In Part 1 of this series, we reviewed the Husqvarna FE 501 S dual sport with parts added (notably, 17″ wheels and street rubber) converting it to an ultra-light street legal supermoto. Before comparing the two, this story will focus on the KTM 390 Duke ABS, the other machine in our lightweight street legal single comparison.
In the children’s story of Goldilocks and the 3 Bears, Goldilocks sampled three bowls of porridge before finding the one that was just right, which she quickly devoured. When we published our report from the European launch of the 390 Duke two years ago, we had hopes the little Duke might be that “third porridge”.
Are the 250 cc singles too slow? 300 cc twins too heavy and complicated? Maybe this little KTM is the perfect lightweight, all-around single for street riders. With an advanced 375 cc DOHC four-valve, fuel injected engine putting out a claimed 44 hp, and a class-leading dry weight of just 305 pounds, the 390 Duke promises to offer plenty of performance in a small and nimble package.
The seat height specification of 31.5″ together with a wheel base of just 53.8″ tells you something about how compact the bike is, but in person the little Duke looks even smaller than the spec sheet promises. The 390 Duke looked positively tiny parked next to our Versys 1000 LT test bike.
This is no cheaply built toy, however. Far from it. KTM’s heritage of building pure race bikes is on display in the design of the 390 Duke chassis. Starting with a chromoly tubular space frame similar in design to the frames in KTM’s larger displacement models, KTM adds a relatively huge 43 mm upside-down fork from WP (the same fork diameter found on the RC8 R superbike), a Bosch ABS brake system with a Brembo-designed (but manufactured in India) four-piston caliper gripping a 300 mm disc in front, and light cast aluminum 17″ wheels wrapped by Pirelli Diablo Rosso II tires (a wide 150 mm in the back, and 110 mm in front).
Our only complaint about the instrumentation, which is quite thorough, is a digital tachometer which is difficult to read. While looking at the instruments, you are aboard a machine with upright ergos that will seem a bit tight for those over 6′ tall. We had a 5’2″ rider sit on the bike, and she touched her feet down easily (although not quite flat footed). The seat is fine for shorter rides, but quite hard with a sharp edge that could prove uncomfortable, particularly for shorter riders.
The six-speed transmission offers a wide choice of ratios, with a top gear for highway riding at relaxed rpm levels. Holding nearly 3 gallons of gas (2.9 to be exact), the extremely efficient 390 Duke (we are averaging roughly 55 mpg) has a decent range.
Riding the Duke delivers even more than we expected. The standard suspension is taut and works well for aggressive riding without being too harsh. Compression damping is far stiffer than found on other small displacement street bikes we have tested.
The chassis is very stiff, and the 390 Duke is extraordinarily responsive to rider input without feeling twitchy. There is plenty of power for highway cruising at elevated speeds, as you might expect, but you pay for the complete lack of wind protection in that environment.
The 390 Duke thrives in a different environment … while attacking tight, twisty roads. Its responses are smooth and controlled, at the same time they are effortless. We can’t really fault the handling.
The engine complements the chassis with smooth power and good torque that allows you to cruise around anywhere above 4,000 rpm without complaint. When you really want to make progress, however, you want to keep the little duke spinning between 6,000 and 9,000 rpm. Vibration is well controlled, but you know you are riding a single.
This engine separates it from the 250s and 300s currently available with its flexibility and torque. By comparison, the smaller displacement singles just feel slow, and the twins feel high strung – requiring high rpms to make progress.
The stock Pirelli tires seem to stick like glue and complement the chassis well. While the 150 section rear tire almost seems too wide for such a small bike, its profile doesn’t hamper the ability of the 390 to turn quickly and predictably. It just adds more grip.
The brakes have plenty of power and good feel (I remember when much heavier bikes, such as a Honda Hawk 650, made due with a single front disc). The response from the lever indicates the front caliper has good stiffness, i.e., good initial bite is followed by progressively greater power without having to squeeze the lever too hard.
This is a simple, light, do-it-all motorcycle that has only one specialty. Fun. Riding the 390 Duke ABS can remind you of some of the smaller standards you rode in the past, at least insofar as ease of use is concerned. What is totally foreign is the performance level, particularly from the chassis. This is the perfect bike to take out for that Sunday morning ride through the local canyon where you can completely lose yourself in the experience. While nothing happens suddenly, the handling is so intuitive, and the little engine so willing, the 2015 KTM 390 Duke ABS seems to more frequently offer up that special motorcycle bliss most of us are looking for.
At a U.S. MSRP of $4,999, many riders should be tempted to add this little Duke to their stable, while less experienced riders could find it the perfect entry point to motorcycling. It is available in the color scheme shown, as well as an all-Black version you can see on KTM’s web site.