2015 KTM 390 Duke First-Ride Review + Video

Kevin Duke
by Kevin Duke

Cool and capable entry-level sporty-bike at unprecedented value

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.

2015 KTM 390 Duke

Editor Score: 92.0%
Engine 19.0/20
Suspension/Handling 13.5/15
Transmission/Clutch 9.0/10
Brakes 9.5/10
Ergonomics/Comfort 8.5/10
Appearance/Quality 9.5/10
Desirability 9.0/10
Value 10/10
Overall Score92/100

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.

2015 KTM RC390 First Ride Review

2015 KTM RC390 Video Review

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.

A little Duke-on-Duke action. Stylin’ on a budget.

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.

Robotically welded tubular-steel trellis frame, 43mm inverted fork, aluminum swingarm, and standard antilock brakes with radially mounted front caliper. Not what’s usually expected from a bike with a modest $4,999 MSRP.

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.

2013 KTM 690 Duke Review + Video

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.

The 390 Duke is super narrow between a rider’s knees. Above the headlight is an ultra-mini windscreen that is more style than substance. KTM’s Power Parts catalog offers a larger one.

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.

Comprehensive instrumentation includes easy-to-read digital speedo and a gear-position indicator, fuel economy info, a fuel gauge, temperature levels, and a programmable shift light. The tiny numerals on the tiny bar-graph tach frustrate.

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.

Former Grand Prix racer Jeremy McWilliams aboard a 690 Duke tries in vain to get around Duke on a 390 Duke. Well, a Duke can dream…


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!

+ Highs

  • High style at budget price
  • Class torque-monster
  • Unparalleled value

– Sighs

  • Tiny tachometer
  • Plasticky intake moan
  • Unavailable when I was a kid
KTM 390
Honda CB300FHonda CB500FKawasaki Ninja 300Suzuki DRZ400SM
Engine Capacity373.3cc286cc471cc296cc398cc
Engine TypeLiquid-cooled, DOHC, single-cylinder, four-stroke, 4 valves per cylinderLiquid-cooled, DOHC, single-cylinder, four-stroke, 4 valves per cylinderLiquid-cooled, DOHC, parallel-Twin, four-stroke, 4 valves per cylinderLiquid-cooled, DOHC, parallel-Twin, four-stroke, 4 valves per cylinderLiquid-cooled, DOHC, single-cylinder, four-stroke, 4 valves per cylinder
Bore x Stroke89.0mm x 60.0mm76.0mm x 63.0mm67.0mm x 66.8mm62.0mm x 49.0mm90.0mm x 62.6mm
Compression Ratio12.5:110.7:110.7:110.6:111.3:1
Horsepower43 (claimed)26 (est)433434.7
Torque25.8 (claimed)17.8 (est)291825.9
Fuel SystemElectronic Fuel InjectionPGM-Fi, 38mm throttle bodyPGM-FI, two 34mm throttle bodiesElectronic Fuel InjectionSingle Mikuni BSR36 carburettor
Final DriveChainChainChainChainChain
FrameSteel trellisSteelSteelSteelSteel
Front SuspensionWP 43mm inverted fork. 5.9 in travel37mm conventional fork. 4.65 in. travel41mm fork; 4.3 in. travel37mm conventional fork. 4.7 in travelShowa inverted fork. Adjustable for rebound and compression
Rear SuspensionWP shock. Preload adjustable. 5.9 in travelPro-link single shock, preload adjustable, 4.07 in travelPro-Link single shock. Preload adjustable. 4.7 in travelSingle shock. Preload adjustable. 5.2 in travelShowa monoshock. Fully adjustable with high- and low-speed compression adjustment
Front BrakesSingle 300mm disc. 4-piston, radial-mount caliperSingle 296mm disc. Twin-piston caliperSingle 320mm wave disc. Two-piston caliperSingle 290mm wave disc. Two-piston caliperSingle 300mm disc. Two-piston caliper
Rear BrakesSingle 230mm disc. Single-piston caliperSingle 220mm disc. Single-piston caliperSingle 240mm wave disc. Single-piston caliperSingle 220mm wave disc. Two-piston caliperSingle 245mm disc. Single-piston caliper
Front Tire110/70-17110/70-17120/70-17110/70-17120/70-17 tube
Rear Tire150/60-17140/70-17160/60-17140/70-17140/70-17 tube
Seat Height31.5 in30.7 in30.9 in30.9 in35.0 in
Wheelbase53.8 in54.3 in55.5 in55.3 in57.5 in
Rake/Trail25.0 deg/3.9 in25.3 deg/3.9 in25.5 deg/4.1 in27.0 deg/3.7 inNA
Curb Weight345 (claimed)351 (claimed)418 (claimed)379.3 (claimed)321 (claimed)
Fuel Capacity2.9 gal3.4 gal4.1 gal4.5 gal2.6 gal
Kevin Duke
Kevin Duke

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6 of 47 comments
  • Ozzy Mick Ozzy Mick on Aug 22, 2015

    Thanks for an inciteful report, Kevin. I've been following the comments, and the enthusiasm displayed by you and others has been infectious. I'm late with this comment because it's now time for me to consider a lighter bike. I've been riding a big, bad Suzi Bandit 1200 for the last 7 years. Been great fun except when I drop it at walking pace. I've managed to do this almost every time I've ridden it. The weight just gets to me! So I'm now ready to swap it for a lighter bike.
    The KTM Duke sounds perfect, but so far reports/comments have been based on short blasts close to home, or commuting, and riding solo. I have a couple of questions:
    1. How will it perform with a pillion (say 150 lbs) on board? I'm about 160 lbs.
    2. How will it perform on long distance trips, say 250 miles per day, every day, for a week?
    Also, what are the service intervals?
    Any feedback from anyone will be much appreciated!

    • See 3 previous
    • Kevin Duke Kevin Duke on Aug 28, 2015

      I take the time because I really care that our readers get the best info to help judge what bikes will suit them. I'm 5'8" and 145 lbs. Another journalist I traveled with during the two days of riding at the launch, including one full day touring Thailand, is 6-feet and weighs maybe 220, and he says he was quite comfy on it. Hope that helps! Also, please check out my Duke's Den editorial that will be posted on Monday - it's mostly about the lil' Duke. And then there's this: http://www.motorcycle.com/f...

  • GREG GREG on Sep 10, 2015

    390 value for money...and everyone watch it on the road