Both these bikes are powered by the same 373cc single cylinder motor, but that’s where the similarities end. Where the Duke 390 makes 43bhp, the Dominar makes 35bhp, while the difference between torque figures is a lesser 2Nm. The reason for this difference is not only the internals but also the fact that Bajaj positions the Dominar as a cruiser that is tuned for more bottom and mid than outright power. As a result the Dominar’s motor makes its power and torque at lower engine speeds. To keep costs down, Bajaj’s 373cc motor also uses just a single camshaft but it does have the patented three spark plug tech.
The Dominar 400 feels sprightly from the word go and the motor has enough torque from as low as 2500rpm. This makes it a great city commuter and the slick 6-speed gearbox just adds to the convenience. Past 4000rpm, the strong midrange is this motor’s real highlight, where it has the flexibility and the grunt to justify it being a power cruiser. Overtaking is just a twist of the right wrist away and it can cruise at around 120kph with more grunt to spare. But where this motor lacks is primarily refinement. There are considerable vibrations past 4000rpm and what makes it worse is the fact that you can feel them through the handle bar, foot pegs, the seat and the tank! The motor isn’t rev happy either, as it feels laboured past 6000rpm.
If we had the 2013 Duke 390 on test, it would have suffered with similar issues. But with the 2017 version, KTM has transformed the way this fun machine performs. Thumb the contact-less starter motor and the Duke settles into a surprisingly refined idle. Even on the move, there are precious few vibes except through the foot pegs past 6000rpm. Then there is the performance which is on another level. The KTM’s 373cc motor is like an energetic pup, which just wants to play and have fun. Past 4000rpm this engine just pulls relentlessly and you don’t even realize when you hit the 10,500rpm limiter. Sure it doesn’t feel as happy at low revs as the motor judders and struggles below 4000rpm. But it is much better than before and even the throttle response is crisp yet smooth, thanks to the ride by wire throttle body. The clutch action is lighter as compared to the Bajaj too and unlike in the Dominar, you can actually feel the slipper clutch working during aggressive downshifts.
Then there is the handling, where the Duke just runs rings around the Dominar. Shod with more sophisticated suspension, a more communicative chassis and stickier rubber, the Duke 390 feels agile, willing and so much fun. Mid-corner bumps too are dealt with ease and even an amateur rider can have fun on this fast yet accessible bike. The Dominar, on the other hand, feels safe and predictable too but it doesn’t feel as agile and sometimes you have to wrestle the bike. Even the higher kerb weight is felt while going through tight bends and the lower grip on the MRF tyres doesn’t help matters either. If ridden in a sedate manner you can really enjoy the Dominar but if you expect anything more, you will be disappointed. Even in the city, the Duke feels more nimble and the turning circle is good too.
Being positioned as a cruiser, we expected the Dominar to have a more pliant ride than the Duke. But to our surprise, it turned out to be the other way around. The Bajaj is stiffly sprung and at low speeds, the ride is quite jarring, especially while dealing with sharp bumps. The Duke, on the other hand, is stiff too but it feels suppler and well damped. Even the high speed ride is flatter and better on the 390 which makes it a more comfortable highway bike than the Dominar.
Both these bikes offer good stopping power with a massive 320mm single disc setup upfront. Although both these bikes have ABS, the KTM’s unit is better calibrated and isn’t as intrusive as the Bajaj’s.