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.
Just look at this thing. Small displacement motorcycles have no right to look this good. And the pictures don’t do it justice, either. In person, the design is very impressive. Some people don’t like the headlight, which is shared with several other KTM models and is a staple for the company. Personally, I dig it. It adds personality, and ties off the angular lines from back to front. Equally impressive is the lack of errant wires, hoses, or cables sticking out where they shouldn’t, especially under the fuel tank where you might expect to see a loose cable or two. Get rid of that huge license plate holder and the proportions will look just right.
There aren’t too many settings or options to adjust on the 390 Duke, but there is one – the brakes. ABS comes standard on the 390 and defaults to reading wheel speeds at both ends. However, flip the switch to Supermoto mode and the computer turns ABS off for the rear wheel, meaning, as the name would suggest, supermoto-style slides can now commence! Charge hard into a corner, hit the front brake, pop a few successive downshifts, tap the rear brake, and slide to your heart’s content! To have this option on a small-displacement motorcycle is a little silly, but it also speaks to KTM’s “Ready to Race” mantra.
Of course, purposely getting the baby Duke out of shape is helped by the fact it comes standard with a slipper clutch when you accidentally get the baby Duke out of shape. Botched downshifts aren’t a big deal anymore, and the lack of rear wheel hop makes rear wheel slides in Supermoto mode easier and smoother. You don’t need to be a hooligan to appreciate a slipper clutch, obviously, which gives the 390 great appeal to new and experienced riders alike. If, however, operating a clutch is still too much for you, as part of its Power Parts accessory bin, a Rekluse automatic clutch is an option (yes, really), basically negating the need for a clutch.
Historically, single-cylinder engines tend to vibrate a lot. The 390 Duke bucks that trend. Its counterbalanced 373cc engine is surprisingly smooth at the bars, despite the need to rev to 8000 rpm to cruise at 80 mph on the highway. And despite its small displacement, the little Duke doesn’t leave you feeling like a moving roadblock – far from it, actually. We’ve dyno’d the bike at nearly 40 hp and 24 lb-ft at the wheel. Combined with its 362-lb curb weight, it’s quite spritely when you twist the throttle.
For a motorcycle without any sort of wind protection, I found it to be unexpectedly comfortable even at highway speeds. A touring bike the 390 most definitely is not, but it can handle a day ride. The rider triangle is positioned in such a way where I didn’t feel like a sail at speed. The forward lean to the bars doesn’t feel like much, but it’s just enough, apparently, to not yearn for a windscreen. If longer rides on the 390 are in your future, however, I’d opt for a seat that’ll coddle your tush better.
No, adjustable levers aren’t anything new on a motorcycle, but it’s not common for small displacement/low-cost motorcycles to have them. The 390 Duke comes equipped with adjustable levers for both the brake and clutch. For newer riders learning what lever position works best with their hands, this is a nice touch on KTM’s part.
If adjustable levers aren’t common on little bikes, then the fact the 390 comes with a full TFT display makes it downright exotic! It’s nice, too; there are color-coded gauges nicely spaced out and everything is clearly visible even in direct sunlight. The gear position indicator could be a bit bigger, but it’s big enough in the upper right of the display to see at a glance.
Since the youth market is the target KTM is aiming at (at least in Europe, where the 390 fits within the tiered licensing system), the My Ride feature is a handy option, allowing the rider to tether their smartphone directly to the bike. This gives full control over incoming calls and audio from your music library. All the information pops up on the bike´s display, letting you manage everything from the menu switch, while keeping your hands on the bars.
This one is subjective, of course, but methinks the magic number when marketing a small displacement motorcycle is $5000. BMW’s G310R comes in at $4,845, and Kawasaki’s new Z400 goes even lower at $4,799. At $5,499, I wonder if KTM has put off some would-be buyers. Granted, you get a lot of motorcycle in the 390 Duke. Personally, I’d save up a couple more sheckels to get it, but will others?
This might be the biggest oversight on the KTM. Sure the TFT display is nice, but I could live with an LCD screen if it meant having the added safety of traction control. Some will wonder when TC would ever be used on a bike struggling to make 40 hp, but if you ever find yourself on wet and/or slick roads, having that added safety net is huge. If you’re a newer and/or inexperienced rider, the extra peace of mind should make the cost worth it. Alas, it’s not equipped, and though it’s not a deal breaker, it’s more a missed opportunity.