2021 Lightweight Naked Bike Shootout Smackdown Comparo Review

John Burns
by John Burns

BMW G310R vs Husqvarna Svartpilen 401 vs Kawasaki Z400 vs KTM Duke 390 vs Yamaha MT-03

You know what they say: It’s more fun to ride a slow motorcycle fast than a fast motorcycle slow. Yet another example of conventional wisdom baloney. It’s actually more fun to ride a fast bike fast, or even a medium-fast one. I’m pretty sure that’s why they keep building faster motorcycles all the time. Heck, you could argue faster bikes are also safer, because power can get you out of trouble just as easily as it can get you into it (once you’ve learned to ride, that is). And power can launch you out of corners, instead of incentivizing you to cling to every mph when you’re diving into them the way slow bikes do when ridden in packs of MOrons. Have you seen a Moto3 race? They’re faster mid-corner than the Moto2 or MotoGP bikes.

Battle Royale: 7-Way Heavyweight Naked Bike Shootout – Street

2021 Six-Way, 900(Ish)Cc Naked Bike Shootout!

2021 MO Middleweight Naked Bike Shootout – Six Bikes!

Then again, you can probably trust that front tire since all these bikes weigh well under 400 pounds. And you’re definitely not braking into those corners from triple-digit speeds, so how bad could it be? Well. It takes a certain lack of imagination, like the famous race car driver said, to ride these quickly on the street.

But these aren’t just motorcycles for sport riding. Little bikes are a blast in urban areas where space is at a premium, and with what you save in gas and tires, they probably pencil out not bad against public transportation.

It turns out only having $6k to spend on a new motorcycle doesn’t have to be a bad thing, especially when you’ve got us to help separate the wheat from the chaff. No, no need to thank us: Just hit the Like button on the video.

Ride to eat. Eat to ride.

And even if you do have a bigger budget, we learn once again via the scientific process that all inexpensive little motorcycles are not created equal, and you can definitely have big fun on a small one while sinking the rest in Bitcoin or GameStop. Once again, the crack Motorcycle.com staff swings into action (complete with part-time MOrons Tom Roderick and Thai Long Ly), riding the top five tiny tadgers repeatedly round our SoCal test circuit, bombing them up and down the LA freeway system, and all parts in between to get to the bottom of it all. It beats working.

5th place: BMW G310 R

Thai Long Ly is 5’5″ tall.

It’s all relative, and when we reviewed BMW’s new mini roadster three years ago, we had mostly nice things to say about it – though we did mention the KTM 390 Duke makes about 8 hp more than the BM’s 31, a figure that’s way more insignificant on paper than it is on the road. That hasn’t changed. It pretty much appears that BMW was attempting to replicate the Duke in building its 310: Both pack counterbalanced Singles in steel trellis frames very close in specification, both with simple, non-linkage suspension out back.

The BMW even out-tricks the KTM, with its rear-canted cylinder and rear-firing exhaust port designed for better mass centralization. Our scales have them within a pound of each other in the 362 vicinity.

2017 BMW G310R Review

In most of the subjective categories on the Official MO Scorecard, the BMW is right there in the fray. Sadly, the category it got left behind in was Engine, with a last-place 67.5% rating. When you’re talking motorcycles in the 30 to 40 horsepower range, every horse matters, and though the BMW’s 313 cc Single is perfectly adequate ridden in isolation, it’s a 750 among 1000s when ridden in a hurry. “Stretching the throttle cable” is the old adage that comes to mind as you strain to keep up with the pack, though the Euro 5 BMW probably doesn’t have one. Running along a straight on a backroad WFO in 5th gear, the Svartpilen and then the MT-03 just motored past me on the BMW. Which is a shame, because the rest of the bike’s not so bad at all. Then again, slow bikes seem to always feel more secure than fast ones.

Road Test Editor Troy Siahaan says: “You expect bikes in this class to have no power, but other than the BMW, the group surprises with how much get-up they have. Not the BMW. There’s not enough power to get out of its own way or take evasive maneuvers in traffic. According to the dyno, it makes peak power 500 rpm before redline… and it’s still the least amount of power here.”

Troy’s exaggerating a little: I saw 96 mph indicated on here on level ground, but it took a run to get there. At 85 mph, the BMW’s LCD bar tach says it’s thumping 9000 rpm, reasonably smoothly.

Tom Roderick has learned diplomacy since he left the motojourno business: “Unintimidating by way of its low seat height, smooth power delivery, and comfy egros, the BMW is the novice’s best friend among this group of two-wheelers. The 310R is attractive with nicely styled wheels that color match the equally attractive red-painted trellis frame.”

T. Roderick is 5’11” tall.

At least it’s not uncool; the 310 scored ahead of the Z400 in Cool Factor! But the little BMW scored one of the worst Grin Factor ratings in memory: 32%. It lacks excitement. Excitement and power. They’re not quite the same thing but they’re very close.

Thai Long Ly can’t hold back, thank God: “I had so much hope for this bike as it looks good parked, with price-appropriate fit and finish and an attractive color scheme. With a low seat height and puny engine, this bike couldn’t frighten a skittish stray cat no matter how many vacuum cleaners you bolted to it. The biking equivalent of a mouthful of Xanax with all the excitement of a flavored toothpick, the bike does promise excellence upon first twisting the grip, with a nice smooth pull all the way up to about 28 mph. I know it’s the weakest of all the motors in the test, but I’m quite certain my cat’s water fountain has more power and is verifiably smoother. Basically, the engine [censored]. As for the actual ride, it’s quite comfortable on the motorways and has great ergonomics and a comfortable seat. However, front end feedback at speed is like [CENSORED!]… you can’t feel a thing. Good luck finding neutral at a stoplight. Although it sounds like I didn’t like the BMW, you’d be right.

At least Ryan Adams feels bad:

I feel bad for the BMW coming in last. It was quickly apparent that it would be at the bottom of the pack, though. Despite it’s open cockpit and comfy ergos, its adequate suspension and decent brakes, not even its solid shifts and quality fit and finish could keep its motor performance – or lack thereof – from grenading the entire experience. It delivers a healthy cuppa torque just off idle, but then begins to skyrocket into the rpm range with little forward momentum gained along the way.”


2021 BMW G 310 R

+ Highs

  • Looks legit and says BMW right on it
  • Not too uncomfortable and 60+ mpg
  • A crashed Duke motor might bolt right in?

– Sighs

  • She’s down on power, captain
  • She’s got the least torque too
  • Grin Factor 32

4th Place: Yamaha MT-03

Surprise. The bike with the next-smallest engine – 321 cc – finishes next to last, pretty much for the same reason as the BMW. The Yamaha Twin gets to within 7 hp of the most powerful Kawasaki Z400’s 43, if you don’t mind winding it up to nearly 11,000 rpm. But this Master of Torque has none, making barely more lb-ft than the BMW – 20.1 – and not until 9100 rpm.

We admit it: Part of the problem is tester bias. We always wind up chasing each other through Sand Canyon, and the MT impressed me off the bat as more the sport-tourer of the group, with slightly softer suspension, and I wanted to write “some of the best ergonomics here” but I see the poor MT finished next-to-last in that category also (though Thai and I gave it high marks).

You’re sat pretty upright on most of these bikes, but the Yamaha provides a broad, comfy seat for the rider, and a passenger pad not designed to promote acrimony.

2020 Yamaha MT-03 Review – First Ride

“Slow but refined,” is how Troy sums up the MT-03. “Well, as refined as a cheap 321cc bike can be. Wet noodle frame and the suspension gets stressed when pushing on choppy roads. The shock feels like it’s bottoming when going fast and you hit a decent bump. You sit in the bike, not on top.

Low seat height is kinda cramped and narrow bars. The Transformer headlight thing can take some getting used to, but I dig it, and maybe younger, newer riders will too.”

Tom says: “As much of a fan as I am of the MT-09 and MT-07, the MT-03 just doesn’t swing my excitement meter. Landing somewhere between the BMW and the Kawasaki on the scorecard the Yamaha didn’t excel at anything but didn’t disappoint in a remarkable way either.”

Thai Long Ly: “The Yamaha is a nice little ride. You sit ‘in’ the bike with a comfortable reach to the narrow bars, with a friendly low seat height for us donkey-legged humans. With only 36 hp, this bike packs all the thrills of ornithology with the rush of backgammon in the park. But what a difference a couple ponies can make, as the MT feels far more enticing than the tragically anemic BMW. Though the MT moniker here is less ‘Master of Torque’ and more ‘Miniature Thighs,’ I like the way the motor smoothly revs up to the limiter, which is where you’ll spend most of your tachometer time if you’re in any sort of rush. The brakes are grippy and the bike handles the canyon roads well enough for government work, though the suspension is far from supple. Choose only freshly paved roads to travel, and you’ll be fine: Wear a mouthguard to prevent concussions everywhere else. If you take one home, you’ll be rewarded with a drama-free ownership experience. Which will last exactly three months before you realize you should’ve purchased one of the next three bikes instead.”

Ryan A is 5’8” tall.

Ryan thinks: “The Yamaha feels the most like a beginner bike out of this group to me. Maybe it’s the lowest seat and the compact seating position which places you firmly within the motorcycle, or, despite its duo of cylinders, the fact they combine to make the second-lowest displacement here. The motor is fairly smooth and revs out high into the rpm range where it makes most of its power, but unlike the BMW, you don’t feel like you’re being unkind to the machine while you’re there. The brakes work, though the front one could be used as the definition of wooden. The larger -07 and -09 are befitting of the title Master of Torque, the -03, not so much.”

Sadly there is still no replacement for displacement, short of a supercharger, and the MT-03 no gots. What it does have is the lowest price tag – $4,599.

2021 Yamaha MT-03

+ Highs

  • Comfortable on smooth pavement
  • $4,599
  • Won’t wake the neighbors or the dead

– Sighs

  • Master of Almost No Torque
  • How much more for an MT-07 for the love of God?
  • Remember the RZ350? No? You’re better off

3rd Place: Kawasaki Z400

The jump from #4 to the Kawasaki is 78 small steps in cubic centimeters – but a giant leap in terms of performance. Stepping up from the MT’s 321 cc parallel Twin to the Z’s 399 cc unit gets us the most power of the five bikes here – 43 hp. And 24.5 lb-ft of torque is but one short of the torquiest engine here. Give it a big handful of gas, and while the Z might not feel quite as fast off the line as the Austrian Singles, it’s very close. And top-speed testing in the carpool lane on the way home has the Z’s digital speedo claiming 112 mph. (The Austrian sisters are both tapped out at 100; it’s hard to tell if there’s a governor or the jig is just up?)

If it’s time for the dyno chart, we must be in the Kawasaki department. The KTM and Husqvarna engines feel way more linear in their delivery than their traces suggest.
The KTM single usually feels faster than the Z twin, but it’s not clear if that’s the case…
Eighty-five mph and 8000 rpm is more like it on the Z, where it runs with not too much vibration, and if you’re after a lightweight commuter, the Kawasaki and Yamaha tie for biggest gas tanks – 3.7 gallons.

2019 Kawasaki Z400 Review – First Ride!

Surprisingly nice suspenders, just like the Z900, are on the firm but not-too side, and do a nice job keeping the tail up when you begin coming over all aggro on the backroads. Bump absorption/damping are really good most of the time except for big hits, but then, all these little bikes deal best with big bumps by avoiding them. In our Handling category, the Z tied for second place with the Vitpilen.

Z ergonomics lean a smidge more sporty than the other bikes’ upright seating. Taller riders seem to feel a little cramped on the Z as the rear of the seat slopes forward, and in fact that’s 5’11” Tom Roderick’s main complaint re: the Z:

“The right aftermarket butt pillow that doesn’t ski-slope your gonads into the fuel tank would go a long way into changing my opinion about the Z400. Otherwise, the little Kawi is a handsome, good-handling entry-level two-wheeler.

“Next to the KTM’s (and Husquvarna’s) single-cylinder, the Kawi’s parallel-Twin is the smoothest running engine of the group. Power builds slowly over its rev range, so it doesn’t have the punchiness of the KTM. Lacking almost all feel at the clutch lever, this is not the bike for a new rider to learn the nuances of engaging/disengaging the clutch (a la friction zone).”

As for the seat, it does slope tall guys into the tank, but that’s an easy thing to fix, probably as simple as tacking on Kawi’s factory accessory Extended Reach seat, which raises the seat one inch, for $199.

At the other end of the chart is 5’5” Thai:

“For whatever reason, I’ve always vibed with Kawasaki motorcycles. Maybe it’s an Asian thing. Maybe it’s Maybelline. Whatever it is, I get their engines and truly enjoy the way they make their smooth yet clinical power. I have a supernatural ability to adjust quickly to the high-pegged ergos and once my hip flexors go numb from the cramped angles, I settle nicely in for the ride. Then again, I’m only 5’ 5.” I didn’t care for the way my right foot kept hitting the exhaust shield, but that’s a small thing. As for handling, once at speed, everything comes together like an 18th-hole birdie after a day of bogeys.

Kawasaki makes excellent race bikes, and this baby fruit hasn’t wandered far from the tree. I know this is a beginner bike and all, but it feels like a legitimate supersport in the way it handles tight twisty canyon roads while commanding confidence when ridden hard. It’s a rare bike that a true novice can grow with and a seasoned veteran can enjoy whipping around on. Because it makes all that smooth Kawasaki power up top, it won’t penalize a rookie mistake while it urges the rest of us to keep riding faster. And when you do, you’re rewarded with tons of on edge grip and tons of big bike feel. If you favor reliability and efficiency in a capable lightweight bike, this is clearly the one to buy.”

Ryan Adams, whose hobbies include bagging on Kawasakis, approves of the smallest Z:

“The Z400 might be the best well-rounded bike here for the largest swath of riders. At $4,999, it’s the second cheapest and puts out the most power. The neat part is just how smooth and approachable the motor is. For new riders who aren’t likely to rev the engine into the meat of its power, it’s a very approachable machine. For more experienced riders, that healthy mid- to top-range is a fun place to be. This makes the Z400 a great motorcycle for new riders to grow with and a fun lightweight steed for grizzled old veterans to exploit. It’s also nearly the lightest bike here at 360 lbs and offers pretty great range with its 3.7-gallon tank and 53.5 mpg (averaged from our heavy-handed riding). The riding position suffers the same high-kneed somewhat cramped triangle that the Z650 and Z900 did, along with a forward cant that beckons your bits toward the tank. Perhaps the extended reach seat would alleviate our woes, I know not. Even with all of those boxes checked though, the Kawi doesn’t offer as thrilling of a riding experience as our top two Austrians (in different clothes).”

Just a man in search of some soul…

Troy’s Euroweenie slip is showing again as he mercilessly abuses the innocent little Z:

“Kawasaki has the most power, and it’s apparent, but it has no soul. It sounds like a sewing machine. I’m not usually one to suggest an exhaust as the first upgrade you make, but it might be with this bike. Anything to make it sound cooler.

“Seating position is cramped, even for me. Tall folks need not apply. It handles well enough, as you’d expect from its Ninja 400 roots, and the price is right. If you’re scared off by reliability concerns over KTM engines, the Kawasaki is a fine alternative… just not nearly as exciting.”

The Kawasaki won exactly none of our Subjective scoring categories, but purely rational types will note it won the Objective portion of the card, thanks to its light weight, most power, and sub-$5k price tag. Nice.

2021 Kawasaki Z400

+ Highs

  • Finally we’ve got a little oomph
  • Sporty handling, good suspension
  • Decent range with 3.7-gallon tank

– Sighs

  • Forward-sloping seat induces non-stop whining
  • Criticizing its styling invites cultural stereotyping, which we would never do
  • She’s a little buzzy at speeds none of the others can achieve

2nd Place: Husqvarna Svartpilen 401

Interest in the tiny tiddler test turned totally positive when we learned at the last minute that the Svartpilen would be participating: All that remained to be seen was would it be good enough to beat the bike it’s based upon?


I loved the 701 Svartpilen when I got to ride it a couple of years ago, but it’s been a few years since we rode the 401s, both Svart and Vitpilen. Just like the 701, the 401 is such a visually interesting thing everybody has to sit up and take notice.

Speaking of sitting up, everybody immediately likes the ergonomics. The front wheel is right under you, and you can reach down and grip the fuel tank rack like the saddle horn on a mechanical bull. Sadly, that tank only holds 2.5 gallons. I wanted to write “you’ll probably get better mileage than we did when you’re not riding maniacally,” but kind of the point of the 401 is that you’re always riding maniacally.

Just as the Svart 701 shared an engine with the KTM Duke 690, the 401 is powered by the same 373 cc Single as the 390 Duke. In contrast to the bigger Svart, though, the Svartpilen 401 actually retails for $400 less than the KTM, which is even more mysterious as it comes standard with niceties including an up/down quickshifter, adjustable suspension, and wire-spoke wheels that, unfortunately, require tubes.

On those wheels you’ll find adventurous Pirelli tires that go with the Svartpilen’s rugged barista look. On the freeway, they send up more vibes to the rider than the Duke’s street rubber, and in the curves, they don’t have quite the traction or feel – but it barely matters most of the time – and the Svart is the preferred mount if dirt roads are on the menu. But keeping it real around town seems to be the Svartpilen’s mission, given the tiny gas tank. And you’ll be glad to not be in the boonies when you have a flat tire, too.

Still, those nice adjustable WP suspenders led the Svart to a first place in the Suspension category, and a tie for second with the Z400 in Handling.

What does Dirty Ryan Adams think?

“This neo-retro futuristic scrambler thing is cool. I dig it. It’s not too surprising that the 390 Duke in Swedish garb would come in just behind its sibling given the shared platform, but the Svartpilen does manage to offer a fairly different riding experience. The wide, old school moto-style handlebar (complete with a cheesy cross brace bolted to welded tabs on the bars) and flat narrow seat puts you over the front tire in supermoto fashion, offering ample space for larger riders to be comfortable.

“Stock Pirelli Rally STRs encourage you to take the Svart onto the unknown, and while I would like to comment on its performance off-road, I got yelled at for taking it in the dirt during our testing [Correction: for getting it dirty on our photography day – Ed.]. It’s basically like any other street scrambler with knobbies, it will be fine as long as your speed goes down as the bumps ramp up. It does have a cute little skid plate protecting the exhaust’s expansion chamber, though. The 2.5-gallon tank isn’t a big deal for ‘round townin,’ and the seat isn’t exactly the most comfortable place to spend a lot of time, as the sides of the plastic under it push your legs out, but it’s not terrible either. The brakes are a bit grabby initially but provide good stopping power. Kind of a bummer ‘supermoto’ mode didn’t make it to the 401 since it has knobbly tires. Oh well, at least there’s no TC. I’d be pretty happy with this or the KTM in my garage.”

Troy approves:

“The Husqy is pretty badass. Sitting tall like a dirt bike, it feels totally natural to stick a foot out in turns. Changes direction nicely. Strong brakes… It’s biggest downfall is its TINY gas tank. The fuel light came on by lunch – about 80-90 miles. You’re not going to want to – or be able to – tour on the 401, and the small fuel tank will make sure you don’t. Get off, stretch your legs, and refuel. Adjustable suspension is a nice touch! And so is having a quickshifter in BOTH directions!

“The Svartpilen 401 stands out from this crowd. Its look is unlike anything else. It looks cool, aggressive, and with lots of attitude.”

T. Roderick is on board:

“Call me prejudiced. I entered this test wanting the Svartpilen to win, mostly because of styling that separates it from the rest of the bikes in this test and most motorcycles on showroom floors. But its measly 2.5-gallon fuel tank, stylish but crowded multifunction instrumentation, and plankish seat just wouldn’t allow it. The only motorcycle here with adjustable suspension and a quick-shifter, for $400 less than the KTM Duke. Tell me again how this bike lost? It was close, though, with only 15.13 points separating them when the scores were tallied.”

Thai Long Ly probably has an opinion?

“Straight up, this bike is badass. The svelte and stylish tank and distinct lines lend an air of seriousness to its purpose. The KTM-derived motor is a thing of raw raucous beauty, with a punchy playful nature that tastes like happiness. The throttle response is quick and light as the transmission engages with a solid fluidity. The pegs are low, the seat long, and the narrow bars are within easy reach for any size pilot… all enticing you to ride as hard and long as you can. Which is only about 30 minutes due to the laughable lack of fuel capacity. The money you save over the KTM 390 should be earmarked for a top-tier AAA membership. I had a blast on this bike in the canyons, despite the blocky 50/50 tires which while adequate on loose dirt, don’t help the bike’s freeway chops in any way. On the highway I was bounced about as the bike tramlined and weaved around the lane, seemingly with a mind of it’s own, and the clocks on this bike are completely invisible in direct sunlight. Honestly though, it doesn’t matter. I don’t need the dash to tell me I’m having fun. If I had to pick between this and the KTM for garage space, I’d go with the Dark Arrow, despite what the scorecard says. This really isn’t a beginner’s bike. It’s more of a precision lightweight bike for enthusiasts.”

2021 Husqvarna Svartpilen 401

+ Highs

  • Arresting hook looks
  • 390 Duke underpinnings
  • Best suspension and quickshifter

– Sighs

  • 2.5-gallon tank can leave you hanging
  • Tubes in your tires can kill your drive
  • Quit being so practical, gramps

Winner and Still the Champeen: KTM Duke 390

Surprised? You shouldn’t be. This thing’s covered in welts from all the awards and praise we’ve been throwing at it since the first one arrived in the US in 2015. The Duke swept our Engine and Handling categories by large margins, then went on to trounce the others in Braking and Instruments (it’s the only one with a big, bright TFT screen), and would’ve won Suspension if not for the Svartpilen’s adjustable WP components (not that we adjusted anything). In the all-important Ergonomics/Comfort category, el Duko beat the 2nd-place Svartpilen 87 to 80% – while the Z400 finished with a dismal last-place 71% (it’s not that bad!).

2017 KTM Duke 390 Review

Not only is the Duke 390 the most fun to ride, in contrast to the Duke 890 which reminded some of us of a Black & Decker gardening tool last month thanks to its pedestrian design, the 390’s shiny new-toy looks completely belie its $5,700 price tag.

And so it made off with the win in Quality, Fit, and Finish too. Cool Factor it lost to the Svartpilen, 90 to 87%. Grin Factor: another KTM win at 82% – 50 full points atop the last-place BMW. (This sums up the difference between Austria and Germany as well as anything.)

May we have the accolades, please?

T. Siahaan:

“Even though it has more power than the Husky, it doesn’t feel as lively as (not a huge difference, but noticeable for more experienced riders). There’s a comfy riding position for a variety of body types, but it still puts you in attack mode if you want it. It attacks corners better than all but maybe the Husky, but can still get its suspension overwhelmed if you push too hard. Brakes are good among this crowd, with steel lines and adjustable levers, unlike the Japanese bikes. TFT display is tops in this class, by far.

“Special bonus points for having Supermoto mode!

“The 373cc engine used to be known for blowing head gaskets, but the latest generation uses different materials and is more reliable. As an overall package among this group, the KTM is my pick. If only it had the Svartpilen’s autoblipper…”

Troy is also 5’8″ tall and enjoys walks on the beach.

Ryan Adams:

“The 390 Duke was one of the first motorcycles that made me start choosing my terminology more carefully regarding sub-400cc motorcycles. Entry-level, Beginner bikes, etc. have been used when describing these machines, but Lightweight seems like the better descriptor. Sure, the KTM could be those things, but it isn’t just that. The 373 cc Single delivers a healthy wallop of low to mid-range power and is a blast around town or in the canyons because of it. The rider triangle is one of the most open and accommodating out of this group, and the TFT screen used to access fun things like supermoto mode is miles ahead of many larger more expensive bikes. I’d be remiss not to mention the fact that we can no longer turn ABS all the way off for ultimate hoonery like we could back in 2018, thanks Euro 5.

Instrumentation worthy of the YouTube generation.

“The non-adjustable suspension is decidedly sporty feeling and the brakes provide plenty of power and feel for the 363 lbs it needs to slow. Styling is subjective, but for me, the two Austrians in this test have more interesting and mature styling than the others and look like much more expensive machines than their prices would suggest.”

Tommy “Guns” Roderick:

“Fast, fun, comfy, good-looking… The littlest Duke does it all while punching well above its weight class. About the only fault I can find with the 390 is that its less-expensive cousin, the Svartpilen, is equipped with adjustable suspension and a quick-shifter. Even that, though, wouldn’t persuade me to purchase the Husky over the Duke.”

Thai Long Ly:

“With excellent ergos, a thoroughly enjoyable motor, a flickable chassis, and respectable fuel economy, this bike can satisfy anyone no matter how long they’ve been riding. It’s quick on its feet due to the lightweight design, with excellent handling and high speed composure. While the motor begs to be revved hard, slamming the limiter is an abrupt affair and is the only time you’re reminded it’s a 390 cc thumper with a low rev ceiling [is 10,000 rpm low now?]. Highway riding was a less jittery affair than its Scandinavian sibling due to the extra weight and actual street tires, though I can’t see doing any serious hard miles unless being chased by a pack of bears or wolverines. If you live near a canyon and want an endlessly entertaining way through it, this is your bike. As a city commuter, this would be far more fun than a scooter and equally as nimble.

“Btw, I put my girlfriend on the back for a quick midnight blast, and we were both shocked at how much pull and punch this bike exhibited. Her only exposure to riding pillion with me has been aboard a much larger sport tourer from the last decade, and we were certain this would result in a flaccid affair. I couldn’t have been more wrong, as we laughed incredulously over the intercoms while I recalculated my views on lightweight bike ownership. In fact, when I got back on my daily driver, the Grey Whale, immediately following the test, I couldn’t help but notice how much of a pig it truly is and how shockingly heavy it handles by comparison. Now I’m looking at used 1290GTs…”

2021 KTM Duke 390

+ Highs

  • A machine more than the sum of its parts
  • All its parts are really good
  • Voted Most Ergonomically Correct

– Sighs

  • It’d be nice if somebody stepped up with a worthy competitor, BMW
  • This 800-pound gorilla only weighs 363 lbs
  • She’s all done at the Ton

By Unanimous Decision

There it is. Flogging the KTM along is more fun than riding a slow bike fast, mostly because it’s not a slow bike, even if it is a small one. Burn down, wait, ride it down your favorite curvy road. Throw it into Supermoto and terrorize your local kart track. If all you want is a utilitarian thing to get around upon economically, possibly with a companion, the Duke can easily play that role, too.

The only thing that keeps it from being as useful an urban tool as a good scooter is its lack of storage (but KTM does sell a cute tailpack). Sister Svartpilen is the same motorcycle in dyed hair and Doc Martens, if that’s what you like. If neither of those work for you, the poor over-maligned Kawasaki is better than the scores suggest, possibly just a re-stuffed seat away from true happiness, and will probably outlive you even if it’s your first motorcycle.

There’s a lot to be said for keeping it light and simple. Guilty as charged, we are spoiled by the latest and greatest motorcycles, but riding these little naked bikes around wound up being way more fun than we thought it was going to be.

2021 Lightweight Naked Bike Shootout Smackdown Scorecard



Husqvarna Svartpilen 401

Kawasaki Z400

KTM 390 Duke

Yamaha MT-09

























Total Objective Scores




























































Cool Factor






Grin Factor






Overall Score








Husqvarna Svartpilen 401

Kawasaki Z400

KTM 390 Duke

Yamaha MT-03

MSRP$5045 (base)$5299$4999$5699$4599
Engine TypeLiquid-cooled DOHC single; 4- valvesLiquid-cooled DOHC single; 4 valvesLiquid-cooled DOHC inline two-cylinder; 4 valves/cylinderLiquid-cooled DOHC single; 4 valvesLiquid-cooled DOHC inline two-cylinder; 4 valves/cylinder
Bore and Stroke76.2 mm x 60.96 mm89.0 mm x 60.0 mm70.0 mm x 51.8 mm89.0 mm x 60.0 mm68.0 mm x 44.1 mm
Compression Ratio10.9:112.6:111.5:112.6:111.2:1
31.8 hp at 9500 rpm37.9 hp at 9200 rpm43.2 hp at 10,200 rpm39.8 hp at 8800 rpm36.4 hp at 10,800 rpm
19.7 lb-ft. at 7500 rpm22.1 lb-ft. at 7000 rpm24.5 lb-ft. at 8200 rpm25.8 lb-ft. at 7000 rpm20.1 lb-ft. at 9100 rpm
FuelingElectronic fuel injectionElectronic fuel injection system, 46 mm throttle bodies with Ride-by-Wire systemDFI with 32mm throttle bodiesElectronic fuel injection system, 46 mm throttle bodies with Ride-by-Wire systemFuel injection
Transmission6-speed6-speed w/autoblipper6-speed6-speed6-speed
ClutchMulti-disc oil bath (anti-hopping) with self-reinforcementmulti-disc slipper clutch, mechanically operatedmulti-plate wet clutchmulti-disc slipper clutch, mechanically operatedConstant mesh; wet multiplate clutch
Final DriveChainChainChainChainX-ring chain
FrameTubular steel frame in grid structure with bolt-on rear frameSteel trellis frame, powder coatedTrellis, high tensile steelSteel trellis frame, powder coatedTubular steel
41mm inverted fork, non-adjustable; 5.5 in. travelWP Apex 43 mm inverted fork, compression, rebound adjustable, 5.6 inches of travelTelescopic fork, 4.7 in travel43mm WP inverted fork, non-adjustable; 5.6 inches travel37mm KYB inverted fork; 5.1-in travel
Single shock, preload-adjustable; 5.2 in travelWP Apex shock, preload and rebound damping adjustable, 5.6 inches travelSingle shock withUni-Trak swingarm, preload adjustable, 5.1 in travelWP shock absorber, preload adjustable, 5.9 inches travelSingle shock, 7-step preload adjustable, 4.9-in travel
Front BrakeSingle 300mm disc, 4-piston caliper, radially bolted, ABSSingle 320mm disc, ByBre 4-piston caliper, radially mounted, ABSSingle 310mm disc, 2-piston caliper, ABSSingle 320mm disc, radial-mount 4-piston caliper, ABS w/Supermoto modeSingle 298mm disc, 2-piston caliper, ABS
Rear BrakeSingle 241mm disc, single-piston floating caliper, ABSSingle 230mm disc, ByBre single-piston, floating caliper, ABSSingle 220mm disc, single-piston caliper, ABSSingle 230mm disc, single- piston floating caliper, ABS w/Supermoto modeSingle 220mm disc, ABS
Front Tire110/70 R 17Pirelli Scorpion Rally STR 110/70 R 17110/70 R 17110/70 x 17110/70 R17
Rear Tire150/60 R 17Pirelli Scorpion Rally STR 150/60 R 17150/60 R 17150/60 x 17140/70 R17
Trail4.5 inches3.7 inches3.6 inches3.7 inches3.7 inches
Wheelbase54.3 inches53.4 ± 0.6 inches53.9 inches53.4 ± 0.6 inches54.3 inches
Seat Height30.9 inches (Standard Seat), 30.3 inches (low), 31.5 (high)32.9 inches30.9 inches32.7 inches30.7 inches
Curb Weight
(measured on MO scales)
363 pounds359 pounds360 pounds363 pounds371 pounds
Fuel Capacity2.9 gallons (Approx. 0.25 gal reserve)2.5 gallons3.7 gallons3.5 gallons3.5 gallons
Fuel Economy61 mpg (measured)49 mpg (measured)54 mpg (measured)51 mpg (measured)56 mpg (measured)
Valve-adjustment Intervals12,000 miles9,300 miles15,200 miles9,300 miles26,600 miles

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John Burns
John Burns

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2 of 45 comments
  • Aznable Rey Aznable Rey on Oct 28, 2021

    I legit just bought a Svart 401, your guys' comparison here being a small part of my decision. Absolutely love this little thing! Thank you MOrons!

  • Dan-o Dan-o on Jun 20, 2022

    Intersting how close the specs are between these bikes and the new Ducati Monster - weight, seat height... Except the Duc has triple the HP and more than double the price. No need to upgrade in a year though.