2017 KTM 390 Duke

First Ride Review

The light, frisky 390 Duke, which debuted for 2015 and has been updated for 2017, is KTM’s first truly global model. It’s the only bike in the company’s lineup that can be purchased in every market where KTM has dealers. Designed at KTM’s Mattighofen, Austria, headquarters and built in India by Bajaj, the 390 Duke may be considered “entry level” in the U.S. due to its size and price ($5,299, up from $4,999), but it’s anything but “cheap.” It has modern features such as throttle-by-wire, switchable ABS, a slipper clutch, a full-color TFT instrument panel and LED lighting that are lacking on bikes costing thousands of dollars more.

When we reviewed the 2015 KTM 390 Duke, we were impressed by the smoothness and power of its counterbalanced, liquid-cooled, DOHC, four-valve, 373cc single, which cranked out 43 horsepower at 8,800 rpm and 26 lb-ft of torque at 7,000 rpm at the rear wheel on Jett Tuning’s dyno. For 2017, KTM added throttle-by-wire and a new side-mount exhaust to improve throttle response, lower emissions and provide a small boost in claimed engine output (horsepower is up from 43 to 44 and torque is up from 26 to 27 lb-ft). Our 2015 test bike was a fuel sipper, yielding 59 mpg from its 2.8-gallon tank. The new bike holds 3.5 gallons for more range and the tank is now made of steel—good news for fans of magnetic tank bags.

KTM restyled the 390 to look more like its updated-for-2017 big brother, the 1290 Super Duke R, with a split LED headlight surrounded by a glowing white LED position light, revised bodywork and a new bolt-on tubular-steel trellis subframe. A more thickly padded seat is wider at the back and narrower at the front, but it’s also taller—32.7 inches, 1.2 inches taller than the old seat—a questionable move for a bike aimed at smaller and newer riders. The seating position is also more aggressive, with the handlebar moved up and forward and the footpegs moved up and back. And since there’s a wide range of hand sizes around the globe, both the clutch and brake levers are now adjustable.

The 390 Duke’s tubular-steel trellis frame was tweaked slightly to shorten the wheelbase from 53.8 to 53.4 inches and reduce trail from 3.9 to 3.7 inches, changes that quicken the steering on what was already a nimble, easy-to-toss-around machine. Offsetting some of the 390’s newfound agility is a big jump in mass. Claimed dry weight is up 22 pounds (from 306 to 328), and since our fully fueled 2015 test bike weighed 340 pounds, the 2017 model should be around 365. The ‘lil Duke is still light in the grand scheme of things, but a taller seat and more weight are steps in the wrong direction in this segment.

Since the 390 Duke will be ridden primarily in urban areas all over the world, KTM hosted a global press lunch in Turin, an industrial city in northwestern Italy. Our base of operations was the Lingotto building, a massive, five-story structure that was a manufacturing facility for Fiat automobiles from 1923 to 1982. It has since been converted into a multi-purpose complex housing a hotel, concert hall, conference center, university and office space. When cars were built at Lingotto, raw materials arrived at ground level and the assembly line progressed up through each floor of the building, with finished cars emerging onto a rooftop test track with banked curves on opposite ends of the long, rectangular building.

After riding up and down a spiral ramp for photos at one end of Lingotto, we had a chance to make a few passes on one of the test track’s banked curves, which is paved with light-colored bricks and looks smooth but is surprisingly bumpy. The 390 Duke’s revised suspension, with progressive springs front and rear, a new, lighter open-cartridge design for the 43mm, non-adjustable upside-down fork and separate oil/gas chambers in the preload-adjustable rear shock, handled the irregular track surface capably even with my 200 pounds in the saddle.

Leaving Lingotto, we stormed the crowded streets of Turin, sliced our way through traffic on the autostrada and made our way into the foothills of the Alps, scurrying up a narrow, dirty, roughly paved farm road that challenged our skills and rewarded us with a postcard view of snowcapped mountains. Wringing out the 390 Duke is loads of fun and it requires little effort to steer, shift or stop. Speed is scrubbed off with a 4-piston opposed radial caliper up front (which squeezes a larger 320mm disc) and a 1-piston floating caliper out back, both made by Bybre, a Brembo subsidiary based in India. The 390 Duke’s switchable ABS now has two modes—Road and Supermoto (the latter turns off ABS at the rear wheel)—or it can be turned off.

In all we put a little over 100 miles on the new 390 Duke. The revised ergonomics and new seat suited my tall, heavy frame just fine, and the improvements to the engine, handling, suspension, brakes, range and styling are well worth the $300 price increase. Icing on the cake is the new, 5.25-inch, full-color, customizable TFT (thin-film transistor) instrument panel, which can be connected to your smartphone via Bluetooth to control calls and music using the optional KTM My Ride feature. The added weight and taller seat didn’t bother me personally, but they may give smaller riders pause. What did bother me was the radiator fan, which is loud and ran constantly even though the temperature gauge was in the middle of the range; KTM says a fix is in the works.

There are lots of options in the sub-500cc segment these days, but you’d be hard pressed to find this much bike for this little money elsewhere.