KTM Duke 390 vs Bajaj Dominar 400 Comparison.

Design-wise, these two bikes are very different. Where the Dominar uses bulges and size to grab attention, the Duke 390 is chiselled and in your face. Even in terms of chassis, these two bikes are very different. The Dominar 400 uses a perimeter type frame, made from steel tubes which also forms the basis for most of Bajaj’s line-up of performance bikes. The Duke, on the other hand, uses the signature KTM steel trellis frame and now, they have added an additional subframe at the rear which is coloured in contrasting white. You also get modern upside-down front forks on the Duke as compared to the conventional ones on the Dominar. The Dominar not only looks beefy, but its girth also shows on the weighing scale too. The Bajaj is a massive 20 kg heavier than the KTM.

Both these bikes are well loaded with LED headlamps, ABS and slipper clutch on offer. But the Duke 390 takes it a notch further by including a TFT instrumentation display, sticky Metzeller rubber and ride-by-wire throttle body as well. The instrument display on the Dominar is nice, giving lots of data in a clean layout. The Duke’s colour display though is something you expect on a bike priced above Rs 10 lakhs. This is a high res colour display that offers an even longer 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 handlebar. Unlike in the Dominar, you can also choose between three ABS modes in the Duke - “Road” with ABS fully engaged, “SuperMoto” which disables ABS at the rear wheel and “Off” which completely disables ABS.

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 handlebar, foot pegs, the seat and the tank! The motor isn't revved happily either, as it feels laboured past 6000rpm.

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 footpegs 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 the 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 riding in a sedate manner you can really enjoy the Dominar but if you expect anything more, you will be disappointed. Even in the city of Nepal, the Duke feels more nimble and the turning circle is good too.

It is clear that the KTM Duke 390, as a product, is much better than the Bajaj Dominar 400. The thing is, in terms of kit, the KTM offers a lot more which positions it much higher than the Dominar. Besides, there are the drawbacks in the Bajaj, things that we don’t expect from a premium motorcycle like the Dominar. The engine refinement is mediocre, the ride is harsh and the fun factor is not really that high. When we thought of this comparison we were rooting for the underdog Dominar to give the Duke 390 a hard time. Unfortunately for us, it wasn’t the case and the Dominar is just not good enough to trouble the might of the Duke 390 despite being cheaper and sharing the same engine.


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