Some of us may remember back in the late '80s and early '90s when every major Japanese motorbike manufacturer produced high-quality 400cc sport bikes. They were direct copies of Superbikes of the time. The only problem was, we couldn’t get one here in the States. The closest we could get was Yamaha’s FZR 400, but it wasn't anywhere near the quality of build or styling as its gray market sibling, the FZR400RR SP. Kawasaki had its own mini Superbike in the form of a ZXR400.
After years of KTM owning this class with its 390 Duke and (390 Adventure), there’s a new kid in town – new in the US, anyway – in the form of the CFMoto 700 CL-X. It’s only fitting, really, since CFMoto’s Chinese manufacturer and KTM have a decade-long history together. That same Chinese OEM had a pre-existing relationship with Kawasaki also, and if CFMoto’s 700 CL-X isn’t powered by an engine eerily similar to a Versys 650 parallel Twin, I will eat my cat. In fact, the 700 CL-X is powered by a Versys twin that’s been stroked by 4mm, to 83 x 64mm dimensions – a thing Kawasaki’s never had the decency to do. That takes it to 693 cubic centimeters, and a claimed output of 74 hp at 8,500 rpm (and 48 lb-ft at 6,500 revs). Which makes this one a tad larger than our usual Lightweight winners, but for $6,399, how can you not supersize it?
If you read MO Touring: Building A Lightweight Adventure Tourer – Part 1, you know that I spent the first phase of my build focusing on protection, travel-worthiness, and luggage to transform a dual sport motorcycle into a lightweight adventure tourer. Although largely a success, a couple of short shakedown tours pointed the direction for further upgrades. Consider this the polishing draft of the project, in which I hone down the rough edges before committing to a longer tour.
If you’re tired of hearing us gush over KTM’s second-smallest Duke, imagine how tired we are of gushing. The 390 Duke took its first Best Lightweight title following its 2015 introduction, and it’s won the class every year since except 2018, when we gave the award to Kawasaki’s new Ninja 400. And okay, last year the award went to the KTM 390 Adventure, which is almost just a longer-legged Duke. That 373 cc counterbalanced single-cylinder just keeps shining through. The Duke’s engine is light, compact, torquey, powerful – and most importantly, it’s smooth-running enough that you’d never know it’s only got one cylinder. We used to call them “thumpers” for good reason; that descriptor really doesn’t fit the 390 Duke, or the 690 either.
Motorcycle.com’s Naked Summer continues in 2021 with our third naked bike test of the year. We started things off with the Middleweight Nakedbike Shootout, and followed that with the not-quite-heavyweight set of nakeds. But instead of moving up in size to the big boys in the field, we’ve decided to pivot in the opposite direction and bring you a matchup of the little naked bikes in the category – and by “matchup” we mean a comparison of each bike’s specs.
The Duke 390 has almost owned this class since its 2015 introduction, with a brief interruption by the new Ninja 400 Kawasaki two years ago. So it was nice of KTM to make it easy for us to mix things up a bit this year, by giving birth to the KTM 390 Adventure. It, of course, makes use of that same amazingly ingratiating little 373 cc Single-cylinder as the Duke but places it in an all-new ADV-style housing, adventuring being all the rage lately.
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 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.
You’ve heard the adage a lot if you’re a consistent Motorcycle.com reader – it’s more fun to ride a slow bike fast than a fast bike slow – and with our recent Lightweight Sportbike Shootout we’ve gone ahead and proved it. By now we’ll assume you’ve already read the shootout, seen our conclusions, and also drawn your own; but what exactly do these three motorcycles look like at speed around Laguna Seca? This is your chance to see for yourself, as we’ve captured a quick lap aboard all three bikes, courtesy of Yours Truly.
It’s getting to be a bit silly what’s passing for a lightweight sportbike these days. In the beginning, it made sense: You had the Kawasaki Ninja 250. And, well, that was it. It only took twenty-odd years, but the other manufacturers eventually took notice that building small bikes to entice new or returning riders was probably a good thing for the industry, and hence, started building little bikes of their own. Honda came around with the CBR250R…just as the competition upped the ante again. Kawasaki pushed the bar with the Ninja 300, then Honda made a weak attempt to follow suit with the 286cc CBR300R. Yamaha then jumped in the game, shoving displacement rules out the window with its 321cc R3 – but not to be outdone, the brash Austrians (via India) at KTM one-upped all of them with the 373cc RC390.
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.
Our most recent Sport-Touring test between the BMW S1000XR, KTM Super Duke GT, and MV Agusta Turismo Veloce was a fun one, as Sport-Touring rides usually are. Whenever you combine great roads with great friends and great motorcycles, the story usually writes itself. Sport-Touring is nothing new, of course, and our most recent test got us wondering what the old MO staff thought were great tourers back in the day. A look back through the archives dug up this, the Lightweight Tourers Comparison of 1996 between the Kawasaki Concours, BMW R1100RT, and Honda ST1100. Enjoy this look back at three great motorcycles, made to burn up miles.
From EiC Duke’s initial ride of the littlest Duke in Thailand, we knew this small KTM was going to be special and it is. From the pointed profile of its front Pirelli to the tail-end bark from its 40-horsepower 373cc Single, this one does nothing to let down the family name, and on top of that, it’s one dollar less than 5,000. And that’s including ABS.