A new phase began in life my life when I saved up and bought my first geared motorcycle in February of 2014 and since then, there’s been no stopping. Me being a nature and wildlife lover, I bought the KTM Duke 390 (D390) to tour and explore different places across India. The reason I didn’t buy a dedicated touring motorcycle was because they cost a bomb and secondly, there was no Indian motorcycle that matched the D390’s power and price. After riding for a little above 36,000 KMS, I thought I must share things that haven’t been highlighted in some typical ‘statistical reviews’.
First things first- Performance:
We all know about the D390’s 44 HP engine, best power to weight ratio, bla bla bla!
Speaking in terms of reality, the 390 Duke’s acceleration upto 140 KMPH makes you wonder if you ever need a motorcycle that is more powerful, especially if you live in a heavily polluted and populated concrete jungle. I’ve known guys who’ve upgraded from a D390 to some 600 sport tourers, supersport, 1000’s and even more, in just one year. But, I really wonder if they’re able to have as much fun as they used to have when they had the D390. To me, it makes sense when you’re able to make friends with all horses the motorcycle has to offer and utilize them whenever you feel like, if the feeling is backed by sense and responsibility. Real fun lies in utilizing all of the few horses your engine gives you, than utilizing only a few of all the horses, a bigger engine gives you. So, there’s no point in buying a 600 cc 120 BHP Tasmanian devil or a bigger beast if you’re not touring or riding on track days. I’d pity the big motorcycle, if it is only being ridden on Sunday mornings for short Idli- vada- sambar rides. Speaking of top speed too, it almost does a restricted 180 KMPH which is pretty high for a crowded nation but for how long can one hold onto that number? The Duke 390 bridges an important gateway created by the 250cc and the 650cc steeds, in every possible way, be it for commuting in the city, shedding off chicken strips on the rear tyre, touring through national highways and forests or anything else that comes to your mind. In fact, its covers the gap by bearing more weight towards the 650’s, so there’s hardly any complaining to be done. It offers the perfect combination of power- not too much, not less. Even after 2 years, the Duke 390’s motor continues to make me laugh and still makes me look back at it once it is parked.
Speaking of handling, the motorcycle remains rock solid when you’re accelerating into a curve at 80-90 KMPH. It is definitely light for the power it offers, so it is worthy to be cautious when you’re shifting bodyweight. When you know how to use the weight to your advantage, then you’re bound to have a blast by flicking it from corner to corner. There’s a lot of frenzy among a small part of the human species who think KTMs are responsible for many rider deaths across India and that the D390 is a very powerful and dangerous machine. Well, No! In fact, it is one of the safest vehicles you can ride in India. Trust me on that one because the D390 is an excellent master. It remains lenient most of the times, accepts all silly, stupid, serious mistakes you commit and yet, gives you plenty of signs to correct and improvise yourself. But, when you go overboard by a huge margin, it’ll definitely throw you off and spank you HARD! All that this humble master asks from the rider is some respect, presence of mind and most importantly- the annihilation of his ego. So, it is wise to not be a complete asshole with the D390 and instead, hone the skills taught by this master whilst having fun!
Coming to its shoes, err… tires, I’ve been using Michelin Pilot street radials like most D390 riders out there. They are epic considering the price and quality. I’ve used them on the badest of terrains and that rubber stayed on nicely till the rear wore out after running for a staggering 21,000 KMS. They’re an excellent substitute to the stock Metzeller M5 because there’s only a tiny amount of grip that’s being compromised. I think I can handle that bit of difference.
The only complaint I have is with the stopping power of the D390. Yes, it does come with ABS as a standard feature but, conditions apply. Braking is marginally progressive but not 100% sufficient so it does scare the shit out of many first timers. The front brake lever needs to be grabbed with at least 3 or 4 fingers when you’re braking hard. The rear brake is like an uncooperative employee, but a dedicated one. Overuse it a little and it’ll slip, but only for a second. One can feel the rear ABS come into play when the brake goes ‘jud..jud..jud’. That is isn’t a nice feeling but the rear seems to have more bite than its partner in the front. I think I’m probably exaggerating, the brakes and the ABS do a decent job altogether but fine tuning them could yield better results.
How does it look?
Now, this is a subjective topic, one man’s perfect someone could be another man’s nightmare. I’m surprised that we’ve got many D390 ‘look haters’ around and the reason for that could be because they’ve grown up watching the movie Dhoom too many times and are consequently inclined to liking bikes that have covered bodies, or they prefer Jack fruit and berries to Orange. To me, I obviously wouldn’t have bought this motorcycle if I didn’t like the way it looked. The D390 gives me a positive vibe, it looks meatier with the orange frame highlights which cage the 390’s powerhouse and the Orange alloys too, add to its lively image. The overall personality of the motorcycle is matured and not ‘show-offy’. I say that out of many experiences, one such experience occurred when I pulled up alongside some Black Audi sedan (don’t remember which one, they all look the same) at a signal and ahead of us was the beginning of a clean, empty highway. He definitely didn’t know about motorcycles else he wouldn’t have been revving a business sedan beside the D390. Overconfidence dripped from his air-conditioned face as he stared and grinned at the Orange frame. After we took off, I could see his belief shatter into pieces in my rear view mirror. To keep things short, The D390 looks very appealing but the motorcycle’s character doesn’t let aesthetics overwhelm itself completely, it actually keeps a fair bit of talking reserved for the performance as well, and that to me is an ideal combination. Even when it comes to the way it sounds, the way it carries itself, it doesn’t scream and challenge everybody for a race, it remains matured and composed, minding its own business while showing off only tiny bright bits that create a lasting memory on the onlooker’s minds and yet, continues to remain understated.
KTM India’s service support:
Holy shit! Where do I begin from? Ok, How about starting off with the below points that are the most common problems faced by most D390 users?
- Engine gasket rubber seals leak many a times and need to be replaced from time to time.
- Radiator fans slow down over a period of time and don’t cool the engine.
- Speedometer sometimes displays 0 Kmph while riding (electrical issue)
- Chain slack
- Stator coil burning out often
- Oil leaks from the suspension (front and rear)
- Alloy rim bending/ cracking on heavy pothole impact.
- Front and rear brakes squeak often, supposedly due to dust on the discs (I don’t buy that point)
In the last 2 years of riding, I’ve got 2 radiatior fans, 1 rear suspension, 1 front fork oil seal, 1 wiring kit, 1 stator coil, 1 cooling relay, 1 engine head (consisting of shims, valves, camshafts), 1 Speedometer, 1 gear rod ‘something’ replaced under warranty on my KTM Duke 390, for FREE!
These were replaced because they supposedly failed and became problematic. But out of what I saw, it wasn’t always the parts but the inability to diagnose the root cause of a problem that led to many of these parts’ replacement. I don’t blame the technicians completely for the mess they create because the D390 is a completely new motor so most problems need to be researched upon and resolved on a real time basis. But still! I felt the R&D being done on this machine by Bajaj KTM needed to be much more serious and robust. They’ve been improving their machines constantly with regular upgrades unlike any other motorcycle manufacturer in India but that isn’t enough a point to compensate the kind of troubles and hassles many riders face when being affected with the above problems. Many D390 owners including me, have spent hours at KTM authorized service centers to get a problem solved by taking leaves from the office. If you’re a motorcycle traveler, you know that leaves from work are more precious than gold is!
The D390 is a much more sophisticated machine compared to other Bajaj motorcycles that the technicians once worked upon, they need to be trained and motivated repeatedly in order to make them experts else they would create more problems out of existing problems. I had been a victim of that too, hence I don’t hand over my Duke 390 for service to KTM’s Mekhri circle service center in Bangalore, known for some badly behaved personnel and of course, for carelessness. My D390 once came out of that service center with the fuel injector pipe inserted loosely till it popped off at 80 KMPH with all the fuel gushing over that hot motor. Recently though, they got enough infrastructure in place for the technicians to work peacefully as space was a challenge, but I still continued to encounter service personnel who’d forget to put back things onto the motorcycle. I remember a horrified and frustrated rider who returned to the service center after he realized his D390’s rear wheel nut hadn’t been tightened after chain maintenance! Some things just don’t change.
I’ve also noticed that not everyone in KTM’s service division is on the same page when it comes to information, be it their service engineers or managers. Most give contradictory answers, especially when it comes to whether or not, the 2014 models can be upgraded with performance parts present in the 2015 and 2016 models. As far as what I’ve heard from KTM, that isn’t possible. On the other hand, I have seen riders taking the risk themselves to upgrade parts on their old D390s and have been successful in doing so. KTM India should reward those riders by extending warranty on their KTMs or by recruiting them into the R&D team (just ensure they pay well). If there’s something that KTM could improve in a jiffy, then it could be the rubber oil filter seals and other seals on the engine case. Sometimes, oil leaks from some areas on the engine despite these seals being present, mostly because they’re not inserted properly or because they fail! KTM India proudly calls that kind of leakage, ‘seepage’.
Let me put it this way, “if KTM India sold condoms, I would’ve sued them for today’s population explosion”.
Even after you’ve run out of warranty after crossing 30,000 KMS, the cost of service isn’t too much of a scare, especially after considering the kind of performance this machine offers. But, one should be careful of not being overcharged unnecessarily, I was once charged 1000 INR for chain tightening and a motorcycle wash! The KTM India service team responds well to problems escalated via email and gets the issue fixed on priority but there have been certain instances where the required response had not been met. Keeping all those issues aside, what impressed me the most about service is their ability to listen, learn, implement and upgrade with time. I don’t usually seem like an idiotic, boring, dickhead corporate CEO presenting pointless speeches but I just sounded like one. Speaking of CEO, the assistant to KTM’s CEO Stefan Pierer in Austria too, responds promptly to emails addressed to the CEO and ensures things get solved in no time. She ensured that my motorcycle didn’t face further problems after my I reported many of the above problems to her. At least somebody is concerned!
All in all, what KTM India has achieved today is phenomenal, their attitude to listen to problems and solve them whilst ignoring the cost aspect is applaud able. Agreed, they didn’t get many things right in the first instance but they’ve always willingly and dedicatedly come forward to make the correction. I haven’t heard of such dedication in those terms from any other manufacturer. It’s been 4 years since the KTM Duke 200 rolled out and since then, more than 200 parts on the motorcycle have been upgraded. Today, the Duke 390 too, comes with an upgraded slipper clutch, a slightly more ‘cushdy’ seat, a better cooling system along with a few itsy- bitsy changes for almost the same cost as it was earlier! I just hope that their sales figure doesn’t affect their attitude to improve further, I say that out of experience too.
P.S. I wish they get a stock of the KTM Orange paint, I needed some touch up to be done on the frame but since 2 years, I get the same reply from every KTM Authorised service center I’ve visited- NO STOCK!
Most motorcycle brands selling their load in India, especially the foreign ones need to take notes from KTM India’s pricing team when it comes to pricing their motorcycles. Motorcycles that came from these manufacturers were usually between 200cc to 650cc, and were priced between 2.2 Lakhs and 6.5 Lakhs INR (approx on road cost), whereas the D390 was launched at 2.2 Lakhs INR. Two years since it was launched, the arrow still points towards the 390 when it comes to the value for money factor. After witnessing the D390 market miracle, I expected the other manufacturers to pull their socks up all the way up to their inseam but their socks weren’t even pulled up by an inch. They continued to sell bikes at critical organ prices and added new stickers to their models every year in name of ‘upgrades’. OK, if you’re argument is that these manufacturers offer refined engines that have smooth power surges, buttery ride quality, softer seats, light clutches and aren’t as insane and hard revving as the D390. But you and I know, that foreplay is fun and very important but, what’s more important and pleasurable is a wild, rough, body stretching and mind blasting intercourse that sends out electrifying surges through the body and soul, only to lift one onto ecstatic planes and dimensions. But yes, if you’re still happy with celibacy or foreplay, expensive refinement is good to go with. Keeping those tiny niggles aside, who in the world today, has the heart to sell a machine capable of touching 100 KMPH in 5.3 secs, for a price under 2.5 Lakhs??
Racy or Cushdy?
There is a minute amount of comfort when one rides this Orange cracker in question. If you ride one, you’ll be able to feel almost every bump and crack present on the road and if you’re looking to buy a motorcycle with comfort as the first criteria, then I suggest you consider not buying a D390. It’s not as bad as a superbike though, but still! Even If one uses a gel seat (don’t know if gel seats really work) or shoves extra foam into the seat, the ride might get a little better but not by a significant margin, it would still feel hard due to the stiff suspension. Adjusting the rear suspension to its softest setting would prevent you from going fast around corners. So it all comes back to this- why would you buy a motorcycle whose suspension is hard because going fast around corners is present in its DNA, and then soften that motorcycle’s suspension so that you can’t make it go fast around corners anymore? That’s like buying an orange, just so that you can throw away the actual fruit and eat only the skin! I know I’ve mentioned ‘Orange’ several times, please bear with me.
Speaking of pillion rider comfort, the rider and pillion face lesser misery if the pillion is light weight. People who don’t understand motorcycles will complain and mention how comfortable a Royal Enfield Bullet is! The D390 is more of a girlfriend’s motorcycle, it isn’t worth taking anybody else for a ride because the pillion rider will eventually slide forward and stick to the rider’s back, no matter how well you teach them to sit on a fast motorcycle. Things could become a bit awkward. Otherwise, it is also OK to have pillion riders holding onto the grab rails so hard that they numb their fingers to prevent themselves from moving forwards or backwards! I wouldn’t suggest that but still, it would save the rider from being crushed against the fuel tank.
My 2014 KTM Duke 390 hasn’t got a ‘fingerable’ light slipper clutch or a radiator fan shroud that diverts heat onto the road in start-stop traffic conditions. These are the 2 main reasons that don’t make the Duke 390 a very practical ‘city’ motorcycle. However, the 2015 model of the Duke 390 has both those issues sorted out so now neither will your index or middle finger get numb, and nor will your future generations (scrotum) face the heat for your dirty deeds.
But, there’s actually another feature of the motorcycle that doesn’t make it traffic or city friendly and that is the tall gearing ratio. The gearbox is a bit less smooth, one needs to get used it. But, it does get annoying to constantly fly from first to the third gear and vice- versa. Not that it isn’t doable, yet the motorcycle gives you a slight hint that it doesn’t like to be treated that way but adjusts, just for you. At the end of the day though, if you want to ride to office through crawling traffic on your D390 or head out to the market to buy some bread, only because you can’t stop yourself from riding it, then the above issues suddenly seem, void.
Image captured on Xiaomi Yi action cam:
Ergonomics play an important role in forming the first impression, but it plays a bigger role in building a good rider- motorcycle telepathic communication system. The D390’s dashboard is a typical KTM console that displays loads of information via an appealing Orange LCD so you don’t have to solve speed-distance-time problems (I hated that shit in school) when you stop over for lunch on a long ride. However, the buttons beside the LCD are hard, I couldn’t set the time on it myself so the mechanic did it for me but the tip of his fingers turned red. They’ve done an excellent job of hiding the ABS switch though. Horn, indicator and other signs on the handlebar are well lit under darkness but that is only useful when one is getting used to the motorcycle. Also, the lock on the handlebar seems to be placed inappropriately as it becomes a bit irritating for me when I try to remove the key with the gloves on and the lock itself needs to be checked for free play sometimes else it could soon become loose. The fuel tank lock’s flap sometimes buzzes due to vibration, another reason to not place a child on the fuel tank! The handlebar remains wide and comfortable and puts the rider at ease while cruising, but not while squeezing through traffic. The feeling that I get out of the present setup though is of fulfillment because of the tiny amendments I’ve made to eliminate those tiny disturbances.
Touring on a KTM Duke 390:
The D390 is a street motorcycle but most of the 36000 odd KMS I’ve covered on it were on the highway and to tell you, it isn’t a bad tourer in any way! I’ve ridden through pretty forest trails, mountain twisties, small lakes, 4 lane blacktops, badly broken roads and pretty much every flavor of weather and terrain a country like India offers. The rear suspension could be adjusted to the medium setting depending on how much luggage you’re carrying so everything outside suddenly seems bright and sunny than it actually is. Off-road trail riding could be done with a drop of peace too, all you could do is to stand on the foot pegs, be light on the handlebars and let the D390 do its thing. The motor’s tall gearing ratio kicks into its own on the highways as it cruises peacefully at 5800 RPM whilst maintaining 100- 110KMPH. The seat on the D390 is less hard than a wooden bench, it isn’t too bothersome for me though, probably because my bum is used to a cycle’s seat. All this mile munching would not have been such a smooth affair if it weren’t for few extra bits I added to make the D390 tour friendly. A Yamaha FZ windscreen, 10 Watt Cree LED Spotlights and thick handlebar grips (prevents wrist pain and cuts vibration by a tiny margin) may seem like they won’t make much of a difference but as you know, small things make a big difference, especially when you peacefully clock 1085 Kms in 720 minutes! The only problem for a lazy person like me is to stop every 180-200 KMS to refuel as you just get 11 liters of fuel capacity!
Related: 2017 KTM Duke 390 first ride
To sum things up, the KTM way..
If you’re wondering why I haven’t mentioned about fuel consumption and mileage, well because it isn’t necessary, you’re not going to stop yourself from having fun anyways! But still, for mileage purists (just to help them go to sleep tonight), my D390 goes 22 KMS in city and 28-30 KMS on the highway when it drinks a liter of fuel. I haven’t carried out any modifications to its engine, but I do use Motul 300V to keep it smooth and also use a better coolant. That is something that KTM India does not recommend but the difference is undoubtedly evident. Even If I upgrade to a bigger motorcycle tomorrow, I know for sure that there’s nothing that can replace the D390, in terms of anything. Yes, anything!
Below is a graphical Metaphor for the KTM Duke 390.
2018 Update: After covering 65,000 kms with no major problems on my Duke 390, I have handed over the motorcycle to my trusted mechanic to have the engine checked since it needs reconditioning. You read that right.
A high compression engine wears out pretty soon and as a result, I began to experience a drop in power output after crossing the 55,000 kms mark. There’s nothing wrong with the motorcycle, such power houses are made this way. In fact, the service executives at KTM always viewed my motorcycle with surprise when I told them of my odometer reading, especially since they’re used to replacing pistons between 30,000 and 40,000 kms. I’ve been making videos about the same episode, explaining the symptoms I faced with power loss, examining the piston and other worn out parts. Do check them out below!
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