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


It’s easy for moto enthusiasts to fall in lust with pricey motorbikes, but it’s much more difficult to feel ardor for inexpensive machines – plastic and steel just isn’t as intoxicating as billet and carbon fiber. But that’s why KTM’s 390 Duke is such a special motorcycle.

2017 KTM 390 Duke Review

First off, it’s a rather striking-looking conveyance for something that retails for just $5,299, with its chro-moly trellis frame and sharp bodywork looking far more exotic than any bike retailing for less than 7 or 8 grand. Then add in niceties surprising for its class like a radial-mount brake caliper, LED headlight, inverted fork, slipper clutch, aluminum swingarm and standard ABS – making everything else in its price class look decidedly cut-rate.

Now, that wouldn’t amount to anything if not for a riding experience that is sure to put a grin on any rider’s face. Its 373cc single-cylinder motor out-muscles everything in the sub-400cc market – even Ninja 300s and R3s – and its counterbalancer subdues vibration enough to make the little Duke a passable sporty tourer. It would be difficult to imagine a superior bike to cut up city traffic, and its cornering abilities allow its rider to demoralize pilots of more powerful machines. It’s even fairly quick on a racetrack!

The 390 Duke has staked ownership of this MOBO category since we introduced it in 2015, and now with a host of updates for 2017, including TFT instrumentation, a comfier seat, adjustable levers, a ride-by-wire throttle and slightly more power, it’s more desirable than ever, no matter if you’re 16 or 66.

Best Lightweight/Entry-Level Motorcycle Of 2016

Honorable Mention: Kawasaki Versys-X 300


When it comes to new motorcycles, what I see running around the streets of my hood more than any other are Kawasaki Ninja 300s, and why not? They’re great little do-everything motorcycles for around $5,000. With ADV being all the rage lately, you wouldn’t need to be a marketing rocket scientist to think about putting that smooth little banshee of a 296cc parallel-Twin into a package exactly like the new Versys-X 300, which is exactly what Kawasaki did.

What they wound up with is a super-versatile system (get it?) that’s way lighter – 386 pounds, says Kawasaki, with 4.5 gallons of gas – than the typical ADV, which goes a long way toward making 35 horsepower or so feel like enough. Though you will need to adjust to spending most of your time aboard the X with the tachometer needle pegged up toward the upper end of its sweep, a thing the little Twin seems perfectly happy to do. A slip/assist clutch with the lightest lever pull of all time, and a slick six-speed gearbox make it not much of a chore. Longer intake funnels, longer exhaust headers, and a slight retuning of fuelling and ignition broaden the powerband a tad compared to the Ninja.

Its displacement may be small, but the rest of the bike is big enough for real humans, with a good-sized fairing to get behind in an expansive cockpit. A 32.1-in. seat height gives tall people enough legroom, but also lets shorties reach the ground. Firmish suspension, with 5.1-/ 5.8-in wheel travel, and a 19-/17-in. wire-spoke wheel combo gives the small Versys the feel of a bike that could take you on some pretty big adventures. Or, just ride it around every day. For $5,399 ($5,699 with ABS), how can you go wrong? This one completes the circle, perfectly complementing Versyses 650 and 1000.

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  • novemberjulius

    Finally a KTM the people can afford! Actually, I’d wager there are more Versys-X 300’s on the market in my state than Duke 390’s. Therefore, the Versys-X gets my MO award.

    • CompletelyOutsane

      So you can be the same as the crowd?

      • novemberjulius

        I have had better luck with bikes that are plentiful, than bikes that are rare. If I own something old, and rare, it’s harder to get parts for it. Sometimes certain brands have a lot of fancy tech, but that just means more can go wrong. I’m from Utah, and I don’t own a garage. The winter destroys things, so I’m not sure how many seasons a TFT instrument cluster will last. Also, I did praise the 390 for being affordable, unlike the runner up for “Best Streetfighter/Hooligan.”

  • Old MOron

    Fine bikes, both of them. I hope they sell like hotcakes.

  • hipsabad

    Duke on the Duke for the win!

    • Old MOron

      We should call it “Duke Squared” or “Double Dukes” or “Duke Deuce” something.

  • Craig Hoffman

    A friend’s kid recently bought a Duke 390. The bike really is cool, especially for the money. It does good wheelies too…

  • Starmag

    3-7% seems like a narrow marketing window.

  • Vrooom

    I rode with a guy on a Versys 300 recently, and was surprised how well he was able to keep up. 80 mph sweepers were no issue.

  • SRMark

    What about head gaskets? That certainly adds to the pain-in-the-ass factor of owning this bike. I’d drop it down the list a bit for that reason alone. I’d go with the Yamaha if it were me doing the work. If my daddy was doing the fussing, I’d go with the KTM.

  • Gabriel Owens

    In several head to head races ive seen the underpowered Yamaha r3 is actually a bit faster than the Duke.

    • Kevin Duke

      Where are these races that you’ve seen? The KTM motor has nearly 15% more hp and 20+% more torque.

      • Born to Ride

        And the bike is 10% lighter…

        • Kevin Duke

          Which bike? We measured an RC390 at 364 lbs full of full; the R3 was 370 with an extra gallon of gas in its bigger tank. That makes them pretty much equal. The fairingless Duke might be even a bit lighter.

          • Born to Ride

            MCN had the Duke on the scales at 338, and I was confusing the R3’s weight for the Ninja 300 weight of 385. Even at 370, that is an 8.7% difference.

      • Gabriel Owens

        Not to mention the ktm is probably lighter. But ive seen it. In 1 scenario rider A and rider B swapped bikes, didnt matter. Head to head in a straight line drag race the r3 won every time. Maybe gearing is the factor, i doubt aerodynamics comes into play until triple digits. If i find the vids again ill post em here but i promise 100 % I aint trolling you.

        • Kevin Duke

          Thanks for the anti-troll promise! Having riders swap bikes removes a variable, so that’s cool. But the R3 beating a 390 is difficult for me to believe after riding them both. I wish I had access to a dragstrip…

          • Gabriel Owens

            The duke was brand new, perhaps not broken in yet?

          • Kevin Duke

            Or it was a Duke 200… 🙂

  • Gabriel Owens

    I really like them both but for my money, id go with the versys. Ktm burned me twice. Never again.

    • Jon Jones

      How so?

  • mugwump

    As a matter of timing, how long before the tarrif on 500 cc and below European bikes goes in to effect?

    • Kevin Duke

      No date has been set on the proposed tariff, but it wouldn’t apply to the 390 anyway. It’s not built in Europe.

      • mugwump

        Thank you

  • SteveSweetz

    Anecdotally I’ve heard of a lot of quality problems with the KTM 390s – something that professional reviewers that pass judgement after a few hours on the bike at a press event don’t have to deal with…

    • Kevin Duke

      We’ve put thousands of miles on Duke 390s and have had no mechanical issues.

  • kenneth_moore

    The Duke 390 is clearly the best bike in this category for all the reasons mentioned above. I really thought I’d have one to ride by now, but my stupid kid decided to go to Europe for a month instead of buying “my” new motorcycle. Ungrateful creep.

    The Versys-X 300 looks like a good choice, but the new VStrom DL250 may be even better. The styling and stance really nail the ADV look. They’re selling for 4,600 foot pounds in Great Britain. I haven’t seen anything about availability in the US though.

    • Kevin Duke

      Unfo, the DL250 isn’t yet being brought to America…

  • Dale

    I thought I read complaints about the fan kicking in all the time on the Duke. Is that still an issue?