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.


Light weight

Low seat height

Good power delivery

Adequate range

Nimble handling



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

Morocco Trek (part 1)

Port Tangier Med to Fes

We finally crossed the Straits of Gibraltar, after a long delay, and landed in Morocco in late afternoon. Next the dreaded customs formalities, endless queueing for the inevitable paperchase…..or maybe not? We breezed through in half an hour, including exchanging money and arranging motor insurance (900 dirham or about £75). We felt our luck had just changed.

Waiting for the ferry in Algeciras

The original plan was to ride to Chefchaouen, about 2½ hrs from the port, and find a campsite. It was however, already 4 p.m. and we didn’t want to arrive in the dark. We decided to wing it and stop as soon as we saw something suitable. Apart from Jen getting blown off her bike, we arrived at an hotel about an hour later without a major problem.

Time for a tea break

Up early the next day, or as early as Jen could cope with, we packed and set off towards Chefchaouen, about 50 miles away. We were feeling quite smug that we had survived our first day in Morocco. Too smug, too soon I think. The next town, Tetouan, was meant to be a dot on the route; a dot that we hadn’t planned to visit. We had momentarily got off route and pulled over to check the map. A motor scooter pulled up alongside. The spiel is generic, someone must have written a guide for Moroccan touts.

“Hello my friend, I have a brother/sister/cousin/son who lives in London/New York/Paris.”

Insert the relative and capital city of your choice.

“You are in luck my friend, it is a special Berber market in Tetouan today, only once a month.”

I faltered and was easily hooked.

“Follow me, safe parking”

King Mohammed VI’s summer palace.

We didn’t buy a ‘one of a kind’ Berber carpet or a white metal teapot, nor did we get away scot-free. We just about left with our dignity intact, our guide less friendly and decidedly grumpier than when we first met. His tip was a bit lower than he had hoped for and he had no sales commission either.

The citadel Chefchaouen

We had pre-booked an Hotel in Chefchaouen, the Dar Dalia. When we arrived, probably looking lost and confused, we were again accosted by another chancer. Mohammed directed us to a secure parking and after some explanation, offered to show us to our hotel. Mohammed was a much less pushy and a more endearing character than Abdul in Tetouan. We wandered through passageways and climbed numerous steps and were eventually deposited in front of a small and unprepossessing, blue painted building, sporting a sign announcing the Dar Dalia Hotel.

A typical Chefchaouen street

We were a little earlier than had been planned and a knock on the door produced no response from within. Miraculously a tall, imposing man with an official looking ‘maillot jaune’ appeared and proceeded to phone the hotel manager. He handed the phone to me. The voice on the other end said,

“You’re a little early, I’ll be there in 9 minutes.”

The hotel was a gem, 5 minutes from the medina and beautifully appointed. For the duration of our stay, the ‘maillot jaune’ guarded the bikes around the clock and even disguised them with local drapery.

Stealth bike covers

Chefchaouen, ‘The Blue City’ was, possibly, the best of introductions to Marocco. The town was both tranquil and busily welcoming. Simple food could be found throughout, with a variety of small restaurants clustered around the main square of the medina. To the east the mountains reared up a thousand metres above the city. In celebration of the Chinese New Year bright red lanterns decked the palace walls.

Naive street art

After 2 restful days, in Chefchaouen it was time to move on, to Fes. We had coordinates logged into the phone, the route mapped out and fuel in the tanks.

The north of Morocco is verdant with crop production everywhere and a seemingly endless supply of water. The road was in a good state, mostly, which meant that we could relax and enjoy the ride in sunshine and perfect temperatures.

When we arrived at the Fes campsite, we were in for a disappointment, ‘closed for the winter’, we were informed by a young man guarding the entrance. A quick search on booking.com found the ‘Hotel Agapanthe’ some ten minutes away. About an hour later, after some too-ing and fro-ing we found it. At the end of an unpromising dirt road a modern hotel presented itself. Tired and aching we were relieved and grateful and, after an acceptable meal, we slid between the sheets of a king sized bed.

Hotel Agapanthe

The plan for the following day was to find another campsite, this turned out to be the simplest of tasks. At the end of the dirt road from Agapanthe turn right and then turn right again, voilla, the Camping International, Fes and it was only 10.30 in the morning.

Camping International, Fes

The guy running the campsite organised a guide for us for 1.00 p.m.. At the appointed time he arrived; by scooter. Abbi flagged down a ‘Petite Taxi’ and we were off. Fes is difficult to describe and for this part of the blog a short vignette will suffice. The centre (medina) is an innumerable series of tight lanes and passageways bounded by brown plastered walls rising vertically. The walls often stretched three or four stories above our heads, blocking out all direct light. Reach out your arms and your hands are able to touch the buildings on either side of the street. The walls are punctuated by stout doors, wooden for the grand entrances, metal for the kitchens, and few windows to be seen. The view from any window would be muddy brown, due to the proximity of the walls of adjacent buildings and would afford little light to the interior, rendering them redundant. Most buildings have an inner courtyard open to the sky, letting light flood the interior.

Gloomy canyonised street in Fes

The medina is a place of numerous artisanal activities. Raw materials are brought in on donkey carts or small wheeled push carts. Carpets, leatherwork, metal household goods and numerous other products are created within the secretive walls of Fes. The smallest nook would house a tiny workshop, large courtyards within a building may contain a complete production line. All done by hand, without the aid of powered machinery.

The best saucepan maker in Fes

After two nights at the Campsite International Fes, we finally turned toward the coast and the capital city of Rabat.

The road to Rabat

To be continued

The Road To Morocco

Imagine, you want to spend a couple of weeks in Morocco. You’ve never been there. It’s a 400 mile ride from your base on a Spanish campsite to the ferry port; and the weather is fine.

How is it, that on Wednesday, almost the moment we locked up Barri the VWT4 camper bus and left him and our fondly waving friends behind in the campsite, the weather began to change. Not enough, you understand, to make us rethink our ‘plans’. No. Just enough to make the first couple of hundred miles, shear murder. The wind blew stronger and stronger and gusted wildly. We ended up at a steady crawl and hanging onto the handlebars like silly puppets on strings as the wind attempted to lift us off our saddles.

Overnight, we had a sheltered spot for our little tent and the bikes, but we could hear the wind howling all around us, all night. At least it didn’t rain and the evening slipped by quickly, helped by the folks in the campsite bar who were very welcoming.

Thursday came, grey and easily as windy as the day before. We set off, fresh and enthusiastic. The moment we hit the main road, the A7, it started all over again. Just like the previous day, the scenery was jaw dropping in it’s diversity and rugged beauty. The sea on one side and mountains on the other; the reason we chose this route. Were we able to enjoy it? Not a chance. We settled on stopping every hour to recover; Jen for hands and Wally for his white finger, which the bike seems to provoke mercilessly. What a pair of crocks. The wind increased massively as the day went on. We took to slip streaming behind trucks for a bit of stability. It was remarkably noisy all the time and pretty frightening to ride some of the time. Could it get any worse? Hell Yeh! It began to rain. Why us? Peering through my road grease, rain smeared visor, a sign loomed large; Deer. We wondered what else nature could throw at us.

It took us 3 hours longer than our estimate to get to the edge of the port city Algeciras and the agent who would set up our paperwork so that we could get into Morocco without hiccups.

Enough was enough. We headed for the nearest hotel (not the one next to the agents!) and luxuriated. No boats sailing Friday, the sea state was an issue. It seems we’d decided to ride 400 miles in hurricane force winds. No wonder we were tired.

What a pair of numpties.

Biker Blues

You would think that by buying what were, essentially, new bikes, that we would have no problems with them, or with the seller, Blade Motorcycles, Swindon. One of the Dukes we have bought had just been run in and serviced for the first time and the other was returned by the original owner, new and unused and had to be run in, by us and was then serviced.


We left the UK with a beautiful shiny trailer containing our 2 fresh from the dealer, newly serviced and ready to ride bikes. The member of staff who handled the sale at Blade Motorcycles in Swindon, could not have been more pleasant or helpful. He was a decent person. A huge discount would have been nice, but none was given, unfortunately.

The drive all the way through Spain, from Bilbao in the north to the Mediterranean in the south, was uneventful. So imagine our surprise, when we arrived at our final destination, emptied the trailer, cleaned it and found a bolt, about 3ins long on the floor! Something that size will have an important job to do, it couldn’t be ignored.

Much searching of the trailer later, we decided it must be from somewhere else. The trailer was fine. The obvious next thing to check was the bikes. And there it was. A hole. A hole made for our wayward bolt. In Jens bike. At the top of the rear shock absorber. It’s job? To hold the shock absorber firmly in place, so that it can do it’s job, safely.

“I may be an adventurous sort of person, but riding a bike with a slack back end isn’t my idea exciting. It’s more my idea of exiting….in an untimely manner.”

We replaced the bolt, having checked the manual; you can’t just bung these things together you know. We had to secure the bolt with a particular type of Locktite glue and then tighten it to a specific torque.

We needed an adapter for our wrench and some magic glue, both of which we were spending time looking for, time we’d earmarked for other things. So, we phoned Blade Motorcycles, Swindon, talked to our sales rep who was perfect. Our rep apologised, said he would find out how this could of happened and, of course, get the parts to us ASAP; he even confirmed all this in a brief email. Several weeks later and a follow up email or two from us and we’re still waiting.

In the meantime, Wally’s bike was behaving very badly, so badly that he checked the tyre pressures and the rear was at about 10lb psi. He was pumping the thing up and cursing Blade Motorcycles Swindon, as I noticed, glinting in the hot Mediterranean sun, a nail in the tyre. So this one probably wasn’t Blade Motorcycles, Swindon’s fault. A local guy plugged it for 10 Euros.

The moral of the story?

Don’t buy a bike from Blade Motorcycles Swindon

Whatever their excuse is for going silent on us, there is no reason for it.

Please feel free to share this story, shabby dealers MUST be named and shamed.