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2018 KTM 390 Duke: MD Ride Review


We previously tested the 2015 model KTM 390 Duke and came away very impressed with this light, nimble and relatively powerful motorcycle. That bike lacked any direct competition, offering more power and outright performance than other lightweights in the U.S. market at the time (before the introduction of the Kawasaki Ninja 400).

KTM didn’t rest on its laurels, however, and significantly revised the 390 Duke for the 2017 model year. We just got our hands on a 2018 model, essentially unchanged from last year, to evaluate the updates made to this machine. Here is a report.

This is not a mild refresh of the pre-2017 model. There are significant changes everywhere you look. Although the engine has no internal changes, a revised air box and exhaust system results in a roughly 6% increase in mid-range torque versus the prior model. From a rider’s perspective, coupling this with the new ride-by-wire, shorter-pull throttle, results in a much peppier feeling machine.

The steel trellis frame creates a more nimble platform this year with a reduced wheelbase and slightly more aggressive steering geometry. Seat height is roughly an inch higher this year, but the new seat is designed to greatly increase comfort. An extremely narrow frame and bodywork still allow shorter riders to touch down with ease.


This small, relatively inexpensive motorcycle gets the latest technology in the form of a TFT instrument panel. Like the other TFT displays we have seen on newer bikes, the brightness and contrast of it compared to the older display styles is dramatically improved. In addition to much better legibility in bright sunlight, for instance, the display will actually change color, providing a dark background when the ambient light level drops. KTM’s MY RIDE system allows the new display to integrate with your cell phone, allowing you to scroll through phone calls and music with a handlebar switch.

Suspension is also new. The KTM-owned suspension company WP offers a 43mm inverted fork that, although non-adjustable, separates compression and rebound damping between the two legs. The shock is also new, and offers stepped preload adjustability.

The new front brake disc is 20mm larger (a huge 320mm) with a radial mount, four piston caliper. ABS includes a “supermoto” mode, which allows you to lock the rear wheel while ABS continues to control the front wheel contact patch.

Claimed dry weight for the new model is 328 pounds. The new fuel tank has increased to 3.5 gallons in capacity. Styling is much sharper, particularly from the front end. The new headlight is an LED unit, as is the tail light.

Sitting on the new 390 Duke for the first time, you immediately notice the higher, more supportive seat. You feel like you are sitting above the bike, rather than in it, particularly if you are a taller rider. The reach to the bars is easy, just like a dirt bike, and leg room is relatively generous.

The slipper clutch provides an easy pull and positive engagement as you pull away from a stop. The new throttle is not only ride-by-wire, but has a shorter pull, combining to make the bike feel a bit more responsive than the prior model. That small bump in mid-range torque undoubtedly helps here.

If you haven’t ridden a bike this light, the initial sensation is actually somewhat surprising. Depending on what you are used to, the 390 Duke can feel almost like riding a bicycle, at first. You may expect it to feel flighty and nervous, but the handling is actually quite sure footed and stable, while simultaneously allowing the rider to quickly, and accurately change direction. You really can’t fault the handling of this machine.

Unlike the 250s and 300s it competes with (the Ninja 400 is a different story), this bike has no problem cruising at elevated speeds on the highway. 80 mph, or so, doesn’t make the bike break much of a sweat, and leaves a little bit of acceleration in reserve.

Engine vibration is very well controlled for a single cylinder machine displacing 373cc. Even cruising at higher speeds on the highway, vibration is not an issue for the rider.

Engine performance is excellent, overall, with good power right off of idle, coupled with a strong mid-range and good top end. KTM has done an excellent job with fuel injection mapping, as well, as the bike responds very precisely to throttle input, without feeling jumpy when opening a closed throttle. You can really feel the refinement in this second-generation model.

The new suspension deserves praise. KTM found a good compromise between supple, small bump absorption, and sufficient damping to make aggressive riding fun. The quality of the suspension is superior to most competitors in this price range.

The single disc brake seems like it offers a significant increase in power versus the prior model. Credit the extremely light weight of the bike and the much larger front disc this year. Brake power comes on progressively, offering no surprises to the rider, whether experienced or a beginner.

The new seat offers a dramatic improvement in rider comfort. KTM really did its homework here, and long stints in the saddle are not a problem — the rider can also move fore-and-aft.

In the end, this bike offers that somewhat mythical riding experience, i.e., the simplicity and light weight of your old dirt bike, with the engine and chassis performance, together with comfort, to make it a very capable street machine, both in the city and on the highway. The snappy power and light weight combined to keep a big grin on our test rider’s face.  All-in-all, a remarkable motorcycle at a very fair price.

The 2018 U.S. MSRP of the 390 Duke is $5,449.  Take a look at KTM’s website for additional details and specifications.


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37 Comments

  1. Aw, this was a really nice post. Finding the time and actual effort to make a
    good article… but what can I say… I put things off a lot and never seem to get anything done.

  2. Donpupuson says:

    It would be nice if they sell it with a round led headlight. Hopefully, an aftermarket company will sell the kit soon. I heard issues with electronics on the 2017 but all have been rectified with the software update on the 2018. Hopefully, maintenance of the valves is not as often required as older models since it is expensive.

  3. Swellrider says:

    All these comments, and only two writers have ridden one. Ride it you guys! It totally rocks.

    My wife, who’s 5’2″ (It has KTM’s lowering kit, and shaved seat, though not much there to shave!), loves her ’17. She describes it as a really solid handling motorcycle, “it’s like a good horse, you just point it at the corner, and it’ll go through with no drama”.

    Riding her 390, and comparing it to my 690 Duke is eye opening. Yes, I have more power, my suspension is better, and the fit and finish is way better all around, but you can really feel that the lower center of gravity of the 390 gives it even more of a solid feeling in corners, and the engine is way smoother with good pull everywhere. My 690’s motor, even with the extra balancer in the head, is after all, based on the old 640 paint shaker, it’s a blast, but feels a little crude in comparison..

  4. wjf says:

    I sat on this bike at the dealer as a potential purchase for the wife. It would be a little if not too tall for her 5’4″ height, however she would also club me to death once she sat on the seat. Good grief, mahogany is more plush.
    With no linkage lowering this bike becomes expensive. The dealer had the nerve to tell me they could “shave” the seat down to lower the height. There is only a paper thin amount of padding to begin with.
    Other than that, cool bike.

  5. PD says:

    Nice bike, I’m sure, despite the insectoid headlight. I had a 300 Ninja and recommend small sport bikes. I even toured on that Ninja. But now I have something else.

  6. Dino says:

    Styling isn’t my cup of tea, since I am almost an OOF (Official Old Fart)
    BUT the light weight, decent power, all adds up to good fun, good handling… What OOF wouldn’t like that?

  7. Roadrash1 says:

    I’ve been looking at a 2nd street bike too.
    My 2013 FZ8 has 30,000 miles on it now, and I love it, but sometimes wish I had something 100 pounds lighter for local backroads.
    I did get a chance to ride the 390, and feel like I might be happier with the power of the 690.
    Also unsure about the quality of the India build vs the Austrian build of the 690.
    No matter what, it’s a great time to be a biker!

    • Ryan H Craig says:

      Funny, I’ve got an FZ8(S – i.e. Fazer 8), too.

      My issues with it are comfort for long rides, and also heat. The amount of heat that comes off this thing is pretty bad. Not as bad as my old ZG1000 Concours, but way more than my ZRX1100 or DL1000 V-Strom. Makes it not fun for riding around town and such given typical summer heat around here.

  8. Roadrash1 says:

    I’ve been looking at a 2nd street bike too.
    My 2013 FZ8 has 30,000 miles on it now, and I love it, but sometimes wish I had something 100 pounds lighter for local backroads.
    I did get a chance to ride the 390, and feel like I might be happier with the power of the 690.
    Also unsure about the quality of the India build vs the Austrian build of the 690.
    No matter what, it’s a great time to be a biker!

  9. Ryan H Craig says:

    I’ve pretty much decided that I need to step up to owning two bikes to cover all the bases of what I want to do with a bike. It’s difficult to find one bike that is enjoyable for (sport) touring on, and still be enjoyable around town and tearing up the local twisties.

    I’m seriously considering one of these as my second bike, to be paired with, well I’m not sure yet – maybe an R1200RT (probably only if I win a lottery, or can find a used late model at a reasonable price), FJR1300, or maybe Tracer GT, or something like that.

    This one looks like it would be a hell of a lot of fun to take out for an hour or two on a nice afternoon.

  10. Grover says:

    Not much thought put into that speedometer shape. Probably a lot of fun to ride, but too weird for me.

  11. bmbktmracer says:

    Does this motorcycle make my ass look big?

  12. Michael says:

    I have this bike, a 17 model, I bought it last month new for $4599, I was actually looking to buy the new Ninja 400 but this little Duke was calling to me, I also have a 690 Enduro R. So far so good with the little Duke, it handles very well even with my 210 lbs aboard, braking is also very good. BUT, fueling on my example is not so good, it has a bad dead spot in the rev range from 6-7,500 rpm, it starts out with a good punch (for a 390) and finished well up top with a decent amount of pull but you’re waiting on it to pull itself out of that dead spot, I’m now looking into a Power Commander. Mine also suffers from the fogging display panel, it’s a common issue with this bike, lots are being replaced under warranty, mine fogged up once but cleared out but I expect it to be a common issue in the future. One last thing, when releasing the clutch after a downshift, I get a funny clicking feeling in the lever, my 690 Duke did the same thing, it was hydraulic vs this bike’s cable actuator, I reckon it has something to do with the slipper clutch but I find it annoying. I am still impressed with the little Duke, it can be a good bike with some tweaking, hate to say it but I really think I should’ve went with the Ninja…

    • Provologna says:

      Great review! Special props for smooth use of seldom seen “reckon.”

    • Anonymous says:

      Thanks for the very useful information Michael.

    • The Count says:

      Great concise review. Few words big info.

    • Mick says:

      I haven’t ridden a ton of newer bikes. But I have found a few of them that behave like two stroke motocross bikes in that they feel like the OEM supplied the wrong throttle slide. The current KTM two strokes come with a #4 slide that causes a thick spot, caused by the main fuel circuit coming on line before there is enough air flow to support it, that “warns” the rider that the engine is about display its racing heritage. The fueling clears up just about the same time that the power valve opens. The magazines all wanted this “hit” back in the day. The OEMs still supply it now even though the Magazines have started to say that the four strokes have smoother power.

      The #5.75 slide that is a stock 2003 Honda CR125 part is the cheapest and easiest fix. The #6 that is a 2003 Kawasaki 125 part works well also. But it costs about twice as much.

      The 390 is marketed to new riders. They probably put that sluggish area there so noobs won’t wheelie onto their backside without warning. With FI, the least they could do is to make a feature like that go away after a “break in” period. They could say that it is for the engine. But it would really be there for a new rider. I’m sure that the aftermarket is going to praise KTM every day for this issue.

      • Dave says:

        It is more likely that this dead spot in the powerband is an intentional lean condition for emissions testing. This is a common issue across many brands and types of bikes and a big reason for the aftermarket jet kits and Power Commander and other types of ECU manipulation in the aftermarket.

  13. Anonymous says:

    I’d be VERY interested in reading a long term test on this new generation 390. I’ve been on the fence about buying one since they were introduced, but it seems like the design has been plagued by quality control issues.

    If I don’t read about improved reliability with this bike, I’ll probably just get a Ninja 400.

    • highspeedhamish says:

      I would get the 400 Ninja for sure. Although the Ninja is made in Malaysia , Kawi has far superior quality control vs the India built KTM. I would interested to see how reliable the chinese built KTM 790 is going to be.

    • TimC says:

      I’ve heard nothing good and quite a bit bad about KTM and esp the low-end 390 ones. No-brainer despite how cool this bike is package-wise.

      • Stratkat says:

        do tell…
        ive owned 3 and put a 50,000 miles on them, a 640 supermoto, 525 supermoto, and a 990 Superduke. you do have to maintain them and there isnt a big dealer network, but they were hands down fantastic and reliable machines

        • TimC says:

          You are the lucky unicorn exception… I refer anyone curious to the forums….

          • Stratkat says:

            nah, they have no more problems than most brands. i was connected with one of the bigger KTM forums, Superduke.net, there were a few issues but we figured them out, shared info. the newer machines are even more reliable. i would recomend the brand to anyone. maybe you have some first hand experience youd like to share?

        • Random says:

          Oh but they’re all Austrian-made, right? People are worried about the 390 being Indian-made.

          • jonathan.c.berndt@gmail.com says:

            are you hearing problems with the Indian made machines? i havent owned one but try to keep up, havent heard any problems yet. the larger machines are still made in Austria.

        • highspeedhamish says:

          I believe you too! Except… you have Austrian made machines aka, the good stuff. The 390s are sadly not made there hence the wicked price. Mainly they overheat in traffic (Even Motorcyclist Online, Zack Courts admitted it in the MC Commute video) , the cams score easily and the overall build quality is not typical KTM.

      • TF says:

        I’ve owned seven of them (mostly off road models) since 1994. My most recent KTM is a 2017 1090R with just shy of 14K miles on it now. I just finished a 3900 mile road trip with it. It has been flawless. I have come to think just the opposite in that KTM quality and reliability appears to be above average.

  14. Bubba says:

    … how does it compare to the new Duke 790?? Hint, hint…

  15. randy dawes says:

    Better than my 2000 MZ 660 Tour? It has a 5 gal. tank. Handles great.

    • Wendy says:

      I will check out my local MZ dealer on your recommendation.

      • todd says:

        My local MZ dealer’s name is “Craigslist”. They have some pretty good deals some times. I’ve been hoping they’ll get another Skorpion Cup in soon though.

    • Nick Woods says:

      There was a time when I also thought my MZ 660 Skorpion Tour was the bee’s knees. Sadly, I grew tired of the ugly Yamaha engine which seemed to be more harsh than other singles such as Cagivas. Now I have a Gilera Nordwest 600, which is better than the MZ in every way: motor feel and power, roadholding and handling, not to mention the delicious original-motard style. If you see one, go for it! What’s not to like with that illustrious name on the tank? The fuel tank is rather small though…

    • matt says:

      yeah that’s hilarious. That 660 Yam motor is a legend and in a good way. I almost bought a gorgeous Tour back in ’98.
      I gotta wonder, if really the cost of manufacturing in 1st world countries is so out-of-whack that they have to play polution and wage arbitrage (ignoring for the moment the “we make it here” appeal to the local domestic market) or are they just maximizing profits by a couple percentage points?