KTM Duke 390 – First Impressions

This morning I took Ratchet, my brand spanking new KTM Duke 390, for a short 120 km spin to Sawantwadi. Many had told me that the Duke would be a fun motorcycle to ride. They were not wrong.

The engine is very peppy and responsive. The motorcycle is light as a feather and is quite nimble, which helps criss-crossing in the crazy Indian highway traffic. I know the Duke 390 was designed for urban commute. But highways in India can sometimes be just as crazy as the cities.

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I found my sweet spot at 100 kmph at 6,000 RPM on the 6th gear. I could do that all day, if not for the wretched seat. It’s absolutely horrible. I’m not sure what the folks at KTM were thinking. I don’t think they were thinking at all. They might as well have saved us all some money and put a plank of wood instead. Nobody would have known the difference. I was in agony after riding just 20 kms. I’m a long haul kind of a person (see “The Golden Quadrilateral“) and there is no way in hell I would be able to ride all day, every day, on the Duke’s stock seat. My butt would disown me. I will need to do something about the seat sooner than later.

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Comparing Ratchet to Bad Boy, my 2012 Royal Enfield Thunderbird 350, would amount to comparing apples to oranges (which the KTM being the orange). At 100 kmph the Duke was smooth as silk. No vibrations, no rattling, no eerie sounds emanating from the chassis or body panels. My Thunderbird usually starts a song and dance at 80 kmph. At 100 kmph its getting ready to fall apart. Everything starts to rattle. From the foot pegs to the handlebar and everything in between starts giving you a vibrating body massage. At that point the rear view mirrors become practically useless as they vibrate with such vigor that you start seeing multiple instances of the same vehicle in your rear view mirror.

The engine capacity of the Duke 390 is just 40 cc more than that of my Thunderbird 350, but its feels like 400 cc more. The power is quite simply not comparable. The high power to weight ratio of the Duke quite simply leaves the Thunderbird standing still.

On the flip side, I just could not bring myself to ride the Duke at a nice and easy 60kmph. That’s the speed I truly enjoy my Thunderbird. The heart warming thump of the Thunderbird’s Twinspark engine at 60kmph is something that cannot be explained using words. At 60 kmph the Duke sounds and acts very impatient. I now understand why I see kids zipping around traffic filled streets on their Dukes. It’s meant for exactly that purpose.

The attitude of the Duke 390 matches its riding posture, which is somewhere between upright and leaning forward.

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Unfortunately, the riding posture of the Duke 390 is not to my liking. But that’s not a drawback of the motorcycle. It’s just that my riding style and needs are different (see “Project KTM 390 Adventure“).

All in all, the Duke 390 is a fantastic motorcycle. Like the seat, I’m sure there are other things I will uncover that I won’t like. But the first impression is two thumbs up.