Photography: Siddhant Gadekar
I was far from being old enough to ride a motorcycle when the first generation of the KTM 390 Duke first appeared in 2013. But I had heard stories about how the motorcycle offered a brilliant price-to-performance ratio with handling that was unforeseen at the price. It was also known for its raw performance that suffered no fools. In 2017 the 390 Duke saw its first generational update which besides ironing out a few niggles, made it more refined while losing some of the raw aggression in the process, an aggression which made the first generation KTM a cult motorcycle. Now the 390 Duke gets its second generational update which brings in a larger engine, a new chassis, new tech and a lot more. But does it bring back the rawness from the first generation motorcycle which we so missed? To find out, we rode the new 390 Duke on both road and track.
KTM has always been thorough with its generational updates especially when it comes to design. The new 390 Duke carries a lot less forward from its predecessor and you could easily mistake the new Duke for another model from the Orange marque. The 2023 Duke looks bigger, almost like a middleweight streetfighter. The sharper headlamp is flanked by DRLs, which now sit as separate units. At the sides, the larger 15-litre fuel tank looks muscular and now gets larger tank extensions that further enhance the streetfighter’s aggressive stance.
You now get an offset monoshock, and with the underbelly exhaust making a comeback with the third generation model, the 390 Duke now features an asymmetrical yet clean look. At the rear, you get an all-new tail section with a sleek tail lamp, and an extended rear fender. The quality levels all-around have gone up too, with the switchgear having a nice tactile feel to it. Overall the 390 Duke has grown in size and we feel it is one of, if not the best looking sub-500cc motorcycle out there!
In terms of features, you now get an all-new five-inch TFT instrument console with Bluetooth connectivity and turn-by-turn navigation. It now packs in a host of electronics as well, starting with three ride modes – Rain, Street and a new Track mode which gets launch control! The power and torque is tuned down in the first mode with the ABS being in its most intrusive setting, while you get access to the full grunt in the latter two modes with lesser ABS intrusion. In addition to dual-channel ABS with a Supermoto mode, you now get cornering ABS as well. And you even have switchable traction control. All this electronic wizardry should provide an extra safety net.
The 2023 390 Duke is powered by a larger 399cc liquid-cooled single cylinder engine that puts out 46PS and 39Nm, a bump of 2.5PS and 2Nm compared to its predecessor. It gets a larger airbox and longer stroke which has helped to improve the tractability. The streetfighter is quick to pick up speeds from as low 30kmph in third gear, making it a lot more usable in the city compared to the model it replaces.
There’s a noticeable surge in power post 4,000rpm, and before you know you are already doing illegal speeds, with the shift light flashing on the TFT, asking you to upshift. Coupled with the slick-shifting six-speed gearbox, which gets a Quickshifter+ function, the 390 Duke continues to be a fun motorcycle to push around with a hint of raw performance like the first gen model. We managed to hit a speedo-indicated 160kmph on Bajaj Auto’s test track. The vibrations are noticeable at higher revs but we didn’t mind it much, as it makes the streetfighter’s motor feel more characterful.
Just like its design, the chassis has been thoroughly updated too. It now sits on a steel trellis frame with an aluminium subframe and gets a new curved swingarm. The offset monoshock has allowed KTM to tightly package the motorcycle. As a result, the wheelbase is now shorter by 3mm while the ground clearance has gone up by 33mm, compared to its predecessor. The India-spec model will get a shorter 800mm seat height, while the 820mm seat might be available as an option in the future. The seat itself is firm but doesn’t feel uncomfortable at any point. You get a wide handlebar and the rear-set footpegs mean you sit in a forward-biased position. While the overall ergonomics are sorted, taller riders might feel slightly cramped in the saddle.
What stays the same though is the brilliant agility the 390 Duke is known for. Making quick direction changes is as easy as cutting through butter with a hot knife, and it gets addictive after a point. Also helping matters is the reduced unsprung mass, thanks to the redesigned alloys which get lesser spokes to save weight. The upside-down forks are five-step adjustable for compression and rebound damping, while you get 10-step preload adjustability for the monoshock along with five-step rebound damping. In its stock settings, the suspensions do a good job of soaking up bumps with a slight underlying firmness. The braking is impressive with the 320mm front and a 240mm rear disc offering ample feel, bite and stopping power.
With prices starting at Rs 3.11 lakh, ex-showroom, the new model is around Rs 12,000 dearer compared to its predecessor, which makes it a steal in our books, considering how much has changed on the third-generation model. To conclude, the all-new 390 Duke takes forward all the positive traits of its predecessors while bringing back the aggressive nature of the first generation model. This besides offering a premium ride experience you see on larger capacity motorcycles. Despite facing a lot more competition now, the 390 Duke continues to be one of the most value for money performance streetfighters on sale in India.