Yesterday I found myself wandering aimlessly around the metro area west of the Cascades. Quite by accident I just happen to pass by bike shops in both Lynnwood and Seattle. Blinded by the intense sun and parched to near delirium, I mistook the parking lot of Lynnwood Motoplex for highway 99 and lurched to a stop just before ramming the curb. Lost and confused I walked inside and blurted out: "Could I take the KTM 690 Duke out for a test ride?" Well, I had to say something. O.K. Test riding motorcycles is one of favorite things to do. It was just a knee-jerk reaction.
Dagnab it if that little black & white Duke didn't catch my eye at last winter's bike show. The original Duke has always been on my hot list but this new one really looks cool. Highway 99 and the adjacent residential streets aren't the best place to put a hooligan bike through its paces but a short loop around the neighborhood and a buzz through an empty school parking lot gave me a feel for what the Duke might be like to live with, if not really discovering it's ultimate capabilities. I'm sure they are dangerously fantastic. The Duke ride is not altogether different from what I get on my DR650, at least ergonomically. The seat is wider/better and it has a more substantial, flex-free chassis and vastly better suspenders. The Duke feels expensive and is, at about $9000. KTM is proud of the power output of this little single and it plainly has more beans than my piped and jetted DR. In fact, in darting around at speeds below 60, I thought that its power fell somewhere in the middle between the DR and my Multistrada 1000. Being a single, this sensation would surely change if I had more open spaces to explore the upper range of it's speed where the bigger bike should walk off and leave it. But the Duke is not made to spend much time at high speed. It seeks the tight corner where it can be tossed to and fro, zipping in and out like a pesky gnat. It would be sacrilege to own a Duke and not develop some skill for wheelies and stopees. Maybe I'm getting too old for such antics but I know I could have fun on a Duke even if I didn't manage to leave a trail of black scallop marks on the road. The little Duke sounds throaty and good if you have any affinity for singles, and the Robo-bike styling would attract attention wherever it goes. But then, there are some types of attention I don't need. This thing could get me into trouble.
How I ended up on Aurora Avenue I'm not sure but I managed to swoop into the Aprilia / Moto Guzzi dealer for directions. Not sure of how else to help, they sent me out on a Aprilia Shiver to get my bearings. This bike looks fantastic as an Italian bike truly should. The 90-degree V-twin could sound like a Ducati but instead has a different tone; more staccato and not at all subdued for a stock exhaust. The first thing I noticed was the clutch engagement very close to the hand grip. The next thing was... Whooa! This thing wants to jump out of the gate. You want immediate action? Just crack the throttle and the crankshaft is making the leap to torque mode like it's already happened. I've never experienced such instantaneous throttle response. As the bike's speed builds, the Shiver provides a nice linear surge of power like you would expect from a modern 4-valve 750 twin. Nothing spectacular like the initial pop, but good and peppy. Like all bikes these days, the fueling is lean and could probably be made smoother in on/off throttle transitions with some remapping, but the experience is definitely sporty good fun with not much to complain about. When I returned, the salesman reminded me that this bike has "fly-by-wire" throttle and comes with 3 switch settings - sport, touring, and rain. I had only sampled sport. Momma mia! Bring it on. This bike can pop small power wheelies easier than the Duke and that is saying something.
In comparing the two bikes, I noticed they are about the same price. Hmm. The Shiver is a real motorcycle and would be a lot more versatile than the Duke, but then I sure wouldn't buy a Duke for versatility. It's a sharp and pointy fun-stick. Not that I wouldn't want to use it for short commutes and errand-running, but no ride to town on a Duke could be mundane. Yank those handlebars and poke that corner in the eye! Still, the Shiver is tempting. It is everything my cherished old Suzuki SV was and a whole lot more. Not insignificantly, it sounds much better than the Duke. The Shiver's fatal flaw for me might be that it is too much like the Multistrada that I plan to keep. A gorgeous and rambunctious Italian but with less torque, comfort and wind protection than the Multi. Fortunately, I'm not in a hurry to choose my next bike cuz it won't be easy.