KTM 390 Duke Review: First Ride

By Ravi Ved | on March 10, 2017

In his Theory of Evolution, Charles Darwin said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the most responsive to change.” While this theory was purely focused on the evolution of mankind, it bears an uncanny resemblance to the way the 2017 KTM 390 Duke has shaped out. Let me explain!

2017 KTM 390 Duke Front Three Quarte

When KTM first brought the 390 Duke to India a few years back, it created a revolution. And, why wouldn’t it? The motorcycle had entered a market that had insatiable hunger for affordable performance. At an ex-showroom Delhi price of Rs 1.8 lakh during launch, it had the best power-to-penny ratio. It packed more punch than most parallel twins out there, was lighter and handled like a dream. Not to mention its design that made you secretly hope that it would transform into an Autobot.

2017 KTM 390 Duke Headlamp

But it wasn’t perfect! Its acceleration was choppy, the seating position wasn’t comfortable over long distances and the engine felt gruff. In this 2017 390 Duke, KTM irons out these imperfections and brings forth a lot of changes that helps it evolve from its predecessor.

When KTM first took the wraps off the new 390 Duke at EICMA last year, I found its Super Duke inspired styling a bit too sharp for my liking. However, on seeing it in flesh for the first time at the Bajaj test track in Chakan, my perception took a 180 degree turn. What baffled me was the way KTM has managed to whet it but at the same time keep its ‘Transformer’ DNA intact. In fact, only after looking at this 2017 iteration in flesh does its predecessor’s design start to show its age. Up front it gets an all LED headlamp that houses 6 LEDs – 2 each for the Auto Headlamp On (AHO), low beam and high beam. It also features horse shoe shaped Daytime Running Lights with 10 LEDs. The new 13.4 litre fuel tank is edgy and is accompanied by massive extensions. To offer enhanced comfort to the rider and the pillion, the seat is now wider. The exposed orange split trellis frame with the white sub-frame not only gives it a minimalistic appeal but also allows it to keep the weight in check. KTM was forced to fit the new 390 Duke with the side-slung exhaust to observe the BS IV mandate but there’s no denying that it blends well with the rest of the design.

2017 KTM 390 Duke Instrument Cluster

The most interesting feature of the new 2017 KTM 390 has to be the instrumentation. It comes fitted with a new TFT screen instead of the orange digital display from the outgoing model. Now this screen displays a lot more than the standard speedo, tacho, trip, FE and other such information. It can be connected with your phone via Bluetooth and you can use the buttons on the handle bar to toggle through music or answer/reject calls. Although it is a convenient feature to have on your motorcycle, we strictly advise you to refrain from listening to music or talking on the phone while riding. The screen is light sensitive thanks to which it auto-adjusts the brightness and colours to ensure that the information is easily legible. It also comes with two quick selector modes in which you can customise the information you want to view. KTM says that the screen is weather proof but whether it survives the harsh Mumbai rains or not is something we will have to wait to find out. While I was impressed with the feature loaded TFT instrumentation, the switches to toggle through the menu felt cheap and plasticy.

2017 KTM 390 Duke Riding Dynamic

Moving on to the mechanical bits. The 2017 390 Duke gets an updated version of KTM’s 373.2cc single-cylinder liquid cooled unit. It continues to make 42.9bhp but the torque output is now 37Nm – a 2Nm increase over its predecessor. Although these figures are the same, the addition of all the equipment and the larger tank means that the weight is now up to 149kg – 10kg more than the outgoing model. Nudge the start button and the engine comes to life with a raspier exhaust note. But more than that, what really impresses is the refinement of the engine. All the clatter of the older engine has now been smoothened out and the engine feels more refined right from the word go. We tested the bike around Bajaj’s test track in Chakan and even while doing speeds of over 150km/h the vibrations on the handle bar, seat and foot pegs were a lot more controlled than before.

2017 KTM 390 Duke Rear Three Quarter Dynamic

This 2017 390 Duke comes with ride-by-wire tech, something that was deeply missed on the previous iteration. Thanks to this the throttle response is lot crisper, fuelling is better too thanks to which the new 390 Duke feels a lot friendlier. The 2017 390 Duke retains the slipper clutch, courtesy of which the rear wheel doesn’t lock up during aggressive downshifts, thereby giving better control while entering corners.

2017 KTM 390 Duke Side Profile

While the engine has remained largely the same, the bigger change is in the chassis and the suspension. As opposed to the outgoing model, this one gets a bolt-on sub-frame that is now angled higher. Up front it now comes with open cartridge split function forks for compression and rebound. This has definitely help improve the overall damping and offer a more comfortable ride. The 10mm shorter wheelbase and the foot pegs that have been pushed back further, give the new 390 Duke a more forward biased stance resulting in better front end feel and nimble handling dynamics. The seats are now wider – both at the front as well as at the back. And combined with the new position of the foot pegs, the overall ergonomics and the riding posture feels a lot more comfortable. Brakes have been upgraded too – the front has a 320mm disc - 20mm larger than before, while the rear remains the same at 230mm. Unlike the outgoing model, this new iteration has adjustable levers. Bite from the brakes has improved marginally. The 2017 390 Duke still wears the same Metzeler tyres and the Velcro-like grip they provide leave little to complain about.

So, there you have it – the 2017 KTM 390 Duke. It makes no short cuts in evolution, not that you’d expect any from KTM. Every change on this motorcycle has been made with a purpose in mind – the purpose of raising the bar in every possible way. KTM could easily have taken the easy way out and given the 390 Duke just a cosmetic update, but they chose to go the long way and the results show a significant improvement overall.

The Austrian bike maker has also been very shrewd in pricing the 2017 390 Duke. In their previous avatar, the RC was priced higher than its naked sibling. Now though, the 390 Duke is priced at Rs 2.25 lakh (ex-showroom Delhi), which is the same as the RC390. It is important to understand that the RC390 has only gotten a mild update while the 390 Duke is an all-new model that comes with improved dynamics and better equipment. Coming to the 2017 KTM 390 Duke itself – yes, it demands a noteworthy Rs 30,000 more than its previous iteration but what you get in return a motorcycle that has evolved and matured to near perfection!

Tags: KTM KTM 390 Duke

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KTM 390 Duke Model Image
Starts at ₹ 2.58 Lakh Ex-showroom, New Delhi

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