Best Lightweight/Entry-Level Motorcycle Of 2017 Staff
by Staff

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. Best of 2017 Categories Staff Staff presents an unrivaled combination of bike reviews and news written by industry experts

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3 of 28 comments
  • Meaty Midrange Meaty Midrange on Aug 11, 2017

    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 Kevin Duke on Aug 17, 2017

      Unfo, the DL250 isn't yet being brought to America...

  • Dale Dale on Jan 19, 2018

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