Best Lightweight/Entry-Level Motorcycle of the Year Winner: KTM 390 Duke

080815-mobo-2015-best-lightweight-ktm-duke-390

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.

Beginner-ish Sportbike Shootout + Video

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.

2015 KTM 390 Duke First-Ride Review + Video

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.

Motorcycle.com Best of 2015 Categories

  • Hot Cheese

    I like turtle.

  • JMDGT

    I wish these bikes were available when I was in high school. I would have bought either one MO question about it.

  • Ducati Kid

    To all aspiring Motorcyclists,

    No matter the bluff – https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/30d1dee78928a59ce43eab3f083405d1e0cfae60b94d69b72e9f2b8f7d954be7.png ALL started as beginners!

    With that in mind may I present ‘FAST, FRUGAL, FUN!

    Concepts – a KTM ‘Duke’ 390 AR (All Road) and HONDA ‘CB350F’ for Global aspirants.

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/f3752ed53301d74c77dfc5c35c2df93b186aaee3205d6e93bccda27e17b595c0.png

  • Gabriel Owens

    I’m 38 years old and bought my first bike in 2006. Currently own a klr650 and a vstar1300. I would love to own either of these bikes but the ktm with abs and slipper clutch would be the better bike. I would limit the bike though because I’m 6’1″ 240 lbs. Small light agile bikes are a blast plus I love to teach people the basics but my klr650 is too tall for most.

  • SteveSweetz

    Ninja 300 also has a slipper clutch (and optional ABS). Not that the KTM isn’t still an incredible value, but the statment about none of the other bikes having *any* of the listed items isn’t strictly accurate.

    • Kevin Duke

      Indeed, Steve! Thanks for the reminder!

  • deltadweller

    I’m pretty sure these out perform, my 1972 Yamaha 100 Enduro that I put about 20,000 miles on as my first bike back in the day.

  • Glen

    Let’s see, broken wheels, over-heating, stalling, very poor build quality. Sure, those are all qualities you’d look for in a Best Lightweight/Entry-Level motorcycle. Try again….

  • ‘Mike Smith

    I think the CB500F is a far better choice than the Duke 390.

  • Rodrick R. Rigden

    After just going through looking at entry level bikes for my girlfriend, I have to say this is bang on. Something that goes overlooked is the Duke is the narrowest. Even thought the Cb300 has the shortest seat height, the duke is easier for someone with short legs to get a foot down. The Duke is also the most fun to ride. All the others are uninspiring. The Duke may have some faults but it is a great tool for a beginner to learn and grow. The fact that ours came with Pirelli Rosso 2’s also means that my girlfriend can trust the grip. The CB500 was what I originally thought we would get but it is wide (stand over height) and pretty damn boring. The Duke makes my GF feel special, and that makes her enjoy riding it. That means she rides it more and has more desire to learn to ride properly. That factor alone is worth it. Its like why we lust after that MV Agusta instead of a GSXR. They do the same thing but one is more sexy, better appointed and will make us feel like a million bucks. The other does the job but makes you look like a squid.