2018 KTM 390 Duke | Road Test Review

2018 KTM 390 Duke
While it gained some weight and stature over the previous version, the 390 Duke is still a razor-sharp road implement. Photos by Kevin Wing.

Some bikes are made for road trips; others are made for what you like to do in between.

The 390 Duke fits the latter bill in a way that inspires bladed metaphors: shredding through traffic, carving up corners, it slices, it dices…but no, it won’t make julienne fries. It will, however, deliver you to your favorite local burger-n-fries joint with a huge grin plastered to your face.

KTM seems to be taking its “Ready to Race” tagline seriously lately, as its bikes grow harder and edgier with each new generation (see our comparo review featuring the 1290 Super Adventure S here), and despite being the smallest in the U.S. lineup (along with its fully faired RC390 brother) the 390 Duke is no exception.

2018 KTM 390 Duke
Unmistakable KTM design is angular and aggressive, with all-LED headlight and DRL.

KTM is daring riders to step up to its bikes’ expectations; when it last updated the 390 Duke in 2017, Team Orange upped the claimed peak horsepower and torque by one each, to 44 and 27 respectively, gave it a bigger 3.5-gallon tank, raised the seat height by more than one inch to 32.7 inches, reduced the wheelbase by nearly half an inch and the trail by 0.2-inch for quicker steering on an already nimble machine and raised the curb weight by 19 pounds, from 340 to 359 (about five of those pounds are attributed to the increase in fuel capacity).

The seating position is more aggressive and supermoto-like, with a tall handlebar and high, rearset footpegs. In a welcome concession to our mere mortality, both the clutch and brake levers are adjustable.

2018 KTM 390 Duke
Supermoto riding position helps make steering telepathic.

Jenny’s Gear
Helmet: Shoei GT-Air
Jacket: AGV Sport Xena
Pants: Joe Rocket Alter Ego
Boots: Sidi Vertigo Lei

It’s tempting to refer to the 390 Duke as “entry level,” thanks to its engine size and $5,449 price tag, but between its “I dare ya” personality and a host of modern features it’s just as suitable for experienced riders looking for something lightweight, responsive and fun.

The throttle-by-wire is dialed-in and responsive, with a slipper clutch easing downshift transitions and switchable ABS providing some peace of mind (a new Supermoto setting disengages it at the rear wheel, or it can be turned off completely).

2018 KTM 390 Duke
Full-color TFT display shows speed, tachometer, odometer and range, plus two tripmeters with separate fuel economy, range and average speed.

Revised suspension uses progressive springs both front and rear, and while the cartridge-style 43mm WP upside-down fork is not adjustable and the rear shock is only adjustable for preload, I found it to be compliant without being overly harsh or soft. Big bar-end weights tame the single’s vibes and the cushier seat makes the extra miles gained from the larger tank more enjoyable.

2018 KTM 390 Duke
Footpegs are high and rearset for optimum lean angle.

The blade-like metaphors are accurate; the 2018 390 Duke is in its element on tight, technical twisties, the extra mass nearly disappearing as it slices and dices, while the 4-piston ByBre opposed radial caliper squeezing a big 320mm front disc makes reining in the little Duke a breeze. Whack the throttle open in a low gear and you’ll be rewarded with a lofty front wheel and a big smile.

I guess you could call it the “Fun-O-Matic.”

2018 KTM 390 Duke
Contemplating our next ride on the 390 Duke.

2018 KTM 390 Duke Specs

Base Price: $5,449
Website: ktm.com
Engine Type: Liquid-cooled single, DOHC w/ 4 valves
Displacement: 373cc
Bore x Stroke: 89.0 x 60.0mm
Transmission: 6-speed, cable-actuated wet assist-and-slipper clutch
Final Drive: X-ring chain
Wheelbase: 53.4 in.
Rake/Trail: 25 degrees/3.7 in.
Seat Height: 32.7 in.
Wet Weight: 359 lbs.
Fuel Capacity: 3.5 gals., last 0.4 gal. warning light on
MPG: 91 PON min. (low/avg/high) 33.6/44.1/55.6

2018 KTM 390 Duke
ABS is switchable on or off, plus there’s a new Supermoto mode that disengages only the rear wheel.
2018 KTM 390 Duke
DOHC, 4-valve single is surprisingly spirited. Assist-and-slipper clutch helps prevent unwanted rear wheel chatter while allowing controlled slides.

2 COMMENTS

  1. A local rag once referred to this bike’s predecessor as a “10,000 rpm grin factory.” Apt description, methinks—and more so in its latest iteration if Jenny’s review is any indication.

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