Road Test Review
Some bikes are made for road trips; others are made for what you like to do in between.
The 390 Duke fits the latter bill in a way that inspires bladed metaphors: shredding through traffic, carving up corners, it slices, it dices…but no, it won’t make julienne fries. It will, however, deliver you to your favorite local burger-n-fries joint with a huge grin plastered to your face.
KTM seems to be taking its “Ready to Race” tagline seriously lately, as its bikes grow harder and edgier with each new generation (see our comparo review featuring the 1290 Super Adventure S here), and despite being the smallest in the U.S. lineup (along with its fully faired RC390 brother) the 390 Duke is no exception.
KTM is daring riders to step up to its bikes’ expectations; when it last updated the 390 Duke in 2017, Team Orange upped the claimed peak horsepower and torque by one each, to 44 and 27 respectively, gave it a bigger 3.5-gallon tank, raised the seat height by more than one inch to 32.7 inches, reduced the wheelbase by nearly half an inch and the trail by 0.2-inch for quicker steering on an already nimble machine and raised the curb weight by 19 pounds, from 340 to 359 (about five of those pounds are attributed to the increase in fuel capacity).
The seating position is more aggressive and supermoto-like, with a tall handlebar and high, rearset footpegs. In a welcome concession to our mere mortality, both the clutch and brake levers are adjustable.
It’s tempting to refer to the 390 Duke as “entry level,” thanks to its engine size and $5,449 price tag, but between its “I dare ya” personality and a host of modern features it’s just as suitable for experienced riders looking for something lightweight, responsive and fun.
The throttle-by-wire is dialed-in and responsive, with a slipper clutch easing downshift transitions and switchable ABS providing some peace of mind (a new Supermoto setting disengages it at the rear wheel, or it can be turned off completely).
Revised suspension uses progressive springs both front and rear, and while the cartridge-style 43mm WP upside-down fork is not adjustable and the rear shock is only adjustable for preload, I found it to be compliant without being overly harsh or soft. Big bar-end weights tame the single’s vibes and the cushier seat makes the extra miles gained from the larger tank more enjoyable.
The blade-like metaphors are accurate; the 2018 390 Duke is in its element on tight, technical twisties, the extra mass nearly disappearing as it slices and dices, while the 4-piston ByBre opposed radial caliper squeezing a big 320mm front disc makes reining in the little Duke a breeze. Whack the throttle open in a low gear and you’ll be rewarded with a lofty front wheel and a big smile.
I guess you could call it the “Fun-O-Matic.”