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Monday, July 29, 2013

2013 KTM Duke 390 - Ride Review

When KTM launched the KTM Duke 200 in India, we were excited!! Excited because not only the Duke looked good in flesh, the Duke proved that functionally, a small 200cc mill can be excitingly refreshing. The Duke 200, a spirited motorcycle, short geared, eager and grunty engine mounted on a crafty, light weight and delicious looking chassis, promised and showed what a performance motorcycle should be like. The success of Duke 200 in a country like India showed that not all are so concerned about the quintessential "Kitna Deti Hai" question.

It was just a matter of time, when the success of KTM Duke 200 prompted the thinking folks of Bajaj Auto and KTM, to take the next step, to think a little more big, or should I say think "Double", think about the KTM Duke 390.

Showcased last year at the EICMA show, the KTM Duke 390 was an instant hit internationally. The international markets of US and Europe got to taste this delicious barbecued performance meat and they dripped in ecstasy. 

Finally Bajaj thought that the time was right to introduce the Duke 390 to the Indian market and so it did on 25th June, 2013. The online media was thrown into frenzy, because Bajaj dropped a bomb in the packaging of Duke 390... Bajaj not only ensured that it rained orange, it ensured that the rain was so potent that it would make the competition go orange in envy!! Why do I say so... well.. just read on!!


Engine - Liquid cooled, Four Stroke, Single Cylinder, DOHC, 4 valves per cylinder
Capacity - 373.2 cc
Compresion Ratio - 12.9:1
Induction - Bosch EFI, 46mm Throttle body
Max Power - 43.5 PS @ 9000 rpm
Max Torque - 35.0 Nm @ 7000 rpm
Transmission / Drive - 6 Speed  /  X-ring Chain drive

To say the least, the engine numbers look intimidating, very intimidating... but then, in the world of motorcycling, it's very essential to seen the numbers transform into real world function.

Thumb the start the engine, and the initial note makes it very clear that it's NOT the re-bored Duke 200 engine, no Sir, it's definitely not. The engine idles smoothly at around 1.5k mark. Engine note is grunty, but has a touch of deep tone to it. Twist the throttle a couple of times and the emanating sound feels music, something that every "non-biased" motorcycle enthusiast would fall in love to.

At idling, some very faint vibes are felt on the handle bar though, but they are definitely pretty faint. The clutch is well weighted, but is definitely needs a little bit effort. Everything is as expected, till the time, we were still. Once in motion, things change rapidly, and boy were in for a surprise!!

Moving through the cogs is pretty effortless and revs mount fast, pretty fast. The bike that we were given had the Rev Limiter set at around 6.5k and we were hitting the rev limiter in split seconds. One would expect (and obviously having seen how hooligan the KTM Duke 200 is) that with such performance, the KTM Duke 390 would have a general tendency of slipping from underneath you, that it would be almost uncontrollable, that it would give you the scare of your lifetime and that taming this beast would like trying to tame a wild horse who just wants run loose and be on a rampage spree. Well, it would do all of those and more, if the rider is less on confidence, but with little control and confidence over this machine, the KTM Duke 390 presented itself as a very matured motorcycle, a motorcycle which moves with a very definite intent, a motorcycle which knows it's purpose and means serious business. Just to give a perspective, even though we were making some really good speeds at the 2nd cog, hovering around the 5k mark, at no given instance, it felt unmanageable. It was poised, held it's line, had a very planted feel to it.

That is in stark contrast to what the Duke 200 is. The Duke 200 feels pretty light footed, something that would leap away as soon the rider releases the clutch. The Duke 390 just lunges forward, with the utmost elegance.

The gear box is entirely different on the Duke 390 than it's on the Duke 200 and the gear ratios are pretty tall comparatively. Surfing on the 35.0 Nm torque, we felt that 2nd and 3rd gears are all that's needed for city riding. The initial mild vibes at idling that we mentioned about initially, just die of at around 3.5-4k rpms (sorry I'm still no good in reading digital tach accurately). By the time we were hitting the rev limiter at 6.5k rpms, the Duke 390 was just fluid.

Ride and Handling

Frame - Laser cut, Steel Trellis
Front Suspension - WP inverted 43mm telescopic fork, non-adjustable, 150m travel
Rear Suspension -  WP monoshock, adjustable for preload, 150mm travel
Front Brakes - Single 300mm disc with radial-mount four-piston caliper, ABS
Rear Brakes - Single 230mm disc with single-pistoE caliper, ABS
Tyres - Metzeler Sportec M5
Front Tyre - 110/70ZR17
Rear Tyre - 150/60ZR17
Seat Height - 800mm
Claimed Weight - 139kg (all fluids except fuel)
Fuel Capacity - 10.2 litres

The frame and the chassis on the Duke 390 might look the same as the Duke 200 to the naked eye, but mount of the bike and put things in motion and one would quickly notice that this is a much much stiffer chassis than the Duke 200. This is one of the primary contributing factors, as to why the Duke 390 feels so planted and so much in control even when it's blasting off like a wild horse on rampage.

The sitting posture and riding stance is classic Duke and is very much same as that of the Duke 200, gives a lot of confidence, control and command, without compromising on the fun.

The non-adjustable front and pre-load adjustable rear WP suspension bits are on the stiffer side and are aimed at handling rather than comfort, but then the Duke 390 is a fast mile muncher, it's supposed to be like this and seriously no complaints about that. On city pot-hole filled conditions, this might need a little bit of getting used to but it's perfectly fine as the setup makes the Duke 390 more versatile. The stiff suspension setup along with the stiffer chassis, makes the Duke 390 a blissful handler, even at lower speeds.

The Duke 390 comes sodded with Metzeler Sportec M5 rubber and is as premium as it gets. Not only it provides excellent grip during daily riding conditions, but also if one thinks about it, the kind of speeds, the Duke 390 is capable of achieving, having this kind of rubber makes perfect sense.

One of the biggest revelation that the Duke 390 brings along is the standard ABS. In today's riding conditions, and specially Indian riding conditions, where the infrastructure needs more infrastructure and every other pedestrian things that jay walking is his or her birth right, having brake assists becomes more than luxury, it become necessity. The Bosch ABS system remains armed by default. This might sound like a big let down for stunters, but KTM has very craftily hidden a ABS off button on the console. Remember it's just ABS off. The ABS would get armed once the motorcycle is switched off and then switched on again, thus making switching off the ABS as a deliberate user input but not switching it on.

As with the Duke 200, the gear and rear brake levers might feel lit a bit small to larger toes and might prove to be unsettling a bit. I was really hoping that KTM would listening to the many feedback that were provided for Duke 200, but guess sometimes form takes precedence over function.

Equipment and Quality

The equipment is standard KTM Duke and so is the Quality - Top Notch!! Every nut and bolt exudes quality (minus some stray taping here and there). The Console is the same from the Duke 200 apart from the ABS toggle hidden in the lower left of the Console padding.

Final Verdict

What verdict can one give to such a wonderful package?? Well to say the least, the KTM Duke 390 is more motorcycle at that price, given the features it packs in, given the quality it maintains, and above all, the performance of the Duke 390 and the elegance with which it does so is just class apart.

This is one motorcycle which one can easily live with for years together and still not get bored with it.

Ergonomics Illustration Courtesy - cycle-ergo.com
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  1. Very well written. Sad indeed that you couldn't rev it beyond 6.5k as the hooligan shows its true colours beyond the 7k mark.

    Hope you get a chance to ride it again :)

    1. Thanks Pulsurge for your feedback. I would definitely try to see the beast in its true colours :)

  2. Correction!! Torque is not 53Nm, it's 35Nm

    1. Thanks a tonne Arun for pointing it out... typo corrected :)


Item Reviewed: 2013 KTM Duke 390 - Ride Review Description: Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Sajal
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