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2014 KTM 390 Duke: MD First Ride

KTM has never cared about traditional engine displacement categories. I guess you could call it the Goldilocks theory. Sometimes “just right” isn’t on the menu, and you have to make it yourself. When the competition only offered 250cc two-stroke enduros, KTM offered a 300. When the general consensus said 450cc motocross bikes were too much to handle unless your name was Ricky Carmichael, nobody did anything about it . . . until KTM built a 350.

Now we have a 375cc naked bike called the KTM 390 Duke. Is it “just right”? Consider this. The 390 Duke makes a claimed 43 hp, yet in fully street-legal trim, it weighs just a hair over 300 pounds (a claimed 306 pounds) without fuel.

In the tradition of the Duke line, the 390 is all business with no frills. A single, 300 mm front disc couples with a powerful four-piston brake caliper, but saves substantial weight over a twin disc system. Lightweight wheels are graced with tires no bigger than necessary (a 150 section is found on the rear).

When KTM announced the 390 Duke, we provided you with the full press release and studio photography here.

Scheduled to arrive in the U.S. next model year, the 390 Duke was introduced to the press in Austria a couple of weeks ago and we were invited to participate. The Austrian Alps offer some beautiful roads, but we were confronted with foul weather, including both rain and snow. Nevertheless, we got a good sense of the character of this new machine.

As a motorcycle journalist, you think you have experienced every type of thrill when you have ridden the latest high-performance machinery, particularly from the super sport category where the horsepower can overwhelm your adrenal glands. The 390 Duke immediately reminds you that there is another way to get a big thrill on two wheels by combining good engine performance with extremely low weight.

The new 390 Duke is manufactured in India in a joint venture with Bajaj, where smaller displacement Dukes are also built (including a 125 and a 200). Nevertheless, the assembled bikes receive extensive, careful quality control review at the Mattighofen KTM plant in Austria before they are released to dealers.

Why is it that it always rains when I go to a press introduction? My colleagues think I am jinxed. In any event, the roads in the Austrian Alps ranged from wet to nearly flooded during the test, and we even passed through points where snow was piled high at the side of the road. In one sense, these were not the best circumstances to test the new 390 Duke, but they did highlight the nimble, easy nature of such a light bike. Despite the conditions, we gained some confidence and picked up the pace a bit.

It is here that the little Duke proves to be a great ally. It has enough low-end power to come out of corners in a taller gear, and the brakes have good feel in the slippery conditions. Shifting up without the clutch is easy, and we can keep the engine in the lower half of the tach for smooth going.

Engine response is excellent, despite massive changes in altitude during our testing. It must be the light weight of the 390 Duke, but the 43 hp engine seems to out-perform its specification.

Back in the city, the 390 Duke is a great companion with its upright riding position, responsive motor and quick handling. Clutch pull is easy and engagement of the transmission is sure. In short, you might find yourself laughing in your helmet as you play with dense traffic.

We were comforted in the adverse weather by the ABS brakes, which not only offered good feel, but plenty of power at low and medium speeds. Of course, the faster you go (we saw 110 mph at one point), the more you might miss a twin disc set-up. It helps that the 390 Duke features excellent Metzeler Sportec M5 tires that offer surprising confidence in the wet conditions. Despite chasing a crazy Austrian through the Alps on wet roads for nearly 100 miles, the tires never scared me.

The WP fork and shock, despite lacking adjustment, did their job well during our ride. They are firm, but that is exactly what you need when you ride this bike aggressively. On a bike this light, it was comforting that the suspension worked well with the chassis geometry to provide a stable ride that was never twitchy.

The riding position is extremely comfortable in terms of the seat/handlebar/footpeg relationship, although the seat itself is rather hard. Despite being a single-cylinder, engine vibration is very well controlled, even when revving past 10,000 rpm. The exhaust note is not loud by any means, and the 390 Duke can be a very civilized companion when you want it to be. At the same time, if you choose to ride aggressively, the 390 Duke is more than willing to accommodate you.

Instrumentation is very thorough, offering information like gear position and fuel consumption on a simple bike that would normally omit it. The tachometer is difficult to read at a glance, however.

Priced reasonably in Europe, we think the 390 Duke will be a big hit when it arrives in the U.S. market next year. Take a look at KTM’s Great Britain site if you want more details.

77 Comments

  1. Est75 says:

    Ive gone all over my options here in Oz and for the price and added bits that dont cost extra Ive slapped my deposit down on one, AU $7700 ride away fully insured etc is a steal in my books. 3 to 4 weeks till it arrives and I cant wait, a simple slugger that I can just get on and ride whenever I want is a great deal!

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  2. TheBaron says:

    Would someone tell Jim Sadler about tubeless tyre repair kits? And someone else mentioned “the cost of doing business in the USA.” That is a serious cost. It’s called Locusts .. oh, I mean Lawyers, and US citizens’ appetite to try and squeeze a dollar out of any company when in most cases the problem was their own inability to ride/drive/fly/skateboard (take your pick). I am surprised to still see lace-up shoes for sale. Surely a locust somewhere has seen someone trip over their incorrectly tied shoe-laces and figured out another money squeezing scam.

    Now, back to the KTM 390. Yes, it is made in India. And Kawasaki’s 300 Ninjas and 650 twins are made in Thailand, some place where Honda makes the CB250R – and perhaps the new 500 twin. Triumph makes its Bonneville there too. Doesn’t seem to affect their sales, or their quality. Yamaha makes its YZF-R15 in India, and perhaps the forthcoming 250 single as well. Harley is looking at doing the same. Welcome to the Trilateral Commission’s Globalisation folks.

  3. GearDrivenCam says:

    I’ll go out on a limb here and say that this bike promises more fun than almost anything since…….the hallowed RZ350 two-stroke twin. There. I said it. Only the KTM will have modern components, ergonomics, suspension, and better brakes. It will boast fuel-injection and offer way better fuel efficiency. Maintenance should be simple, easy, and affordable like most single-cylindered thumpers. Insurance will be cheap. And hopefully once it comes here – it’ll be similarly affordable. What’s not to like?!?

    Bike Power Weight

    RZ350 50hp 350lbs
    390Duke 43hp 330lbs

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  4. jim sadler says:

    I love this bike but I do wonder if servicing the bike will bankrupt riders. Everything looks like it is hard to reach and get a wrench on. These days a lot of products simply are nightmares to service and the motorcycle community needs to think about this sort of issue. Look at the larger bikes and what it takes to simply change a rear tire. On some bikes you simply reach for your self phone and call a tow truck just over a tire. The tow truck can run $400, The tire can run $200 and the shop will probably want $100 to change the tire. To me i call such designs junk. I used to buy new bikes for $300.

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    • Mars Sentinel says:

      Yesterday I spent $100.0 to have two tires mounted on rims I brought to the shop. I spent $350.00 on the two tires, and that’s not extreme. I also spent about $100.00 on a full set of brake pads (had the wheels off, so…….).

      THe point – DAMN.

      Oh, and this about maintenance – Euro bikes: you can change brake pads with the wheels installed. Japanese bikes: not so much. DAMN.

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  5. halfbaked says:

    So Katoom saves enough money with India production that they ship every bike back to Austria to have the quality inspected back into the POS before it comes to the US. Why not just build right the first time in Mattighofen.

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    • Steer says:

      Thats probably PR stuff put out to ‘assure’ people that quality is checked in Austria where they must be doing a good job, even if 47% of that Austrian company is owned by the Indian manufacturer in question.

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  6. jpj says:

    I hope that with the shared platform of the 125/200 , and assembly in India, this might get KTM street bikes in more garages here in the USA. KTM has a solid reputation for building some amazing machines, but $$ price, and competition with the Big 4 Japanese, keep this small company in check. Small bikes sometimes do not allow much profit margin for low sale volume.

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  7. kurt says:

    Transmission is six speed, right?

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  8. Trent says:

    I always loved the little Ninja 250 (the pre-2008 model). But I thought it could use a bit more power for freeway riding. Then they came out with the Ninja 300. Now they will make the KTM 390 available. I am really looking forward to a comparison of these two models.

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  9. mk says:

    WTH!!! the 690 hasn’t even come out yet and you tease us with this?? ARRRGHHHHHHH!!!!!

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  10. Joe Bogusheimer says:

    Looks really cool, and like a helluva lot of fun. If I had a place for more than one bike, I think I would love to have one of these as a short-haul bike.

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  11. Jeremy in TX says:

    Nothing, and I mean nothing, makes you feel like a hero in the corners like a 300 lb bike with sticky tires and a quality chassis. This thing should be an absolute blast to ride. Whether a newb or an experienced rider, if you want to learn how to properly ride a bike fast, this is probably the best and cheapest tool you will be able to buy. I will have a hard time resisting the urge to run out and buy one.

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  12. Vrooom says:

    This looks fantastic. Probably not a single motorcycle bike, but for those of us mbs guys (and gals) this would make a perfect second or fifth.

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  13. drbyers says:

    Want. Wish I had the money :(

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  14. al banta says:

    “Roarin” is right on, everyone else get over it..

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  15. HotDog says:

    Way cool swingarm!

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  16. Kagato says:

    I for one, am pleased to see some smaller displacement bikes available—remember, at one time, the 500CC Kawasaki Triple was the SUPERBIKE of the day.

    • MGNorge says:

      Prior to the Superbikes of the late 60′s and early 70′s it was 650cc Triumphs, BSA’s, Nortons, the Italians, Sportsters and a few odd numbers. Those were all the BIG bikes of that time. Today, save for the Harleys, they’d be regarded as mid-size and even starter size. Amazing!

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  17. casatomasa says:

    I love this company and bike! These guys are all about the spirit of motorcycling, single minded in performance, dancing to their own rhythm. Yeah sure they build “like” machines to qualify for a racing class but they are in a class of their own. Like Harley they get a lot of criticism for being “niche” building single focus type bikes. This little machine looks like a blast to ride a lot of criticism comes comes from being too narrow in its focus. Hopefully it will a good overall ride, but for what it is it will smoke all comers.

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  18. Roarin says:

    What is wrong with you people? It seems to me that 99% of the comments here are a competition to see who can have the biggest sook, or slag off a bike the most. Of course the bike is going to be more expensive in countries other than India. There are shipping costs, compliance to be taken care of, and I’m guessing some sort of import duties/Taxes.
    I for one, am happy that a manufacturer is actually going to produce a high quality, very good performing, fantastic handling, light weight back to basics bike, for a very reasonable price, that pretty much anyone with a job can afford. I will be buying one, and be riding it anywhere and everywhere, with a huge grin on my face, while you lot continue to p!ss and moan on the internet about how you don’t like the colour, how small it is, how little power it makes, and how dare they charge a little more for it than in a third world country.

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  19. motonut_1 says:

    I’m going to be in the market for a 2nd bike next year. First time in many years that I haven’t had at least 2 street bikes. I currently have a KTM 990 SMT (very underated bike IMHO) and have been looking seriously at the new 690 Duke. However, before I buy, I will be looking seriously at this new 390. 43 hp and 306 lbs is a really nice combination of weight and power. This should make agreat around town/backroad scratcher (the only roads I ride 99% of the time), unless I’m on a trip)and I have the SMT for trips. My other choice would be a Ninja 300. Another light fun bike!

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  20. jake says:

    Guess it’s a good time to invest in 99 cent stores. Judging from their offerings lately, the big bike manufacturers seem to think there will be a lot more people who work but are still poor and who will be in need of a low cost way to get to their low paying jobs in America in the near future, like as in next year or so.

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    • MGNorge says:

      All one needs to do is look at what happened to bike sales since the 2008 downturn. That should tell you quite a bit about what drives things.

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    • Dave says:

      Have you looked at the rest of KTM’s road going line? BMW, Ducati, Aprilia? They’re not exactly bargain bikes. This thing isn’t exactly going to be cheap either.

      The small displacement market is finally getting the attention it deserves in the US after decades of neglect. Bikes like this make sense, which is why this category eclipses the US motorcycle market in Asia and India (where most of the world’s population lives), not to mention Europe.

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  21. thoppa says:

    This site is turning into a not-so-subtle advertising portal. This bike will be very cheap in India, and if this is like the 200, it will get nothing more than a once over to justify the higher price outside India. KTM rip off ? And besides this, it is not seemingly any better than the DRZ400SM, yet not one word of the obvious alternative to this is mentioned. You guys sold out ? It seems so.

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    • jake says:

      Ehh, give the guys a break. Everybody in this world has to find some way to make a living, esp. in the non-stable occupations like Journalism. If you haven’t noticed the whole world, just about everything in it, has become a not-so-subtle advertising portal. Given the limitations of our politically correct world, these guys do a good job of saying what they can say.

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    • Gabe says:

      Sold out to a company that doesn’t advertise on MD? Please explain how that works.And how do you know the price will be much different in the US market from India? And if it is higher, has it occurred to you that it’s maybe a little more expensive to do business in the United States than India?

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    • Bud says:

      So MD gets an invitation to participate in a US press intro to from KTM. You would suggest that either a) they decline or b) they participate and don’t do a write up?

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    • Randy says:

      Well, can a DRZ400SM go 110? I owned a DRZ400S, which is the same engine as the SM, so I think your comparison isn’t based on real ownership experience. No matter the gearing with that close ratio 5 speed the DRZ engine is a buzzy mess at highway speed. It may have been suitable for the original DRZ400 playbike 15 years ago but Suzuki needs to shoot that lump and come out with something modern. The fact Suzuki had modest success with the SM is just a testament to the lack of competition.

      The 390 is about the same weight but with at least a few more ponies. The chassis appears to be far superior than the warmed over DRZ dirtbike basis of the SM. We don’t really know the US price yet but I’m betting it will be a cut above the Ninja 300 and CB500.

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  22. TheBaron says:

    What is this bike like to ride at steady speeds? I remember to original 600 Duke only too well – a snatchy, snarly uncivilised device the press raved over but KTM sold very few. It was much lighter than an F650 Funduro but in top-gear roll-ons side-by-side, the BMW would run with it. Several of us tried the two and no one wanted to ride the KTM any distance. Yes, it was fun on winding roads, but winding roads are generally connected by long straight bits and there the 600 Duke was bloody awful. However, KTM has come a very long way so if they have given this 375cc single a decent amount of flywheel, it could be a bike that is a lot of fun in the windies and nice on the straights. Pity that (to me) the KTM road bikes look as if they have been beaten with an ugly stick.

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    • MGNorge says:

      I’m kinda with you in regards to the looks, but as they say, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I think those that count themselves as KTM fans look at their style as not only different from and standing out from the rest of the pack but purposeful. If I was in the market for such a bike it would have to fit my needs and expectations and at a price I wanted to spend. As I always say, the proof is in the ride.

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  23. Norm G. says:

    re: “KTM has never cared about traditional engine displacement categories. I guess you could call it the Goldilocks theory. Sometimes “just right” isn’t on the menu, and you have to make it yourself. When the competition only offered 250cc two-stroke enduros, KTM offered a 300. When the general consensus said 450cc motocross bikes were too much to handle unless your name was Ricky Carmichael, nobody did anything about it . . . until KTM built a 350.”

    goldilocks, not so much. the phrase you’re looking for is known as USP… ie. Unique Selling Proposition. when you have a “double whammy” of niche business combining with devaluing consumer mentalities, nothing is more critical than having a USP.

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  24. Azi says:

    I think it’s exciting how high quality manufacturing is rising in China, South-East Asia and the subcontinent. I’ll dare to predict (without any expert knowledge or evidence) that standards of living and working conditions for these countries will improve and hopefully become more equitable as they build wealth over the next 1-2 generations, after which manufacturing will once again shift as the per capita manufacturing costs increase. Perhaps the African continent is the next industrial sleeping giant (hopefully once the political instability calms down).

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  25. Tom R says:

    Hard to tell the physical size of this bike with nothing of known dimensions next to it for scale. The rider pictured could be “Mini-me” for all we know.

    Any more images available that will help with this?

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    • Randy says:

      Specs at the British site – link up in the text. Wheelbase is 54″ and seat height is 31.5″. So, looking at the straight side shot up at the top of the article it appears to be pretty compact.

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  26. Bruce R says:

    Beautiful bike, such a shame about the horrific graphics. We now know where the paint and graffics people who worked on the ’92 GSX-Rs ended up! They need a subtle version for the non-visually impaired to really improve their chances in the market. Something resembling my all black ’07 Superduke.

    Other than that, great concept and great bike. Hope I get to ride one!

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  27. Randy says:

    I hope the world doesn’t come to an end before I buy one – I’m first in line!

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  28. Brad Jarvis says:

    Hard to decide between this and the 690 Duke. Both extremely cool.

  29. Bob says:

    Awesome bike, I love it. I’ve had several singles over the years including an SRX6 which was my favorite all time ride.

    By the way, the word is “colleagues”, not “colleges”. Just sayin’.

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    • Scotty says:

      You’re the other guy who bought an SRX600??? Greetings from a fellow SRX600 rider. I loved the bike and went all over the UK and South East Australia on it, it was my first bike after passing the test in 1996. Next I had an SZR660 so I was sticking to the theme..

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      • JSH says:

        The SRX600 is common compared to the SRX250. My wife has the 250 and I’ve only seen one other example in the 10 years we’ve had it. I had to get a gas tank from Australia when the moving company damaged it. The bike will be up for sale shortly, my wife doesn’t ride it anymore.

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        • Scotty says:

          The SRX250 was a dream bike when I was first on the road in 1985. I went to look at one, absolutely loved everything about it, considered the loan options and cost of it and bought an old GSX250 instead. That was a huge mistake, the GSX had a bent frame and it put me off road riding for 10 years. If only I had bought the SRX I am sure I would have been riding on the road 10 years earlier…

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        • todd says:

          Where are you at? I need an SRX250. It’s gotta be in better condition than the last one I looked at.

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  30. VLJ says:

    But why is it called the ’390′ when it only has 375cc’s? That’s such a random name to give a bike. If they’re not going to call it the ’375′ they may as well just call it the ’400.’

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  31. VLJ says:

    If this thing arrives here sporting a reasonable price point, it’s exactly the bike so many moto-mavens of these interwebs have been clamoring for: exceedingly light and manageable, thoroughly modern, highly stylish, reliable no-frills fun. Can’t imagine a better city or tight switchback canyons ride.

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    • Tom R says:

      And they will sell about twelve of them.

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      • Rocky says:

        Kawa and Honda have been selling their 250s (now 300s for Kawa) by the truckload here in Australia. given its competitive price:performance I would expect the KTM to sell well here too. I can’t really speak to the US market at all though. Perhaps if KTM released a hardtail bobber or completely chromed the Superduke and put a 4 foot swing arm on it, they would do better stateside :-)

      • goose says:

        I really, really hope you’re wrong but I fear you are right. Most Americans seem to need big displacement and/ or power to fork over any money. Too bad, this bike is probably more fun than is legal in several states.

        Goose

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        • Dave says:

          The Ninja 250 was Kawasaki’s best selling bike in the US for 15 years. KTM will sell plenty of these if it’s priced close enough to the Ninja 300 and CB500. Small bikes and scooters are coming back in a big way now that our gas is a little less cheap.

    • MGNorge says:

      From one source, “Still no word on a dollar price. 5,000 Euro appears to be the going rate across much of Europe, which translates $6,700, but pricing is affected by a multitude of factors beyond simple exchange rates.”

      Another, “No official price has been announced, though rumor has it that the new Duke could go for €5,000 ($6,725)”.

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  32. guuu says:

    “Lightweight wheels are graced with tires no bigger than necessary (a 150 section is found on the rear).” 15 years ago this was a superbike-size tire. And tires then were nothing compared to even todays budget tires. I guess “no bigger than necessary” refers to marketing demands, not performance ones?

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  33. Glenn says:

    This is intriguing. About a decade ago I imported an ’89 GSX-R400R, an NC30, and a Japan spec FZR400 SP. The GSXR was probably the most fun bike of a couple dozen I’ve owned. It delivered 45hp at the rear wheel, and weighed under 400lbs with fuel. I’m a bit surprised this 25 year newer bike doesn’t deliver any more power, but there is nothing like riding a bike that weighs so little. This will be like the weight of my old RG250 (under 300lbs) with the power of the GSXR, and modern suspension and tires. Not even sure the price matters.

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    • Glenn says:

      Just realized the comparison is single cylinder to four cylinder. There’s the power gap. Still a great package.

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      • Dave says:

        Likely that this bike’s 43hp gives a much broader spread of power than a 400cc/4cyl could produce as well. Even 600′s have very little low/mid power to reach their high rpm and peak hp figures.

        I still can’t tell how small this bike is. Would a 6+ footer be able to ride it?

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        • todd says:

          It stands to be seen. Engine torque is largely a function of capacity and combustion efficiency (BMEP). Tuning efforts to increase HP by extending RPM range would have the same effect on torque spread regardless the number of cylinders. Likely, if this engine is more “torquey” than late ’90s 4-cyl counterparts it will be due to progress in air/fuel management.

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          • Dave says:

            My theory assumes that this engine has a max rpm a few k’s lower than the 400cc/4cyl.

            Honda illustrated the difference well by producing twins and fours of the same displacement side by side. The 4cyl bikes were desirable for smoothness/sophistication but the twins were generally better for their broader power.

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        • Azi says:

          I find 4 cylinder bikes easier to ride in traffic than 1 or 2 cylinders. I suspect it’s because modern singles & twins have very little flywheel inertia. Most of them are buggers to ride below 3500rpm.

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