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

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From EiC Duke’s initial ride of the littlest Duke in Thailand, we knew this small KTM was going to be special and it is. From the pointed profile of its front Pirelli to the tail-end bark from its 40-horsepower 373cc Single, this one does nothing to let down the family name, and on top of that, it’s one dollar less than 5,000. And that’s including ABS.

At 326 pounds all gassed up, it’s one of the lightest sportbikes we’ve ever flogged and as such it’s ridiculously quick in the twisties. It’s plenty powerful enough to break the Ton. And on top of that, its engine counterbalancer and standard ergos make it a bike you could ride every day to wherever you need to go (provided you don’t mind arriving pre-caffeinated due to its slightly jarring ride and hyperactive persona). Dashing down yon freeway at 80 mph-plus is no problem at all, and it’s even fun when ridden on a racetrack. There are a few minor cost-cutting miscues like the cheap hand levers and hand grips, but then you remember the price tag and go for a ride and all is forgiven.

Little Tearers Comparison: Honda CB500F vs. KTM 390 Duke
2016 KTM 390 Duke Long-Term Review

Guess what? It won this category last year too, and we haven’t ridden anything so far in 2016 that comes close to unseating the Duke 390. Except the…

Honorable Mention: Honda CB500 Platform

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The CB500F was already a sweet-enough 43-hp Twin to win the Value MOBO upon its introduction in 2013, but Honda upgraded it anyway for 2016 with svelte new bodywork and exhaust, better suspension and an improved shifting mechanism. What you wind up straddling is possibly the most ergonomically correct, smoothest-riding motorcycle on the planet for $5,999 (add ABS for $300 more). When codgers ask, what ever happened to the inexpensive little all-arounders we used to ride?, show them a picture of the CB500F and dredge up the consumer price index from 1982; the new made-in-Thailand CBs are probably less expensive than the original.

The amazing thing is that the new CB, especially the ’16, reveals your cheapskateness to the world not in the least, not even really to you. Suspension is surprisingly fluid, systems integration is world-class, there’s an adjustable front brake lever, LED lights… and at 57 mpg, the new 4.4-gallon tank will take you well over 200 miles between fill-ups. And it only weighs 414 pounds, which makes it super maneuverable.

2016 Honda CB500F Review

Matter of fact, we so love the 500F that we’re going to honorably mention its sister ships too, though tragically we haven’t yet had the chance to ride them this year: The adventure-styled CB500X got the same 2016 upgrades as the F, and starts at $500 more – a great choice for taller adventurous misers.

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Finally, the CBR500R is the fully-faired sportbike of the group, complete with all the same upgrades as the other two for 2016. It gets you a lower-handlebarred, sportier riding position than the F, for the same $6,499 as the X. Seriously, you can’t go wrong with any of these three Hondas.

  • JMDonald

    I like both of these bikes. The Duke would have been my ride in high school. It makes my old CB350 look like a relic from the Stone Age. The half litre Honda would have been a great ride in College. The adventure version is tits.

    • Gabriel Owens

      Have gotten to ride all 3 iterations of the 500cc honda. The 500f worked for me the best. Maybe better weight distribution. Idk.

  • Old MOron

    I guess the OEM are holding firm with the entry-level bikes, and MO is holding firm with its choices: http://www.motorcycle.com/features/best-lightweight-entry-level-motorcycle-of-2015.html

  • Kenneth

    The runner-up – and slightly larger – CB500F would be sized better for an average height-or-taller rider.

  • Kenneth

    I feel the ’16 CB500F is one of the best-looking bikes available, of any displacement, for sale today (almost up there with the Street Twin and Harley Roadster). It just looks right: Not quirky, not retro, not futuristic, just a handsome motorcycle. I’d like to know how well the LED headlight works.

    • http://www.tumblr.com/blog/scarybaldguy Coinneach Fitzpatrick

      There are a few ’16 CBs on the road here (including my F) in Phoenix, but being that it’s high summer, they’re usually out very early in the morning before the atmosphere catches fire. GREAT bikes, I love mine more than almost anything in the world.

  • Ser Samsquamsh

    Regarding the cpi – $6300 today is approximately $2500 in 1982.

    If somehow, possibly by converting the entire galaxy into pure energy to power your time machine, you could take a modern bike back in time it’d be no contest. Expect we would all be rapidly effervesing quarks.

    You’re welcome!

  • Douglas

    If all mfrs would just get rid of those noisy, messy, dinosaur chain drives….at least on half-liters & up….my 83 500 Virago was a shafty and quiet & trouble free. Even a belt would be good on these two…..I think chain drives belong in there w/kick starters, squeeze-bulb horns, acetylene headlites, et al. That’s what I think, thankavurramuch.

    • Kenneth

      I owned an ’03 Shadow Sabre, and there was nothing joyous about that shaft. It was a heavy component that ruined rear suspension compliance (well, what there was, of it, to begin with), and after hitting large bumps, would spray trans fluid out the breather, all over the rear wheel. ‘Never owned anything with a belt, but I’m reasonably happy with my durable and efficient chain.

      • Douglas

        Well, to each his own, I guess. I’ve had 6 shaftdriven scoots (83 500 Virago, 81 650 Suzuki, 82 850 Suzuki, 83 KZ1100, 05 Concours and 07 Vulcan Nomad) and nary a problem with any of them. You must’ve gotten a “Monday bike”. If you think the suspension on a shafty isn’t up to eggbike standards, ride a Goldwing or a Bimmer or a Guzzi sometime….or a Concours. Anyway…..

        • Kevin Duke

          Shafts make a lot of sense for low maintenance and for not being messy, but Kenneth is correct when he says a shaft is much heavier than a chain or belt and that it has a detrimental effect on suspension compliance. Like so many aspects of motorcycling, the selection of a drive system involves compromises of some sort.

          • Douglas

            They also make a lot of sense if you have a flat out on the hiway (especially if you have a centerstand). Vastly easier, quicker & cleaner than a chain, and no requirement to align sprockets, etc. And much heavier?….how much? Everything, in virtually all of life, involves compromise of some sort, doesn’t it? I suppose if one’s goal is to play boy racer on the public thoroughfares and be a “ten/tenths hotwrist” with every turn, then maybe 10-12lbs is a huge deal, but most don’t ride that way most of the time….do they? Fact is, most of the new bikes, say made within the last 7-8 yrs, are better than probably 90% of riders could get from them, at least not without some serious training.

            Now I realize, just going out riding for its own sake sounds dull & boring but its a lot safer and doesn’t project the hooligan image to the public of the loud-pipe Vtwin fraternity and the block-long wheelies of the streetfighter crowd…..and we don’t need any more of that, do we?

    • http://www.tumblr.com/blog/scarybaldguy Coinneach Fitzpatrick

      Chains, noisy? Mine runs silent and clean, and it’s reliable and simple to maintain. All of my bikes except one have been chains and on all of them the chain was the least problematic component.