After years of manufacturers serving the high end of the motorcycle market, we’re happy to acknowledge the OEMs for finally devoting engineering resources to the entry-level sporty-bike crowd. Honda’s CBR250R upped the class ante a few years ago, forcing Kawasaki to upgrade its Ninja 250 into a Ninja 300, which then begat the CBR300R and its CB300F naked/standard stablemate.
Then came KTM’s RC390 sportbike, which is on its way to hitting American shores. It, like the Hondas, uses a single-cylinder engine, but the 373cc KTM powerplant is a significant 87cc larger. Also like the Hondas, KTM’s RC390 has a naked version, the 390 Duke.
The 390 Duke has been previously available in other markets, but it wasn’t until last week that we were able to throw a leg over the playful and peppy roadster when we joined KTM in Thailand for its Duke It event. After a couple of days of seat time, including a few racetrack sessions, I believe the little Duke – along with its RC390 brother – has the potential to be a healthy shot in the arm of the junior-level sportbike class.
Most of what was said about the RC390 also applies to the Duke 390, as both share engines, chassis and braking components. Dukes in other markets also include 125cc and 200cc versions, but the 373cc version tested here is the smallest of the Duke line in America, joining the 690 Duke and 1290 Super Duke R, the latter earning our prestigious 2014 Motorcycle of the Year award.
Like the RC390, the Duke sibling is built in India by Bajaj, which owns a 49% stake in the Austrian parent company. Don’t think the lil’ Duke lacks technology. Its fuel-injected engine is blessed with a forged aluminum piston sliding in a Nikasil liner and employs DLC-coated finger followers for its twin-cam valvetrain. Said to weigh just 79 lbs., the mill uses an oversquare 89mm x 60mm bore and stroke and is able to spin up just past 10,000 rpm.
In practice, the feisty Single feels stronger than expected, boasting a relatively deep well of power. Low-rpm poke is more robust than the 286cc Hondas or 296cc Kawasaki, alleviating requirements to rev it up just to keep pace with traffic. When speed is required, the diminutive mill has a step up in power after 6500 revs, with peak torque of 25.8 lb-ft. said to arrive at 7250 rpm. Horsepower, rated at the crankshaft (not the rear wheel), peaks with 43 ponies at 9500 rpm. It’s enough to comfortably cruise at 80 mph, with a counterbalancer (and rubber-covered footpegs) keeping engine vibrations from being objectionable.
Indeed, there’s enough power on tap to hit 100 mph, as evidenced when flogging the 390 Duke on the 1.7-mile Bonanza Speedway circuit. Although the Duke isn’t really intended for racetrack use, it, like most good sporty roadsters, proves to be an entertaining mount when given the spurs. Remember, the Duke is a very close relation to the RC390, with the key differences a lack of a fairing and a more relaxed rake angle.
However, the 25.0-degree rake and its 100mm of trail don’t feel lazy in any way, as the 306-lb (claimed dry) Dukeresponds immediately to a shove on its tapered aluminum handlebar. Kudos to KTM for a few refinements to the Duke platform for 2015, including new handgrips and a reduction in the amount of rotation the twistgrip requires to hit full throttle: from 88 degrees to 77. Other updates include a generator with a higher output and slightly thicker seat foam.
Also new for the 390 Duke is a slipper clutch added to its light-shifting six-speed transmission, although it wasn’t on the bike I rode in Thailand. This is another nice refinement from the Mattighofen men, and an upgrade lesser OEMs would neglect until a more significant model update was made.
The Duke’s racetrack limits are set mostly by footpeg clearance, scraping pavement earlier than the RC390’s higher footrests. Pirelli Diablo Rosso ll tires are an unexpectedly premium addition to an entry-level bike.
Also fairly premium is the Duke’s brake package, which consists of a four-piston radial-mount caliper biting on a 300mm rotor up front. The calipers are engineered by Brembo and are manufactured in India by ByBre. A two-channel ABS system from Bosch is standard equipment, as are braided-steel brake lines. While the binders aren’t up to the standards set by Brembo’s latest high-end units, the ByBre combo is about as good as it gets at this price. ABS intervention occurs only at a fairly high threshold, and the system can be switched off if desired.
WP Suspension, a KTM subsidiary, provides the stout 43mm fork and preload-adjustable monoshock. There’s a generous 5.9 inches of travel at either end to soak up bumps found in First through Third worlds. It’s a nice compromise of compliance and control at a budget price.
If you haven’t noticed by now, I’ve become a big fan of this little KTM. It’s difficult to imagine a better sporty bike for a beginning rider. Its cool factor is higher than anything else in its class, and its sporting potential offers considerable headroom for rider development.
Complaints are few and relatively minor. Its front brake lever isn’t adjustable for reach but should be to fit hands of various sizes. Its suspension might be overwhelmed by plus-size Americans. Its clutch pull is a little heavy, but I’d say it’s a good trade-off for the ability to pull second-gear clutch wheelies!
The 390 Duke is the bike I wish was available when I was shopping for my first streetbike. It looks trick, it’s versatile, and it’s fun to ride on street or track. At less than $5k, it’s as fine a moto value as there is. I’d love it even if it didn’t have a terrific name!
|Honda CB300F||Honda CB500F||Kawasaki Ninja 300||Suzuki DRZ400SM|
|Engine Type||Liquid-cooled, DOHC, single-cylinder, four-stroke, 4 valves per cylinder||Liquid-cooled, DOHC, single-cylinder, four-stroke, 4 valves per cylinder||Liquid-cooled, DOHC, parallel-Twin, four-stroke, 4 valves per cylinder||Liquid-cooled, DOHC, parallel-Twin, four-stroke, 4 valves per cylinder||Liquid-cooled, DOHC, single-cylinder, four-stroke, 4 valves per cylinder|
|Bore x Stroke||89.0mm x 60.0mm||76.0mm x 63.0mm||67.0mm x 66.8mm||62.0mm x 49.0mm||90.0mm x 62.6mm|
|Horsepower||43 (claimed)||26 (est)||43||34||34.7|
|Torque||25.8 (claimed)||17.8 (est)||29||18||25.9|
|Fuel System||Electronic Fuel Injection||PGM-Fi, 38mm throttle body||PGM-FI, two 34mm throttle bodies||Electronic Fuel Injection||Single Mikuni BSR36 carburettor|
|Front Suspension||WP 43mm inverted fork. 5.9 in travel||37mm conventional fork. 4.65 in. travel||41mm fork; 4.3 in. travel||37mm conventional fork. 4.7 in travel||Showa inverted fork. Adjustable for rebound and compression|
|Rear Suspension||WP shock. Preload adjustable. 5.9 in travel||Pro-link single shock, preload adjustable, 4.07 in travel||Pro-Link single shock. Preload adjustable. 4.7 in travel||Single shock. Preload adjustable. 5.2 in travel||Showa monoshock. Fully adjustable with high- and low-speed compression adjustment|
|Front Brakes||Single 300mm disc. 4-piston, radial-mount caliper||Single 296mm disc. Twin-piston caliper||Single 320mm wave disc. Two-piston caliper||Single 290mm wave disc. Two-piston caliper||Single 300mm disc. Two-piston caliper|
|Rear Brakes||Single 230mm disc. Single-piston caliper||Single 220mm disc. Single-piston caliper||Single 240mm wave disc. Single-piston caliper||Single 220mm wave disc. Two-piston caliper||Single 245mm disc. Single-piston caliper|
|Front Tire||110/70-17||110/70-17||120/70-17||110/70-17||120/70-17 tube|
|Rear Tire||150/60-17||140/70-17||160/60-17||140/70-17||140/70-17 tube|
|Seat Height||31.5 in||30.7 in||30.9 in||30.9 in||35.0 in|
|Wheelbase||53.8 in||54.3 in||55.5 in||55.3 in||57.5 in|
|Rake/Trail||25.0 deg/3.9 in||25.3 deg/3.9 in||25.5 deg/4.1 in||27.0 deg/3.7 in||NA|
|Curb Weight||345 (claimed)||351 (claimed)||418 (claimed)||379.3 (claimed)||321 (claimed)|
|Fuel Capacity||2.9 gal||3.4 gal||4.1 gal||4.5 gal||2.6 gal|