Recently I got to spend a day tooling around the local mountains on the new 390 Duke. While a small displacement street bike is certainly a departure from our normal testing, the Duke is significant and worth paying some attention. Most significant is the fact that this is the first Indian production KTM to make it to America.
Why The Duke?
The Duke comes to us from Bajaj, the Indian partner to KTM. While we as dirt loving enthusiasts love to talk about the latest and greatest, what is really on the mind of the industry as a whole are sales numbers. It is hard for us to fathom just how big Asian and third world markets are.
Why are there no new enduro products from giants like Honda? It is because they are so busy selling entry level products that feature archaic technology, but make loads of money. Bajaj alone sold 3.42 million motorcycles in fiscal year 2014. Of those, over 35,000 bore the KTM name. The Bajaj plant that produces their sport range motorcycles, which includes KTM, has the capacity to produce 1.2 million units annually.*
My point is that our collective motorcycle futures are inexorably tied to these market forces. For KTM, the alliance with Bajaj is what gives Stefan Pierer the financial and production muscle to back up the claim that he intends to take on the Japanese giants. For us riders, it is probable that future KTM’s will bear more and more Indian sourced components. This is why the 390 Duke should be of some interest to us all.
Just as KTM ventures into India, so do other prominent industry manufacturers. On the Duke, components such as brakes, wheels, ABS and engine management systems come from the Indian branches of Brembo and Bosch.
A Vision Of The Future
Two big points hit me when I think about current and future KTM’s. First, it is a good thing I am not in charge because clearly I can’t make the future come into focus. I seem to be stuck in the past. I constantly question KTM’s street bike direction, but it seems to be working never the less, so bully for them.
Second, just how crazy is the speed at which KTM is evolving? Just a couple of years ago we were laboring along with two generations of 450cc dirt motors that were just barely making the grade, the twin cam and 2008-11 single cam. Now KTM technology seems to be moving so fast that we can barely keep up. The amount of “all new” in the 2016 sx-f and xc-f models is staggering.
When I typicaly spend most of my time thinking about tiny details like “would the rear end be better with one more click of rebound”. It can be hard to step back far enough to get a worldwide perspective of things. So for today, I am thinking about what the Duke shows as a vision of what is ahead. The fun ride time on the little sportster is almost secondary.
We are not going to answer any of the big questions today, like how well will the Indian products hold up over time. But KTM is quick to point out that the 390 was entirely designed in Austria, along with all of the production specifications. Then those were taken to India for implementation and production practices are monitored to ensure quality standards.
The 390 Look
Probably the first and most lasting impression of the 390 is that it makes you forget everything it is supposed to be, like small displacement and made in India. Mostly it feels like a 690 Duke that got caught in a shrink ray. It feels very KTM.
It is small and certainly not quite ideal for a plus six footer like me. My knees end up tucked back a bit too much. The pegs are high and rearward enough that I was glad I was wearing boots with a heel to hang on the peg. My knees exceeded the cut out area of the fuel tank, popping out awkwardly. The bar position was just about right. All the controls and instruments seem just about right too.
As for cosmetics, there is a lot to take in. The black on orange scheme is a hit. Aesthetically it is the epitome of a naked bike; a beauty of mechanical simplicity with just enough body work to give it some flash. Like some of our photo models, it is great looking at ten feet. Up closer there are a few rough spots, but not enough to really detract. There are just a few too many unsightly wires and cables that are simply zip-tied to the frame. In general it lacks a few of the touches that we typically expect in a European bike. Some of the fasteners don’t have the form and finish of traditional KTM parts.
Overall the look is muscular, particularly the unique die-cast swingarm and the svelte wheels. The exhaust canister sits entirely under the shock and swingarm contributing to the clean lines.
If you can just remember that this is only a 373cc motor, then it always seems like an over achiever. The problem is that it is good enough to make you forget that part, then you also forget to downshift and next thing you know it feels flat.
My best point of reference would be the Beta 390rr or 350exc. Certainly not the same kind of bikes, but for power on the street, right in the same kind of range. The Duke has far more torque and consequently revs quite a bit slower. It is also much more civilized feeling on the street than the dual sport motors.
At a claimed 44 horsepower, it is a lot of motor for its size. It has a 4 valve dual cam head with ultra hard carbon coating on the cam levers. Tipping the scales at 80 pounds, it is light weight and the stacked 6 speed transmission makes for a short, compact engine package. The cylinder has a NaCaSil coating. Advanced oil pumping scavenges from the crank to reduce pressure resistance. In a departure from the other KTM street models, the EFI and engine management systems are from Bosch. The clutch is cable operated.
The Duke loves to cruise around in the mid and upper mid ranges. The best practice is to not let the revs drop too low, it will feel flat. Likewise it is not big on revs. Trying to over rev it doesn’t really make for more speed, an upshift is better.
The trellis frame uses the motor as a stressed member. One thing I would want to keep an eye on are the front motor mounts. The mounts themselves are quite substantial looking. But the frame tabs they bolt to seem rather thin.
The first couple of launches from the stoplight required a bit of clutch control to get the 15/45 geared motor rolling smooth. It is not really an issue, just a small motor/tall gearing thing. Overall the gearing worked well for the road. I would rather it be a tad tall on the bottom than run out too quick on top. Still, it might benefit from slightly lower overall gearing. Speaking of which, I made it to an indicated 88 mph. Up to 75 came pretty quick, the last 10 took a bit of time.
For riding the back roads of San Diego county, 5th gear was typically the top, 6th is more of a freeway kind of gear. The motor is smooth, no particularly obnoxious vibrations to worry about. The clutch pull is not a crisp as the hydraulic units we are used to. There is some friction in the cable and non-adjustable lever.
The throttle control is spot on. EFI systems have gotten so good it can be easy to forget that just a few years ago there were always little things to complain about in that area. About the only only obvious motor related issue is shifting. It can be clunky at times and more than once a throw of the shift lever just found dead space. There is some free play in the shift linkage, part of the problem.
The brakes are outstanding, typical Brembo feel and power. You might notice the Bybre name of the front caliper, which means “By Brembo”. The light weight 390 is easy to get slowed down. The position of the rear brake pedal was a bit too high for me, but it is not much of a surprise considering my tall size and the rearset pegs. The front brake has more than plenty of power for nearly everything.
The ABS system is not nearly as sophisticated as the current generation street bikes, it is much closer to that found on the 690 Enduro. But it is also a premium feature for an entry level bike. For example the Honda CBR300r only offers it as a $500 option.
On the chassis side, it will be the suspension that might hold the 390 back. On well maintained surfaces, the ride is surprisingly plush. But on the roughly patched surface of Palomar Mountain’s East Grade, the Duke was a rocking horse of bounces and jolts. The 43mm inverted fork and non-linkage shock are budget minded parts.
Otherwise the chassis has a lightweight “get out of my way I am coming through” feel. It is stable and easy to ride. On the ultra tight bends of Palomar there will be a lot of foolish looking big bike riders left behind. Not by me mind you, but someone who is still up for that sort of hooligan stuff.
The instrument system has a couple of different menus for settings. While there is plenty of information, I found most of the display too small to read well. The grey/grey contrast becomes grey on orange at night. On the bottom left face of the instrument panel there is a hidden button that you cannot see, but can feel with your finger. This is to turn off the ABS system, same as on the older KTM’s.
In The End
There is little to debate in regards to value, at $4,999 this is a lot of motorcycle! I have to wonder if this is indicative of what Indian made bikes can be sold at, or if as an entry level model, it is just a loss leader to get new riders in the door.
Obviously the 390 Duke is not aimed at me. I am too big, too old, too spoiled by big power. But it is still a lot of fun for me to ride, for anyone to ride. It is our vision of the future too. The vision of the next generation of KTM buyers who, as portrayed in the KTM literature, are urban tennis shoe wearing teens on their way to school and such. Hey, more power to them I say, because that was once me. Me and my RD350.
It is also our vision of the new Bajaj KTM’s that will presumably become far more commonplace in our showrooms of the future.
|Engine Type||Single cylinder, 4-stroke|
|Bore / Stroke||89 mm / 60 mm|
|Starter / Battery||Electric starter / 12V, 8 Ah|
|Carburetor/Fuel Management||Bosch EFI, throttle body|
|Control||4 V / DOHC|
|Lubrication||Pressure lubrication with 2 oil pumps|
|Gear Ratios||12:32 14:26 19:27 21:24 23:22 21:25|
|Clutch||Wet multi-disc clutch, mechanically operated|
|Frame||Steel trellis frame, powder coated|
|Front Suspension||WP-USD Ø 43 mm|
|Suspension Travel Front/Rear||150 mm / 5.91 in; 150 mm / 5.91 in|
|Front/Rear Brakes||Disc Brake Ø 300 mm / 11.81 in; 230 mm / 9.06 in|
|Front/Rear Rims||Cast aluminum wheels|
|Front/Rear Tires||110/70-17; 15/60-17 Metzeler Sportec|
|Chain||X-Ring 5/8 x 1/4 in|
|Silencer||Stainless steel, catalytic converter|
|Steering Head Angle||25°|
|Wheel Base||1,367 ± 15 mm / 53.82 ± 0.6 in|
|Ground Clearance||172 mm / 6.77 in|
|Seat Height||800 mm / 31.5 in|
|Tank Capacity, Approx.||10.5 L / 2.77 gal|
|Weight Without Fuel, Approx.||146 kg / 322 lb|