Ready to Race – KTM 390 Duke ABS

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The Duke is a toy bike that doesn’t compromise fun for function  Photo by Raymund Ravanera

The Duke is a toy bike that doesn’t compromise fun for function
Photo by Raymund Ravanera

So you think you have a fun bike in your garage? Unless it has an orange trellis frame and a power-to-weight ratio that will leave you smiling from ear to ear, then you have another “think” coming.

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The KTM390 Duke ABS is the bigger sibling of the 200 Duke, which was the object of wet dreams of many commuter riders who wanted to graduate from traffic-beating to corner-carving. I’ve had the privilege of having some saddle time on both Dukes, and they have almost the same ride characteristics except the 390 packs a heavier punch. If the 200 Duke “floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee,” the 390 stings like…well, a raging bull. Okay, so I am exaggerating a bit but suffice to say, you better know what you’re doing when on the 390 Duke.

The 390 Duke’s engine reaches its maximum power of 32 Kw at 9,000 revolutions per minute but it nevertheless felt responsive across various rev ranges. Despite the 390 Duke’s rev-happy nature and single-cylinder engine, it is able to keep vibrations to a minimum. The ham-fisted need not worry as well, because the limiter dutifully cuts off power before you can do serious damage to the engine. Thirty-five Newton-meters at 7,250 rpm, however, means unintentional power wheelies in first gear. Also, you’ll be reaching three-digit speeds from zero in about six seconds. To give the 390 Duke sure footing are 110/70 (front) and 150/60 17-inch Metzelers, providing ample grip even on wet surfaces.

The 390 Duke is almost as flickable as other bikes with only a third of its displacement. All I had to do was look where I wanted to go and whack-open the throttle. It is perfect in the urban jungle as it can easily be maneuvered through tight spots. Ride assured that when the jeepney in front of you suddenly stops to pick up a passenger, the 300-millimeter front and 230-mm rear discs will put the bike to a halt. The 390 Duke comes with anti-lock brakes as standard to prevent something “fun” from turning into something funny. What’s not very assuring, however, is that this bike has the tendency to run hot even in moderate traffic conditions, with the temperature gauge usually settling just one notch below the overheat mark. Nevertheless, it never went beyond that as the fan kicks-in every so often, directing balmy wind toward my loins.

As with the 200 Duke, the riding position on the 390 is poised but relaxed. The relatively small saddle was surprisingly comfortable even on long rides. The pillion seat, on the other hand, may be too tiny and you may have to put up with a cranky passenger if you are planning to go on two-up touring. This is a consequence of the bike’s compact bodywork, which terminates just above the rear axle. In fact, the rear fender had to be extended horizontally for it to be able to fully cover the tire. This also brings me to the 390 Duke’s down side – you have nowhere to put your stuff. Strapping on a pair of saddle bags will be quite tricky since it barely has a tail section to strap on to. The plastic fuel tank won’t take a magnetic bag as well.

The marketing slogan of KTM is “ready to race” and all the bikes in their stable share the same sporty nature. Bring the 390 Duke to the track or take to the twisty mountain roads of Rizal province and you will learn to forgive its apparent singularity in purpose, as it does play its role pretty well. It is a toy bike and it does not compromise fun for function.

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