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.
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.
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.