KTM Duke 390 first ride review

The Duke 200 already has proven itself to be capable and a value for money motorcycle. Now KTM dropped a bomb when they announced that the Duke 390 would be priced at 1.86 ex-showroom. Would it really be worth it? Are the cost cutting measures going to ruin this motorcycle? Today nearly 80% of the doubts regarding the D390 have been nuked to hell. The remaining 20% regarding running costs and reliability can only be answered once I get my own Duke 390 and start doing good distances on it ūüėČ

Duke 390 PROS

  • Value for money!

This is the sweetest part of the Duke 390 as of today is that no other bike even comes close to offering a package as good as this. I honestly put the pricing as the best part about the 390. There’s no point having a great bike if you can’t afford it which would mean you don’t have that bike actually.

  • Power & power to weight ratio

A 44 HP engine is very much welcome any day and on a bike that weighs only 150 kilos with fuel, even more so. You can check out the Duke 390 specifications for a more detailed look.

  • ¬†Top end or better the way it gets there

I managed a top end of 168 kmph speedo indicated with a 95 kilo rider payload, and the Duke 390 takes very little distance to reach the top whack.¬†I managed to log one of the speed runs with a phone GPS, speedo indicated was 166 kmph and the GPS showed 161. Speedo error doesn’t seem to be too much.

ktm duke 390 top speed

  • Bosch ABS as standard with provision to switch it off

Offering ABS as standard is wise as it creates no differentiation, helps when you want to sell it off while keeping you safe all the while. Switch the ABS off if you feel that its being too much of a nanny.

Note: The ABS sensor ring is not a part of the brake disc but is bolted on top of the 300 mm disc. The Bybre calliper is the same as before but on a slightly extended support to accommodate the disc.

ktm duke 390 tyres - metzeler spotec tyres and ABS front ring

  • Metzeler sportec tyres as standard

No manufacturer in India has so far has offered tyres these good on a sub 600cc motorcycle. These tyres quell all the ‘unstable’ notions that people have associated with the Duke at higher speeds.

  • Very well designed gearbox, especially the 5th and 6th for highways

The biggest grouse with the D200 is cured in the D390, the 5th and 6th gears on this bike effectively make it a very relaxed tourer while doing speeds of 140 kmph.

  • Lot of parts sharing with the Duke 200

So therefore when you crash you don’t pay a bomb just because its a near 400cc bike! KTM’s engineering combined with BAL’s production ‘wisdom’ truly has given us Indians what we need; a powerful enough motorcycle that will not nuke your wallet during your bad days.

If you like naked’s, this is as good as it gets, unless they decide to make the Duke 690 here as well. (Please do)

Duke 390 CONS

  • Windblast post 140 kmph

Some people might find it difficult to live with. Crouching down is necessary in order not to tire yourself from the drag. This is the biggest drawback of the D390 as with all naked bikes.

  • Looks the same as Duke 200 / Naked styling

Most people won’t ever realise that this is not the Duke 200 or worse a modified FZ.¬†This however is good for trolls who like to surprise other vehicles on the road.¬†Most of the crowd in India prefer a ‘faired’ bike due to the notion that anything above a lakh rupees must come with acres of plastic hence becoming a Dhoom bike.

  • Exhaust note is not thrilling enough even at full throttle

Feels like someone attached an amplifier to the D200, that’s about it.

  • Pillion nightmare

Forget taking a pillion on this bike for more than 10 kms. You’ll probably find the pillion missing at some point of time. The Duke 200 was scary for pillions, this one is a nightmare.

  • Metzeler tyre costs

With all the confidence and grip that the Metezeler’s provide there is a not so pleasant flip side to it as well. The front costs INR 11,000 and the rear INR 12,500. That’s close to 24,000 for a tyre change and we yet do not know how long these tyres will last. Also you probably won’t enjoy the Duke 390 as much if you downgrade to the MRF’s after the Metezeler’s wear out. The MRF’s as a set costs anywhere between 5.5 to 6K. That’s a massive difference.

  • Some quality niggles – strictly aesthetic

Parts borrowed from the pulsar family such as the fuel tank cap, switchgear make the Duke 390 feel not premium enough. 

Duke 390 tank sticker quality issue

Tank decal is really thin and has no proper clear-coat. The white on the decal doesn’t even match with the colour of the plastic tank shroud its pasted on.¬†

ktm duke 390 hand guard quality issue

The hand-guards which come as standard with the bike are very cheap and have bad finish on the inside. The ones which are sold as power-parts are way better. 

KTM duke 390 frame paint quality

Quality of the paint on the frame and wheels on the test bike I rode was not up-to the mark, in bright sunlight it actually looks faded. Need one more coat of paint for sure. For a comparison just look at the paint on the frame and wheels of RC8 and then the Duke 390. 

ktm duke 390 ugly exhaust weld

Ugly weld at one point on the exhaust manifold. 

  • No projector lamp / dual headlights

The D200 headlight is simply insufficient for the Duke 390 at night, if you are going faster than 110 kmph. They could have tried putting something similar to the P220 headlamp assembly into the Duke 390. Time to do some DIY in the headlight department!

The Duke 390 first ride review

Today, a review chance for Sandesh news channel (Ahmedabad, Gujarat) finally came up; and the Duke 390 could be brought out on the highway where it would have a chance to truly show what it really is capable of. So I set out with Maitray Marfatia at 7 am, taking the Sardar Patel ring road for finding a safe ripping stretch.

The Duke 390 looks and feels exactly the same as the 200; when you get onto the saddle, nothing really stands out that this is not the 200 but the 390. Even after firing up the engine, despite the exhaust note being prominently louder, it feels as if there are two dukes running at once. The Duke 390 really doesn’t enchant a biker at first sight or sound any better especially to those who are already familiar with the Duke 200 that is until you open the throttle.

  • Throttle response; gearing; clutch

Fired up the Duke 390, waited for it to settle down and pick up the engine temperature; actuated the clutch several times to get a feel.¬†The Duke 390 as expected with that rather high power to weight ratio shot off from standstill past the 100 kmph mark in 3rd gear, without revving the shit out of the bike unnecessarily. We all already know the 0-100 in 5.5 sec figure. Even if you don’t rev the hell out of the engine it is still properly fast to outpace almost everything on Indian highways.

The gearing is absolutely different from the D200 and it does not feel as aggressive as the D200 is till you get to about 5-6K RPM. I honestly was not expecting the Duke 390 to be ‘tame’ at all, but it is quite tame till halfway of the RPM range. It is still very fast; but not at all wildly aggressive that it makes you wee in your riding trousers.

However post 6K RPM the surge is simply immense. Mind you, the Duke 390 is as rev happy as the D200; perhaps more. It takes no time to build up the RPM’s ¬†and you’re past the 100 kmph mark before you even realise it; trying to cope with the sheer acceleration in the meantime.

The gears 1 to 4 honestly take practice to get the perfect shifts even if you are familiar with the D200. Most of the time you’re hitting the rev limiter in every gear and thus missing a shifting chance. The 0-100 kmph claim in 5+ secs is believable but in order to do that first spend some quality time just trying to shift properly.

However the 5th and the 6th gears are the most wonderfully spread out gearing I’ve ridden till date. Neither too tall like on the R15; neither absurdly short ratios like on the D200. Shifting from 5th to 6th is not an instant affair; you’ll easily get time to think and slot into 6th whenever you want to.

The best part is the D390 doesn’t feel as if its running out of steam even when its surging past 155 kmph, only when you’ve hit the 160 kmph mark on the speedometer the acceleration starts to slowly bog down till you’ve hit an indicated speed of 168-170 kmph. The maximum I hit was 168 kmph and that is probably due to my own weight (which is just a few kilos shy of a quintal).

Essentially using these gears on the highway will help with better fuel economy. Cruising at 155-160 kmph on the D390 is not an impossible task. The bike is very happy to cruise at 160 kmph and doesn’t require much input on the throttle to keep it going. The only problem is you might have to crouch down quite a bit if you are anything above 5’7 in height otherwise the wind drag is going to be annoying and slow your acceleration post 140 kmph quite a bit.

The Duke 390 from standstill to a speedometer indicated 168 kmph took less than a kilometre to achieve. This is despite the fact that I am not able to shift properly in the first 3 gears as it will take time to get adjusted to the speeds and shift at the right time. This is not because of a bad clutch assembly or gearbox. This bike will make you bow down and compel you to improve your riding skills several notches up.

  • A little about the clutch on the 390

The clutch is much more springy and returns with a much better force than on the D200; shifting gears is a very easy affair. The loaded feel gives off an impression that it houses a heavier, beefier clutch assembly with stiff springs to handle all that power. No hint of similarity with the D200 here at all.

  • Braking; ABS; Metzeler tyres

So far so good. However now came the braking department that needed testing, especially since Duke 390 has ABS as standard. The effectiveness of the ABS is still too early to comment on since I did not get a chance to test it on different types of surfaces. I could only test on tarmac which was a bit damp from occasional drizzling.

The Duke 390 has the same callipers and brake pads as found on the D200. The only difference is the larger front disc which is 300mm diameter, ensuring better braking power than the 200. The rear disc remains the same. The bike is shod with Metzeler Sportec tyres bearing the same tyre size specifications as the MRF Revz’s found on the D200.

  • Now the ABS test

While doing 160 kmph on a relatively damp stretch of tarmac, I grabbed hold of the brake lever and pressed as hard as I could. The front end dips with a very nicely damped feel and doesn’t scare you much. The speeds were shaved off rapidly and the ABS did not interfere with the braking till I myself could feel that there might be possibility for the tyres to lock up. Thus came that pulsating feeling of the brake pressure being reduced. The bike came to a halt without a fuss or fishtails.

The ABS is much quicker to actuate on the rear brake under full force braking since there’s not much down-force at the rear, the tendency to lock up the wheel is much higher. The ABS effectively keeps that in check.

ktm duke 390 rear disc with abs ring

The front braking is much better than what it is on the D200, considering the speeds you are doing this is very much needed. It is quite surprising that the Bybre callipers found on D200 do not feel insufficient on the D390. But that is probably because one of the key differences in tyre set-ups.

  • Metzeler Sportec tyres

The Duke 390 when it was initially announced, I found it difficult to digest the fact that an Indian manufacturer had decided to put imported sport tyres on a relatively small and cheap bike. Even the Ninja 300 doesn’t get tyres as good as these! So all that hype about the Metzelers following the initial press release on wet road testing in Austria, I was very keen to see how much of a difference it made. These tyres are very very good. Both in dry and wet. The tyres do not wheel-spin at all on normal tarmac even when you gun the throttle from standstill (no revving and dumping clutch).

The tyres handle the acceleration and speeds very well till the top end. In fact you have to look at the speedo numbers in order to scare yourself that you are really past the 160 kph mark on a naked bike that weighs 150 kilos. Even while you brake really really hard, whether its a dry and pristine tarmac or a damp / wet highway stretch these do not give off any feel of uncertainty about their feedback. The tyres and ABS truly work really well together on wet roads to give you very strong braking minus the risk of locking up and skidding off.

Cornering on these tyres is good enough as well, I didn’t have much to test the cornering bit as there are no corners in the city of Ahmedabad, really, except large roundabout turns. So even when you’re exiting a roundabout in a lean, opening up the throttle does not cause a wheel-spin on a dry tarmac. Not sure what it would be like to corner on wet tarmac.

The biggest downside will be the costs though. A whopping INR 24,000 for a set of tyres which are basically pure imports. The tyre costs are something of the scale you’d expect for superbike users. Swallow the costs of the Metzelers or save them for track use. The MRF’s are a good alternative to those who won’t be touring in the rains and are primarily good in the dry. The Metzeler’s though are exceptionally good in the wet as well.

  • Handling; Refinement; Suspension

The Duke 390 feels much more planted post 120 kmph than the D200. The tyres are the key ingredient in the improvement, so even when you counter steer it into a corner the bike dips without the anxiety or uncertainty of the D200’s rear which tends to step out if you are not smooth with the throttle while exiting a corner. The front suspension remains unchanged although the front feels slightly better damped than it is on the D200, it is not as stiff as I thought it might have been. The rear is suspension exactly the same as D200 in feel; very stiff.

Vibrations on the Duke 390 are definitely lesser than on the D200, although I am not sure whether these will increase during the lifetime of the motorcycle. The bar end weights help a lot too, I’d probably put them on the D200 as well.¬†The Duke 390 is more comfortable on the highways than the D200 primarily because its a much more relaxed motorcycle at cruising speeds of 120 kmph due lower RPM’s and lesser vibrations.

  • City Riding

The Duke 390 handles city roads without an issue, feels the same as the 200 in cutting traffic. Even the throttle / gearbox isn’t crazy enough to send you into the back of the vehicle in front each time you open the throttle.¬†However I would not prefer the Duke 390 as a primary city bike mainly because:

  1. It is shod with Metzeler tyres which should not be wasted in the city but used on the highways, ghats and track days.
  2. Bumper to bumper traffic, the bike heats up like the D200 but the amount of heat produced is double because this is after all a 373 cc engine.
  3. Fuel efficiency will be quite low because the Duke 390’s gearing is more suited for highway runs in the 5th, 6th gears rather than riding on the first four.

Should you go for the Duke 390?

ktm duke 200 and duke 390

Honestly, a city test ride will tell you only so much. The Duke 390 will feel fast, nimble and that’s about it.¬†The bike I got to ride was the test ride vehicle and it didn’t seem to be in its optimum condition.¬†You need a long ride on the highway with the ghats thrown in to actually get a feel for the 390’s gearing and touring capability. I have tried to mention all the key points that can deduced from an extended first ride, a full fledged KTM Duke 390 review that covers all points will also soon follow. Do check back soon as I will be updating this article with an ownership report as my Duke 390 is just around the corner.

Update: The Inevitable Comparo – Duke 390 vs CBR250R

No matter how hard one tries not to compare both the bikes, they will be compared due to the same price bracket range they take up. Is the CBR250R still a good buy when the Duke 390 is already here?

  • Why the Duke 390

The Duke will complement throttle happy riders very well with its sheer acceleration from low end to the max revs.¬†Is a very good bike to train yourself on especially if you’re planning an upgrade to a 600, 1000cc in the future. Why? Because you will have to learn throttle control on the Duke 390 or it is going to throw you off. It may have ABS on it but it certainly does not have traction control.

Needlessly wringing the throttle will end up in a low slide on while taking a corner. The Duke 390 will compel you to become a more competent rider and constantly trying to achieve the smoothest throttle control. If you don’t practise throttle control on this bike, you’ll literally be a jerky rider all the time, but then even at the end of the day you do fall off the Duke 390, its not going to cost you a bomb to repair it. Will be a decent bike to have fun on at the track.

  • Why the Honda CBR250R

The CBR250R already has proven to be a very reliable bike that does everything effortlessly within its domain. Seating position is comfortable enough, tank range is decent, ABS works very well, kmpl figure is nearly double as that of the Duke 390, spares not too expensive to burn a hole. Cruises at 120-125 all day long without breaking a sweat. No wind drag to bog you down. Engine is very relaxed and has lesser vibrations on the handlebars than the Duke 390. Its a very decent bike to live with.

The only thing you must realise is that, you cannot compare the power or the acceleration of the CBR250R to the Duke 390. Comparing top end is even more meaningless since the Duke will reach the top end way before the CBR250R. The Duke 390 will remain the faster bike by a huge margin even though both of them have very nearby top end limits in all conditions.

Also don’t think of modifying the CBR250R with performance upgrades and trying to eke out more power from it ending up spending a bomb.¬†If you want more power, the Duke 390 is already here, 18 BHP more, something that you cannot ever achieve with the CBR250R.¬†If you are satisfied the power & acceleration of the CBR250R go for it.

Do you really need the power the Duke 390 has to offer? Can you live with a bike that is quite a hooligan in nature all the time ? If you are Jeremy Clarkson from TopGear who yells POWERRRRRRR at every twist of the throttle the Duke 390 is the bike for you. If you are James May who prefers tried, tested and a relaxed ride, the CBR250R is still the bike to own.