If the Yamaha R15 kick-started the upswing in the Indian performance bike segment, then it’d be safe to say that it was the introduction of the KTM Duke 390 that redefined and turbocharged it. The Duke 390 offers superlative performance at an affordable price point, but how well can it tackle the rigours of daily life? We test the updated 2015 version that comes with small but significant improvements, to find out just that, and more!
The Duke 390 is one stunning motorcycle to behold; brutal is the best way to describe its sharp and aggressive styling, courtesy of Gerard Kiska and his team at KISKA design. Whichever angle you look at it from, the Duke 390 never fails to excite.
Build quality is top class; the entire bike is clothed with thick plastic panels that feel robust, while the abundance of well-finished aluminium parts give it a premium and sporty look.
The seating posture is mix of motocross and sport naked – the rider sits upright, with the feet placed slightly rearward. Although this posture takes a little time to get acquainted with, it bodes well for extended durations of riding. There isn’t much room to move about though. The pillion seat is very small, and although the grab rails are well-shaped, your regular pillion rider won’t be too keen on straddling it after trying it out once.
Nestled in the midst of the trellis frame is the 373cc single-cylinder powerhouse that defines the bike. This engine, a liquid-cooled, fuel-injected, 4-valve unit develops 43 bhp and 35 Nm of torque. Slot it into first, gradually let go of the clutch as you wring the throttle, and hold on tight. The way it accelerates is just astonishing! As you throttle on, you’ll feel the front go light, as the bike squats to its rear and pushes forward like its tail’s on fire. 100 kmph comes up in less than 6 seconds, and we saw 175 kmph on the speed before we ran out of space.
The gear ratios are slightly longer than on the Duke 200, but they feel suited for this powertrain. On the 2015 version, KTM have added a slipper clutch to the mix. A slipper clutch prevents the rear wheel from locking up on aggressive down shifts, thereby improving traction and the effect of engine braking on the bike. On this version, the clutch lever feels a lot lighter, and gearshifts feel a whole lot smoother. The slipper clutch will be useful for those who take their bike to the track very often.
Take it around your favourite twisty roads, and you’d come back amazed at the way the Duke 390 handles. Its short wheelbase and wide handlebars allow it to change direction very quickly, whereas the firm suspension setup and the soft-compound Metzeler tyres allow it to corner as fast and as hard as the rider dares. In the city, the compact dimensions make it really easy to manoeuvre through tight spots and heavy traffic.
If you expect the Duke 390 to offer a ride quality that’s as good as it’s handling, then you’ll be in for a big disappointment. Even in the softer suspension settings, even the smallest road imperfections can be felt clearly by the rider. Potholes and bumps are best dealt with as slowly and gingerly as possible.
With such explosive performance at hand, you’d definitely require all lot of stopping power, and the Duke 390 doesn’t disappoint. The bike employs a 300mm disc at the front and a 230 mm disc at the rear, and is supplemented with ABS. This setup allows for swift and fuss-free decelerations, even from triple-digit speeds. You can switch it off too if you’d like, although with so much power at hand, it is better to leave it on at all times.
The bike gets a neat-looking fully-digital instrument console that displays a ton of information, back-lit switch gear, and LED indicators and tail lights. The 2015 version gets new palm grips that are softer, new fog-resistant indicators, dust-protectors for the front and rear suspension units, a front fender-extender, an extended rear-tyre hugger, and a beefier radiator fan to help cool the engine better. All these changes were made to make the Duke 390 more India-friendly, to help it run better in the hot and dusty conditions of our country.
At around Rs 1,90,000 (ex-showroom, Delhi), the KTM Duke 390 is the byword for value-for-money. No other manufacturer offers so much performance and quality for a relatively low price.
The KTM Duke 390 is a motorcycle unlike no other. It is hugely fast, offers brilliant dynamics, and is priced very well. It does have a few limitations though, like the stiff ride, and a short range, no thanks to a small fuel tank and a voracious thirst for unleaded. Also, you tend to feel the powerful engine’s heat quite a bit in slow-moving traffic. Well, you can’t have it all, can you?
The Duke 390 will best suit those who are upgrading from a 150cc – 250cc performance bike. Its performance envelope is very large, so you can ride it fast without breaching its limits. Forget its flaws, for they are minor and can be easily circumvented, and enjoy what you’ll be left to with - an extremely fast street bike that can you can commute, tour, and do track days on with equal fervour.
|Engine||Liquid cooled, 4-stroke single cylinder|
|Power||43 bhp @ 9000 rpm|
|Torque||35 Nm @ 7000 rpm|
|Chassis Type||Tubular space frame made from steel tubes, powder-coated|
|Brakes||Front:Disc, dia 300 mm
Rear:Disc, dia 230 mm
|Suspension||Front:WP Upside-down forks, 150 mm travel
Rear:WP Monoshock, 150 mm travel
|Fuel Tank Capacity||11|