You can still see the fire everywhere. Long drips of melted insulation swing off power lines. When wet clouds soak the south-facing slope of the Topatopa Mountains you can smell it too. A rich, earthy, and sodden charcoal smell. It fills your nose when you angle your head and drive it low into a corner. If your eyes look deep to pick your line, they’ll see wisps of scorched chaparral, denuded and black, and stripes of burned-over guardrail. But mostly you see road. Cambered and carving, a dark curling pen stroke, rolled out through bright rock.
Related: 2019 KTM 790 Duke MC Commute ReviewBalanced, sophisticated, and absurdly quick in a canyon, KTM’s Duke 790 is easily one of the best middleweight motorcycles on sale today. (Yelena Sofia/)
In the lower reaches of Highway 33 there's not much for the 2019 KTM Duke 790's brilliant quickshifter to do. A corner is a one-click job, a downward stab to keep the engine spinning hard, and you gather the gear change back the instant you sniff an apex. Second, third, second, third, and so on. The new LC8 engine is a wonder. It's eager in a way that a single can't be, and urgent in a way that an inline-four seldom is. The power comes on quick (95 hp at its peak on our dyno, and 58.2 pound-feet of torque) and it never really signs off. The engine swells like it'll build forever until you're startled by a soft bounce off the rev limiter; but by then never mind: You're on the brakes and settling weight over the front end and looking deep into ashy corners.Highway 33’s curves are flowing and fast, the perfect place to test KTM’s Duke 790. (Yelena Sofia/)
It was all fuel. Tall grass and matilija poppy and head-high stands of bright yellow broom that clogged the sightlines up the winding highway. Before the Thomas fire ripped through these mountains and bore down on my hometown, driving out my parents and friends in a frantic nighttime evacuation, all that fragrant California scrub was a pretty conduit through which my favorite road flowed. The walls of brush made knowing the road essential, knowing where you could find a spritz of gravel left behind by heavy trucks, or expect a crumble of fallen rock at the base of a sheer cut through the earth, or find a sheen of water pressed out of the mountain to make the road buttery slick. That knowledge was the difference between enjoying the ride or doing it on tiptoes. But with the brush burned away and new, deep sightlines, there’s little but courtesy and good sense to slow me down, or the Duke—and the Duke has never cared much for either.Read more