2017 KTM 390 Duke Review

Kevin Duke
by Kevin Duke

The adorably playful puppy of sports roadsters graduates finishing school

The moto market is spoiled for lustful choices in the high-end arena, but creating a desirable motorcycle at a budget price is a more challenging achievement. The KTM 390 Duke has been entertaining us with its unequaled balance of style, performance and value since we first took the terrific little funster for a spin in 2015, and it rightfully earned its place as Best Entry-Level Motorcycle in our annual MOBO awards. For 2017, the little Duke gets even more desirable by offering greater comfort, higher technology and a bit more power.

2017 KTM 390 Duke

Editor Score: 91.25%
Engine 19.0/20
Suspension/Handling 13.5/15
Transmission/Clutch 8.5/10
Brakes 9.0/10
Ergonomics/Comfort 8.75/10
Appearance/Quality 9.5/10
Desirability 8.25/10
Value 10/10
Overall Score91.25/100

Best Lightweight/Entry-Level Motorcycle Of 2016

Let’s start with the aspect of a bike that first makes it attractive to a rider – appearance. It’s not easy to spawn a frugal machine that looks expensive, but the 390 Duke pulls off that feat better than any other reasonably priced roadster in recent memory. The sharp creases of its new bodywork yield a bold and contemporary visage, enabling its rider to hold his or her head high at the local bike night.

The Duke’s new face is a split headlight design that roughly mimics that of its large-and-in-charge Super Duke R brother, now incorporating full LED lighting – a first in its class. The orange trellis frame (revised to deliver a 10mm shorter wheelbase and 5mm less trail) underpinning the Duke is visually offset by its white-colored lattice subframe, now a bolt-on design that allows for easier crash repair should you be unfortunate enough to not be saved by the bike’s tremendous agility or its two-channel Bosch ABS system.

The 390 Duke will look good at your moto hangout or in the incredible spiralling ramp system at Fiat’s old car factory in Turin, Italy, opened in 1923 and retired in 1982.

The upscale theme continues in the instrument panel, a color TFT display that is another first in its class. It looks expensive, and its 5.2-inch panel remains easy to read thanks to automatic adjustments to ambient light and switching over to a black background in low light. The tach is represented in an analog sweep that changes to red as it nears its 10,000-rpm rev limit. It’s a huge improvement over the mediocre former instruments and also offers KTM’s optional My Ride feature ($25.99) that syncs via Bluetooth with your smartphone to control and display calls and music.

Navigating menus is fairly intuitive via new left-side backlit switchgear borrowed from the 690 Duke. That tapered handlebar is now steel rather than aluminum, a cost concession to help offset costlier bits like the thin-film-transistor instrumentation seen here in its nighttime background and with the My Ride menu.

The 390’s agreeable ergonomics gets tweaks for 2017 that are both subtle and significant. The handlebar places the grips a bit forward and slightly higher, and new dogleg levers now feature span adjustments to five positions. Footrests are a bit higher and more rear-set, and their brackets are now made from forged aluminum instead of the previous castings to help prevent cracking that apparently occurred seldomly when thrashed on undeveloped roads in second-world nations. A new seat dramatically improves comfort relative to the previous saddle that felt cheap and unsupportive, but it comes at the cost of increased height. KTM says it sits at a fairly lofty 32.7 inches (up from 31.5), but it feels significantly lower thanks to a narrowish front section that gives legs a convenient straight shot at the ground.

Five-foot-8 Duke fits comfortably on the 390 Duke. Taller riders at the launch praised the altered riding triangle that better accommodates long legs. The KTM riding gear is thanks to Air France, which misplaced my luggage until most of the ride was over, necessitating an improvised wardrobe all available at your KTM dealer. Seen on the bike in these action photos is a carbon Akrapovic slip-on replacing the stock muffler, available as an accessory from KTM. It’s nicely only slightly louder than stock, and only at the upper reaches of revs.

More improvements come from WP, the KTM-owned suspension company. The 390’s previous suspenders were closer to adequate than excellent, so WP stepped up with new components at both ends. The beefy 43mm inverted fork still lacks adjustability but now uses an open-cartridge design apparently able to better accommodate a variety of loads, with rebound- and compression-damping circuits in separate legs. Progressive-wound springs are better able to support chassis pitching while remaining compliant. A new progressive spring also joins the new damper out back, a separate-piston design adjustable only for preload over nine steps of its ramped collar. The suspension performed well under my 150 lbs, but 220-lb Bertrand Gahel from Canada’s Le Guide de la Moto also had praise for it.

A radially mounted four-piston caliper on a 300mm rotor on the original 390 appeared to be class-leading but in actual testing wasn’t, so the Brembo-designed ByBre caliper now bites on a 320mm disc and addresses a weakness in the previous edition by providing excellent stopping power. The ABS can be switched to a Supermoto setting that disables rear antilocking for hooligan skidding activity, which, by the way, is frowned on when painting black lines on the rooftop of a century-old building.

The little Duke ushers in ride-by-wire throttle control to the sub-500cc category, a strategy to help the 373cc motor meet Euro 4 emissions regulations. It includes one-touch starting and helps the single-cylinder mill light up quickly, a welcome upgrade from the sometimes-finicky previous version.

The engine receives no internal changes, but a slightly larger airbox and a new exhaust system are purported to help contribute an extra 1.5 lb-ft of midrange torque. This small number may seem insignificant, but it’s an improvement of 5.7% and feels like even more when measured at the ol’ butt dyno. Based on our previous actual dyno measurements, we expect 26 lb-ft of twist at its rear wheel. Horsepower is said to be the same as before, so it’ll likely hit about 40 horses around 9000 rpm. Both those power numbers are significantly more than you’ll find from any sub-400cc streetbike and are enough to coax out wheelies even in second gear.

Entry-level bikes certainly don’t require wheelie ability, but a surfeit of grunt over a broad rev range to keep from getting trampled by traffic is a benefit to any rider, and it enables a longer ownership lifespan as skills develop. Behind me is one of the banked corners on the roof of the old Fiat factory, and riding on the 90-year-old test track was a highly unique experience.

The Duke’s exhaust system got overhauled for 2017, with rerouted headers and the cat-con behind the cylinder on the left. The system retains a sizable chamber behind the engine but adds a tidy side-exit muffler in front of the Duke’s aluminum swingarm (another unusual item in its class) that completes the conversion to Euro 4 acceptability.

KTM claimed a dry weight of 306 lbs for the original version and 328 lbs for this one. Considering the 2016 weighed about 340 lbs wet, and the new fuel tank (steel, no longer nylon) carries a welcome extra 0.6 gallon to 3.5 gallons, we expect the 2017 edition will scale in around 360 lbs when full of fuel.

Despite the weight gain, the 390 Duke can still rip up a twisty road or scythe through traffic like nobody’s business. The Metzeler Sportec M5 tires on this bike gripped better on pavement than whatever it was I was riding on here alongside a Torino skate park. The svelte and unobtrusive turnsignals above the headlight are doomed by DOT regulations for replacement with something uglier for the American market.

Riding the 390 Duke is almost completely delightful. Clutch effort is light, the engine pulls cleanly from low revs, and gearshifts are light. The clutch’s slipper function makes ill-timed or aggressive downshifts nearly foolproof. The Duke excels at squirting through the tight confines of urban traffic, and it has plenty enough power to cruise at 80-per while its counterbalanced engine keeps vibration levels from becoming oppressive. Carving a twisty road is a riot, with responsive steering enabling changes of direction quicker than a border collie while maintaining the stability of a basset hound. It’s truly a wonderful backroad scratcher that flatters its rider.

Ah, at least my head is now wearing my own helmet… This photo reveals some of KTM’s attention to detail. The rectangular bulge toward the rear of the circular alternator cover formerly was at the bottom of the disc, so KTM moved it to improve cornering clearance. It also has the supposed side benefit of allowing better circulation of engine oil.

The least impressive part of the 390 Duke experience is a radiator fan that kicks on just three bars away from its cold reading, whining away as obnoxiously loud as the Buell Ulysses rear cylinder fan. Word from KTM is that its partner, Bajaj, which builds the smaller Dukes in India, wants the fan to come on early so there would be no overheating issues in their hot domestic climate. KTM says it’s working on trying an update for bikes bound for Western markets that would prevent the fan from kicking in until reaching higher temperatures.

There’s so much to like about the 390 Duke, including many nice finish details like hidden bodywork fasteners and backlit switchgear, which makes sloppy welds like these annoyingly incongruous.

But you’ve got to look pretty damn closely to find fault with the new 390 Duke. It’s almost as if KTM took to heart the nits we had to pick with the previous version and refined one of our favorite small-displacement roadsters of all time into something almost debonair, which is quite a feat for a motorcycle that retails for just $5,299. The little Duke has earned the first perfect 10 score I’ve awarded in our Value category.

2017 KTM 390 Duke

+ Highs

  • Sensational value
  • Sharp appearance
  • Punches way above its weight

– Sighs

  • Whiny radiator fan
  • A few ugly welds
  • No 390 Dukes when we were 16

Related Reading
Best Lightweight/Entry-Level Motorcycle Of 2015
2017 KTM 390 Duke Preview
2016 KTM 390 Duke Long-Term Review
Little Tearers Comparison: Honda CB500F vs. KTM 390 Duke
2015 KTM 390 Duke First Ride Review

2017 KTM 390 Duke Specifications

Engine TypeSingle cylinder, 4-stroke
Displacement373.2 cc
Bore/Stroke89 / 60 mm
Power42.9 hp at 9000 rpm (claimed)
Torque27.3 lb-ft. at 7000 rpm (claimed)
Compression Ratio12.6:1
Starter/BatteryElectric starter / 12V, 8 Ah
Transmission6 gears
Fuel SystemBosch EFI (throttle body 46 mm)
Control4 V / DOHC
LubricationWet sump
Engine OilMotorex Formula 4T
Primary Drive30:80
Final Drive15:45
CoolingLiquid cooling
ClutchPASC slipper clutch, mechanically operated
Engine ManagementBosch EMS with RBW
FrameSteel trellis frame, powder coated
SubframeSteel trellis frame, powder coated
HandlebarSteel, tapered, Ø 26 / 22 mm
Front SuspensionWP-USD Ø 43 mm, 5.6 inches travel
Rear SuspensionWP shock absorber, 5.9 inches travel
Front BrakeFour piston, radially mounted caliper, brake disc Ø 320 mm
Rear BrakeSingle piston, floating caliper, brake disc Ø 230 mm
AbsBosch 9.1MP Two Channel (disengageable)
Front WheelCast aluminum, 3.00 x 17″
Rear WheelCast aluminum, 4.00 x 17″
FrontTire110/70 ZR 17
Rear Tire150/60 ZR 17
ChainX-Ring 5/8 x 1/4″
SilencerStainless steel primary and aluminum secondary silencer
Steering Head Angle65°
Trail3.7 inches
Wheel Base53.4 ± 0.6 inches
Ground Clearance7.3 inches
Seat Height32.7 inches
Fuel Tank Capacity3.5 gallons / 0.4 gallons reserve
Dry Weightapprox. 328 pounds (claimed)
Kevin Duke
Kevin Duke

More by Kevin Duke

Join the conversation
4 of 125 comments