Words: Hanoz Patel, Arjun Dharve and Amit Chhangani
Images: Amit Chhangani
A few days back, we told you that the KTM 390 Duke is the bike which will change the face of motorcycling in India if priced right. It was priced right. In fact it was priced even better than what we’d thought. And now we’ve ridden it too. So do we still stick by what we said?
With its 44bhp of power and a 160 km/h+ top whack, we thought that the new KTM would come closer than ever to the ‘practical performance’ threshold for a performance bike in the Indian market. We told you that the 390 would give seasoned riders almost all the firepower they need to go almost as fast as they could ever go on public roads, with little (to some) or nothing to crib about as regards useable performance.
We also told you that with the KTM 390, the Indian performance motorcycling was entering the right zone, a pocket where there is a harmonious confluence of power, price and a sense of satisfaction with the performance. So were we right? Or is the KTM390 Duke another disappointment? Much as you’d like to give it a thumbs-up straight away, there are some things you need to know before you go and book it. Read on to find out.
Styling and Finish
For an untrained eye, the Duke 390 is nothing but a replica of the Duke 200. We observed this on our short stint on the road as well, where hardly anyone gave us a second look until seeing us shoot like a bullet. Pay close attention, though, and some changes are obvious viz., 390 decals, ABS equipped disc rotors, hand guards and a slightly wider rear tyre. The overall build (read: plastics) is just as good as on its smaller sibling. We did not find any rattles or squeaks from any parts of the bike during our experience.
Bajaj Auto have healivy localized the KTM390 Duke, and it’s evident in the form of the branding on several components. Look closely and you get to find a lot of bits with local suppliers’ inscriptions on them – radiator being one of the examples. There’s nothing wrong whatsoever with that though, as long as quality is not compromised.
Observe with a keen eye and you will also see that a lot of parts are shared with the Pulsar200NS. The handle grips for example are from the Pulsar clan and so are the clutch and the brake levers. The handle bar end weights, too, are from the Pulsar.
While we don’t have any issues whatsoever with this parts sharing, we do have a problem with the shoddy wiring on this premium bike. Now we don’t know whether this was the case specifically with our test bike, but the exposed wires under the tank managed to stick a thumb into our eyes and it would have been good if those wires were properly harnessed. In many places the electrical wires have been covered with electric tape in an untidy manner. Ahead of the handlebar, under the tank, on the sides, the casually clumped together wires on the 390 aren’t quite a beautiful sight.
Apart from that little issue, the KTM 390 does a fabulous job of keeping quality and finish above par in almost all the places. By itself, it looks like a wild little machine, and those orange painted mags just take the cool quotient a notch higher. Hanoz wants those wheels to be painted in black, and we officially want to kill him for that.
The diminutive size and similarity of the KTM 390 Duke to the KTM 200 neutralizes the exclusivity to an extent, but on the flip size manages to do a fantastic job of keeping the kerb weight down to just 139 kgs and power to weight ratio at a crazy 293 bhp/tone. Now that’s what we really want, don’t we? Those preferring a full fairing to lower weight may go to hell. Thank you!
Engine, Gearbox and Performance
What came as a shock to us, right at the beginning, was the fact that the test bike required thumbing the starter button more than once to fire up. The situation only aggravated with time, with the electric starter making irritating noises and calling for several attempts before cranking the engine to life. Now this may be a one off case again with our test bike, but it wasn’t something we expected from KTM – a brand known for its quality.
Once the engine fires up, the exhaust emanates a rather hollow sound which most definitely is not music to the ears at low revs. Rev the engine, and there is some redemption though. We got introduced to the KTM’s melody as we climbed up the rev range, but more on that later as we build speed.
On the move, the KTM 390 doesn’t like doing your everyday menial jobs pottering about the city in high gears. It’s not a docile dachshund which doesn’t mind being taken for a stroll. It’s indeed a bloodhound, ever so willing to charge ahead, and so not happy when kept on a leash. The KTM loves being revved. Below the 4000 mark, on the digital tacho, you can feel and listen to its unhappiness. Take it above 5000 rpm and you see a smile across its face. Post 6500 rpm, the KTM 390 Duke wear the wickedest of the visages. It’s a bloodthirsty vampire on the loose post the 7000 rpm mark.
A word of caution for the newbies – don’t wring the throttle too hard. The KTM 390 Duke has an uncanny tendency to shoot away from between your loins – unsuspecting riders will bit the dust! Typical of a KTM, this water-cooled unit is rev hungry unit, and mated to a close ratio gear box, never feels under geared. The 6th gear however is a bit tall to help you to settle down at high speed cruising once you’re done with annihilating the poseurs at traffic light GPs.
There are some vibes to be felt in the higher revs, especially in the first and second gear, but they’re far from annoying. There is a certain degree of clunkiness to the shifts in the first two gears. Higher gears are just fine though. Surprisingly, we managed to slot ourselves into false neutrals a couple of times as well. Again these issues may well have been specific to our test bike, which was one of the very first specimens of the model. However, at the same time, even if such is the case, we believe those niggles are still too many.
The gearbox functions crisply post 2nd gear. There is good feedback from the lever, and there are proper clicks to be experienced. The acceleration through the gears from a standstill, if you wish to go all guns blazing is simply manic. To put things in perspective, the likes of the CBR250R don’t even come within a mile’s distance of the 390’s performance zone. For its size the KTM shoots like a rocket, asking you to hold on tight to those straight handlebars. Revs build at a mad pace, and before you know you’re knocking on the door of 140clicks. As mentioned earlier, the engine really comes into its element post 6500 rpm after, and heading towards the 10500 mark the bike just wants to turn into a projectile, leaving you behind. The raucous engine note, from the saddle position sounds delightful, and you stay high up the revs just to listen to that adrenaline pumping beat.
The engine shows no sign of fatigue or stress even on the limit, with the only harshness experienced with the limiter cutting in. At high speeds, the loud exhaust gives the raspy engine good company, making for a heady aural experience.
We did find the temperature on the 390 to be peaking to its maximum quite often, especially while commuting through stop start traffic or while idling at signals. As we checked a few times, the temperature bar was only one notch below the peak, with ample heat radiating out to be felt by the calves, especially the one on the left. This however is not much different from the smaller 200 Duke which has got its own temper issues.
Our worries were amplified owing to the fact that we were riding in an extremely cool temperature with light drizzle in the air. We could not help but wonder whether the engine temperature would soar even higher in hot weather, especially while riding through the notorious traffic snarls of Mumbai.
Engine heat, however, wasn’t a concern with the bike on the move. We rode the bike for a good 100km, and there wasn’t any issue with the engine temperature while riding at speeds above 40km/h.
All in all, the KTM 390 Duke’s engine simply dazzles you with its manic power deliver post 7000 rpm. It doesn’t have a great low or mid range punch. But truth be told, we absolutely love it just the way it is! It’s meant to be a crazy, high-revving, adrenaline pumping machine, and that’s exactly what it is! Those who are looking for practicality, kindly do the enthusiasts a favor and look elsewhere than crib.
Ride and handling
The engine is hung off the light weight tubular space frame, and coupled with WP USD forks up front, WP monoshock at the rear and pin-jointed die cast swing-arm give the 390 its sure footed handling characteristics. Those USD forks do a stellar job of endowing this KTM with a rock solid front footing. The rear suspension, though slightly softer than that on the KTM 200, is still sprung on the stiffer side, and works towards keeping this baby taut and cohesive even when the road surface challenges composure.
The riding position is slightly uppish with the straight and high handlebars. However, the rear sets are positioned quite behind, almost at the base of the monoshock, adding some sportiness to the mix. The recessed seat allows you to get ‘in’ the bike and you somehow feel at home on this machine right from the word go. The knee recesses though perfect for medium height riders may clash with the knees of taller riders.
On the move, the KTM390 feels rock solid. We rode the 390 in some of the most precarious riding conditions with wet weather, constant drizzle and low-traction concrete roads with a perilous layer of wet muck on long stretches. Add to the mix the oil and grime brought onto the road by trucks joining the highway from mud-ridden broken roads, and you have the best testing grounds for the bike’s tyres.
The Metzeler tyres on the KTM 390 Duke didn’t take more than a few moments in stamping their authority. The tyres are appreciably sticky, and if they could inspire confidence in those dodgy conditions, they would surely be an absolute delight in the dry. No complaints whatsoever there.
The high-speed stability in a straight line is impressive too. Even under hard acceleration or at speeds above 120km/h the KTM 390 Duke doesn’t feel unnerved at all. Opposing wind blast on this naked will always be an issue, but not once did the thought of the crosswinds perturbing us cross our minds.
Unfortunately we could not take the KTM390 to our proving grounds in Lonavala, and thus, we would refrain from comment authoritatively on its handling around bends, but going by its performance in a straight line, we were mighty impressed. We have every reason to believe that the big Duke will surpass the CBR250Rs of the world around ghats, but we’ll keep that conclusion for later.
Braking and ABS
Braking is taken care of by the Bosch 9MB 2-channel ABS system and comes as standard in the great package that the 390 has to offer. Front Brakes have a single 300mm disc with radial-mount four-piston caliper, replete with ABS. At the rear you have a single 230mm disc with single-piston caliper and ABS
The ABS system can be turned on and off via a special hidden button on the left bottom side of the instrument console. The ABS indicator light blinks when the ABS is turned off. It goes off when the ABS is working. The ABS works perfectly, and we could feel the bike benefitting from the tech in the wet conditions we rode it in. The braking system clearly prevented the wheels from locking up and thus helped the tyres maintain optimum traction. On turning the system off, we managed to slide the rear wheel on more than one occasion without having to try too hard.
Even with all its benefits, the ABS on the KTM 390 Duke isn’t one of the most silent and smoothest units we have come across. We could hear a mechanical noise when we squeezed the right lever hard. While experiencing pulsations while applying brakes hard on an ABS equipped bike is perfectly normal, it was the pronounced noise from the system which somewhat perturbed us.
All in all, the ABS system is a fabulous inclusion which would go a long way in ensuring safety for the riders of this manic machine. We really have to give it to Bajaj Auto for not having compromised on the tyre quality and ABS for cutting cost. Kudos!
The tyres on the KTM 390 are the Metzeler Sportec M5
These were tested in both dry and wet conditions and performed to our hearts content. We shall leave the aspect of performance of these over the twisties for our in depth review (we certainly know the outcome of that, don’t we?)
Features and other observations
Average speed and fuel consumption readouts. Note the engine temperature on the left side. Quite high
Consumption in Km/L
The hidden button to activate / deactivate ABS
The front fender is quite flexible from behind. May look flimsy, but no quality issues here.
Hand guards have some rough edges inside. They are made of good quality plastic though.
M/S Pranay Vikas made that radiator for KTM in India
Front license plate has Bajaj Auto branding
All lights go on ignition! The Shift RPM light on top flashes when you don’t shift even with the limiter cutting in.
The seat surface is textured and prevents the rider from slipping forward. Pillion seat meant only for enemies
What’s that number on the handlebar?
No dipstick on the oil filler cap. You’ll have to look through the window to figure the oil level
Stubby exhaust sounds bad at low revs. Sounds nice only past 5000 revs
Coolant filler cap and level indicator. We wonder what that second cap on top is about
Hooks to let the seat slot in. Can also be used for fastening bungee cords.
Battery is placed under the seat.
Suspension’s on the stiffer side. Aids composure at high speeds.
The lovely looking saree guard. Ahem!
Pulsar style fuel filler cap
Nice looking compact crash guards
Undercowl has enough clearance to keep you from worrying about getting the belly scraped on steeper speed breakers
The radiator can mucky rather quickly in wet weather
Chunky front USD forks. Look great and offer great composure to the front end.
See that pipe under the frame? Seems to have been hammered in. Will all 390s have their pipes squeezed in like that?
Good quality switchgear. Has all the basic functions.
Shabby looking taping on wires near the ignition slot
Love that pilot lamp.
Hand guard is a standard fitment. Plenty of other accessories available as options.
Blinkers are real sharp and slim!
The fantastic build quality, crazy revving motor, sublime handling ends up making the KTM 390 Duke a complete package. There is more than ample performance on offer, and a vast majority of our biking populace would do well honing their skills on this bike for a good amount of time before crying for more power.
The tech specs on the paper apart, the KTM 390 Duke has a flamboyant character, with a focus on delivering uncompromised joy of riding. It’s built to thrill, and thrill it does, the rider, in every sense of the word. As regards performance and features, there’s absolutely no way we can fault this crazy revving KTM.
Engine heat, electric starter issues and shoddy wiring are three issues which bothered us the most. However, we don’t count any of them as deal breakers. Also, we’ll have to wait and see whether these problems persist on newer bikes as well before we pass a judgment.
At an OTR price tag of Rs.2.04L, there is absolutely no way we could point a finger at the VFM proposition that the KTM 390 Duke has turned out to be. The Duke 390 is something you want to wake up and find every day in your parking lot and ride it to your heart’s content.
To conclude, we’re extremely glad to announce that the KTM390 Duke is indeed going to change the face of motorcycling in India – once and for all!
We would like to thank KTM, Probiking Vashi for their co-operation and support towards our first experience on the Duke 390.
For any inquiries about booking the bike, or for finance related options, you can get in touch with Mr. Virendra Negi at 022 – 66741111, or call him on his cell phone at 9820316540
Here are the finance options offered by Bajaj Finance on the Duke 390.
On-Road -Rs. 2,04,000
1 year tenure
EMI – 14,892 x 12 (9.5% interest)
2 year tenure
Down-payment : Rs.50,000
EMI – 8,294 x 24 (10.99% interest)
3 year tenure
EMI – 6,131 x 36 (11.75% interest)
Design 1-cylinder 4-stroke engine, water-cooled
Displacement 373.2 cm³
Bore 89 mm
Stroke 60 mm
Performance 32 kW (43 hp)
Starting aid Electric starter
Transmission 6 speed, claw shifted
Engine lubrication Forced oil lubrication with 2 Eaton pumps
Primary gear ratio 30:80
Secondary gear ratio 14:45
Cooling system Liquid cooling system, continuous circulation of cooling liquid with water pump
Clutch Wet multi-disc clutch / hydraulically operated
Ignition system Contactless, controlled, fully electronic ignition system with digital ignition timing adjustment
Frame Tubular space frame made from chrome molybdenum steel, powder-coated
Fork WP Suspension Up Side Down
Shock absorber WP Monoshock
Suspension travel Front 150 mm
Suspension travel Rear 150 mm
Brake system Front Disc brake with four-pot brake caliper
Brake system Rear Disc brake with one-pot brake caliper, floating brake discs
Brake discs – diameter Front 300 mm
Brake discs – diameter Rear 230 mm
Chain 5/8 x 1/4” (520) X Ring
Steering head angle 65°
Wheel base 1,367±15 mm
Ground clearance (unloaded) 170 mm
Seat height (unloaded) 800 mm
Total fuel tank capacity approx. 11 l
Unleaded premium fuel (95 RON)
Weight without fuel approx. 139 kg
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