KTM 390 Duke: review

An uncharacteristic period of restricted horsepower for PH2 and, having ridden Honda's CBR500R recently, here we throw a leg over one of the most eagerly anticipated bikes of 2013 - KTM's 390 Duke.

A 'proper' bike you can ride on an A2 licence
A 'proper' bike you can ride on an A2 licence
The 390 Duke marks a canny move by KTM, using the same platform as the firm's 125 and 200 Duke to create the first machine the Austrian firm can sell to a worldwide audience. Rather than just being a European special, this 44hp single will appeal to American riders (who went mad for Kawasaki's Ninja 250 a few years ago) as well as Far Eastern and 'emerging' markets where a frugal 375cc (the 390 name is to keep a family similarity - 390, 690, 990 etc) is seen as a superbike. So why is it so clever? The 390 shares virtually all of its chassis components with the 125 and 200 Duke, making it cost effective for KTM to produce. More so given that it's KTM's partner Bajaj that will actually build it in India.

Heavyweight middleweight
Realistically this is the only way to produce a competitively priced middleweight nowadays. However, KTM is at pains to stress that it develops the bike in Austria and then builds it in India to save costs, while keeping a very close eye on quality control. And, to be honest, looking over the KTM it does seem fairly well built. There are a few money saving areas but this is to be expected and it's far from unacceptable. And the pay off is a very competitive £4,495 price tag, £400 cheaper than the Honda and with ABS as standard.

375cc single is far from a crude thumper
375cc single is far from a crude thumper
When it comes to the chassis there is virtually nothing different between the 125/200 Duke (the 200 is just a big-bore 125) and the 390 Duke. The frame, swingarm, suspension (albeit with revised damping), brakes, tank, wheels, seat, clocks and rest is identical between the models.

While KTM has armed the 390 Duke with some proper Metzeler Sportec M5 rubber rather than the cheapie MRF objects the small capacity bikes get, that's the only change. The motor, however, is a ground-up entirely new engine producing 44hp and 26lb ft from its 375cc single cylinder. Neatly, it slots right into the 125's chassis and only weighs 6kg more! So basically the 390 is a 125 with nearly four times the power! Sound like fun? It is.

Confidence trick
The 125/200 machines play a very clever trick of not feeling like 'little' bikes to sit on (or more importantly look at) yet ride and handle like their featherweight 128kg suggests. Weighing just 139kg (dry) the 390 Duke plays this same game yet adds far more power into the equation.

The new motor is sprightly without feeling intimidating. Keen and eager to rev, yet not necessitating a constant and merciless thrashing, the single cylinder is an entertaining power plant. When pushed hard it is possible to see 100mph, although it is far happier keeping a steady speed of around 60mph. With enough torque to pull from relatively low rpm the engine lacks the grunt of the parallel-twin Honda but it is far more engaging than the slightly muted CBR and the KTM's handling is considerably better.

A small, light bike with more power - win!
A small, light bike with more power - win!
Accessible fun
A lightweight, quality chassis and respectable WP suspension makes the 390 Duke a blast on twisty back roads. You can really throw it around and the Metzeler tyres give far more feedback (and grip) than the seemingly solid items on the 125/200. When ridden hard down mountain roads the single front brake did feel a little lacking in outright power but you can't fault the ABS system.

Here is the part you may not realise. KTM sold 107,142 bikes last year, making it Europe's largest motorcycle manufacturer. That is a 32 per cent increase on 2011's figures. Where has this boost come from? The 125 and 200 Duke. The 125 was Europe's best selling 125 while the 200 cleared over 8,000 units worldwide. In India they simply went bonkers for it! The 390 Duke is priced only a few quid more than the 125 (£500 if you care) and this fact alone is almost certain to make it sell like hot cakes. It's a brilliant fun, great looking and well-priced A2-compliant bike that is only going to take KTM from strength to strength. It has been worth the wait.

What next on the list? Did someone say Moto3 rep...

375cc single cylinder
Power: 44hp@9,500rpm
Torque: 26lb ft@7,250rpm
Top speed: 105mph (est)
Weight: 139kg (dry)
MPG: 60mpg (est)
Price: £4,495

P.H. O'meter

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Comments (51) Join the discussion on the forum

  • Kawasicki 18 Apr 2013

    Well done KTM. I might just buy one of these.

  • Blackpuddin 18 Apr 2013

    Bring back the singles I say. Pity the seat shape of this KTM effectively makes it a solo machine.

  • Gavlar83 18 Apr 2013

    Wonder what this will be like off road with some knobblys on too. could be a good all rounder for on and off road

  • Gavlar83 18 Apr 2013

    Wonder what this will be like off road with some knobblys on too. could be a good all rounder for on and off road

  • Blackpuddin 18 Apr 2013

    Having looked at the website the seat actually doesn't look too bad. I am seriously interested in this machine.

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