Home STICKY Test Drive: 2018 KTM 390 Duke

Test Drive: 2018 KTM 390 Duke

I’m sure I’m not the only one whose heart races when they’re in the saddle of a motorcycle. Whatever the displacement, motorcycles get you to your destination in the most enjoyable way possible. Once in a while though, we find a bike that’s so much fun to ride, we look for any excuse to mount up. The Duke 390 has quite the reputation of being one such bike, and I had the pleasure of using one for a week. Here are my thoughts.

DESIGN 4/5

Love it or hate it, it’s hard to argue that this naked bike looks every bit the aggressive road machine it is. The angular headlights, sharp cowl, trellis frame and pointed seat, it’s a different kind of fast-looking from the curvy sportbikes one might be accustomed to seeing. Our model came in a clean white and orange, with reasonably subdued vinyl and a deeply sculpted tank. Being a proper naked bike, there’s little in the way of fairing, and a very vertical stance. Despite this, it manages to look fast standing still. Whoever put this design down on paper certainly got it right. If you’re a fan of the brand, close your eyes, and imagine a scaled-down 1290 Super Duke, and you’ve got the 390 Duke.

HARDWARE 4.5/5

This thumper comes with a single-cylinder
373.2 cc engine, a 6-speed transmission, a single, four-piston 320 mm disc brake on the front, and one single piston 230 mm disc on the rear. That might not seem like that much on paper, but it handles the 39.1 hp, and 23.6 lb-ft of torque beautifully, which I’m sure has something to do with the bike’s wet weight of 362 pounds. You get a tank that carries about 13 liters, with about a liter and a half in reserve. There’s no quick shifter, not at this price range, but you do get a slipper clutch so you don’t have to worry about aggressive downshifts. WP provides the suspension front and rear, and the nice USD forks have 5.6 inches of travel, while the rear bottoms out at 5.9 inches.

The 390 Duke comes with ABS, which you can disable on the massive 5.2-inch, full-color TFT display and a few taps through the extremely user-friendly bike management interface. That same screen serves as the information system on the bike, so you get a digital gauge cluster with RPMs, speedo, fuel, and heat at a quick glance. Trip time, trip distance, and the date and time are also available, as are other alerts that might come up in the course of your trip.

 

USER EXPERIENCE 4.5/5

Let me begin this part by saying that I tried my level best to not be influenced by the high praise that the 390 Duke has, and continues to get, from riders and reviewers the world over. I’ll spoil it a little and say the praise is not without basis. But I get ahead of myself.

I stand all of 5 feet 4 inches, and the seat height of this duke is 32.7 inches. Straddling the bike, I can just get both sets of toes on the ground. More often than not though, I hang off the left side with a foot down, with the other on the brake. If you’re taller in your mind than you are against a tape measure, this is something you must consider, as not being able to flatfoot can affect rider confidence significantly. Fortunately, there’s not a whole lot of weight to throw around, so it’s not too bad. Hand size is also something of an issue. I wear a Mechanix glove in size small, and the clutch on the 390 Duke, although adjustable, is on the high side. I have to stretch my hand about as far as I can to actuate it. This is thankfully mitigated by a very light pull, but the distance and travel can get uncomfortable in traffic.

But oh that engine. I can sing praises to it all day. The 390 Duke’s powerplant gives you plenty of torque early on in the rev range, and if you can’t be bothered to change gears, you can get away with lugging the engine. Part of the experience of having a single is going through the gearbox, and thankfully, there’s a lot of feedback from the engine, and plenty of room to get dialed in. It’s responsive and very eager to get going. There are enough horses under the hood to get you in a bit of trouble, and cracking the throttle open will push you back in the seat, and leave you gripping the tank with your legs, but it’s not jerky. “Mischievous” would be an appropriate way to describe it. The gearbox is quality work, with positive shifting throughout, and a single false neutral which happened because I was working the shifter too gingerly.

Brakes on the bike are great, and coupled with ABS really inspire confidence, especially in newer riders. Riding in the wet, panic braking, and generally puttering about on the kinds of roads we have—ABS is just a great idea, and the 390 Duke handles it well. You can even set ABS to work on both front and rear, just the front, or not at all, depending on your mood for the day.

I’ve said a lot already, but if you’re going to take one thing away from this review, it’s that this bike is probably the most fun I’ve had on two wheels. It’s necessarily power or displacement that gives you that, it’s a combination of approachability, the confidence the bike gives, its near-telepathic steering, and real usability. The 390 Duke has it all in spades, and is something that any rider of any skill level will appreciate.

VALUE 4.5/5

Sure there are bigger bikes. There are also
less expensive bikes than the roughly
PHP 290,000 this bike is asking for. But I doubt there are any out there that offer quite the combination of fun, practicality, and value as the Duke 390. It even gets bonus points for being one of the better-looking nakeds out there. It’s hard to beat what this bike offers, and there’s a reason it’s so popular. If you’re on the fence about it, let this be the sign you’ve been waiting for.

 

What’s Hot:
-Great styling
-Superb value
-Exciting, practical performance

What’s Not:
-Seat is a little high for shorter riders
-That tall clutch

Bottomline:

It deserves all the praise it has gotten.

 

Words by Ren Alcantara.

Also published in GADGETS MAGAZINE June 2019 Issue