Review: KTM 390 Duke

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There are many ways to commute to work. You can walk, ride a bicycle, take public transportation, drive a car, captain a boat, or even fly an airplane for your daily commute. Here at Officing, we're working hard to look into every conceivable way of commuting, but today we’re going to look specifically at riding a motorcycle as your daily commuter.

Motorcycles can be polarizing for people, you either love them or you hate them, but one fact remains, they can be a great form of transportation for your daily commute.

Within the world of motorcycles there is a diverse selection of styles from which to choose. From American Iron Harley choppers, adventure bikes, scooters, touring bikes, scramblers, cafe racers, trikes, even high strung Italian Ducati racing bikes. Every category has advantages and drawbacks, some more than others, that’s why for the past year I’ve put a considerable amount of saddle time on a bike that blends categories and hits a bit of a commuting sweet spot; the KTM 390 Duke.

 

But first I’ll give you a quick background of KTM.

KTM is an Austrian motorcycle manufacturer that can trace its roots back to the 1930’s. It began producing its own motorcycles in the 1950’s, and setup a US subsidiary in 1978. Over the years KTM has amassed 260 world championship titles which makes it one of the most successful brands in all of motorsport. Long story short, KTM has been around for a long time and they know how to design and build a quality product.

Now, on to the 390 Duke.

Classified as a street bike, the 390 is the smallest (in America) member of KTM's Duke family of Naked bikes. Its larger siblings the 690cc single cylinder thumper 690 Duke, the scalpel sharp 790 Duke, and the ludicrous, wild, 1,301cc, 170bhp monster 1290 Super Duke R set the tone for performance and styling. The 2016 390 Duke shares more of its design with the 690 Duke, handsome, modern, yet slightly reserved, whereas the new 2017+ 390 Duke borrows its design generously from the 1290 Super Duke, raw, angular, and aggressive. However, underneath both the 2016 and 2017+ are broadly the same bikes, with some minor changes to the frame and components under the redesigned bodywork.

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Powered by a 373cc single cylinder engine the 390 Duke produces a respectable 44bhp. That power is delivered to the rear wheel via a 6-speed gearbox, delivering respectable acceleration both off the line and for interstate merge. With a top speed around the 100mph mark, the 390 Duke is perfectly capable of making use of the left lane. Around town the 6-speed box’s shorter ratios mean you’ve got power when you need it, and economy when you want it. Off the line and maneuvering around traffic on city streets is where the little thumper finds itself more at home. The urban jungle is its domain rather than as an intercontinental cruiser.

Just because the 390 Duke is more at home in the urban jungle it doesn’t mean that the little Duke isn’t capable once you put the city in your rearview mirror. Quite the opposite actually. Long interstate or highway blasts aren’t bad, the engine does buzz and vibrate a bit at speed, but it doesn’t complain. Turning off of the highway however and finding yourself a mountain or coast road is incredibly rewarding. If you study KTM’s lineup you notice a sport bike called the RC390, and wouldn’t you know it, the RC390 and the 390 Duke share a lot of parts, most of them in fact. The engine, gearbox, frame, wheels, brakes, and suspension are all shared, so when the road gets twisty the Duke has the RC’s DNA to rely on.

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Lean forward and lean into the turns, the 390 Duke will hang with bigger bikes once the road gets curvy despite its engine size and skinny tires. The crisp predictable handling gives you confidence in the corners, however its modest 44bhp means if you want to go faster when you exit the corner then you should learn to carry more speed through the corner. On a mountain road the 390 Duke will teach you to be a better rider, not allowing you to makeup for your poor cornering skills with endless power at the exit. If you can push the 390 Duke to its limits, then you’re going to be a great rider.

Despite being built to a budget and assembled in India rather than Austria like the rest of the Duke family, the 390's build quality is quite good. From the fantastic illuminated switches to the standard ABS, the 390 Duke is a premium bike on a budget done right. Nothing feels cheap, but some components are spec’d on a budget, such as the non adjustable levers - a one size fits all affair. The stock brake pads are a little softer than you’d like, and the seat is a little harder than your rear end can take after two hours, but they’re all solvable problems. KTM offers a comfort seat replacement that, while not the most comfortable seat on earth, is an improvement over the stock seat. You can replace the levers too, either with KTM adjustable levers or any of the hundreds of aftermarket levers available. Removing the spongey feel of the brake lever is simple too. There’s nothing wrong with the BYBRE (by Brembo) brake calipers or the 300mm front rotor. Simply replacing the pads with an aftermarket set and your brakes will feel fantastic.

If you live in California I’d like to first congratulate you on living in the only state that has seen fit to join the rest of the world in allowing lane splitting. Lane splitting can be a polarizing issue, however it’s hard to deny that when done safely, it can save you a considerable amount of time on your daily commute. The 390 Duke with its small size, light weight, and maneuverability is perfectly suited to the task of weaving your way through traffic. Unfortunately I don’t live in California, so I have not had the chance to put the Duke to the lane splitting test, but the same characteristics that would make it an excellent lane splitter can become useful dodging potholes on one of the many deteriorating city street you’ll find across America. Deteriorating city streets like the one’s near me are full of potholes and ruts that will eat some small cars whole let alone a motorcycle. Nevertheless, I can vouch for the Duke’s city prowess its light weight allows it to effortlessly change directions and weave its way through the moonscape urban jungle I call home.

Running costs on the 390 Duke aren’t going to break the bank. With only an 11 liter (2.91 gallons) fuel tank, you'll still find its enough to give you a range of 100-125 miles comfortably between fuel stops. It is worth noting that the fuel gauge and low fuel warning are a bit conservative, with all indications on the instrument cluster telling me the bike will soon grind to a halt due to fuel starvation, I’ve still only managed to add a maximum of 2.4 gallons to the tank before it’s spilling over. That means that filling your tank will cost you between $6 and $10 depending upon the price of premium fuel in your neck of the woods.

Along with running costs, maintenance is always a concern for people. Yes, the Duke has shorter service intervals than a comparable Japanese bike, but to be honest servicing isn’t all that expensive for what you get, and the more frequent you preform preventative service on the bike the fewer problems you’ll have with it down the road.

This leads us to the dreaded reliability question, is it reliable? In my 5000+ miles of riding I’ve had my Duke in the shop twice, the first time was for its initial 620 mile service which included my only warranty item - a slow leak from the fuel tank (the culprit was a pinched gasket), and its second service just short of the scheduled 4,650 mile interval was carried out around 5,000 miles thanks to the need to replace my rear tire. The Metzler M5 has a very average and expected service life of 5,000 miles. It is worth noting that every 9,300 miles the valves in the Duke's 373cc engine will need to be adjusted. This will lead to a larger bill from your dealer, but as stated before, preventative maintenance reduces problems down the road.

Husqvarna 401 VITPILEN

Husqvarna 401 VITPILEN

Overall the KTM 390 Duke is both a great beginners bike and a great commuter bike, it’s light weight and nimble handling make it a joy to ride, while its styling (especially the 2017 redesign) will turn heads. You honestly can’t go wrong with the 390 Duke. The little duke truly punches above its weight class, Honda's CB300f and BMW's G310R are both underpowered compared to the Duke. Beginners will find themselves growing out of them too quickly while experienced riders will find them a bit under powered. The 390 Duke can run with the bigger Honda CB500F. The KTM 390 Duke really does find the sweet spot between a beginner and an intermediate bike that everyone can enjoy.

Don’t know how to ride? Neither did I, but that didn’t stop me. If you’re interested in learning to ride find your nearest MSF (Motorcycle Safety Foundation) learning course and get your motorcycle endorsement. You’ll be glad you did.

One last thing. Should you prefer a more retro looking motorcycle but still find yourself in the market for a smaller bike, then look no further than the 390 Duke's half sister, the Husqvarna 401 VITPILEN (White Arrow) or 401 SVARTPILEN (Black Arrow). Under the retro modern Scandinavian bodywork you'll find the underpinnings of the 390 Duke.