Long-term test: KTM Duke 390 review

The urban fox

Posted: 13 October 2013
by Steve Farrell

KTM's 390 Duke

The Duke 390 is the second in a series of A2-compliant motorcycles I hope to ride for a few weeks on my commute across London, as a kind of long-term comparison test. I've had it for a week, after taking Honda back their CBR500R.

It's proving the perfect urban bike. Sharing the chassis of the Duke 125, it’s tiny, and as a result highly adept at slicing through traffic.

It’s one of those machines that’s so nimble it makes it easy to change direction while virtually stopped, without putting a foot down. Nip up one side of a queue, stop, turn almost 90°, cut between two cars, then do another 90° turn and zip up the other side. It’s almost as manoeuvrable through traffic as a bicycle.

It will squeeze through the smallest space. The mirrors stick out no further than the ends of the bars.

Being a 390, it's also got ample power for zipping into gaps or through closing ones.

It's supreme at denying those abominable drivers who make it their mission to hinder filtering motorcycles. They have no chance of stopping it. It threads through traffic a like 125 commuter but goes like a full-size motorbike. Whack the throttle wide open from low speed in first and the front wheel leaves the tarmac.

In fact I've bent the rules of my long-term comparison test with the Duke 390. KTM have given me a full-power, 43hp one; the one for A2 licence holders has a different ignition map which restricts it by 1.5hp, according to a PR rep for the firm.

A2 licences carry a restriction of 48hp along with a power-two-weight ratio limit of 0.26hp per kg. While the full-power Duke 390 is already within the former, it’s low weight of 139kg falls foul of the latter, which is why it must be restricted.

The mathematically minded of you may spot that, according to those figures, the restricted Duke is still too powerful, making 0.29hp per kg. To make 0.26hp per kg, it has to gain about 20kg once all fluids are added. I choose not to delve any deeper into that. It gives me a headache. What seems clear is that the restricted Duke 390 has its nose against the A2 power-to-weight ratio limit.

The one I've got feels faster accelerating than the CBR500R, although I expect the 48hp (and 194kg fuelled) Honda would reel it in as the numbers climbed.

It's definitely more fun than the CBR in town. I'm not as sure about out of town. The motorway journey from KTM's UK headquarters to London was just as you'd expect. Wrestling with the wind, I thought: 'Remind what the point of a naked motorcycle is.'

It's not the only area where the CBR500R is more convenient. It's a struggle to get a disc lock under the seat of the KTM. It fits but only just. The Honda has much more space.

With a plastic tank, the Duke won't take a magnetic tank bag.

There is also some disquiet on internet forums about the build quality of Duke 125s. For example, there are numerous complaints of the front brake light switch failing because the rubber cap on it goes hard in the cold. Since the Dukes share so many parts, there's presumably a risk of the 390 suffering similar problems.

I got 58.9mpg from the Duke, mainly in town, and 113.4 miles between fuel stops. The range indicator, which comes on with the fuel warning light, said I had 24 miles to go before the 11-litre tank would be empty. It had dropped instantly from 32 to 24, and I once rode a Duke 200 that went straight from 15 to zero, so I didn't want to push it. The CBR500R did better on economy, at 67.4mpg, giving a theoretical 232-mile range from the 15.7 litre tank.

That said, the CBR500R's service schedule includes a £250 valve clearance check at just 600 miles, which makes you wonder if Honda are worried about the Thai-built engine. In contrast, the CBR600RR doesn't need a valve check until 16,000 miles.

The fact is, neither the Duke 390 nor CBR500R has been around long enough for a clear picture of long-term reliability to have emerged.

In it's favour, the Duke will be about £400 cheaper than the CBR500R with on-the-road charges included. Both have ABS as standard.

However, the CBR500R feels like more of an all-round, do-anything motorcycle. Choosing between the two is a battle of head against heart. The CBR is the one you'd introduce to your parents. The Duke is more fun but might run off with your best mate. 

Sorry KTM but I think the CBR is the one I'd buy. Although I would be thinking of the Duke as I rode it.

Model: KTM Duke 390

Price: £4,500 plus on-the-road charges

Power: 43hp (41.5hp for A2 licence holders)

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Discuss this story

The KTM RC390 may change your mind over the CBR500R. I'm excited for it to arrive at dealers. With its full fairing, it promises to be a far better competitor for the CBR500R. With much better aerodynamics (over the Duke 390) - it should have a higher top speed, cut through the wind cleaner (less buffeting), and provide better fuel-economy too. So these traits should improve its motorway capabilities.

Posted: 13/10/2013 at 20:39

Got my Duke 390 a couple of weeks ago and loving it so far. Yet to do any long distance "touring" type rides on it but did a few 2-3 hours rides on my Duke 200 previoulsy and it coped OK so should be easier on the 390 (taller gearing so better for steady cruising etc). What tail bag have you got on it in the photo please ? I was looking at the SW-Motech cargobag. Cheers

Posted: 13/10/2013 at 22:35

It's a Bags Connection tail pack. Givi do a top box for the Duke 125, which should also fit the 390.

Posted: 13/10/2013 at 23:18

Thanks. I'm pretty sure that's the same as the Motech cargo bag. Cheers

Posted: 14/10/2013 at 10:46

KTM does offer a disk lock holder as a fairly inexpensive optional accessory.


Posted: 15/10/2013 at 15:39

KTM does offer a disk lock holder as a fairly inexpensive optional accessory.


Posted: 15/10/2013 at 15:40


Posted: 15/10/2013 at 15:40

I so want this to be a good bike, but Google "Duke 125 build quality" and... oh dear. I do hope they come off of different production lines.

KTM warranty support seems good though, for which they should be praised.

Posted: 20/10/2013 at 17:20

Isn't this bike built and designed by an Indian company. Just branded by KTM ?

Posted: 16/11/2013 at 04:38

Hi, I was wondering if any owners or test riders have noticed the symptoms I experienced on a test ride in October, stalls regularly within the first 5mins (from cold) and so revs have to be held up whilst dragging rear brake to prevent this. For example it will stall when simply changing from 1st to 2nd and won't re-start immediately. The other problem I noticed is it takes a while to re-start when warm (apparently you have to keep cranking but this can take 20 secs or more and looks dumb).

Posted: 18/11/2013 at 23:35

I had a couple of stalls and one difficult restart from hot on my Duke 390. The engine was not running as smooth as I expected either. I reported these problems when I dropped the bike in for its first service (1000km) I have just collected the 390 from the dealer and am happy to report that the bike is running much better with no hot start issues at all. The salesman told me that the exhaust valve had to be re-shimmed as the clearance was too small.

Posted: 21/11/2013 at 17:55

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