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.