2017 KTM 390 Duke First Ride Review

24 January 2018, 08:57 PM Ameya Dandekar

What is it?

Why would I buy the 2017 Duke 390?

Because there is nothing as versatile and fun at this price. 

Why would I avoid the 2017 Duke 390?

Because fit and finish is still not the best and has become a lot more expensive

The KTM Duke 390 changed the sport biking scene in India when it was launched in 2013. Right from the way it looked to the way it rode, we had never got anything this potent at a reasonable price before. Of course, the fact that it was manufactured here made it more affordable. But even if it was priced a lakh higher, it still would have been a stellar machine. That's not to say it didn’t have flaws - there were actually quite a few of them. It was cramped for taller riders, the engine heat could fry the rider’s thighs, the seat was small and hard, the engine was unrefined with lots of vibe and the stiff ride didn’t make it particularly suitable for the everyday commuter. 

KTM though, was listening to all this feedback and in the next few paras you will understand just how much more of a complete motorcycle the 2017 Duke 390 is.

The first thing you notice on the new 390 is the striking resemblance to its much bigger sibling, the 1290 Super Duke R. The LED headlamp, the exposed trellis frame - painted in contrasting orange and the white, snazzy body panels and its stance are all borrowed from its older sibling. On the other hand, the changes made by KTM are not mere head turning cosmetic ones. The trellis frame is revised and they have also added an all-new bolt-on sub-frame too. This has resulted in revised geometry and the wheelbase and trail is 10mm and 5mm shorter than the old bike.

How does it ride?

The 2017 Duke 390 is powered by the same 373cc water cooled single cylinder engine. Although power figure of 43bhp is the same, torque has gone up by 2Nm and it comes about 250rpm sooner too. To meet the stringent Euro 4 norms, KTM has made changes for the new bike to breathe better. As a result you get a bigger air box, a bigger catalytic converter, revised exhaust, different fuel mapping and ride by wire throttle body. 

KTM 390 Duke

KTM 390 Duke

  • Displacement373.2 cc
  • Mileage - ARAI23 kmpl
  • Max Power(bhp)42.9 bhp
  • Kerb Weight163 kg
  • ;

Ex-showroom, Mumbai

 2,47,819

All this results in a bike that feels distinctly different right from the time you start it. Thumb the starter button and the new Duke 390 settles into a refined idle with very few vibrations creeping through. You also get a more linear response on throttle inputs at low speeds, which makes the new bike fare much better in stop go traffic. The engine also pulls better from lower engine speeds but still it doesn’t feel the happiest below 4000rpm in higher gears. Once past 5000rpm, the strong midrange and the enthusiastic upper reaches of the power band makes this bike as much fun as the old bike. Refinement has taken a huge leap forward, with vibrations well damped except for the foot pegs which transmit the most especially past 5000rpm. One of the biggest complaints, heating issues, has been addressed too. Sure it still gets relatively hot, but not as much as before and we rarely saw the temperature gauge pass the halfway mark. On the downside, the radiator fan is extremely noisy and cuts in much earlier than the old bike. 

Complementing the refined engine is the more pliant ride. Where the old bike use to feel harsh and hard edged all the time, KTM has struck a good balance and the new bike feels easily a couple of notches better damped. The new WP upside down front forks that use an open cartridge design instead of piston help here. The rear shock too is different, as internally the oil and gas now sit separately, which leads to less heat and more consistent performance. The 2017 Duke not only feels suppler, it also has a flatter ride especially at the rear, where over undulating surfaces the old bike use to bounce a lot more before settling back down. 

If you feel the Duke has gone soft and the higher kerb weight will make it less fun, you would be so wrong. The revised geometry and shorter wheelbase results in a bike that feels nimble and is more willing to drop into corners. What helps further, is the smoother on-off throttle transition, which gives you more confidence, while opening the throttle mid corner. Where the old bike has an edge though is in terms of mid corner stability, the new bike feels a bit twitchy in that respect. The tyres too are a harder compound as compared to the W rated Metzellers of old, and has much lesser grip, with more movement. But that is something you get used to and in the long run you will also appreciate the longevity of the H rated rubbers and its lower asking price as compared to the W rated ones.

Even braking is much improved. You now get a massive 320mm rotor and ByBre callipers that house sintered pads for better braking. KTM has also revised the master cylinder in pursuit of better feel and sharper bite. As a result the 2017 Duke 390 doesn’t suffer the same problems like the soggy feel and fade of the old bike which just adds to the rider’s confidence.

Anything else I should know?

This KTM offers equipment which can put bikes marked at twice its price to shame. The TFT dash has a high res colour display and it offers you a long list of information without looking cluttered. You can program the dash to bring the info you want to see upfront and hide the readouts you don’t wish to see. You also get Bluetooth connectivity, from which you can control phone calls and music through the control buttons on the left side of the handle bar. Unlike the older bike you also get three ABS modes to choose - “Road” with ABS fully engaged, “Super Moto” which disables ABS at the rear wheel and “Off” which completely disables ABS. 

You also get a LED headlamp which looks classy, but is not the best when the road is not lit or marked. There’s also adjustable brake and clutch levers from the RC 390 which just adds to the overall appeal. In terms of comfort, you get a much larger seat that is well padded and the longer tank knee recesses makes it ideal even for taller riders. You also get a much larger 13.5 litre fuel tank which holds 2.4 litres more petrol and gives you a more reasonable range. 

In terms of fit and finish, the new Duke is better than before, but still you will find hard edged plastics around the tank and the turn indicator lights and other bits are not the most premium.

Should I buy one?

All things considered, with the new Duke 390, KTM has really nailed it. They have addressed all of the rough edges found on the previous bike and have ended up with a product that is fast, fun, comfortable and affordable. Now that’s quite a mix. Sure, it has become more expensive and new rivals like the TVS Apache RR boast of better fit and finish. But when it comes to fun to price ratio, the new Duke 390 is just unbeatable.

Where does it fit in?

Unlike the old bike, which had no rivals to speak of, the 2017 Duke 390 has quite a few. The recently launched fully faired TVS RR310 poses the biggest threat, thanks to its BMW hardware and exquisite build quality. Then there is the Benelli TNT 300 which has a parallel twin engine but falls short when it comes to performance and equipment. It is more expensive too. You can also get a KTM RC390 at almost the same price which is even sportier, but also a lot less comfortable and track focussed.

Pictures by: Kapil Angane 

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