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.

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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.

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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.

5 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.

  2. I bought one a couple of weeks ago. Can’t wait to finish the break in period. What a hoot riding this is! And it’s both a great commuter and weekend tourer getting 80 mpg (probably drop into 70’s after break-in when I can shift at higher rpm) and 200+ mile tank range. The seat is very firm but supportive and it offers a lot of space on which to move around. The riding position is relatively neutral and the tallish seat with my 30″ inseam has me on the balls of my feet but feeling very secure at stops because the bike is so light (and feels lighter than the curb weight suggests). The brakes work very well but he clutch and brake feel with the stock levers is somewhat vague. I replaced both with KTM Power Parts folding clutch and brake levers, which provide much-improved leverage and feel.

  3. I’ve owned numerous bikes in the 600 to 1 Litre + class, inc a KTM 990. I recently downsized to a KTM 390. In 2020 before Lockdown, I hired A KTM 200 for a 2000km tour in SW India. The Little duke was such a bundle of fun when compared to the Royal Enfield’s. On my return to England I was beginning to find my old Honda Africa Twin 750 too big and heavy for general use.
    
So when I test rode a KTM 390 I had such a huge grin on my face; It was a blast to ride. Light, agile and such impressive performance through the gears that I had to buy one!
    Its such a contrast to anything I’ve owned in the past. The KTM character puts it ahead of any bike in that size range. It looks brilliant and cannot be confused with anything else, except larger KTMs.

    I’ve even been on a recent 1000 mile tour with it after adding a screen, rack and top case. It far exceeded my expectations, being reasonably comfortable, economic with decent performance and handling. I’ve been out a few times with a mate who has an Africa Twin CRF 1000 . I had no trouble keeping with him. The KTM is OK on main roads at 70mph+ but I try and avoid major highways anyway. its much more fun on the twisties.

    The only negative points are the noisy cooling fan and the instruments. I’m not a fan of those LCD displays but the colour display easy to use but some info is hard to read .

    In conclusion, the KTM Duke 390 is a funky little bike with loads of character and big fun. It can make city riding entertaining and you can enjoy the full performance without being stupidly fast.

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