Motorcycling used to be fun. Growing up we had an abundance of rapid two strokes at our disposal, they were something you’d see (and hear) on the road and you’d want to own a bike, just because they looked so exciting and sounded sweet as a nut…and then they killed them and their explosive powerbands off.
Since those smoke filled days motorcycling has gone all grown up, sensible looking bikes with weedy sounding four stroke engines are all that youngsters could aspire to, unless of course they’re good with a spanner and want to buy a whole lot of maintenance with an older smoker. No wonder bike sales have plummeted. Luckily all is not lost and KTM have just put the fun back into motorcycling, with a capital F.
The KTM Duke is a bulging family, of course we’ve had the larger capacity Dukes for a while and a couple of years ago the sexy (and might I add very good) 125 Duke arrived, swiftly followed by the surprisingly quick 200, a great bike with a bit more oomph than the 125…now here comes the stunningly beautiful and very exciting Duke 390, a novice friendly A2 class (with minor free restriction) single cylinder tool, perfect for the budding hooligan. It fills the gap in the Duke line up very nicely indeed and costs less than £4500 big ones. An absolute steal.
Reduced to the max!
The 390 shares the same lightweight trellis frame and die cast alloy swinging arm as the smaller capacity Dukes and kicks out a very healthy 44bhp, whilst weighing in at a lithe 150kg’s fully fuelled. That gives the bike a great power to weight ratio but also means you can’t actually use it to take your A2 test, but the bike can still be ridden on an A2 licence after your local KTM dealer restricts it by 1.5bhp, a simple remapping exercise. That modification is free when you buy the new bike. You can spot a 390 because it has orange, as opposed to black wheels. It also has 390 in decals running up the tank…oh and you should spot its attitude a mile off.
The 375cc single cylinder engine produces 44bhp at 9500rpm and 35nm of torque. It’s a newly developed motor and the lump only weighs in at 36kg (all part of that weight saving exercise). The engine utilises a Nikasil lined cylinder to reduce friction, it’s got twin overhead cams, four valves, a forged piston and close ratio 6-speed gearbox. Service intervals are 4500 miles.
The Duke runs a Bosch 9mb two channel ABS system, there’s a 300mm four pot, radial Bybre (Brembo subsidiary) front disc and 230mm single pot rear calliper. Tyres are Metzeler Sportec M5’s. The 390 runs a 110/70-R17 front and a 150/60-R17 rear. Suspension is taken care of by 43mm USD front forks with 150mm of travel; rear is a 150mm WP monoshock.
The bike comes equipped with a stylish digital dash with rev counter, gear position, ABS indicator, fuel consumption, range, trip etc. The switches are backlit as well, which makes it much easier to find them at night. Seat height is 800mm and isn’t too much of a stretch for most riders.
The Duke is already a stunning looking bike but KTM have an abundance of goodies for riders to personalise their machines, there’s everything from plastics and colour coded crash bars, LED strips to highlight your tank, Akrapovic also do an exhaust for the 390 and there will be loads more goodies in the pipeline.
On the road
Turn the ignition and you’re greeted with the KTM motto ‘Ready to race’ on the dash as it does its checks. KTM’s don’t like any throttle on start up but it takes a couple of seconds to fire up. You’re rewarded with a decent sounding engine note and it sounds like the bike is ready to race! The seating position is natural and roomy, I’m 5’10” and it still felt like there’s loads of room for a taller rider, the seat height isn’t a problem for me either. Gears are nice and clunk free and everything feels just right. Having ridden the 125 and 200 Dukes it just seemed quite a natural progression to have a Duke with a bit more power. When I say a bit, the new engine is a peach, it’s got loads of useable power, certainly enough to excite the average rider. It’s got loads of grunt to pull out of corners, it’ll overtake very well (following a Duke 200 as he overtook a speeding coach showed just how much extra the 390 has to play with), it’ll wheelie if you want it to and it’ll keep you alert. Riding something with added fun built into the spec means you’ll ride more, and I found myself thinking that this could be the perfect bike for the average rider. It’s not too fast to be losing a licence every day, it handles very well, has fantastic tyres (Metzelers are a massive improvement over the 125/200’s MRF tyres), great brakes and a bit of added character.
One thing that struck me pretty early on into our test ride is that KTM really are the most exciting motorcycle brand on the planet, they aren’t trying to dull down the thrills we all love about riding, for instance a promo video for a forthcoming competition to win a KTM Duke 390 showed a rider pulling a wheelie through a tunnel, that’s what we’ve lost sight of in recent years. The excitement of enjoying yourself on a bike is what draws new riders in and KTM are still willing to push out the boundaries, they’ll develop new bikes specifically to appeal to the hooligan element lurking within people and during our damp afternoon test ride our group popped the odd wheelie, tried (unsuccessfully) to do a skid on the ABS equipped bikes and generally had a laugh. Nobody died, no old ladies were harmed and no damage was caused, we just enjoyed ourselves.
Austrian by birth
Although KTM is an Austrian company 48% of the company is owned by Indian scooter giant, Bajaj and that’s where the Duke 125,200 and 390’s are built. That helps to keep costs down, without sacrificing build quality or finish. Once bikes are manufactured they’re shipped back to HQ in Austria for final assembly and quality control.
KTM have a very aggressive marketing strategy and aim to become the Worlds largest street bike manufacturer by 2017. They’re already making a dent in the sales of the market leaders, they’re hot on the heels of BMW and with a few exciting and diverse new products in development their sales targets could easily be met. Already the Duke 125/200’s are selling very well, over 8000 Duke 200’s were sold last year. The 390 is the first KTM to be sold in every KTM export market, it’s priced to sell too and really does deserve to do very well.
Images: Paul Bryant