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2017 KTM Duke 390 review, test ride

10th Mar 2017 6:40 pm

The new 390 Duke looks meaner than before and is more manageable with major upgrades in features and equipment.

  • Make : KTM
  • Model : Duke

What is it?

The 390 Duke has always been a real-life example of the ‘David and Goliath’ story. That admittedly small-looking bike from KTM packs a far larger punch than its dimensions, or cubic capacity for that matter, suggest; on-road and on-track, it could put some bigger bikes to shame. In fact, it has even inspired fear in riders that were not primed for how manic it could get.

And now, as we are standing in front of its evolution, we can feel an inkling of that fear taking bloom inside of us. Because the 2017 390 Duke looks ready to bite your head off.

This bike is sharp, sharp as a chef’s knife. There are lots of lines, angles and pointy ends everywhere, so much so that this bike might as well have come from the sets of Terminator 3. The split headlight unit up front looks like an inverted pitchfork and houses all-LED headlamps and daytime running lamps. Crowning the headlamp unit is an all-new TFT colour instrument display that can connect to your smartphone and stream/control phone calls and audio.

The fuel tank is also all-new, it’s built out of steel and capable of holding up to 13.5 litres. As with the Duke 250, which we reviewed a week back, the fuel tank is more vertical and forward-inclined than before, empowering the 390 with a more purposeful, more aggressive and ready-for-action stance. Underneath the tank is the bright orange trellis frame that we have come to associate with the Dukes. It has been modified for the new 390 and now features an exposed bolt-on subframe. The subframe beautifully disappears under the pillion seat, portraying the 390 Duke as a wonderful sum of its parts.

Other cosmetic changes include a simpler underbelly pan, a side-slung exhaust (as opposed to the erstwhile underbelly unit) and newly designed seats.

The 390 Duke is quite the looker on the whole. It looks raw, ready, mean and even deadly; it looks built for purpose.

How does it ride?

The 2017 390 Duke is powered by the same 373cc, liquid-cooled, single-cylinder unit as its predecessor, with the power figure unchanged at 43.5hp at 9,000rpm and peak torque bumped up by 2Nm to 37Nm at 7,000rpm. The torque bump has been facilitated by the use of a larger airbox. Other powertrain changes include the addition of ride-by-wire throttle.

On track, you immediately notice the effect of the ride-by-wire throttle – the opening, closing and modulation of your throttle is wonderfully smoothened out, giving you much more control over the manner and quantum of power delivery. And speaking of power delivery, you have access to a whole lot of power at almost any point in the rev range, though it is most concentrated in the middle, between 4,500 and 8,500rpm. Stay in that powerband and you will either have a grin or the God-have-mercy look plastered on your face. Getting to the powerband is not much of a task either, the short gearing ensures that twisting the throttle sends the (digital) tacho needle spinning madly towards the red. The limiter will cut you off at 10,500rpm, but until then, there is no abating in power delivery or that loud, raucous exhaust note. The 390 does not feel very comfortable in lower revs, which might be an issue in traffic, but a final verdict on that will have to wait till we conduct our road test.

Another feature which really makes the riding experience brilliant is the slipper clutch. While not a new feature, it is still very welcome; hard downshifts are surprisingly smooth, with barely any rear wheel lock or squirm.

The 390 Duke’s claimed crowning glory, however, is not the explosive engine performance. The 2017 390 Duke had been nicknamed ‘The Corner Rocket’ by KTM, indicating, in a most unsubtle manner, that this one is for the bends. Lucky for us, the Bajaj test track has a choice selection of corners – sweeping, tight, hairpin and bowl – that allowed us to put this nickname to the test.

It comes as no surprise that this bike is absolute dynamite around corners. Attacking a corner feels almost intuitive – the chassis, suspension and tyres all work together in wonderful sync to take you round gracefully, safely and most importantly, quickly. The wheelbase has been shortened by 10mm, which makes the bike that much easier to flick in and out of a bend, and once again, the ride-by-wire throttle comes in handy, allowing you to throttle more progressively than before as you make your way around the turn.

Brilliant cornering ability does not imply lacklustre stability on straights. We torpedoed down the back straight of the Chakan track, beyond a speedo-indicated 150kph mark, and the 390 stayed impressively stable.

The suspension setup has been upgraded too – while the front suspension still consists of WP-manufactured 43mm upside-down forks, they now come with open-cartridge technology; the rear suspension, meanwhile, continues to consist of a WP-manufactured monoshock that is pre-load adjustable. At low speeds, the ride, as tested on a patch of rumblers and paver blocks, is a bit jarring, though things smoothen out considerably as you pick up pace. Bigger ditches are best handled at a crawling pace.

Also improved is the stopping power. The 390 Duke now comes with a Bybre 320mm front disc (as compared to its predecessor’s 300mm disc) chomped on by radially-bolted four-piston calliper and a 230mm rear disc bitten by a single-piston floating calliper, armed with switchable two-channel Bosch-developed ABS. The braking is forward-biased and is mighty effective, as necessitated by the engine’s massive firepower. The ABS too has received an upgrade, it gets three modes now – Off, Road and Supermoto. The Off mode, obviously, implies that the ABS is turned off, while Road implies that ABS is functional in the front and back. The Supermoto mode keeps only the front ABS on while switching the rear off, for those who want to have some fun.

The 390 Duke rides on Metzeler M5i’s as before. However, the speed rating on these tyres has gone down from ‘W’ to ‘H’, which means they are good for speeds up to 210kph. Nevertheless, the tyres provide good levels of grip.

And finally, we come to the seating position. The seat is slightly higher than before and the foot pegs are pushed back a bit, making for a more comfortable seating position. It is still very upright, perfect for urban riding and lesser cramped than before.

Features and equipment

The 390 Duke receives a major upgrade in equipment and features. First up is that large colour TFT screen up front that displays a wealth of information and allows riders to change a variety of settings and sync their smartphones for phone call and audio controls. The menus can be toggled using buttons on the left switchgear. The screen is also light-adaptive, in the sense that it will adjust the brightness and colours of the screen to match the ambient light conditions. Even more uniquely, when in daylight running lamps (DRL) mode, it will switch the headlamp on if it senses poor ambient light conditions. The lights are bright, visible from a distance, whereas the DRLs are attractive and distinctive.

Additionally, the 390 Duke now gets adjustable brake and clutch levers to adapt to various gloves and rider hand sizes. The knuckle guards have been carried over from the previous 390 Duke. There is also a new suspension guard for the rear monoshock, a small piece of protective plastic to shield the suspension from mud, gravel and other foreign materials.

Should I buy one?

The 2017 390 Duke is yet another phenomenal bike from KTM. It really resets the rules for what can be achieved from a single-cylinder engine. It is explosive to ride, razor sharp in terms of handling, comfortable for longer stints in the saddle, decked to the brim with equipment and features and striking to look at. And with the inclusion of ride-by-wire and stronger brakes, it is more manageable than ever. And while, at Rs 2,25,730 (ex-showroom, Delhi), it does cost a bit more than its predecessor, few, if any, will disagree that you get so much more for that extra buck.

However, there is one important caveat – the 2017 390 Duke is just not as raw and manic as its predecessor. While the fact that it is more manageable will considerably widen its appeal and make it generally more usable, those who enjoyed the I-will-bite-your-head-off attitude of the older 390 will certainly find it in short supply.

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