Best Lightweight/Entry-Level Motorcycle of the Year Winner: KTM 390 Duke
The importance of this category should be obvious to any moto enthusiast seeing the graying demographic of the two-wheel world. The industry needs new blood to fill in the supply chain of riders, and we’re happy to support manufacturers who are devoting engineering resources to deliver fun and reasonably priced motorcycles for kids of all ages who appreciate agility and ease of use. For inclusion to this class, we’ve instituted an engine displacement of less than 500cc, and a key parameter will be the amount of value the motorcycle brings to the market relative to its rivals.
In 2015, nothing else delivers the combination of entertainment, style and value like KTM’s 390 Duke. It’s an unexpected choice given the sudden expansion of the fairing-equipped small sportbike class, with new additions such as Yamaha’s R3 and KTM’s RC390 barging in on territory previously owned by Kawasaki’s Ninja 300 and Honda’s CBR300. That quartet of sporty bikes has attracted the bulk of attention this year, but a better value is found in the lil’ Duke.
The 390 Duke really impresses, considering its $4,999 MSRP – a price that includes up-spec componentry like standard ABS (that can be switched off), a robotically welded tubular-trellis frame, 43mm inverted fork, radial-mount brake caliper, aluminum swingarm, DLC-coated finger followers in its twin-cam valve-train, tapered aluminum handlebar and Pirelli tires. You’ll note that no other bike in this category has any of these higher-priced items, aside from KTM’s RC, and the RC doesn’t yet have the slipper clutch of the Duke. Production costs are kept low by the 390 being built in India by KTM partner Bajaj.
Its counterbalanced 373cc Single has excellent low-end punch that dwarfs class rivals, accelerating to more than 100 mph given enough room, and its light weight and upright riding position puts its rider in a commanding perch to quickly sift through traffic or untangle twisty roads. Its only real limitation is for really tall and/or heavy riders who will feel cramped and overwhelm the suspension, but that’s typical for any motorcycle in this class.
It’s been said that younger buyers ignore small sporty bikes that don’t have a fairing, which somehow don’t seem as serious or expensive enough for consideration when style points will play a major factor. This, however, was what people said before the visual punch of the 390 Duke showed up. We hope kids out there are scoping out this KTM if they’re looking to enter the two-wheel world on a new motorcycle. Its fun for anyone, and it offers sporting potential that will keep pace with a new rider’s improvements in skills. Even crusty aggressive riders who have ridden everything, like myself, can have a ball on the 390 Duke.
Honorable Mention: Honda CB500F
The CB500F didn’t win our Six-Way Middleweight Mashup last October, but that’s because we believed Honda’s little roadster was good enough to run with bigger and more expensive bikes – the next-smallest engine was 174cc bigger (Suzuki SFV650), and the next-least expensive one (the brilliant Yamaha FZ-07 that did win) retails for and extra $1,191. Stepping up your game a little from Honda’s $3,999 “beginner” CB300F Single gets you the $5,799 CB500F Twin, which is pretty much the modern equivalent of the British motorcycle industry stepping into immortal fame with the first Triumph Speed Twin in 1938. Okay, it’s close.
The CB’s still not a rip-your-arms off powerful bike, but now you’re sitting on 43 rear-wheel horsepower, enough to keep things entertaining given the CB only weighs 418 pounds. It’s ergonomically impeccable, with a low, comfy seat and a skinny profile for squeezing through tight spots. At over 50 mpg, it would make a great lightweight commuter (an engine counterbalancer makes it practically buzz-free). The thing that really surprised us during our testing was how truly impressively sporty the CB is – even under certain Creative Directors (seen in the picture above) who are a few sizes larger than the Honda’s probable intended demographic.
Here’s what Sportbike Editor Siahaan had to say: “The other bikes should have left it in the dust, but that wasn’t the case … I started to feel guilty at how much I was pinging it off the rev limiter to keep up with the rest of the group, but it was the surprise of the test. I was expecting it to be outgunned in every category, to the point I wouldn’t want to ride it. Not the case. I really enjoyed riding this bike and hustling it for all it’s worth.”
Basically, this one’s the direct descendant of the Honda Twins all the hep cats are falling over themselves to find and restore. They’ll be spending way more than $5,799 to wind up anywhere near a bike that works as good as this one. The CB500F is a great, standard motorcycle. Period.