Top 5 things you should know about the KTM 390 Duke

25 Jun 2013 /   

The most anticipated motorcycle of this year, and possibly in recent memory, is the KTM 390 Duke. The bomb is expected to drop on the 25th of June, with the epicentre of the blast in Pune. We’ve covered the international launch in-depth in the past, explained the engine tech, talked about the chassis setup and brought you a first ride report from Austria including the first and only Indian video review. So here’s what we’ve learned, in a simplified list format, since your brain is probably not functioning at full clip in sweaty anticipation.

 

1. It comes with ABS

The KTM 390 Duke, thanks to new European regulations that mandate them, comes with an Antilock Braking System, or ABS. And Bajaj isn’t messing around: this is the latest generation of Bosch ABS system. What this means is that no matter how hard, hamfistedly and downright idiotically you grab the brakes — front or rear — the wheels will not lock and cause dramatic screeching, usually resulting in damage to bones and bike. We believe this is a huge step forward for the Indian motorcyclist, given that most of us refuse to believe, let along recognise that it is in fact the front brake that is effective in bringing a motorcycle to a stop, while the rear can only cause trouble in the wrong hands (feet?). ABS will most certainly improve the safety of the 390 in the wet, especially considering that this is the most powerful locally-built motorcycle we’ve ever had access to. Including the Yamaha RD350.

However, should be skilled or stupid enough to want to disable the ABS, KTM have included a ‘secret’ button to do just that. Other than this, the brakes remain substantially the same as on the 200, sporting radially-mounted calipers and braided hoses. Despite what they look like, those hoses are indeed braided items, just covered in black plastic, unlike the ‘naked’ hoses of the 200.

2013 KTM 390 Duke rear wheel

Note two wires leading to caliper. The thick one is a braided brake hose coated in black plastic. The other is the wire reporting wheel speed data to ABS control unit

 

2. It’s a calmer motorcycle

Surprising as this may sound — given that the 390 Duke makes 44PS compared to the 25PS of the 200 — it is the 390 that will be the calmer, less frantic motorcycle to ride in most situations. That’s the magic of more power – it allows you to make the same progress with less work. Whereas the 200 Duke urges the rider to snatch another gear again and again until — rather quickly — she runs out, the 390 Duke’s gears last longer, making rapid progress using less revs. This is down to the revised gearing mated to the far more powerful engine.

2013 KTM 390 Duke

Visually, the 390 Duke is identical to the 200 in parts terms. Orange trellis frame and wheels plus new paint and stickers do make their presence felt. The 390 is a very flashy motorcycle, there’s no getting away from that

The 390 simply doesn’t need to rev as much to make power, allowing you to sit at lower revs without feeling like you need to wind her up to get more. When Shumi rode the motorcycle in Salzburg recently, he found that the first five gears were quite sufficient to be frighteningly quick in city conditions. This has given KTM the opportunity to include a rather tall sixth gear. What this means is that you can hold a steady 120kmph while just doing around 6500 rpm on the tach, while you’d be close to the 10k redline were you riding a 200. Top speed is a claimed 160kmph, though the bike will not hit the redline while doing it.

This will certainly make the 390 a much more comfortable bike for longer journeys. Revs extract a physical and mental toll from the rider, and the psychological effects of a calmer sounding motorcycle should become self-evident to anyone switching from the 200 to the 390. We expect the new 390 Duke to be a much better long-distance companion in terms of comfort as well as economy.

 

3. It comes with the best tyres on any Indian bike yet

The 200 Duke introduced us to great tyres on a high-performance vehicle. Radial, grippy and relatively cheap. However, they did take some getting used to coming from the regular stock we’re used to on Indian bikes. Turn-in seemed almost telepathic and the Duke outperformed pretty much everything else on our track tests. There simply wasn’t anything better until now.

2013 KTM 390 Duke

The Sportec M5 is a sticky tyre that was designed to help make the most of the 390 Duke’s chassis and engine performance. KTM say the biggest visible difference is in the wet where the outperform the MRFs by the biggest margin

Thanks to the much higher performance of the 390 Duke, tyres have been upgraded to keep pace. This is not to say that the old MRFs on the 200 are suddenly bad tyres – just that they are manufactured for a certain performance envelope that may well be exceeded by the 390. The new bike comes with Metzeler Sportec M5 tyres, which, we’re told, are high-performance, premium tyres to go with the premium positioning of the 390 Duke. They’re also known to be exceedingly good in wet conditions.

These tyres were designed specifically for the KTM 390 Duke, though they’re available for other bikes in other sizes. The higher stresses of the 44PS 390 in terms of acceleration, braking and cornering necessitate a superior tyre to keep up. Bear in mind, however, that the price for improved grip is tyre life, and its likely that these won’t last as long as the 200’s MRFs. If you’ve been used to changing tyres only once during the lifetime of your motorcycle, it’s time to recalibrate your expectations for this new level of performance.

 

4. It will be a stiff motorcycle

We were told at the international launch that the suspension settings will be revised for the Indian version of the KTM 390 Duke; the Euro-spec one we rode was stiffly-sprung, consistent with KTM’s sporting ethos. However, we understand that it is only the damping rate that will be revised. There’s no other way to put it: this will not be a plush ride. This means that the 390 Duke won’t be for everybody, just as the 200 wasn’t. It will take a certain type of rider with a certain level of commitment, aggression and skill level to truly enjoy this motorcycle. If you test-rode the Duke 200 when it came out and the went and bough a CBR250R, this is still not the bike for you. That being said, it won’t be bad to ride on our bad roads, just not pleasing to the largest possible audience.

2013 KTM 390 Duke chassis

Only the damping rate has changed for the India-spec 390

 

5. The mileage will probably be only slightly lower than the 200

This is likely to be the biggest surprise that the 390 Duke has in store: it’s mileage. We’d guess that overall, the fuel efficiency will work out to be only a bit lower than we’ve seen on the 200. The reason for this is, funnily enough, the additional power it packs. With more grunt, the 390 has to rev less, and low revs are good for economy. While you can still ride the heck out of this motorcycle, the key here is that you don’t always have to, like on the 200. Additionally, we’re getting a tall sixth gear, which is great for relaxed highway riding, but may even be good for city economy in the places that you can use it.

2013 KTM 390 Duke

The KTM 390 Duke promises to be great fun, but twice the power of the 200 is likely to come without the penalty of a big drop in fuel economy

An aggressive rider will likely get about 25kmpl from a Duke 200. We’ve heard reports of gentler folk getting as much as 36kmpl from their bikes. Overall, we believe that averaged over city and highway runs, the 390 Duke will only come in about 10 percent lower in terms of fuel economy than the Duke 200, possibly around 32kmpl if you’re nice. And even if you’re not, the sheer power available on the bike will ensure that you don’t use all of it, which again is good for economy. Coupled with the fact that existing Duke 200 parts are quite cheap compared to some of the other players in the segment, we believe the 390 Duke will be easy to live with.

 

Update:

The definitive KTM 390 Duke FAQ with a huge discussion thread is here
Our updated list of 390 on-road prices is here
Should Royal Enfield worry about the 390? Answers here
Find out how the 390 compares on paper with other sporty bikes here
Should you wait for the fully-faired RC390? Answers here
Waiting for the Pulsar 375? Find out more here