When you look up the word “Duke” in the dictionary you’ll find a few interesting definitions, such as: ruler of a small independent country, and, fists when raised in a fight. Both definitions make absolute sense once you’ve ridden the KTM 390 Duke. For a small displacement motorcycle, it sure packs a punch!
KTM and Bajaj
Back in 2011, KTM launched their smallest displacement road bike to date, the 125 Duke, after Bajaj Auto Ltd. obtained a share of KTM. Keep in mind that at that time, most motorcycle manufacturers were still suffering from the economic recession of 2008. KTM, on the other hand, suddenly had access to vast cash reserves and a free hand over its operations, courtesy of the Indian motorcycle manufacturer.
The 125 Duke proved to be an instant hit. More than 10,000 units were sold in its first year and gave KTM the success it needed to climb back to the leaderboard. A year later in 2012, the 200 Duke and the 390 Duke in 2013 debuted to fill in the gap between the 125 Duke and its bigger brothers in the KTM line-up. The major difference between the new Dukes and other KTM models was that these bikes were designed by KTM in Mattighofen, but assembled by Bajaj in India, and then sent back to Mattighofen for quality control and assurance.
This ensured low manufacturing costs while maintaining high-quality standards; a bold move at the time which proved to be a smart one for KTM considering its global expansion plans. Furthermore, the 390 Duke became KTM’s first bike ever to be sold worldwide – in more than 80 countries and delivered to more than 1,200 dealers. And the rest is history.
Small bike with big ambitions
For 2017 the already successful 390 Duke got a major update which turned it into a completely new bike. The first things that grab your attention are the new split LED headlights with DRLs, which are almost identical to the razor-sharp looking setup on the new 790 Duke and 1290 Super Duke. The new TFT colour display, new frame and subframe, bigger front brake, complete bodywork, and exhaust also substantially differentiate the new Duke from its predecessor. But these are just the changes that are easy to spot on the outside.
Take a closer look, and you’ll notice that the changes are more extensive than one would think. The fuel tank is now made out of steel and can hold 13.4 litres, the brake and clutch levers are now reach-adjustable, there’s a two-channel ABS now that can be set into three different modes: Off, On, and Supermoto (which only disables the rear ABS), new WP suspension, ride-by-wire, and a new 373.2cc liquid-cooled single cylinder engine.
On paper, 373.2 cc doesn’t seem like a lot, and I have to admit that I was a bit sceptic about the 390 Duke when I first saw the spec sheet. How good could a 44hp bike that costs AED 22,990 (6,300 USD) really be? That just screams learner bike. But what the spec sheet doesn’t tell you is just how well equipped this bike is. It looks way more mature then any sub-500cc machine on the market.
For the untrained eye, this bike looks like it could have a much larger engine capacity. Then, you stick the key in the ignition and turn the key around, just to be greeted by one of the most sophisticated, high-tech looking TFT displays you have ever seen on a bike in this price class. The functionality of the display is great: you can change your main display preferences, with 2 trip meters that register trip, fuel range, trip time, battery charge., etc.
You can also switch off the ABS through the menu, or even put it in Supermoto mode, which disables the rear brakes. It works a treat! While scrolling through the elaborate menu, I noticed that the switchgear was backlit. Is this really an AED 22,990 bike?
The exhaust has moved from underneath the bike to the right side compared to the old model. This gives room for the catalytic converter to be hidden underneath the engine. The new 320mm front brake rotor is gripped by a radially mounted ByBre four-piston caliper. By now most people know that ByBre stands for By Brembo, a sub-company of Brembo that focusses on delivering high-end brakes for small to midsize scooters and motorcycles. ABS is standard in the front and rear.
I’m only 1.73 meters tall, but when I swung my leg over the Duke, I didn’t expect that I would be able to plant both my heels on the ground. Considering the seat height has increased from 810 mm to 830 mm, that came as a surprise. The bike looks taller than it actually is. The footpegs are a bit higher and forward than expected. The seating position is upright and forward, giving the rider a more attacking and commanding pose. It feels a bit like sitting on a supermoto. The reach-adjustable levers definitely improve rider ergonomics.
So far, the little KTM has shown some pretty mature features for a small size engine motorcycle. Time to turn the ignition on and hit the road!
When KTM UAE handed over the Duke for the day, the bike had just spent some time on the Yas Marina circuit. Marc Roisetter, General Manager at ANB Automotive UAE and sole distributor of KTM in Dubai, broke the little KTM in on the race track. “I couldn’t rev the bike higher than 6,500 rpm, so I was mainly focussing on riding the perfect lines”, Marc explains. That sounded like a very reasonable explanation for why the edges of the Metzeler M5 tires are so nicely worn in. At least I didn’t have to worry about riding with slippery new tires.
A push on the button and the thumper immediately came to life. The sound that comes out of the exhaust is a bit… disappointing. Perhaps I anticipated more based on the aggressive looks of the bike. However, the Duke isn’t the only bike suffering from strict emission and sound regulations. Nothing an aftermarket muffler can’t sort out.
I say goodbye and take off. Whoaa, the little engine pulls! The clutch is cable operated but operates very smoothly. I have to be careful not to accidentally pull a wheelie. Driving around the Al Quoz area in Dubai is never a pleasure, especially on two wheels. But today things felt a bit different. It felt more like a challenge that I had just accepted rather than a grind. This could get very interesting.
Twisting the throttle open and the Duke just takes off unlike any 400cc bike out there. This single-cylinder engine really likes to rev. This is a KTM, without a doubt. It is unconventional for a single cylinder engine to deliver its peak performance high up in the rev range, but KTM does it. Typically, this would mean that down low, the engine would feel a bit asthmatic. And it does for a very short moment up until 3,500 rpm. After that you just get catapulted. It’s the 37 Nm of torque that gives that boost in your back.
The quick throttle response, the light weight of 149 kg dry, active riding position, the ample torque and horsepower make this bike a doddle to trash around, without making the bike feel nervous. How’s that even possible? For starters, the chassis of the bike is a lightweight steel trellis frame, which, not only helps to lower the centre of gravity, it also makes the bike a master in cornering. Then, there is the 43mm front WP fork. The suspension is firm but forgiving, ideally set up for urban riding conditions and a major contributor to the riding stability.
And finally, the brakes. The Bosch 2-way ABS system works really well. It intervenes right at the edge of what is possible without being intrusive. Racing… I mean riding from traffic light to traffic light really highlights how well all the components work together. But standing still for longer than 30 seconds at the traffic lights also highlighted a drawback: engine heat. The winters in Dubai are mild and the daytime temperature is a cool 23 degrees Celsius average. But the heat that was produced by the engine was a bit worrying. The fan would come on almost instantly. The coolant temperature gauge didn’t budge, so I guess the cooling system was doing its job well enough. Best to keep on riding.
On the open road
I escaped the city traffic and decided to try to find some country roads to explore. I was heading for the village of Lehbab at the outskirt of Dubai. This meant that there was some long, straight, boring highway riding ahead of me. The Duke handled it like a champ, but it clearly was not its natural habitat. Riding 120 km/h at 6,500 rpm with plenty of oomph to go, the little Duke was able to keep up with traffic and didn’t feel unstable or nervous as most bikes in this category. The mirrors were surprisingly functional, with a minimum of vibrations which was very pleasant.
Obviously, there was zero wind protection, making it uncomfortable riding at speeds higher than 120 km/h. The seating position that normally demanded an active riding style was now becoming a bit of a nuisance, leaving no room for shifting on the seat to find a more comfortable pose. For 50 kilometres, the fuel gauge didn’t move. At the constant speed, the Duke sips on fuel. Before I took off, I filled the tank up to the brim giving a theoretic fuel range of 320 km. Quick maths shows a fuel economy of 24 kpl. That’s not class leading but considering the performance of the 390 nevertheless very impressive. It was time to ditch the highway and find some bends and twisty roads.
Twist and turn
With almost no traffic, the curvaceous roads around Lehbab were an absolute treat to ride. Long bends, short bends, perfect asphalt, potholes, straight stretches, and speedbumps. This is a place where a bike like the 390 Duke can really shine. The only traffic on the road was the occasional camels and a few free running goats. Everybody waves at me as I drive by. You would completely forget that you’re only 30 minutes away from the metropolitan life of Dubai. I stopped to take a break and shoot a few pictures of the Duke. A young man, probably around 13 years of age, herding a small caravan of camels, stopped by. He asked if he could take a picture of the Duke. He quickly pulled out his iPhone and took a snapshot. Old tradition mixed with modern technology. It doesn’t get more contrasting then this.
The boy quickly took off. I got back on the Duke and continued my journey. I suddenly realised that the bike sounds slightly better than when I started it over the first time. It sounded more like a proper single cylinder big bike than a small engine motorcycle. Close your eyes (not while riding) and you’d swear it’s at least a 600cc bike. Start, stop, turn, open throttle, close throttle, shift, brake hard, downshift, that’s what this bike likes. Shifting down hard from fourth gear to second I expected the rear wheel to block and chatter, but that didn’t happen. It’s the slipper clutch and it works like a charm!
I decided to switch off the ABS on the rear by getting into the menu and set the ABS to supermoto mode. This should get interesting. Surprisingly, the rear brake now allowed for more aggressive braking, giving room for self-induced slides. Like a pro, the bike would now follow every command with gravitas. The Metzeler tires are confidence inspiring. Not once did I reach the limits of their grip. An excellent choice for this bike.
If there was still a microfibre in my body that thought of this bike as a learner motorcycle, it would now be gone. This is a small size, affordable, hooligan bike. Who needs 100+ hp when you can have this much fun with only 44 hp? Riding through an under passage and suddenly the illuminated full colour TFT display changes from day to night. A very neat gimmick, improving the readability of the display under dark conditions.
What also came as a surprise was, as I was riding with the sun in my back, how minimal the glare was on the display. I expected that I wouldn’t be able to read the display normally. I could actually read the rev counter and the speed. A very smart design by KTM, kudos for that. There are other, more expensive motorcycles on the market that don’t offer that level of comfort.
As I rode back to the dealer, I kept wondering what other motorcycles are there on the market that could compete with this 390 Duke? The BMW G310R? Honda CB300R? Husqvarna Vitpilen/Svartpilen 401? The BMW and Honda offer inferior performance and the Husqvarna is priced higher than the 390 Duke.
The KTM 390 Duke has affordable performance and equipment for both beginner and experienced riders. The non-intimidating seat height gives new and shorter riders a bit more assurance, and the chassis and engine keep even the most seasoned riders entertained on twisty roads and in the inner city. A perfect bike for urban riding and occasional short getaways.
- Minimum engine vibrations
- Great handling
- Sexy TFT display and switchgear
- Punchy engine
- Adjustable levers
- Supermoto mode ABS
- Mature looks
- Useful mirrors
- Engine heat in slow traffic
- Exhaust sound
- Uncomfortable seat
|Make/model||KTM 390 Duke|
|Cooling system||Liquid cooled|
|Bore x stroke||89 x 60 mm|
|Valves||DOHC, 4 valves per cylinder|
|Max power||44hp @ 9.500 tpm|
|Torque||35Nm @ 7.250 tpm|
|Gears||6, constant mesh|
|Finale Drive||X-ring chain|
|Final Drive Ratio||15:45|
|Clutch||PASC anti-hopping clutch, mechanically operated|
|Frame||Steel trellis frame|
|Steering Head Angle||65°|
|Suspension front||43 mm WP upside down, non-adjustable|
|Suspension rear||WP monoshock, non-adjustable|
|Travel front||142 mm|
|Travel rear||150 mm|
|Front brakes||Single disc 320 mm, Bybre 4 piston radial caliper|
|Rear brakes||Single disc 230 mm, Bybre 1-piston caliper|
|ABS||Bosch two-channel ABS|
|Front Tyre||110/70 – 17|
|Rear Tyre||150/60 – 17|
|Seat height||830 mm|
|Fuel Capacity||13.4 L|
|Warranty||2 years, unlimited mileage|
|Price UAE||AED 22,990|
|Dealer UAE||ANB Automotive UAE|