Out of all the categories on our MOBO roster, the Lightweight/Entry Level division was actually one of the easiest to fill out. That’s because, as you might remember, we’ve already put these two machines against each other. In the winner’s category, we’re talking about the KTM 390 Duke (which means you can likely guess what the runner up will be). A powerhouse of a little motorcycle, the 390 Duke continues to prove that big fun does come in small packages. Starting with the 373cc Single, the dyno says it puts out 26.9 lb-ft and 42.3 horses. While not much, the Thumper pulls cleanly from the bottom and gives just enough up top to easily distance itself from traffic. Slow is not a word we’d use to describe the 390 Duke, but you do have to shift a lot, which isn’t so bad thanks to its slick (not to be confused with quick) shifter.
The lightweight machine handles beautifully thanks to WP suspension, stops briskly with its 320mm rotor and radial-mount four-piston caliper, and best of all, it simply looks far better than any small-displacement motorcycle we can remember. Add in the fact it has a TFT display and it’s hugely impressive what you get for this $5,499 package.
Last year we gave the Kawasaki Ninja 400 a ton of praise for being an excellent small-displacement sportbike. Since then, I’ve mentioned how cool a future naked version of the Ninja 4 would be. As a surprise to no one, Kawasaki indeed came out with a naked Ninja 400 – the Z400 – and, sure enough, it’s a fun motorcycle. With the same 399cc parallel-Twin as the Ninja, and similar frame, suspension, and brakes, the Zee really is a stripped-down version of its sportbike cousin with some higher bars. Alas, when put up against the KTM 390 Duke, it fell just a tiny bit short. The 399cc Parallel-Twin, while a fine and capable engine, didn’t get our juices flowing like the KTM. And while it handles well enough, the KTM inspires more confidence. Part of this feeling comes down to the Zee’s traditional fork and basic shock, as compared to the WP units on the Duke. Factor in the KTM’s superior brakes and better tech and it’s clear to see where the Kawasaki falls short.
However, there’s something to be said about the Kawasaki’s simplicity and cheaper price tag. It’s a motorcycle you simply hop on and ride. Look on the forums (or read any number of comment sections), and you’ll find people harping about the KTM’s questionable reliability and scarce dealer support. In contrast, you have nothing to worry about when owning a Kawasaki. It’s a fun, simple motorcycle any entry-level rider can learn from and grow up with.