2017 KTM 390 Duke Review: Rioters!
What a riot! That was the thought spinning through my head, heart and body as I twisted that throttle harder and harder, trusting that fantastic machine to deliver on its promise as I rode around the Chakan track.
The completely new 2017 KTM Duke 390 is a paradox. It is wild, it will scare you, yet you are forever in control of its every movement. The Austrians haven’t built a machine, as much as they have built an extension to the rider’s body. As we the media rode the new 390 at the Chakan track, KTM was testing their MotoGP machines at Qatar before the season opener with Pol Espargaró and Bradley Smith. So while half my attention was at the job at hand, the other half was wondering about the fate of this very ballsy company at the highest echelon of motorcycle racing.
According to the KTM factory riders, their RC16 is a fierce bike to ride, needing to be muscled and manhandled around every corner. That maniacal ethos trickles down to the new 390. It is modelled after the most powerful naked ever, the 1290 Super Duke. The company boffins tell us that the bike is new from the ground up. Earlier, the 390 was a larger version of the 200, not anymore, there is nothing in common between the 200 and 390 now.
When the 390 was rolled into the pit garage, the first thing that the assembled junta commented was that the bike looked big. The full LED headlamp visually doesn’t end at the front, but extends right up to the fuel tank. The LED cluster is an intricate design in itself. The bottom two LEDs are for the high beam, the centre two LEDs are the DRLs, the top two LEDs are the low beam and AHO, while the LEDs on the side are the parking lights. A bit confusing yes, but pretty nonetheless. Total wattage on high beam is 45W, though the illumination is apparently more than a halogen of the same wattage. But once again, I have my doubts over the white lights efficiency in fog, rain and other poor visibility conditions. If only the DRLs are on, then the headlamp will automatically switch on in the dark, for example if you enter a tunnel. The sensor for which is on the TFT display which rests above the headlamp, the first time ever in this price range. Bringing the future here now. We will go in depth with the TFT screen later. The 43mm beefy forks are open cartridge adjustable by 8mm with plastic shrouds to help keep the dirt out. The front disc brake increases in size to 320 mm for better braking. This change gives the bike the stopping power it has always deserved.
The front end of the bike also sees wider mirrors, now standard across the KTM range and adjustable brake and clutch levers. You also get hand guards as standard fitment. The switchgear has been tweaked to accommodate the TFT screen, with the pass, high and low beam switch now being activated with the index finger. The rest of the space is occupied by the toggle switches for operating the TFT display. The right hand continues to have the familiar switches, except the headlamp on/off switch is missing with AHO becoming mandatory. Throttle control also gets more precise with the incorporation of Ride-by-Wire. Lower down, the radiator guard does seem a bit inadequate, with a gaping hole in the centre, a bit more protection would be required, especially if one is planning a ride to places like Spiti and Leh. The 390 also has a slipper clutch, which helps substantially while pushing the bike on track.
Power remains the same at 43.5 PS, but torque is up by 2 Nm to 37 Nm, one more than the RC 390. The bike is BS IV compliant, even with the increased torque. That is thanks to the aluminium side-slung exhaust, though the muffler remains placed in the belly to keep the weight as low and centred as possible. This keeps the CoG low and helps in going around corners faster. Though all of this has increased the kerb weight of the new 390 to 163 kg. This is also thanks to the new fuel tank, which is now steel with a 13.5 litre capacity, which should see an increased range by 100 kilometres.
Like the Duke 250, the 390 also gets a split trellis frame, which is powder coated in two different colours. The advantage of this is better weld points and finish for the frame and sub-frame says the company. And in the unfortunate case of getting rear ended, repairs will also be cheaper. Not something we suggest you try out! The saddle, as on the 250, is wider and employs a new material, which I found very comfortable. The saddle height has also been increased which could be problematic for shorter riders. Pillion comfort remains suspect though! The new tank shape and saddle position allows the rider to move around more easily. The ergonomics also get a bit more aggressive with the foot pegs pushed further back and higher up. This is excellent for corner carving, but makes me question the level of comfort over a full day’s ride. To help in change of direction, the new 390 also gets a shorter wheelbase over the older version.
The rear WP 10-step adjustable suspension remains the same, and the Metzelers are H rated, with a speed rating of 210 kmph, well above the speeds the bike can attain. I managed a top whack of 160 kmph on the 1.2 km straight fully crouched, while seated upright, the bike still hit 150 kmph on the speedo. The lower spec tyres are substantially cheaper than earlier, while at the same time will have a longer life. The corner connoisseurs might of course want to upgrade! One thing which is a bit unnerving is the manner in which the rev-limiter kicks in. It is far too sudden. Making the rear skip along with your heartbeat! Which is unfortunate, since the bike begs to be redlined! The brake light is an LED unit, the brightness of which seemed inadequate in bright sunlight.
So how does the bike feel to ride? Slot the bike into first gear, grab a handful of throttle, dump the clutch and grin like an idiot. If you lean ahead, the rear will spin and slide before launching you forward, lean back and watch as the bike wants to wheelie. Either ways, you will be stupidly ecstatic! The bike accelerates like the rocket it was built to be and you tend to push it hard, knowing fully well that you have excellent braking at hand along with the safety net of ABS. The weight distribution of the bike is excellent and you can make the motorcycle do anything you want, except daydream. Do that and the 390 will snap you back to reality. As I got more comfortable with the bike, I could brake later and deeper into the corners. Purposely braking later than ideal was forgiven, as you can tip the bike on a whim and see it glued to the line, as if on rails. The wild side of the older 390 is tempered here. At no point of time you feel out of control, the new 390 is much more forgiving. Slow speed manoeuvres are also easy peasy, you can easily take a U-turn without putting a foot down. The RBW and slow speed handling make the bike perfect for a motorcycle gymkhana and therefore everyday urban traffic. The bike didn’t heat up during our ride, but we wouldn’t want to judge it, till we ride it in ‘proper’ traffic!
Through the extremely slow speed corners of the track, the bike isn’t as nimble as the 200, we suspect due to the heavier front end, but on the sweeping bowl, I was exiting the corner a good 10+ kmph faster than what I managed on the RC 390. That may in part be due to the fact that I have gotten to know the track better since then. On the main straight, the Duke shows its naked qualities as it gets scary when hitting the top whack of 160 kmph, for those few seconds the planted feeling on the RC is sorely missed. At the end of the straight, I tried out-braking myself multiple times to see if the ABS will kick in. It didn’t. Which shows how mechanically stable the bike is, even without the electronics it is forgiving. The ABS though is switchable with three options. ‘On’ will see the ABS work on both wheels, ‘Super Moto’ will see only the front wheel have ABS, while the rear can be slid and smoked to glory, while on ‘Off’ mode, the ABS won’t work with either wheel. And the display will have a warning message stating ‘this is illegal’! Irrespective of what your last ABS setting was, when you start the bike it will automatically go back to the default ‘On’ mode.
Even with the raised and setback foot pegs, I found myself scraping it on the long sweeping bowl, which isn’t exactly unexpected on a street naked. Gripping the new tank while braking hard is also much easier than on the older bike. The new 390 is a grown up, matured version of the older bike and is more comfortable, forgiving and smoother. Gearshifts are butter smooth, the engine feels more refined and the aural note from the side-slung exhaust is much better. Overall, a significant update over the previous iteration.
Let’s now get back to the biggest new toy on the bike, the TFT display. As is visible in the photos, there is a whole lot of information available to the rider at the touch of a button. On the side of the TFT, you get standard LEDs for the neutral, high beam and the remaining tell-tale lights. The TFT displays the speedometer, tachometer, fuel gauge, engine temperature, gear indicator and clock. Besides this, it also displays 8 more customisable data. You can select the 8 out of a choice of 15. The display also connects to your smartphone through Bluetooth and you can see who is calling you and change your song from the toggle switches on the handlebar. Neither of these we advise using, as the rider’s concentration should be on the road ahead and this is an unnecessary distraction. The TFT display changes colour depending on whether it is day or night.
The rider gets to choose from 5 available languages. You also get all the information about servicing and if there is any part malfunction in the motorcycle. On the home screen, warning signs like the side stand and engine kill switch is displayed on the top in yellow, while malfunctions are displayed at the bottom in red. Though it might appear to be information overload, the user interface is very easy and after one use, it will feel natural. But I wonder, once the novelty factor wears off, how much tinkering is an owner liable to do! Even smartphones with fancy features get used only once when it’s brand new, after which it is forgotten! One thing I found missing was the font size adjustability; I found all the information a tad too small to read while riding and taking precious extra seconds to read. But the software on this will be updated in the SVC as and when newer versions are rolled out, so hopefully that is something that KTM will address.
At Rs. 225000 ex-showroom Delhi, the 2017 KTM 390 Duke is very well worth the monies. It gives you everything you would want from a fun bike and tops it up with fancy gadgetry and futuristic electronics! And there is practically no competition to this motorcycle in the country. Therefore, you get colour options of orange and well… err orange to run riot!
Photos: Arjun Dhavale