If you have never ridden a KTM before, chances are that you wouldn’t believe me when I say , the very definition of how much fun you can have with something between your legs is going to be shredded, I am sure people who have tasted the KTM are grinning right now,and re-living that first ride of theirs in their mind. When the Katoom 200 came by , it had a somewhat similar Hype, but for some reason it never stuck me to try and have a go at the wonderful piece of machinery it was, time passed and KTM became a big success, then the 390 rumors started rising, I thought to myself “Just another naked bike to the list”, then the specs came out, 44 BHP on a 390 single, OK, now they had me to stop and pay close attention.This was like none other in the current Indian 2 wheeler market, a 44 bhp single cylinder with Metzeler tyres and a very capable frame, it was a dream combination for many. Now I did not hurry up and do a test ride or anything, the first piece that comes to dealership and the first few batches wouldn’t be good enough to get a proper feel of what the bike is capable of, and it’s one thing to ride a bike for a few kms and judge it and is a totally different thing to ride it for thousands of kms and then try to put in down to words. So I waited ,mind you till then I hadn’t ridden a KTM in my entire life and boy was I in for a shocker when I was to accept delivery of a spanking new KTM 390 about 2 months later.
So here I am ready to share my side of the story after 6k kms with the wonderful machine.
First Crank and First Ride
So I was thinking, OK, it’s a 44 bhp motor, so it does command some respect or it definitely will bite back, and was expecting the ride to be a bit too occupying keeping all that things in mind. So, finally I get to sit on the bike and going to crank her up, till then I was never a fan of the sound of the KTM, but once I fired her up, it changed, no logical explanation of why, probably having her fired up under you does brings on a different impression, and was she loud or what..!! Blipped the throttle a bit and got that nasty-angry snarl as a response, Wow..!! Now I was impressed. And then pulled in the clutch(very heavy BTW) and slotted it into the first gear,and that was it, it will leave a lasting impression on you,the amount of power on tap right from that moment you roll the throttle is just un-real , If you have been riding sub 250cc or even 250cc bikes till then, the term performance biking has a new meaning now, form now on , every bike you ride is going to be a direct comparison to the 390 on the sheer power delivery spits out. And then once I got some clear tarmac, blipped the throttle a wee bit and then all hell is unleashed, you feel all that NA horses being transferred onto the rear wheel, the feeling is just over-whelming and adrenaline pumping, within a minute or so, the definition of the word “Fun” was set at a new benchmark.
P.S: For first time riders, you might find that the bike will stall on you in the first gear on you first few attempt, the reason is because the amount of power right from the word go is just too much and the rate at which you release the clutch is too fast, so do keep in mind that when rolling on , maintain the bike in half clutch and give a wee bit extra throttle and slowly ease the bike into a rolling motion, a fast and sudden release in clutch with minimum input will cause the bike to stall.
The run-in procedure, this is not your typical run-in type, the bike asks you to not rev beyond 7.5k, now that is all I am going to say, to know what is special in that , I would suggest you get a test ride bike and try it out, to know what 7.5k in each gear feels like on the 390. Well, In my case, I kept it below 7.5k at all times, and had the most fun breaking in the engine than I have ever had on any of the other bikes I have. Well, the bike eased in perfectly, had the first 1000 kms completed in less than a week.
Engine Refinement & Performance
Refinement is a tough word to go with , everything about the 390 makes you feel alive, awake and self conscious, the high compression 375 cc single cylinder mill firing beneath you is a constant reminder of what a capable widow maker it can be if not handled with care. Long highway rides in cool temperatures, the bike manages to remain refined, even with the high compression engine and hard clutch that it has, but constant city traffic , and tip towing around is something that it doesn’t like at all and it can be easily understood when the engine starts getting harsh and the gear changes get a bit cranky and weird on you.
Performance..hmmm…let’s just put it this way, It really knows how to feed and build up your ego and crush into dust that of others. Power is found at abundance almost all through out the RPM band, it is quite easy to intimidate a fellow rider/driver with it’s power and also crush others challenge without breaking a sweat and you can put on a smug face of satisfaction after. It is like a hyper active puppy jumping and running around the whole place, it so filled with power that relaxed riding is a concept unknown or unheard of when aboard this little devil.
The initial pull is equivalent to a swift kick to the crotch, it manages to power wheelie without any effort in the first 2 gears and that can get a bit scary at first, but Boy it is surely fun when it does that. the bike climbs revs in a jiffy, and shifting through gears is fast, but if you really want some fun, then stay in each gear till you see red-line and it is a whole new world, mind you , it does need some serious balls to do something like that, and one more thing I might add, if you aren’t from the group of the mentally insane you would get it when I say that , the city or narrow roads are NOT a place to do that.
Now throttle response and performance on the roll is also pretty much impressive, overtaking in highways are effortless , just slight dab of the throttle and you find yourself pulling away with ease, it happens to be the same experience even in the cruising gear.
If you are facing any issues with loss of power, you might want to check this out.
Nothing short of good quality Fully Synthetic oil will do or you will find yourself with blown gaskets or seized engines or sheared off engine parts, especially if you are living in areas with hot climatic conditions nothing short of 20W50 will do. Again the heat generated as a part of the high compression being the culprit , the oil being used must hold itself together even in such high operating temperatures, to protect the engine from overheating or premature wear and tear.
So oil that i’d suggest would be Motul 7100 and Motul 300v, with more preference towards the Motul 300V, have been using the Motul 7100 till now and even with such a brilliant product the bike manages to heat up to the second last bar in the temperature gauge in the highly demanding Bangalore traffic. So, in such heavy traffic even the 7100 is deemed not enough , so it really needs the 300v to help the bike lubricate itself better at high temperature and also will help in keeping the engine much cooler and thereby much safer.
P.S: The service centers will be using the 7100, if you can afford it is always to insist them on using the 300v for your bike when getting it serviced.
P.P.S : For helping keeping the engine cool and to lift the pressure of the lubes a bit, it will benefit to use the “Engine Ice” radiator coolant , which is said to drop the operating temperature of the bike by 3-4 degree Celsius. This will really help people who have to encounter a lot of city riding.
Design and Build quality
Well, as far as design goes, it has the word “Hooligan” written all over it, the styling is pretty aggressive and minimalist and it works. It truly portrays the hot-head manic look and behaves exactly that way too. The dash of Orange on the rims and frame cries for attention everywhere it goes, no matter if it is parked or you are puttering around in the city , it is a absolute head turner. The Headlights are quite adequate for night rides, with decent coverage and spread. The indicators though a bit flimsy , they are quite bright and do the job well. The rear brake lights are a work of art, the design is quite exquisite and the LED lights again give very good illumination in making you visible to people behind you at night time.Even with the minimalist design, the bike electrical are well hidden and doesn’t expose itself upon a quick gaze. So overall in design aspect it can be said to be really good.
Now , moving over to build quality, it is top notch, starting form the handle bars , the handle bar switch lights and buttons to the aluminium swing arms which is a beautifully crafted piece to look at, the plastic parts have not shown any damages or any weak points as of yet, the paint is staying exactly the way it should be, no fading or such problem.
Now, a very prominent issue that the duke 390 has faced is the build quality of the rims, now Rims cracking is a issue heard of in almost most bikes, but with the 390 we have been seeing many cases where the rims shear off and break into many pieces on impact, now we are not talking about high speed head-ons or anything, something as small as hitting a pot hole at moderate speeds. That is a really big life threat in such a situation. Though I have faced no such issues with Rims, it seems there is always a constant danger of that since this issue has not been localized to any specific batch of bikes and no official statement from KTM has been noted addressing this issue. This particular issue can be a deal-breaker when considering for this bike. So this is something KTM must look into and come up with a official statement about.
Well, in a nutshell, it is just pure fun, superb mass-centralization,a very capable frame, really sticky Metzelers and stiff and high performance WP suspension means it is a corner craving machine and easy to flick from side to side and to fight your way through traffic (given that you have enough space for that, reason i will mention soon enough). But that just covers the general case. Let us now look into each aspect of riding.
City riding is a place where the 390 can be a menace to ride on, if you are in a city area which is more or less having rush hour traffic almost any time of day, then you are going to suffer, the bike dos not like bumper to bumper traffic, it will heat up almost instantly, and you are left with well cooked thighs and you find yourself constantly gazing at the temperature gauge and praying for it to not hit the last bar, which means trouble. Thanks to the high compression engine that along with creating mad horse also does this. Now if that wasn’t enough comes the hard clutch, Oh yes, that is a real bitch when it comes to traffic, you find yourself riding the clutch for majority of the city ride , which as we all know not so good considering the life of the clutch, then comes the FE for city rides, I have recorded a mileage of as low as 16-18kmpl in full city rides(Bangalore city traffic). Ah, I almost forgot, the blown gasket issue, the love child of extreme heat from traffic and hot weather. This is another issue you are going to face if your riding consists of mostly rush hour city rides. Things does get a bit better as night time falls. So, if you are a strict city user, you might want to keep this in mind and a few factors that I will explain in the next section.
Highway riding is quite satisfactory, you get open roads which the bikes loves and also quite a lot of space to play with the throttle , the bike feels very much alive and can cruise at high speed without any issues. So can we call it as a good touring bike ? No Why ? Well for starters, the low tank range for one factor, it holds only 10ltrs of fuel with a range of 200-250 kms to be generous, which can be a big drag when going for long tours where fuel station and fuel quality might be a big factor. Secondly, the bike is not something that I would say that makes relaxed riding possible, even on open highways the bike always has a sense of emergency looming around and always wants to lunge ahead with more speed, not exactly what we can say as cruising. Thirdly,If your concept of touring includes a pillion too , then it gets even worse, the pillion seat is almost non existent and whatever is left of it is really uncomfortable too. Wind blast being another issue,it is a naked bike , it is not build for the highways, but a decent windshield can take care of that issue. The Fazer /CBR250 Windshield are the preferred fix for this problem of the 390. And then comes the tyres, but it has got a funny predicament when it comes to this, I’ll explain it in the Tyres section. Now, does that mean it is a terrible touring bike ? No, yeah, I know it sounds crazy, the most of the 6k kms I have done on the duke, I have spent touring on it. If you do not mind the low fuel range , the bit hard rider seat and you like to ride solo, this is actually a bike that can take you places, but the only thing is it won’t be as comfortable as a CBR250 or a 220 or Karizma would have been. I hope you get the comparison on the touring aspect.
The bike works great off-road, every ounce of that fun factor can be extracted on the dirt, the abundance of power and the upright riding posture all helps, have done a few off-road trials and loved it to the core. But the only thing to be careful of is the soft compound Metzelers, being really soft, they are really vulnerable to cuts and punctures. So, if you plan on taking it for off-road trails , you might as well swap the tyres to off-road spec ones and have fun.
Mass centralization, Capable frame, Sticky Metzelers, WP Suspension and great brakes, I guess this speaks for the bike, I am not going to blabber more about it. These words should be enough.
This was one of the most hyped feature about the 390. When most of the bikes available in India came with tyres with poor grip , and particlarly at the time when biking was getting more popular and serious among the Indian crowd , the need for better grip was really a big agenda. Then KTM came up with this, Metzeler tyres , until then it was a brand which we could see only on the high end super bikes and other imported bikes. Being a product for such track oriented machines, we knew for sure the potential of those tyres and they did not have to prove anything. And as thought it made a world of difference on the 390.
The confidence level that this bike gave us with the phenomenal grip was staggering. The bike had inherently become more merciful and forgiving in the corners , it wouldn’t spit us out on the slightest error, but instead stay planted unless one does something totally stupid. But then , comes the trade off. There were 2 pressing factors, Life span and Cost.
Let’s talk about Life time. The tyre being a super soft compound tyre, it would give insane grip ,as the tyre can get heated faster and the hotter the compound gets the stickier it becomes, the problem with such tyres is that it gets worn out just as quickly,it is tough to put a cap on it , but it would be highly optimistic thinking if you could get 13-14k kms of use with this tyres, taking into consideration they have been used properly. Now what I meant by “using properly ” is that, if super soft compound tyres such as this is used just for long and straight highway rides and city rides where all we use is the central contact patch area of the tyre, the tyre starts to wear of squarely. That is the center patch will become flattened and then the tyre shoulders are left unused(chicken strips).
Now that is a shameful way to wear off these tyres, To add salt to the wound, let’s look into what it costs, the cost of the tyre comes at close to 10k or more for one tyre. Now adding both these points and stating the obvious we reach at the conclusion that to use the tyres given with this bike, it has to be ridden in ghats section where corners are at plenty or at the track, without which it is just a waste of money and some really good tyres. Now you can see why even long straight highways can be a bad proposition when it comes to touring. It would be a different case if the touring involves ghats and tons and tons of corners, then it is a different story all together.
Well, with great power you need even greater stopping force, and so the 390 comes with really huge disc brake at front and at par rear disk, mated with a ABS system developed by BOSCH , and this is being offered as standard feature. But the main part about it is that the ABS can be turned on or off as per the riders wish, there is a button for that, read the manual for finding how to do it. Anyways, the ABS in this is quite a fine piece of machinery and software, it works just fine, when the bike can gain such high speeds it is almost inevitable that the number of emergency situation it might encounter will be the same(I am sure some might not understand, but one day you’ll get it) and the ABS does a great work to prevent wheel lock and assist in a controlled stop. But a few times I did hate the way the ABS kicked in for no worldly reason I could think of, but that was just a isolated incidences , so I think I’ll let it pass.
Ok, so that brings us to the conclusion, I am not sure actually how to end this review. It has got just too many variables where you might get stuck trying to decide is it worth it or not. It is always in a constant battle between the Brain and the Heart.
Question like “Can it be used to tour ” and you go like “No..!!”, then on thinking again it’s like “Hell, yeah ..it can ..!”, “But is it comfortable enough ? ” and the answer be like “No”. Then comes “Is it a good city ride ?” and the obvious answers is “Of course it is, it is a naked bike and a Duke for Christ sake, haven’t you ridden the Duke 200” and then once you ride it in city traffic and you smell your legs getting cooked and low fuel light flashing you are like “Oh God..!! Why me ? Why is it always like this” and now even your hands are aching riding the clutch. And then you get a open stretch of road and give the throttle and then suddenly all those little chatter inside your head goes quite, and suddenly you feel alive, you feel a surge of adrenaline rushing through your veins and instantly forget all those worries and have that crazy ass grin on your face.
So, putting it lightly, It may not be the best when it comes to touring and comfort, it may not be the best bike to be riding when it’s rush hour traffic or when you are at the phase to get new set of tyres.
But then at the end of the day, was it worth it ? Hell Yeah..! You do not know what real fun is until you ride a Duke..!!!
And with that I can truly say, it has rightfully earned the name, The Devils’s Advocate