KTM’s 390 Duke has always been a favorite here at Cycle World. We even went so far as to name the bike Best Lightweight Streetbike two years in a row. You can imagine then, how as I boarded a plane bound for Turin, Italy, where I'd test the latest iteration of the 390, I was having a hard time figuring how KTM could’ve improved on the platform. After just five minutes with the 390 Duke, I was most definitely convinced; KTM had worked its magic yet again.
That magic starts from the outside in, the designers at KISKA—KTM’s design partner—having updated the 2017 Duke with more distinct lines and a sharper tail. A newly designed LED headlight replaces the less-aggressive unit on the previous-generation 390, whereas the graphics kit has been redesigned and simplified, all of which helps align the bike more closely with its big-bore siblings, like the beastly 1290 Super Duke R and 1290 Super Adventure R.
KTM’s marketing team briefed us on some of the bike’s key features the night prior to test riding the 390. One of the features they were really proud of was the new, light-sensitive TFT display featuring the latest (but optional) KTM MY RIDE system. Understandably so, because as soon as I turned the key and the dash illuminated, I was taken aback by how cleanly finished KTM managed to make the display. Everything I needed was right there in front of me, beautifully displayed, and whatever wasn’t I could easily access by toggling through the screen with the handlebar menu switch.
That optional KTM MY RIDE system lets you seamlessly connect your cell phone to the display, and then turns the screen in to a control center for things like phone calls and music, with you being able to thumb your selections via a handlebar switch. Me being 22 years old and tech enamored, I was instantly intrigued by the system and wanted to put it through its paces. More times than not I find these Bluetooth integrations quirky and more of a hassle than they’re worth. Once I got synced up (it only took about three seconds), I had immediate and full control of music volume and the ability to skip tracks, which was an awesome feature and definitely not one I ever expected to have as an option on a bike that hits such a nice price point.
Out on the road, the first thing I noticed about the 390 Duke is how much more comfortable it is than its predecessor. KTM raised the seat height just over an inch (from 31.5 inches to 32.7 inches), made tweaks to the handlebar, and also moved the foot pegs back and up. The seat itself is updated, and almost right away I could tell how this saddle would be more accommodating, as it’s more narrow in the front and wider towards the rear.
It’s tough for me to say how this taller seat height will impact a smaller rider, but other journalists not nearly as tall as I seemed to get along great with the bike, going on to say that they were still flat-footed at a stop. I am 6’4” and yet I felt right at home. An added plus? I remember struggling with making sharp turns at low speeds on previous-generation 390 Dukes, because my knees would get bound up with the ends of the handlebars, an issue that was non-existent for me on this new model.
Meanwhile, the bike’s adjustable brake lever and clutch lever are a nice touch, as they enabled me to extend the levers out all the way and helped accommodate my large hands. On the contrary, I think this is a great feature for anyone with smaller hands, as quite often I’ve seen people have the issue of not being able to reach levers. In the lightweight category especially, it's all about comfort and a feeling of control.
The updated ride-by-wire throttle is as smooth as you could hope for it to be. This is crucial because any disconnect between wrist movement and actual throttle movement can also cause problems for people just learning to ride. Kudos to the engineers at KTM, as I can only imagine how perfecting this system, while keeping so many government regulations in mind, is no easy task.
The bike's quality feel trickles down to the suspension, the 390 impressing with a WP shock that provides good comfort through a progressive-rate spring. A separate function WP front fork with open cartridge technology provides much the same, and thanks to the bike’s 10mm shorter wheelbase and 5mm less trail (when compared to the outgoing model), this 390 feels even more agile than before.
We started our riding day with a photoshoot on the rooftop test track of the historic FIAT factory, which was once used to test each car produced at the plant prior to being sent out into the retail world. I could almost feel the history as I was riding here, though honestly, it wasn’t until our group of journalists made it outside of Turin, Italy, and up towards the mountains that I really got to see what the 44 hp, single-cylinder engine was made of.
KTM actually managed to add two more foot-pounds of torque through refined ECU tuning, a larger air box, and an updated (and better looking) exhaust. Mid-range power feels strong, and with a dry weight that’s just shy of 330 lbs., the bike’s power-to-weight ratio is about as good as it gets in the small-displacement category. I never really wanted to go faster than the 390 was willing to. And on the plus side, the bike’s size and power makes you feel in complete and total control. You never really have to worry about grabbing too much throttle or overstepping your boundaries. The bike is capable, but friendly.
The 390’s Supermoto ABS mode, paired with a buttery smooth slipper clutch and 20mm larger, 320mm front brake disc (which is paired to a radially mounted, four-piston ByBre caliper) allowed me to have some fun sliding my way back down the mountain. I was really impressed by the front brake feel and longevity; after a 30-minute descent down the backside of the Alps, there was zero brake fade. Meanwhile, I was grinning ear to ear and trying to keep my eyes focused on the road, not the picturesque views.
The best part? I rode from our hotel to a graffiti-filled skatepark, to a delicious pizza place, and then to the top of the distant mountains and back without even burning through half a tank of fuel! Thanks to the enlarged, 3.5 gallon fuel tank (previously 2.9 gallons) I was running out of daylight, not gas.
As we neared the end of our time with the 390 Duke, I challenged myself to think about who this bike is for. I’ve raced motorcycles my entire life, but had more fun on this bike than I’ve had in a long time—on anything with two wheels. Which made me think, maybe this bike isn't meant for just one category of riders, but for everyone? It wraps comfortable ergonomics, modern looks, and KTM’s signature “Ready to Race” performance all up in one easy-to-access package.
If you’re an entry level rider, this bike is everything you’ll want it to be. If you are a returning rider and haven’t ridden for a handful of years, then there’s a good chance this bike is for you, too. If you live in an urban area, if you’re looking for a bike to play around on in the canyons with, or if…well you get the point. Hold for long-distance touring or elongated highway stints, the 390 Duke feels like it really can do it all. And for just about everyone.
There’s a slight bump in price , from $4,999 to $5,299, but it all seems easily justified when you take each of the updates—and end performance—in to account.
Something tells us the rest of the lightweight streetbikes are going to have some stiff competition come Ten Best time...
|ENGINE TYPE||Liquid-cooled single-cylinder|
|BORE & STROKE||89.0 x 60.0mm|
|SEAT HEIGHT||32.7 in.|
|FUEL CAPACITY||3.5 gal.|
|CLAIMED DRY WEIGHT||328 lbs.|