It’s hard to recall the exact moment when it happened, but somewhere between burning knee pucks through Chuckwalla Valley Raceway’s 70 mph bowl turn, with Senior Editor Adam Waheed flanking me, and exiting Turn 16 in a crossed-up wheelie, disbelief set in that these are the same motorcycles on the same tires we’d used to cover hundreds of miles on the street riding from the Cycle World office to the racetrack the day before. Long hours in relative comfort, countless black lines painted on winding back roads, endless entertainment, and an average of 37 mpg between the two are a testament to the Triumph Street Triple RS’s and KTM 890 Duke R’s balance of performance, fun, and practicality.
But what’s particularly interesting here is that these two machines conquer similar goals in very different ways.
The 2020 Triumph Street Triple RS and multi time Cycle World Ten Best Bikes Middleweight Streetbike features a rev-happy yet flexible 765cc inline-triple at its core and is one of the most polished sporty naked bikes on the market. This British-designed machine was excellent right out of the gate at its 2017 introduction, and has been reworked and refined since. It most recently received electronic upgrades and engine improvements said to increase power output while meeting tighter Euro 5 emissions standards. It’s been the class benchmark for being swift, comfortable, and smooth. It’s the epitome of the modern sporty middleweight standard.
Austria isn’t exactly close to England, and neither is KTM’s approach to the segment. Not long after introducing the 790 Duke, the Orange Brigade unveiled the 2020 890 Duke R, with a larger displacement, more powerful 889cc parallel-twin, increased adjustability of its WP Apex suspension bits, and racier ergonomics. It’s built to be raw and edgy, with a focus on sporting characteristics. This is KTM’s effort to take hold of the class.
And while we know that most owners use these motorcycles as transportation and for weekend-warrior canyon ripping and tearing, it’s hard to argue against their racetrack prowess. Each bike is built with trickle-down technology from its respective manufacturer’s flagship models and racing efforts. Take note that both KTM and Triumph display hardcore track-riding shots on their websites. We didn’t need much more prompting than that, so after covering a mix of mountain roads, highway slogs, stop-and-go traffic, and photo passes, we cut the KTM 890 Duke R and Triumph Street Triple RS loose at the race circuit.
Chuckwalla Valley Raceway’s 17-turn, 2.68-mile layout nestled in the desert of Southern California is a worthy proving ground to hammer on these middleweight machines, offering a blend of elevation changes, medium-length straightaways, fast sweeping corners, and tire-scorching acceleration zones. It’s the perfect place to test their sporting intent. Note that lap times weren’t recorded because of routine track maintenance in several corners, which created unpredictable conditions, but we utilized our VBox data logger to target key corners and acceleration zones for objective comparison. These bikes aren’t so much about lap times as they are for having fast fun, though we did a full complement of instrumented acceleration and brake testing at our private facility, followed by full weights and measures, plus runs on Cycle World’s in-house Dynojet 250i dynamometer.
Interpreting dyno charts clearly shows the result of a 124cc displacement difference between the inline-triple and parallel-twin engines used here, as well as highlighting the way their respective designs influence how they make power.
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