2020 Motorcycle of the Year: KTM 890 Duke R
Every year, we are faced with the task of choosing Motorcycle.com’s Motorcycle of the Year (MOTY), and typically, the debate is heated – and lengthy. This year, we reached agreement remarkably quickly – a rarity with any decision made by this crew of misfits. As we say each year, however, the MOTY is not about choosing the best motorcycle of 2020. While the choice needs to be one of the best by winning one of our MO Best Of categories (MOBO), the bike needs to be something more; it needs to say something about or do something for motorcycling. Looking back at the last five years, you’ll see that we’ve spread the MO love around, choosing an adventure bike, a sportbike, a sport-touring bike, an entire motorcycle platform, and a cruiser. Each choice has been an exemplary motorcycle, but each has expanded the way we think about motorcycling. The KTM 890 Duke R, MO’s Motorcycle of the Year 2020, is a great example of this characteristic.
Few motorcycles provide the elemental motorcycling experience in the way that the 890 Duke R does. With KTM’s marketing referring to the 890 as the Super Scalpel, you’d expect it to be a sharp-handling machine, and it is. The fully adjustable suspension immediately improves the 890’s sporting manners over the 790 Duke. Then come the brakes: 320mm discs squeezed by Brembo Stylema calipers and powered by a Brembo MCS master cylinder. With the two weaknesses of the 790 Duke addressed, KTM could have stopped but didn’t, making the final change that elevated the Duke R to the level that the 790’s potential had only hinted at. Bumping the displacement of the compact parallel-Twin to 890cc increased the torque in the bottom end and midrange – the places sporting street riders spend the bulk of their time on backroad rides. This group of changes created a motorcycle that was surprisingly better than we could have imagined the platform being based on our experience with the 790.
When riding the 890 Duke R, the first thing you notice is the increased torque. Whether in town passing traffic or exiting corners on your favorite mountain road, the parallel-Twin leaps forward when you twist the throttle. Add in the optional up/down quickshifter, and you’re headed to motorcycle nirvana (though it is somewhat marred by a clunky transmission, particularly the shift from first to second). The change in the power delivery can’t be overstated – although it’s still as friendly as the family dog until you sic it on something. However, unlike with hyper bikes, this is power that can be utilized and enjoyed on the street and not just the track, which really adds to the fun factor of the 890.
The changes to the suspension are a little less obvious, but in situations where the 790 felt a bit out of sorts, the 890 rails along without missing a beat. And then there are the brakes. Every MO tester raved about the difference they made. (When I came back from my first track session on the 890, the additional power and feel provided by the Brembos had me practically foaming at the mouth.) When paired with a bike as light as the 890, they have the ability to stop you right now.
In recent years, technology has radically changed motorcycling. However, cutting-edge rider aids were primarily the province of top-dollar exotica. With the 890 Duke R, KTM put a performance motorcycle with a six-axis IMU within the financial reach of a wide swath of riders. Lean-sensitive traction control and ABS widen the safety envelope both on the street and track, allowing riders to further explore and expand their capabilities.
The riding position is sporty but not punishing. The more forward and lower handlebar plus the slightly rearset pegs cant the rider to combat the wind blast. However, unlike track-focused sportbikes, the 890 Duke R is a capable, comfortable everyday motorcycle, happy to commute during the week and canyon scratch on the weekends. The 890 has lost none of its everyday utility during the performance-sharpening process.
In the 890 Duke R, KTM has taken the technology originated in the liter-plus sportbike wars and brought it into a bike that weighs just 408 lb. and puts out a MO-tested 116.2 hp at 9500 rpm. When combined with the suspension and brake improvements, this naked bike delivers a fun factor that is capable of taking riders back to why they started riding sporty motorcycles in the first place. Additionally, this balance of performance and utility is why we’re seeing a renaissance in the middleweight sporting naked category. For these reasons, and many more, the KTM 890 Duke R is Motorcycle.com’s 2020 Motorcycle of the Year.
2020 Motorcycle of the Year Runner-Up: Kawasaki Z H2
Kawasaki’s supercharged bikes have been around since 2015, but we really never got a chance to properly appreciate them, in the real world, until the H2 SX SE got here in 2018. It easily won that year’s Sport-Tourer of the Year. What a great motorcycle, with some of the finest suspension ever on a Kawi (or any sport-tourer), long-ride ergonomics, modern electronics – and an effortless 172 horsepower, at just over 10,000 rpm, along with 40 mpg efficiency.
Earlier this year, the green men loaned us an H2 Carbon, the full-zoot street version of the track-only H2. Sharper-edged and even more purposeful than the SX SE, that one completely blew our minds, while its supercharger blew 206 rear-wheel horsepower worth of air and fuel into its 999cc inline Four. Which is less impressive than the most voracious midrange of any 1000cc bike ever. The H2’s 95 ft-lb torque peak buries the V4 Panigale’s 81, and does it 600 rpm sooner (10,800 for the H2). Both H2 SX SE and H2 Carbon bore Kawasaki’s sacred rivermark emblem, and both were turned out like Faberge eggs. I wanted the Carbon to be 2020 Sportbike of the Year, but got voted down.
Now that we’ve been suitably impressed with Kawi’s supercharged machines, here comes Kawasaki back for 2020 with the H2 for everyman, the Z H2 naked. Okay, everyman with $17.5k, which is a chunk, but totally within reason for a modern motorcycle. For this supercharged hunk, Kawasaki claims 197 hp, which leads us to believe the Z engine is in the same tune as the SX. And rather than being disappointed, I think we should all be relieved Kawi didn’t put the 206-hp version in this upright naked; it was hard enough to hold on to the Carbon’s low clip-on handlebars.
The Z gets its own high-tensile trellis frame, tuned with the goal of providing optimal performance at highway speed and emphasizing low-speed maneuverability. Handling and high-speed stability are enhanced by the lowered center-of-gravity enabled by a forward tilt of the engine, and Kawasaki took pains to give the Z as narrow a waistline as possible, to bring the ground closer.
There’s no skimping on the old rivermark recipe: We’ve got ride-by-wire and cruise control, Kawasaki Quick Shifter on the dog-ring gearbox, an IMU, Kawasaki Launch Control, Kawasaki Engine Brake Control – all the things a modern “hypernaked” needs to keep you out of the weeds. In truth, the paint, detailing and a few of the components aren’t quite as bourgeois as the other H2s, but it all works magnificently and whaddaya want for $17,500? Basically, you can ride this one like a complete maniac. Or, peacefully back and forth to work. It’s not just our Naked MOBO of 2020, it’s also Runner-Up MOTY. (It was either this, or make the H2 Carbon “Sportbike of the Year” instead of that $100k Ducati. Don’t get me started.)
Motorcycle.com Best of 2020 Categories
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