2017 390 Duke

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Review: KTM 390 Duke

Driven March 2017

Review: KTM 390 Duke

In June 2013, KTM predicted the future of small-capacity performance motorcycles in India by inventing one – the 390 Duke. And thanks to its class-leading power-to-weight and bhp-per-lakh ratios, it didn’t take KTM much to become a brand respected by sport and touring enthusiasts alike. While the fun and manic 390 Duke is yet to come across a true rival of calibre, it seems KTM isn’t resting on its laurels.

Leadership and learning are intricately connected to each other and KTM, the leader in its segment, has mastered the trick of relentlessly improving its bikes and staying ahead of the pack. And this time too, it’s no different. KTM has taken its inimitable 390 and made it even better, and that’s what you see here; the 2017 KTM 390 Duke. More orange, edgy and taller than before, this MY17 could easily pass off as an extensive upgrade, but KTM insists it has completely revamped the motorcycle and this one is the 390 Duke Version 2.0. No, it’s not officially called that.

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So then, to get a first real taste of the new 390, we headed to Bajaj’s test track in Chakan on a hot afternoon. And under the scorching sun, that catchy KTM orange looks even louder, and thanks to all the styling updates, the new 390 Duke gets more aggressive and sharper styling than the previous one. But before we head out onto the track, here’s a quick check on what's visually new. There’s the dashing new split-LED headlamp similar to the 1290 Super Duke, bigger 320mm disc up front, an intuitive TFT display, longer tank cowl that now hides a bigger 13.4-litre fuel tank (up by 3 litres), updated trellis frame with bolt-on subframe, wider and better cushioned seats, and a conventional side exhaust. However, what’s difficult to identify without a little help from a salesperson are the open-cartridge front USD forks, slightly taller seat height (up by 30mm to 830) and a shorter wheelbase (down by 10mm).

Eager to know what’s new with its single-cyl 373.2cc unit? Sadly, there isn’t much that’s changed here, apart from the 2 Newtons of additional torque. No reason to rejoice as that bump is to compensate for the 10kg increase in kerb weight. Yes, to every Duke lover’s horror, the 390 has put on some weight but KTM says that weight gain is a part of collateral damage for making its bikes cleaner and greener. Does that added weight crash the 390’s maddening party? From our initial impressions, it looks like it doesn’t.


The 390 Duke can still be a hooligan if you want it to be and while KTM has introduced ride-by-wire, power delivery is still a bit twitchy for our liking. Yes, the throttle response is direct but we expected it to be more linear as going on and off the gas isn’t smooth and that’s all the more evident while trying to modulate the throttle around corners. But whack it open on a straight road and it will lunge forward with all its might. There’s decent amount of power till 6000rpm, but it’s beyond 7000rpm where the real party begins and it goes on till the marker breaches the 10k mark. Plus, this new, gruntier exhaust note only adds to the sensation. Like we’d said about the older 390, “you don’t ride it, you race it”, and it stays true for the 2017 Duke 390 as well. It’s still a delight to ride fast and begs you to do just that.

In the process of making the new Duke more aggressive, KTM has altered the overall rake angle and thanks to a taller seat height and slightly rear-set footpegs, you now sit a little more tipped forward than before. Nothing to worry about for those corner-carving junkies, as despite the altered rider geometry and added heft, the 390 continues to take corners with glee and you can really push yourself harder around the twisty stuff. There’s that superb suspension set-up, a shorter wheelbase and those meaty Metzelers working their charm on a test track.


Talking of Metzelers, here’s a spoiler; KTM has retained the tyre size but changed the overall compound. And in KTM’s own words, a replacement set of Metzelers will now cost you Rs 13,000 as opposed to 17 grand earlier and they are also more durable – an expected lifecycle of 10,000km as opposed to 7k earlier. Cheaper and durable Metzelers – does that ring a bell? Exactly. Now, we couldn’t tell the difference in grip just yet but pushing the bike around corners felt positive and our dozen odd brake tests on the test track proved satisfactory. Oh yes, the brakes – the new set-up feels amazing, there’s ample bite and paired with dual channel ABS, you get the confidence to brake deep into corners. By the way, KTM also lets you switch off the ABS completely or cut off the rear. Not sure if we would like that in our riding conditions, though.

Since this was strictly a track experience, we shall reserve our verdict on the new 390’s ride comfort. But if KTM officials are to be believed, the ride has only gotten better and the new WP front shocks play a big role in that. The new KTM 390 Duke continues to be a cracker of a machine – crazy and nimble, bringing your wilder side to the fore. It still makes for a good step-up from quarter-litre motorcycles and such is the overall performance, that it sometimes makes you wonder if you really need a bigger motorcycle for the battle we fight daily on our streets.

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At Rs 2.68 lakh, on-road, Mumbai, it’s a good 37 grand dearer than the outgoing model. Yet, it continues to be the best in its class and the one to go for if touring and occasional track riding is your thing. Remember, the 2017 KTM 390 Duke isn’t a product of circumstances but is a result of KTM’s relentless efforts of pushing the performance envelope further. And that it has surely done.

Photography: Somdutta Nhwakar

Specs

1cyl, 373.2cc, 43bhp, 37Nm, 6M, 149kg, 185mm ground clearance

Verdict

Still the best-in-class performance motorcycle. Now edgier and also, better looking




Devesh Shobha

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