First ride: 2017 KTM 125 and 390 Duke review

Have new and younger riders ever had it so good?

2017 KTM 125 Duke

WHEN I WAS a yoof, I spent a lot of time dreaming about Gail Porter and that kiss scene with Denise Richards in Wild Things.

I also dreamt about motorcycles quite a bit. As a 17 – 20 year old, I lusted after things like Cagiva Mitos, Aprilia RS250s and Jap 400s. I had posters of these bikes on my walls, but when I looked out the window, all I could see was my tatty Gilera SKP moped.

Had the KTM 125 Duke (main pic) and 390 Duke (below) been around when I was a teenager, they would have been the stuff of my dreams – the tickets to some much-needed instant cool and popularity.

Just look at them, thanks to a significant restyle for 2017, they’re little versions of the halo bike of the Duke range – the 1290 Super Duke R and that strong family resemblance is going to draw in the cool kids. Both bikes look spot on – with the 1290’s sharp, poised and aggressive aesthetic thanks to a new LED front light unit, cowling round the new larger tank (13.4 litres, up from 11) and a sharper tail unit with new subframe, which is bolted to a new mainframe.

The premium styling and makes these two feel special. KTM says it wants 125 Duke riders to know that they’re riding a proper ‘grown-up’ bike and not a compromised, forgettable learner. I think any rider who owns one of these will know that and it’s the same with the 390 Duke – it looks like so much more than a A2 bike that could get resigned to being a footnote in a rider’s history.

The 125 and 390 Dukes share a few more changes too – their single-cylinder engines are both Euro4 compliant and have both been tweaked to offer a wider spread of power, with a new exhaust silencer on the left side.

They both also feature new suspension with open cartridge WP forks and a new WP shock with separation piston technology – essentially rebound damping is taken care of by one fork leg, and compression damping is handled by the other.

Both models also boast a colour TFT dash – a first for a 125 and A2 bike. It’s excellent - bright, crisp and clear, and the information it displays can be easily customized to the rider’s preference using the controls on the left switchgear. The TFT display also adjusts to the ambient light level, has a gear position indicator and tells you if the sidestand is down or kill switch off. It’s a big part of what makes these two feel like such premium bikes, and works with KTM MyRide feature – which allows phone connectivity.

And speaking of premium, here are the prices: £4,599 for the 390 and £4,099 for the 125.

We rode both of them on a mostly rain-soaked day in Turin – the 125 Duke in the morning, followed by an afternoon on the 390 Duke.

First ride: 2017 KTM 125 Duke review

AS I MENTIONED at the start, the 2017 125 Duke has a distinctly premium feel that’s achieved through a combination of angular 1290 Super Duke R styling, a sick new colour TFT instrument panel, and the allure of performance that is sure to excite any young rider. That’s why KTM calls it ‘Jizz of the beast’, or something similar…

But unlike the 1290 Super Duke R, the 125 Duke’s 124.7cc single-cylinder engine is packing a lot less firepower – 15hp at 10,000rpm and 8.85lb/ft, putting it on a par with the Yamaha MT-125. As you’d hope from a bike that’s mostly going to be ridden by learners getting to grips with a geared bike for the first time, the engine is smooth and predictable with sweet fuelling and a nice throttle connection.

The power isn’t going to blow your balls off but it’s entertaining enough because you can ride the 125 Duke at 100% without too much fear of reprisal from the law. Launching away from the lights quickly becomes an event to savour – hold it at 8k and let the clutch out before quickly snicking the slick gearbox into second gear and laughing. Keep it the motor spinning between 7,000 and 10,000rpm and you’re in the sweet spot for making progress, but don’t forget to tuck in and crouch down to eek out the last few precious mph, or you’ll be in the crosshairs of your mate on his 125.

Braking performance from the ABS-equipped radial four-piston Bybre (By Brembo, see) caliper and 300mm disc felt well up to the job of stopping the 125 Duke, with enough power at the lever whenever I went searching for it and the ABS did its job well.

Most of the test ride took place in urban Turin and making progress through the city could have been tricky on other bikes. Turin’s traffic and tram-packed morning streets are a commuter battle ground, but the light, narrow and nimble 125 Duke is the perfect weapon to cut a path past all those unpredictable, horn-happy Italians on a suicide mission to the office and their seventh espresso of the morning.

It’s certainly light on its feet and the eighth-litre Duke has exactly the kind of welcoming ergonomics and ride-feel you’d expect from a learner – although the ride position has been tweaked to be more sporty, it’s still comfortable and natural, making it easy to boss. It means new riders will be able to immediately get on and enjoy the 125 Duke’s lightness and agility and although it looks like a mean mofo of a 125, it’s anything but when you ride it.

The handling follows suit. The little Duke feels direct and as eager as the young scamps who are likely to enjoy whipping it around a congested city or challenging road. The new WP suspension helps here. The front upside down WP fork and the WP shock in the rear give a comfortable ride. They soak up crappy roads with ease to deliver a stable ride feel, meaning that the little Duke kept its composure on some pretty atrocious roads.

As 125s go, this is the one that’s going to have teenagers drooling, because it’s all there - full colour TFT dash, scaled-down Super Duke looks, USD forks, radial front brake and some cool graphics, all backed up with capable performance. It manages not to feel like an entry-level stop gap 125 and crucially, is what we need to inspire new riders to turn to bikes and stick with them instead of buying a shitty Corsa to smoke weed and go fingering in as soon as they're able.

Model tested: 2017 KTM 125 Duke

Price: £4,099

Engine: 124.7cc single-cylinder four-stroke

Power: 15hp at 10,000rpm

Torque: 8.85lb/ft at 7,500rpm

Frame: Steel trellis

Suspension: Front – 43mm WP USD fork / Rear – WP shock

Brakes: Front – Four-piston radially-mounted Bybre caliper, 300mm disc / Rear – Single-piston floating caliper, 23mm disc

Seat height: 830mm

Fuel capacity: 13.4 litres

Weight: 139kg dry

Colours: Orange, white

Availability: Mid-April

First ride: 2017 KTM 390 Duke

THE 390 DUKE is the same size and shape as the 125 but the 390’s additional power makes it feel like a little missile in comparison to its smallest sibling.

The sharp, punchy Euro4 compliant 373.2cc single-cylinder engine punts out 44hp and its 32.45lb/ft torque provides enough power to swiftly dispatch most city traffic, no doubt helped by the fact that peak power and torque are both available lower down the rev range.  There’s also plenty available for a fast road ride and about 100mph on the clocks. Factor in the sweet fueling and crisp response from the new ride-by-wire throttle and it’s a motor that’s hard to fault and definitely one of the most exciting engines to have in your corner while on an A2 restriction.

With the engine singing between 6,000 and 10,000rpm, the 390 Duke makes eager progress and is at its perkiest. It’s immense fun and once on some twisty mountain roads, the 390 really comes alive; because it’s not crazy fast, it can be ridden hard and linking together a series of bends becomes about corner speed, selecting the right gear and making sure you do everything right (the slipper clutch helps here too). Or you can choose to do it wrong – turn on supermoto ABS mode and you can throw out any attempt at neat riding as you deliberately lock up the rear into every corner.

I’m certain the braking power on offer from radial four-piston Bybre front caliper and 20mm larger front disc has improved compared to the previous 390 Duke. I always felt like I had enough power at my disposal – even when things were getting brisk. However, even though they have enough power, it could begin to feel dead as you squeeze the adjustable lever ever closer to the bar.

The suspension feel you get from the 390 is a touch firmer than 125. The previous 390 suffered from a shock that sagged a lot under the rider’s weight but the 2017 bike is free from such a problem. In fact, the new WP suspension is supportive at both ends and responds well when the 390 Duke is being pushed.

As with the 125, the 390 handles with lightness and ease. It’s massive fun to hurl into flowing corners and lever round technical little turns in the road. The firmer suspension makes it feel more precise and eager compared to the 125. Of course, the new sportier ride position helps here too – the new bars put you a little more in touch with the front wheel, and the rearsets are set slightly higher and further back but the 390 Duke never feels intimidating. For the most part, it’s comfy too but the seat is definitely on the firm side. And while I'm complaining... the grips on the 390 (and the 125 for that matter) feel cheap because they're too plasticky.

The new 2017 KTM 390 Duke is an excellent step on from the previous model - it looks superb and the small changes to its engine, suspension, brakes and geometry come together to create one of the most exciting A2 bikes out there, and one of the most fun bikes I've ridden in a while.

Model tested: 2017 KTM 390 Duke

Price: £4,599

Engine: 373.2cc single-cylinder four-stroke

Power: 44hp at 9,000rpm

Torque: 32.45lb/ft at 7,000rpm

Frame: Steel trellis

Suspension: Front – 43mm WP USD fork / Rear – WP shock

Brakes: Front – Four-piston radially-mounted Bybre caliper, 320mm disc / Rear – Single-piston floating caliper, 230mm disc

Seat height: 830mm

Fuel capacity: 13.4 litres

Weight: 149kg dry

Colours: Orange with orange frame and wheels, white

Availability: Mid-April