KTM 390 Duke 3,000 mile review.

Like the Snowbirds in the USA we decided to fly south for the winter to avoid the worst of a British winter. As part of the plan we wanted a pair of lightweight motorcycles to allow us to explore our winter habitat.

After much deliberation and head scratching we settled on the 2018 version of KTM,s 390 Duke for our winter sabbatical. We intended to spend a few weeks in Morocco as well as overwintering in Spain. Our final destination was Morzine in France for a week of snowboarding in mid April.

We trailered the two bikes to Spain, towed behind our VW T4 Westfalia camper. Our intention was to use the bikes for local transportation, in and around Denia, on the Costa Blanca, and a camping trip to Morocco. There was also the possibility of a small amount of off-road riding on unpaved trails.

Why the 390 Duke?

We needed bikes light enough to be towed in an un-braked 7.5 tonne trailer.

Bikes with a low seat height.

Decent power delivery.

Trail potential

Other bikes considered:

Honda CRF 250 – too tall.

BMW 310GS – too heavy, lack of power, expensive.

Kawasaki Versys 300 – too tall, expensive.

First impressions of the Duke were favourable, aesthetically, a good looking bike with character.

A short test ride confirmed our pre-conceived ideas of what this bike would be like. Light, eager with a reasonable turn of speed.

Back in the dealership we chose 2 Dukes, one orange with around 600 miles and the other white, pre-registered with delivery mileage. We specified engine guards, and rear rack on both and hand-guards on Jen’s as an extra precaution. The white one was fitted with Oxford bar heaters.

As we were due to leave the UK within 2 weeks of purchase, the white one needed to have 600 miles put on it in order that the 1stservice could be done before departure. This job fell to me, as Jen had had an operation on her thumb and was forbidden to ride for 6 weeks.

It wasn’t much fun riding the Duke sympathetically, the fancy colour display is set up to glow red as you approach the rev limit, which is prescribed by the factory, during the running in period. This is adjusted during the fist service and can be tailored by the rider thereafter. Whilst on the subject of the display, though thoroughly modern, it is a little disappointing. Much of the information is difficult to read if you have normal eyesight and not that of a teenager (Jen did not agree and found the display ok to read). It has a fuel-gauge with a clear warning when the tank is getting low. The gear indicator is a plus but the difference between 5th and 6th not easy to see. Although I had no problems with reflections, Jen found that the display was unreadable at times, especially with the sun behind her. The display has night and day display modes which it automatically switches between depending on light levels. The bike has bluetooth pairing for compatible devices.

After 600 miles of cold wet weather riding, the bike was ready for it’s service. During that time I had discovered that the seat was comfortable over fairly long rides, 250 miles one day. The heated grips were great. Wet weather handling was perfectly acceptable and the vibrations, though evident, were not overly intrusive and didn’t blur the mirrors at any rpm. The mirrors did have a habit of loosening off from time to time; quite annoying. The side stand is a little too long and unless on flat ground the bike, when parked, felt unstable at times. The rear hugger is completely useless, the rucksack I was using, not to mention my backside, were soaked in road grime within a few miles of starting out.

Initial impressions were that the bike was going to suit our purpose in most departments. Plenty of power given the small power unit with just about enough space to carry camping gear. Comfortable, especially given that we were not expecting to be riding in wet conditions thus making the hugger less of an issue. We doubted that we would be doing much off-roading though due to the unsuitability of the tyres and, probably, the suspension.

At this point the bikes were loaded into the trailer and we headed for sunny Spain.

On arrival in Spain we decanted the bikes and discovered, on the floor of the trailer, a 3 inch, 6mm bolt. It soon became clear that it didn’t belong to the trailer. To our horror we discovered the bolt was the top bolt from the rear suspension unit on Jen’s bike. It had vibrated out on the journey between Spain and the UK! Read more here.

We spent several months acclimatising to the new bikes ahead of our planned trip to Morocco. The seat remained comfortable and the riding position was ok, no aches or pains after several hours in the saddle. The brakes were adequate but provoking the rear ABS was quite easy and noticeable. I later found out that the ABS, when really pressed, was literally a life saver! I almost rearranged the back end of a classic Merc convertible, a ‘sorry mate I didn’t see you’ moment; he didn’t apologise.

The roads in the mountains around Denia are superb, long sweepers, tight S bendy climbs and descents, and so little traffic. The area is used by many international cycle teams for training so some caution was needed. These roads could have been especially designed for the bike. The rear of the Duke seemed a bit loose and I experienced the back end sliding out on many occasions. This may be due in part to the Spanish roads, often dusty and seemingly polished with constant changes in surface and holding the damp where the road was shaded. The standard Metzelers seemed to respond badly to transitional changes in the road surface, giving a little shift sideways as power was demanded. We had a tyre-wall failure after a particularly big pothole hit in Morocco and a nail puncture in the other bike.

During or trip to Algeciras and subsequently in Morocco we had to deal with some heavy winds. We both felt the bikes felt unstable in a cross wind but gusts were up-to 40k and the bikes are very light. Fuel consumption was pretty much what you might expect, refilling after 200k would take about 10 litres, less if we had been taking it easy. Fuel warnings were good leaving a useful range after the first yellow warning on the display.

In conclusion I rather liked my Duke and I think Jen did too. It’s a fun bike when pushed, that works as mini tourer too. Comfortable and light with useable power and great value for money.

In Morocco we were carrying camping gear plus clothing. We travel fairly light and the additional weight did not upset the handling. Apart from the tyre failure, the bikes stood up well to the indifferent Moroccan roads. An occasional spanner check did not reveal any loose fittings. The bikes attracted a lot of admiring interest in Morocco, especially with the kids.

Pros:

Light weight

Low seat height

Good power delivery

Adequate range

Nimble handling

Stylish

Cons:

Standard tyres not great

Display hard to read

Side stand too upright

Tank lock a bit stiff

Some plastics a little too plasticky

Mirrors tend to loosen

Not ideal offroaders

Reviewed by The Wandering Wallys

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