Almost exactly one year ago, former EiC Kevin Duke penned (typed?) his review of the 2017 KTM 390 Duke. It came as no surprise to the MO staff when Kevin arrived home from Italy raving about the refreshed and revamped 390. The crew had already tested previous models and had found themselves smitten with the small orange machine, giving it the honor of Best Lightweight/Entry-Level Motorcycle of 2015 and 2016. It would then come as no surprise that the refreshed 2017 model would clench the threepeat with the Best Lightweight/Entry-Level Motorcycle Of 2017, and at $5,299, it would also snatch up our Best Value Motorcycle Of 2017.
Accolades a-plenty have been thrust upon KTM’s lightweight Duke from its inception. It was now my turn to spend some time aboard the newest Iteration of the machine. Nothing has changed between model year ‘17 and ’18 besides a white color option for 2018. While my name may not be emblazoned upon the tank of this feisty little motorcycle, I can assure you unequivocally, the 2018 KTM 390 Duke is a motorcycle that punches above its price point and I’m not just saying that because the 2018 390 is glaring at me with its aggressive split-faced LED headlight through my office window as I type this, almost as if it were going to kick my ass should I say otherwise.
In this field, we have deadlines. More often than not, those deadlines sneak up on you and before you know it, you’re sucking down coffee mugs full of homemade stovetop espresso as you furiously smash away at your keyboard. You know what else will get the juices flowing, though? Taking a look at the radically styled, uncompromising orange, black, and white 2018 390 Duke. Didn’t quite do it for you? Take it out for a spin.
Sure, looks are subjective. Sure, 39.2 hp and 23.6 lb-ft of torque isn’t mind-blowing power. That’s true and in fact, I had no interest in the small displacement class of motorcycles until I rode the Ninja 400 at Sonoma Raceway and the surrounding area. I wouldn’t be interested in the Ninja 400 for an only motorcycle but to turn into my first racebike? Yes, please. It will level the playing field and show you just how good you are (or aren’t). The KTM 390 Duke has now shown me there could be a place for a sub-400cc streetbike in my garage. Let me explain.
I find myself staring at the 2018 390 all too often. Perhaps more even, than the 1290 R that sat in my garage a few months ago. With the update in 2017, the motorcycle is the spitting image of the much larger 1290 Super Duke R. Take a closer look and you’ll find even more similarities to its $18k stablemate. The 390 comes equipped with a brilliant 5.2-inch full-color TFT display, which is navigated by the left-side switchgear and is intuitive to use. If you find yourself riding at night, the TFT display auto-adjusts to the ambient light and will display a black background. Once saddled, the 390 also shares the same aggressive forward-bias seating position as the 1290 and if that wasn’t enough, the display reminds you once it’s flipped on that the wee Duke is also “Ready to Race”.
While the 32.7-inch seat height isn’t the lowest and the rider triangle is decidedly aggressive, I found the motorcycle to be quite comfortable for dicing through traffic, blasting through canyon roads, and even during extended freeway stints where I was glad the position was canted forward. The seat height also allows ample room to the footpegs which, with a 30-inch inseam, was comfortable without the slightest nagging after a full day’s ride. Surely, the wide seat itself contributed to all-day comfort. Adding to the rider’s ergos, are the inclusion of adjustable clutch and brake levers to give you the precise feel you are looking for.
The 2018 KTM 390 Duke looks and feels like a quality motorcycle and needless to say, it absolutely performs as fantastic as it looks. The 373cc, liquid-cooled single-cylinder engine spits out 39.2 hp at 9,500 rpm and 23.6 lb-ft of torque at 7,100 rpm. To the butt dyno, it felt like it easily could have been more. The motor can be lugged lower into the rev-range for those too lazy to flip through the positively actuated gearbox. On canyon roads, the motorcycle would pull in the low to mid-rpm while still offering a bit more as the Duke climbed to its 10,000 rpm redline. Despite being a 373cc single, vibration isn’t an issue even when spinning at 8,000 rpm while riding at 80 mph.
Suspension components are provided by KTM’s in-house WP suspension. A 43mm fork is used up front with a single progressive shock in the rear. Devoid of adjustability save for preload on the shock, the stock settings are admirable. The suspension is nicely damped while soaking up bumps around town and stiff enough to be compliant once the going gets twisty– the best I have used for a bike around this price point.
Getting the 362-pound motorcycle slowed down is handled by the four-piston radially mounted ByBre caliper and 320mm single rotor on the front of the Duke. Out back, the 240mm disc and single-piston caliper do a good job of locking things up in Supermoto mode. Supermoto mode, you say? Tell me more!
I have never felt quite as playfully excited on a motorcycle as when riding the 2018 390 Duke. This thing is FUN. Seriously. It looks great. It performs great. It’s a great value. It also inspires a confident playful side of motorcycling that is too often overwhelmed by CCs and price. Commence the hoonery! Bosch 9m+ two-channel ABS allows for three modes: Road (ABS on front and rear), Supermoto (ABS only applied to the front wheel), and Off (no ABS, no problem). Stoppies, rear tire skids, wheelies, the 390 will do it all with ease and look great doing it.
The 2018 KTM 390 Duke is the best mash-up of style, performance, and value I have had the pleasure of riding. It can be an exciting entry-level motorcycle a new rider will not tire of quickly. It can be a great motorcycle for commuting or darting around town. It can also be a fantastic machine for the experienced motorcyclist to go out and embarrass his/her fellow riders piloting much bigger and more expensive machines when the roads become serpentine.
Final thoughts? How can I convince KTM and Evans that we need to keep a hold of the 390 Duke a little longer? Hmm, maybe I can find something to compare it to…
|2018 KTM 390 Duke|
|+ Highs ||– Sighs |
|2018 KTM 390 Duke Specifications|
|Engine Type||Single cylinder, 4-stroke|
|Bore/Stroke||89 / 60 mm|
|Power||39.1 hp at 9500 rpm (measured)|
|Torque||23.6 lb-ft. at 7100 rpm (measured)|
|Starter/Battery||Electric starter / 12V, 8 Ah|
|Fuel System||Bosch EFI (throttle body 46 mm)|
|Control||4 V / DOHC|
|Engine Oil||Motorex Formula 4T|
|Clutch||PASC slipper clutch, mechanically operated|
|Engine Management||Bosch EMS with RBW|
|Frame||Steel trellis frame, powder coated|
|Subframe||Steel trellis frame, powder coated|
|Handlebar||Steel, tapered, Ø 26 / 22 mm|
|Front Suspension||WP-USD Ø 43 mm, 5.6 inches travel|
|Rear Suspension||WP shock absorber, 5.9 inches travel|
|Front Brake||Four piston, radially mounted caliper, brake disc Ø 320 mm|
|Rear Brake||Single piston, floating caliper, brake disc Ø 230 mm|
|Abs||Bosch 9.1MP Two Channel (disengageable)|
|Front Wheel||Cast aluminum, 3.00 x 17″|
|Rear Wheel||Cast aluminum, 4.00 x 17″|
|FrontTire||110/70 ZR 17|
|Rear Tire||150/60 ZR 17|
|Chain||X-Ring 5/8 x 1/4″|
|Silencer||Stainless steel primary and aluminum secondary silencer|
|Steering Head Angle||65°|
|Wheel Base||53.4 ± 0.6 inches|
|Ground Clearance||7.3 inches|
|Seat Height||32.7 inches|
|Fuel Tank Capacity||3.5 gallons / 0.4 gallons reserve|
|Wet Weight||362 pounds (measured)|
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