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.
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.
What’s the sweet spot for small displacement motorcycles? Is it 250cc? Perhaps 400cc? Ask any internet forum and you’ll likely hear some BS like, 600cc sportbikes are the smallest I would EVER recommend for a beginner. Idiots. Darwinism at its finest. What do we think? We think there are a lot of variables to consider for this question, but the 300cc category is still filled with solid options of bitchin’ motorcycles. Many look at these small-displacement bikes as great options for beginners as well. Which motorcycle is best for a beginner? It all depends on what kind of riding you’d like to do. Any of the options on this list provide a great starting point for new riders. What’s even better is that there are plenty of great bikes in this category that spans multiple genres of motorcycling such as sportbikes, adventure motorcycles, and naked bikes. If you’re interested in entering the world of two wheels check out these great starting points.
KTM has changed the way we look at small-displacement naked bikes with the 390 Duke. No longer is it just a learning tool for new or inexperienced riders, but now, no matter who you are, if you can’t find a way to have an ear-to-ear grin riding the baby Duke, you probably don’t have a pulse. If it’s not clear by now, we love the 390 Duke around here – its 373cc Single is anything but boring, it handles surprisingly well, and its looks are sharp enough to convince you to park it where everyone can see.
KTM made a really cool motorcycle in the 390 Duke, but it became even better in 2017 when the folks in Mattighofen gave it some much-needed upgrades. We’ve covered the 390 Duke extensively on the digital pages of MO, but if you’re new around here – or especially new to motorcycles in general – let this be a Cliff Notes guide to why the 390 Duke is a great little bike. The short reason why we like the bike so much is because it punches way above its weight. In the past if you presented us with a 373cc Single, yawns would follow. Not so with the 390 Duke. Fun is the name of the game with this little terror, and below are eight reasons why it should be on your radar if it isn’t already. Don’t get us wrong – it’s not a perfect motorcycle, and we’ve included a couple reasons why.
Having grown up around motocross, and with a couple of years on the road on two wheels some 13-plus years ago, throwing my leg back over a motorcycle this past summer was anything but starting from scratch (thankfully). Sure, I was a little rusty to say the least, but the essence of riding isn’t something easily forgotten. After a few quick jaunts, I was back in the swing of things. Though the mechanics and principles remain the same, the new motorcycle market for more novice riders is a completely different beast than it was the last time I was on two wheels. A veritable boom of larger, and frankly more appropriate “starter bikes” is well underway in the form of the 300cc class. These more approachable and rookie friendly rides aren’t like the undersized and underpowered 125s and 250s that have been around for decades, which is a fantastic thing – a serious win for new riders who are on the taller side. Throwing my 6’1 frame over a CBR 125, well, can you picture the bear riding a minibike in a Russian circus? You get the idea.
The Lightweight category of motorcycling is growing like a wildfire, with tons of cool bikes that offer style and performance that’s readily accessible for a new or inexperienced rider. But to us, the motorcycle topping the list of all those competent performers is the Kawasaki Ninja 400. Some May claim that the “small-displacement” moniker no longer applies, but to get hung up on 100cc is a waste of time for what’s otherwise an excellent motorcycle. The increase in size from the previous Ninja 300 brings with it a modest bump in power suitable for newbies, but also entertaining for experienced riders. Combine that with styling inspired by its bigger Ninja siblings, and new riders no longer have to feel self conscious about their beginner bike looking dated and ugly. This, in turn, helps keep riders from graduating to bigger, sexier machinery they may not be ready for.
It didn’t take long to find what would appear to be a worthy contender to the KTM 390 Duke. Enter BMW’s new G 310 R. European? Check. Naked? Check. Single cylinder? Check. By golly! I think we should pit these two lil thumpers against each other in a battle to the death! Or at least compare them to help communicate their similarities and differences and perhaps which motorcycle a potential buyer might be more interested in purchasing based on their riding expectations. Nevertheless, let the battle commence!
Almost exactly one year ago, former EiC Kevin Duke penned (typed?) his review of the 2017 KTM 390 Duke. It came as no surprise to the MO staff when Kevin arrived home from Italy raving about the refreshed and revamped 390. The crew had already tested previous models and had found themselves smitten with the small orange machine, giving it the honor of Best Lightweight/Entry-Level Motorcycle of 2015 and 2016. It would then come as no surprise that the refreshed 2017 model would clench the threepeat with the Best Lightweight/Entry-Level Motorcycle Of 2017, and at $5,299, it would also snatch up our Best Value Motorcycle Of 2017.
Here we are with another year coming to an end. It was another great year in motorcycling for 2017. Yes, even with all the doom and gloom from “industry insiders” tirelessly trying to understand why don’t millennials like motorcycles, and low sales numbers from some of the largest motorcycle manufacturers in the world, it was still a great time to be a motorcyclist.
For less than the price difference between a Ducati 1299 Panigale and a Panigale 1299S, you could have one of the most value-packed and fun motorcycles we’ve ever ridden. It’s astonishing how many desirable features are available on the KTM 390 Duke, a stylish and capable motorbike that retails for just $5,299.
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.