Not all bikes are created equal, and rightly so. In the world of motorcycles, there are many different bikes to choose from, such as a high-performance Yamaha YZF-R1 or a mile-slaying Honda Gold Wing. However, as skill level and intended use vary, so does the design of the bike. As for the KTM 390 Duke, it finds itself in a happy place between new-bike affordability and new-rider friendliness. All in a fairly lightweight package that still offers solid performance.
The KTM 390 Duke, for the class that it’s in—a lightweight, price-friendly bike—seems to exceed expectations and certainly sets the bar with an exciting little engine, progressive suspension, and a solid electronics package. This 373cc single is connected to a white and orange steel-trellis frame with a WP 43mm upside-down fork, WP monoshock, and a single-sided 320mm front disc linked to a Bosch 9MP two-channel ABS system. For the new model, it is natural that KTM took a page out of the Super Duke playbook and granted the toddler Duke an LED headlight like the one found on the Super Duke as well as similar bodywork, adjustable levers, and a TFT dash.
The 373cc single offers a linear, manageable powerband that pulls nicely through the midrange, however, like your prom date in high school, it always leaves you wanting a little more. Offering just 44 hp and 27 pound-feet of torque, the 390 Duke likes to be strung out and ridden hard. In certain sections of twisties, this characteristic can add to the fun factor for it allows the rider to use and abuse everything this little monster has to offer. Although the 390 Duke weighs a whopping 49 pounds more than its fellow competitor, the Honda CB300R, it seems to make up for it with an 87cc-larger engine. With an adjustable shift indicator light that turns red when creeping up into the high rpm, you’ll certainly feel ready to line up on the starting grid with Jorge Martin and the rest of the Moto3 class, but you’re not.
This lightweight, agile machine transcends from friendly commuter into canyon slayer that truly seems more fitting on a racetrack than in a cityscape. Like a star running back headed for the end zone, the 390 Duke simply allows the rider to flick the bike back and forth to avoid any soccer mom in a minivan who might very well be changing a diaper and doing her hair at the same time. No matter what chaos that might bring, the Duke is agile enough to keep you from being a part of the mess. KTM’s throttle by wire offers a smooth, deliberate, consistent feel that allows for direct power to be delivered to the rear wheel.
Unlike other throttle-by-wire units I have experienced, the 390 Duke seems to replicate a throttle cable for its ability to account for a slight roll off without smashing your visor into that nifty TFT display. Complemented with stiff, progressive suspension and a lightweight, agile chassis, the Duke 390 inspires the rider to lean the bike over on the edge of the tire with a consistent, stable feel. Flipping from one lean angle to the other, the WP suspension seems to stay right in the middle part of the stroke creating an extremely stable feel without upsetting the rest of the chassis. KTM took note of the 390 Duke’s predecessor being knocked for inadequate brakes. One thing every rider knows—well, at least the smart ones—in order to go fast you must be able to stop fast. This led KTM to bump up the rotor size by 20mm; the new Duke 390 enables the rider to brake later and harder while trusting the Bosch ABS system to prevent the front wheel from locking up.
The 390 Duke truly encapsulates the “do all” spirit by effortlessly blazing down a freeway, navigating a city around Nepal, or ripping up a canyon road; this Duke will take you anywhere you can go in a day and back while never breaking a sweat. Being a lightweight, entry-level bike, the KTM 390 Duke truly accommodates both the beginner rider as well as the experienced rider. A bike that will not be easily outgrown, the 390 Duke allows the buyer to make a lasting purchase they can be confident in.