If you’ve been following this site recently (and I know you haven’t; it just came online) you’ll know that there hasn’t been an introduction or a proper review of the KTM 390 Duke so far. What is meaningful has been said and is well-known for this motorcycle, which has been in the hype machine since May this year. Now that more than a handful of folks have taken delivery and a precious few have even been cross-country on this machine, there’s some information to report other than pure performance numbers.
Only in India
As it turns out, one of the reasons for the KTM 390 Duke’s delay coming to India is the test feedback Bajaj received of the uncomfortable amount of heat coming off the engine onto riders’ legs, particularly in heavy traffic conditions. Considering that the same bike is exported to Europe and all other KTM markets, what Bajaj has here is a uniquely Indian sort of problem, for which they came up with a decidedly jugaad solution. You see, below speeds of 9kmph, the 390s radiator fan actually blows forward, sucking hot air away from the engine through the radiator and out the front. It’s only beyond a walking pace that the fan reverses direction and sucks air through the front of the radiator conventionally. Clever, and it mitigates part of the problem.
Make no mistake, however: the 390 is a warm bike to ride, as are all high-performance liquid-cooled motorcycles — their owners will vouch.
The 390 Duke may well be a simple little A2 license commuter for the European rider, but in the environs of Mumbai traffic, it’s a proper rocket-powered scalpel. Forty four horsepower riding on tyres that cost a third of your average commuter moto gives you quite an unfair advantage in traffic. It’s almost like having a cognitive boost over the rest of the road, or like seeing everyone else moving in slow motion. You have time to panic-brake behind the idiot cabbie, look over your shoulder at the approaching oblivious fool, make a 90-degree left turn and power out of there before said fool starts to brake himself.
Unlike the 200 Duke, which makes you feel like you’re misbehaving even when you’re trying to ride sedately, the 390 is clearly more tame in the engine department. Tame with almost twice the power, that is. The power manifests in taller gearing, lower revs everywhere but far more rapid progress. During our 1000km run-in period, we had no problem remaining under the 7500rpm safety redline, since that still puts one well into triple-digit, illegal speeds on the 390 Duke. That said, there is a greater need for the 390 to be in the correct gear, and trying to lug it in too high a cog will just end in a stall.
Ridden correctly, we can’t think of a quicker way to get around the city that the 390 Duke. It’s fast, safe and will run rings around fully-faired bikes in any class. We’d go as far as to wager that when the RC390 is available sometime in 2014, the naked 390 Duke will be the bargain pick of the bunch, and the smart choice.
It’s still early days, but on the short highway and inter-city rides we’ve been on, the 390 Duke seems well-suited as a mile-muncher. The tall sixth gear allows for all-day 120kmph cruising. Whether it’s the fuel injection mapping or the nature of the engine, we’re unsure, but the 390 reserves it’s fiercest reactions for the last ten percent of throttle. It’s usually enough to overtake three vehicles in a row on the incessantly crowded and infuriatingly slow NH17 safely, no matter the gear you’re in.
The 10,500 rpm rev limiter can be a bit abrupt, and best avoided. Engine vibes seem well under control and we didn’t notice any on the Mumbai-Pune run either through the pegs or the handle. In fact, jcMoto recommends dumping the unusually protrusive bar-end weights for a set of protectors instead. The stock flyscreen is quite useless on the highway and most owners doing highway work have opted for the KTM Power Part tall touring screen, which is better. Lighting is bright and steady, but thanks to the genuine triple-digit cruising that this bike is capable of, high beam is your only safe option.
For what has always been described as a stiff motorcycle, the 390 is surprisingly comfortable in that department. The same cannot be said of the seat however, which is a sporty, roomy, hard pad. Long sessions on the stock seat are sure to cause bum discomfort, though perhaps as a consequence, the lower back stays pain-free. Pillion accommodations, well, aren’t. The pillion pad made a very nice place to tie down luggage however. The Kriega soft luggage system works rather well on the Duke. Just ask rearset.
There are others who have fabbed-up brackets that hold traditional saddlebags, and we’ll cover those in another story in the future. For the motivated tourer, the 390 makes a good platform to work with. Caveats include a modest tank range (10.5 litres gets you around 250km) and super sticky tyres that will be chewed through in five or eight thousand of India’s kilometers.
Our interactions with the 390 community at large indicate a couple of persistent problems that remain unsolved by KTM, though no deal-breakers have surfaced so far.
Some 390s have been reported to overheat in stop-and-go traffic. Our own 390 hasn’t quite been in the sort of traffic that appears to cause this behaviour, but suffice to say that it’s known to happen. During overheating, the console flashes a “coolant temperature exceeded” warning, though it’s unclear if a shutdown follows. A coolant flush could solve this issue, so we’ll update when we have more information.
The 390 cranks right up when cold, barely taking more than a second on the starter. When hot, however, is an entirely different matter. The 390 does not like to shut down at long signals, stalled, or in general disengage its internal combustion cycle. Starting back up again can take several or more cranks. The problem, we’re told, has to do with decompression in large single-cylinder engines, and that once the engine loosens up a bit, the problem will fix itself. In the meantime, we’ve found that giving the bike a wee bit of throttle on hot starts fires the engine right up with stop-light embarrassment well under control.
Our 390 happened to come with a dodgy radiator cap which spewed coolant on the very first ride. Two more coolant disasters, including one that sprayed hot green stuff on this rider’s right thigh, and the bike went in for a proper check-up. Turns out the non-return valve in the radiator cap and the seat of the cap itself was iffy, resulting in Bajaj taking no more chances and replacing the entire radiator in short order. Top marks for KTM service! We haven’t been able to reproduce any of the coolant spills since. Some nuggets we learned hanging around the field engineer:
- The radiator fan comes on at 86 degrees Celsius which, in our weather, means pretty much as soon as the engine warms slightly
- 116 degrees Celsius is critical temperature for coolant, beyond which the engine will cut off
- The 390 idles high. Like 1700rpm high. Do not be afraid
Mods, bits and bobs
The KTM Dukes appear to be inspiring a bit of electronic wizardry in the DIY-inclined. Check out Spiraltech’s plug-and-play flasher unit for the 125/200/390 Duke. Also see Dhaval Mahidharia’s YouTube channel and his particularly useful side-stand bypass device. Essential for tourers who’d rather not be stranded with a dead bike thanks to a dirty proximity sensor! Note: some or all of these mods may void your warranty. You have been warned.
The first ‘free’ service required by the KTM 390 Duke includes an oil and oil filter change, totaling Rs 1300 or thereabouts. The 390 runs Motul 7100 fully synthetic oil and if our experience with their two-stroke oils is any indication, this should be right on the money. We haven’t used the more expensive 300V variety yet, so if you have any comments on that, let us know.