2017 KTM 390 Duke First Ride

Posted on Jul 28 2016 - 5:47am by Jeff Dunham

Let’s say you’re hunting for your first motorcycle. You’re smart enough to shop for a smaller-engined bike, but don’t want a mini crotch rocket or a scaled-down cruiser. That doesn’t leave much to choose from, but there is the KTM 390 Duke, a so-called naked bike.

2017 KTM 3902017 KTM 390

The 390 Duke sports the Austrian brand’s signature orange powder-coated trellis frame, but that’s just about all this Lilliputian ride has in common with KTM’s dirtbikes, supermotos, and adventure bikes. Priced at $4,999, the 390 is the littlest in the Duke lineup behind the middleweight 690 Duke ($8,999) and the monstrous 1290 Super Duke ($17,399).

That output is remarkable, especially considering that the bike’s wispy 342-pound curb weight undercuts the $4,099 Suzuki GW250 (403 pounds), the $5,299 Kawasaki Ninja 300 ABS (383 pounds), the $3,999 Honda CB300F (348 pounds), and the $4,990 Yamaha R3 (368 pounds). Incidentally, those competitors also have smaller engines than the KTM.The 390’s liquid-cooled engine channels power through a slipper clutch – a race-proven feature designed to prevent unsettling the rear suspension or locking the rear wheel during downshifts while riding aggressively – to a six-speed gearbox.

Thanks to the mill’s modest output, the 390 doesn’t need a hydraulic clutch to achieve light lever effort. The radially mounted, 300-mm front disc with a four-piston caliper, and a single-piston rear setup with a 230-mm disc hail from ByBre, Brembo’s India-based subsidiary that supplies affordable stoppers to small-displacement motorcycles and scooters. The Duke’s ABS system can be disabled, which is good news for advanced riders wishing to explore the edges of the bike’s stopping capabilities. The non-adjustable WP front fork is inverted, a configuration you’ll find on more performance-oriented motorcycles. The preload-adjustable rear monoshock is also manufactured by WP.

Up close, the 390 Duke’s construction appears to have a lot in common with an off-road bike – not surprising, given KTM’s enduro roots. There are hints at the bike’s budget construction, including the dirtbike-like bodywork and the zip ties holding clutch and brake cables to the handlebar. But considering the bike’s $5,000 price point and exceptional performance specs, steel trellis frame, die-cast aluminum swingarm, and 17-inch cast aluminum wheels, it’s on the higher end of the entry-level-bike spectrum.

I found the ergonomics aboard the 31.5-inch-tall saddle generally comfortable, though my leg bend felt a bit tight (I’m 5’11”, with a 32-inch inseam). Fire the single-cylinder engine up, and it chatters like a quiet jackhammer at idle. Nobody said singles sound sexy. For what it’s worth, Akrapovič offers an aftermarket slip-on silencer for a more growly exhaust note.

If you’re mature enough to manage the aggressive performance and don’t mind a stiff saddle and a vibey engine, here’s my advice: Buy the proper gear, take a Motorcycle Safety Foundation course, and saddle up on a KTM 390 Duke.