 feel even lighter than its 149.5kg dry weight. Lightweight wheels mean less rotational and unsprung mass too giving Faster acceleration, shorter braking distance, quicker changes of direction and more responsive suspension.
The 320mm floating rotor paired with Brembo’s monobloc M50 4 piston calliper (the same found on the Ducati Panigale) is actuated by the Magura master cylinder, giving strong braking with good feel. The 240mm rear disc suffers from lack of feel due to the short wheelbase and forward stance but everything is kept under control by a combination of the Bosch 9M+ ABS (which can be deactivated) and slipper clutch (also attached to a Magura master cylinder), which keeps the rear from locking on even the most aggressive downshifts.
For riders looking for a little more fun, there is also the Supermoto mode, activated by a dongle, with which the front wheel still has ABS activated, which allows the rear wheel to slide into corners as much as you like. No traction control means a computer doesn’t interfere with the drive-by-wire and the rider is in full control of the throttle position at all times.
High foot pegs assist with the very low lean angles but my height of 6”2’ made them borderline comfortable for below the belt while an 865mm seat height will fit most riders well. Above the belt, wide bars and an upright seating position suit a wider range of riders and provide a perfect position for seeing through city traffic, while the sharp handling and low down power makes quick work of slow speed manoeuvring required for traffic jams. But its out on the narrow, winding back roads that the little buffalo shows off its true potential, muscling its way up mountains, flicking from one tight curve to the next and throwing the front wheel skywards in defiance of larger bikes that would struggle in the same conditions. This is definitely another bike to add to my dream garage.