2017 KTM Duke 390: First ride

My life took a deviation when I bought my 2014 KTM Duke 390 and since then, it’s been a wild ride. When Bajaj KTM launched the totally revamped 2017 KTM Duke 390, thousands of speculations floated around. They did make me curious but not excited, after all I wasn’t looking to buy another Duke 390. So I decided to check it out myself and find out if the new Duke is the same old wild animal from within.

The Ride:
On my way back home from office for lunch, I stopped by at the KTM store when I spotted the brand new test ride vehicle. Fortunately, the boffins agreed to let me ride the motorcycle without being accompanied by a pillion rider and of course, they agreed for a longer test ride. I did have to fill out a form though with my signature and all, basically stating that I won’t ride like a horny teenager and crash into some cab. So blah!

While I started slowly,I wouldn’t hesitate in mentioning that the throttle seduced me into behaving like a horny teenager. It just doesn’t let you lay low, always ready to take off regardless of which gear you’re in. I’m surprised that the nature of the throttle remains similar to the old Duke 390 despite being converted into a Ride By Wire system, inviting the rider to take that leap of faith into another territory as soon as he fires the engine up.

The engine seems calmer though as the throttle is a lot linear and smooth, even in first gear! Gone are the days of leaning forward when you close throttle abruptly. Surprisingly, the new Duke doesn’t demand the rider to be perfect with gear shifts either. Up shifts are sharper and quicker compared to the older versions which let the rider know if he/she isn’t a PRO at shifting gears.

2017 KTM Duke 390 first ride
Courtesy: KTM

The Engine :
With the Ride By Wire system and other tweaks made to the engine (secret changes and changes that are made public), the performance of this 2017 KTM Duke 390 remains untouched despite the 9 kg weight gain. Popping a power wheelie in first gear wasn’t that difficult and neither was there a constant buzz being spread out from the engine to the handlebar and foot pegs. That was quite a concern in the earlier models.

What I liked most about the engine is that the child- like madness still remains. Bajaj KTM has improved this product year after year without adulterating the fun element of that lively motor which to me is a commendable achievement, especially in an age where phone upgrades actually turn out to be downgrades. 😛

2017 KTM Duke 390 first ride
Courtesy: KTM

Tyres and Braking:
Compared to the previous Duke 390 models, the upgraded brakes on the new one feel phenomenal! Grab that lever a little and it’ll let you know that its doing you a big favor by not throwing you off the seat as you come to a halt rather quickly. Not only in terms of its ability to come to a standstill but even the feel of the front brake has been improvised marginally. If the front disc was any larger than 320mm, it could pose as a serious threat to stray animals, imagine a big blade going through those poor dogs! Just kidding, animal rights activists can lay low.
The rear brake too does not lock up as easily as one on the older version but it still does, probably by 10% or something. Combine all that braking power with engine braking and you’ll hear her scream like never before. Her meaning pillion rider! 😀

The tyres are the same old Metzeller Sportec M5’s- 110 and 150 at the front and back respectively. BUT, the 2014 and 2015 models of the KTM Duke 390 came with Metzellers that had a W- rating (speed limit of 270 kmph) whereas the 2016 and 17 models of the Duke 390 come with Metzellers having an H- rating (speed limit of 210 kmph). Obviously, there would be a compromise in the amount of grip you get out of these tyres but it would be a tiny difference that is hardly noticeable, especially on a motorcycle that maxes out at 170- ish kmph.

2017 KTM Duke 390
Courtesy: KTM

Handling and Suspension:
The same old trellis frame continues to stay committed when it came to the way this motorcycle handles. In fact, just like in the previous models, it exceeds all expectations. The weight gain on the motorcycle seems proportionate too and pitching it into a corner is still great fun! And no, the side mounted exhaust hardly makes and difference to balance and feel.

Surprisingly though, the front suspension setup felt a bit soft, much softer compared to the previous model. It does seem like Bajaj KTM has set it up that way keeping in mind the pitiful conditions of our roads but I’m not sure of its repercussions on the track. The rear spring felt softer too but at least there’s an option of adjusting that!

2017 KTM Duke 390
Courtesy: KTM

Once I sat on the motorcycle, I felt pretty relaxed. The seat height isn’t that tall (I’m 5’5) and the seat itself felt softer unlike the one on my Duke. I did lean forward by a small percentage, thanks to the Duke’s aggressive street riding stance and surprisingly, that felt nice! When the color TFT display came on though, it confused me for a while. There were just too many numbers and words on it to perceive. I’d go mad with such an instrument cluster if I was dyslexic! But what matters the most is speed, which is highlighted well and the rev band too acts like its drunk, but in a good way.

The ergonomics are such that it wouldn’t take someone a long time to get used to this motorcycle. In fact, they would help in building a quick bond with the motorcycle, even for some one graduating from a lower capacity engine.

Related: 2014 KTM Duke 390 Long term ownership review

2017 KTM Duke 390
Courtesy: KTM

What I didn’t like:
Firstly, it would be the exhaust note. I’m probably programmed into liking the exhaust note of the previous Duke 390 models as it blended excellently with the motorcycle’s character. It doesn’t matter to me if you say it sounded like an Auto Rickshaw or an old geared scooter, it was just perfect. The new exhaust note seems dull for the kind of personality the new Duke possesses. It actually feels a little ‘soulless’. An engine note having a lot of soul in it is always great for health.

Secondly, I disliked the instrument cluster. Despite it being a colored TFT monitor, there are too many options on it to choose from, too much to read out of that it spoils the riding experience. An instrument cluster needs to be simple and stylish that adds to the overall experience of motorcycling, not make it complicated. Connecting your phone to it is like welcoming uninvited problems, especially when you’re out on the highway with a beautiful landscape before you and your instrument cluster notifies you of your boss’s call who’s always up to the task of making your life miserable.

2017 KTM Duke 390
Complicated much?

On road in Bangalore, you’ll have to shell out a good 2,90,000 INR for the 2017 KTM Duke 390.

To end it all, the 2017 KTM Duke 390 is a great fun tool to ride around. An Euro 4 compliant engine with Ride By Wire and Slipper clutch, a sophisticated TFT display (which I’m not a big fan of), looks inspired from KTM’s Super Duke and for all the other features I haven’t mentioned, you really can’t ask for much more at 2.9 Lakhs.

But is it worth that much money?

There are several factors to take into consideration to get the correct answer, like the purpose you’d be using this motorcycle for i.e. whether its for commuting in the city or for occasional highway runs. Are you planning on buying this for touring long distances on tarmac and broken roads or do you intend to just have this for a whiff of speed every time you hit the highway on Sundays?

Firstly, I’m not sure how this would fair on broken roads and trails with a lot of luggage on it, given its aggressive street stance. In addition to that point, the chassis seems to have been made into two parts this time, both joined together with the help of bolts. I’m not sure how much pressure those bolts would be able to take.

Secondly, this motorcycle would be an overkill for city commutes. Metro cities in India are stuffy, hot concrete jungles with hardly any open place to make use of those 43 horses. When I bought my KTM Duke 390 three years ago, the situation was tolerable and hence I used my Duke occasionally for office commutes but today, my 102 cc scooter too, seems a bit too much for the city. I also noticed that the 390’s high compression engine wears out faster in start- stop traffic. So, if you hold even the slightest mechanical sympathy, do not consider this motorcycle for office commutes in metro cities.

But what I’m a little skeptical about is the reliability of electronics on this. There’s been no doubt that riders have faced issues in the past with the previous models, mainly pertaining to the stator coil, instrument cluster, cooling fan, service center problems, etc. Looking at the way KTM’s been solving issues year after year does give a prospective owner a sense of relief but I’m not sure if it is the right time yet to make a sure shot judgement. In my opinion, only time can clear these doubts.

2017 KTM Duke 390
Electronics: Boon or Bane?

Those were some practical observations of mine. But if you give feeling and intuition a higher preference than practicality, then I suggest you clear those doubts and ride the 2017 KTM Duke 390 for once. Because this motorcycle is one that can win over anybody’s heart (provided you’re young at heart). It is such a fun tool that you’ll be absorbed into the joy of riding while you live the present moment and grin inside your helmet.

And to answer the question I had in the beginning- Yes! it is the same old wild animal from within. 🙂

2017 KTM Duke 390
When you get back from a maddening ride and wonder what a machine this is!

What do you think?