Mega Review: Rahul Describes His Tryst With KTM Duke 390 in 3000 Words

by Saad on December 23, 2013

Rahul has submitted this review in our Ownership Review Contest No 13, ensuring himself an assured prize. The contest also offers a chance to win Riding Jacket, Helmet and more.. You can submit your review to us as well. Here are all the details.

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Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans”, John Lennon had said that. The story of how I became an owner of the Duke 390 could be summed up in that one line. It had been 3 years since I had bought my first bike the Yamaha R15. Things had changed. I wasn’t a college student any longer.

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I had become an architect. I had responsibilities. I wasn’t looking to buy another bike. Practically I was disappointed with the Indian market. After the release of the R15 there was nothing that caught my attention. I had stopped following new releases. My plans were to save for a few years and then get something like the Ducati Monster or Triumph Daytona. I wasn’t going to buy anything before that.

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The scale model Ducati Monster that I had bought to remind me of my goals

But as I said life had other plans for me. About 6 months ago, I was riding to my office. An orange bike overtook me. I couldn’t get a proper look so I chased it. I couldn’t touch it on the straights. That was okay, I thought, a corner was coming up, the R15 could always gain in corners. I got close but the bike had great corner speed and maintained its line excellently. It disappeared. Imagine my delight when I saw the same bike parked opposite to my office. It was a Duke 200. The trellis frame immediately reminded me of the Ducati Monster and the sharp geometrical planes of the bike told me that this was a bike for the purists. It had shaved off every ornamental excess and held a form which only followed its function. So, KTM has arrived in India, I thought.

This followed by a frantic online research where I went through the entire KTM CEO interview which he gave to CNBC TV 18 and a lot of other material. I knew this guy only wanted to create performance bikes. I became a fan. In that interview he said clearly that the RC 390 would be released in India. In the mean time Amit Nandi (Bajaj Probiking) started announcing something called the RC 250 and it was said that RC 390 wasn’t coming. Frankly I didn’t believe him, KTM already had a 200 cc engine and there was no reason to develop another only 50cc higher. In the midst of all this Duke 390 launch dates were announced.

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I even attended an Orange day and was greatly impressed by the RC 8! I was already thinking about the RC 390!

I had decided to wait for the RC390 but I was still excited about the Duke 390’s India launch. I also wanted to know about the Indian price because all other specs I was already aware of. I tuned in to the live webcast. A lot of bike websites had put the speculative pricing to be at 2.4 lakhs on road. I was expecting something a bit lower. The impressive specs were followed on by a chart which showed how this bike offered much more performance for the price it was being offered at compared to the other bikes. There I noticed it for the first time. On the graph the price was around 1.8 lakhs and the BHP was around 44! Before I could properly let that sink in, the internet exploded with articles about the shocker of a price tag of 1.8 lakhs. Articles were spawning all over and it got immense positive response immediately. I would wait for the RC, I thought happy and content with the launch.

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The 390 started appearing in my Dreams! It was always beside a lake…

A couple of days passed. The bike was all over my mind. I don’t have any excess love for fairings. It’s only that clip on handle bars and that front leaning stance is something that I had gotten used to. I didn’t know whether I could change riding style and be equally effective in corners. At this point Shumi of Overdrive magazine really helped me clear my doubts. According to him this bike could easily be used for aggressive cornering. I had a discussion with my girl the next day and seeing that it would make me happy, she agreed. I went to the KTM showroom the same day and booked the bike. A few days later I even got a test ride which told me I had made the right choice. I even put it on YouTube and the video saw over 20,000 views in 2 weeks! Seemed like entire India was excited.

The waiting period was long. I don’t want to torture the readers telling about my experience of waiting. They had promised one month and I had sold my R15 trusting them, it took them 3 months and I had to avail public transport every day. When extremely annoyed, I would look at the wallpaper on my iPhone which had the Duke 390 and think that it would soon be mine.

Finally the bike arrived at the showroom. They took 10 extra days for registration, which meant I couldn’t take the delivery, even though the bike was already there. One week end I decided, that I had had enough and told the showroom that I would take the bike, with or without registration. Reluctantly they agreed and on the 28th of September, I finally got the bike.

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The ride back home was a memorable one as the bike showed immense power even within the running in rev limits and ride was smooth. At a signal I was stopped by a police car and my first reaction was that I was busted, as I was driving an unregistered bike! But to my surprise they just started asking me about the bike; its price and what brand it was. I guess they didn’t notice the empty number plate. I answered them and quickly got away! It also started drizzling and though I wasn’t’t getting wet, I had the first chance to test the wet grip of Metzellers. Even in corners the bike held its line on the wet tarmac with such prowess that I gained immense confidence to push the bike on my first ride home.

I was overjoyed reaching home with my new bike and being a fan of MotoGP racing did something similar to celebrate!

(Sorry about the camera shaking, I guess everyone was as excited as I was)

Breaking in:

This is the tough part. With the 390 you can be reasonably fast and still break the bike in according to recommendations. The idea is to shift at 5500 RPM, occasionally going up to 6500. You can even tour with your new bike, considering that 6000 RPM on 6th gear crosses 100 km/h on the speedo. I was careful with the bike and ran it in just as they wanted. A new bike’s engine produces a lot of metal particles and these particles can make the engine rough. As suggested by various superbike forums, they changed the first engine oil at 50 odd kilometres to flush out these particles. I decided to follow this and in running in period my bike seemed to be heating much less and running smoothly than most of my friends and Facebook associates. So I would definitely recommend this early oil change. Rest is as per manual. Just remember to vary your throttle a lot and even if you go up to 7500 RPM a few times, the bike can handle it, just don’t hold the engine there for long and you should be fine.

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Keep calm and ride your KTM (at least in the break in period)…

Performance:

44 is just a number. On a bike this light (150 kg with the Saree guard off) it works magic. I still remember the first acceleration during my test drive. There was such a strong pull that I felt my head going back and my neck muscles stiffen as the bike charged ahead! But this bike isn’t’t just a drag bike. The torque from the engine always gives you enough pull so there isn’t’t a need to shift gears all the time. Acceleration is decent at first but just as you cross 5000 RPM the bike just explodes. The engine sound changes and there is so much power that it feels like a different bike. New riders beware!

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The Metzellers provide grip and traction, be it rain or shine

But it isn’t always about the speed. The roads on this planet aren’t always straight. And it’s the corner where the Duke really comes into its own. The Metzellers offer so much traction that you feel confident to lean down a few extra degrees at corners. The rounded tire profile provides ample contact patch even when banking and that is another reason for the excellent grip. Wet grip is phenomenal. This tire is a very wise choice by KTM.

And right after the tires, come the brakes. Provided by Bybre (Italian Brake manufacturer Brembos’ Indian edition) these units have a sharp bite and good feedback. On a recent ride, I was charging up a flyover to take a corner. It was around 5 am in the morning, and I expected an empty fly over. This is one of the Curved flyovers and my idea was to go berserk on the corner. However, just I had committed into the corner, I realised there was hand-kart blocking my line just standing there. I was over a 100 mark and with a pillion; I didn’t think the bike would stop. Still I pushed hard at both the brakes. With just one meter distance between us the bike stopped. No drama, no rear wheel slides, just a strong retardation that I felt through my arms and shoulders. I don’t know if the ABS had kicked in. But the bike earned a lot of respect on that day.

I realise that a lot of people want to buy this bike for touring and they are apprehensive. First of all let me say that the bike holds speeds of 120- 130 with such less effort that touring on this bike becomes a bliss. Even when in relaxed mode at around 80 on 6th gear the engine is at a very low RPM, this means it’s not stressed and provides excellent fuel economy. Around 35 km/l which is amazing for a bike like this.

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390s on the NH-2 (we love cruising on this bike)

Wind Blast:

A lot of forums are abuzz with this new term. Some are arguing that wind blast would make this bike impossible to tour. In the same sentence they are declaring the Royal Enfields to be the best touring bikes in India. I wonder if the Enfield’s come with an invisible fairing. Let’s blast the myth about wind blast. Wind blast doesn’t affect this bike’s stability. I have taken this bike up to 160 km/h and the bike was stable enough for me to hold that speed. Our group of 390 riders maintain 120- 130 regularly on highways and for slight corners we don’t even bother to slow down. Even on windy days the bike is very stable. The wind blast to the rider is a different issue. I didn’t feel anything up to 130 km/h. But yes, if you try to go further the wind blast gets very strong and mostly affects the shoulders. I wouldn’t say it hits the chest because I generally go into the race crouch position. (Old habit from the R15 days).

For people who will tour on this bike, I would say you should be fine. If you decide to ride above 130 km/h there will be strong windblast but most it can be cancelled out by leaning down on fuel tank. And even in Indian faired models like the R15 and CBR 250R to avoid wind blast you have to duck down under the very short windscreen. Since, not many people can tour in that race crouch position for hours, I think most of you will be sitting up straight and in that position both nakeds and faired bikes of India offer the same. (Adventure bikes with tall windshields and some cruisers offer protection even in straight riding position but they aren’t available in India that readily).

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 Tip: The power parts windshield does help reduce the windblast, especially when you are in the race crouch position

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A member of the of the Duke 390 Mumbai Owner’s group, Sourabh Sirke, has toured with his 390 for over 8000 kilometres and all over India. He hasn’t felt any serious issues with the bike as well.

Fuel recommendations:

KTM recommends 95 RON fuel for the 390. Unfortunately this isn’t available in most places across India. Bajaj-KTM R&D team has tested this bike with normal petrol and the bike doesn’t have any problems running with normal fuel. Any rumours of knocking at lower quality of fuel is baseless. However, I have put my 390 on the premium Speed 97, the only fuel, in India above the recommended level and it does offer better throttle response and a more aggressive exhaust note.

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Getting her favourite drink; the Speed 97

Exhaust notes:

Being a single cylinder it doesn’t have the typical sports bike sound. The notes are heavy down in the RPM range but at the top it does sound very sweet and the sporty tune is evident. I can’t properly describe it; so please hear it yourselves.

Public reaction:

The bike’s an immense crowd puller. Where ever I go, if I leave the bike at the parking lot, when I come back, I find people looking at it. Even chicks dig the 390. I will let the pictures speak the 1000 words here.

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At the neighbourhood post office…

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My girl loves the Duke, but I know she secretly admires the RC series!

Pillion rider compatibility:

The above snapshot should serve as a good reference to the size of your pillion if he or she has to be comfortable on the Duke. Basically, guys aren’t this small, so a model thin wife/girlfriend is what the pillion seat is for.

Ride quality:

The suspension is very stiff and on bad roads the bike handles very well but the ride is so rough that your back takes the punishment. They have supposedly softened the suspension up a bit for Indian condition. I personally didn’t feel it. On bad roads you should just slow down.

Dynamics:

The bike is very compact. Being carried over from the Duke 200 this is probably the smallest bike in its category. This makes it a very nimble and agile bike. The bike behaves very predictably in corners, and rear tire spin under hard, out of the corner acceleration is easier to control. Changing directions midway through a corner or dodging traffic, the 390 does all with smile on your face. If you want to learn knee dragging, this is the saddle of choice.

Flaws:

The duke is street fighter. But does it rule the cities? For small cities with less traffic or suburban areas like mine, I would say, yes. But the most number of Dukes are being sold in big cities like Bangalore and Mumbai. To test the bike in traffic, I took it to the heart of the city. I put it through the worst traffic jam possible. It was bumper to bumper traffic and speed was about 5 km/hour.

The bike also had to stop frequently but I didn’t turn the engine off. In about 1 km of such condition the bike heated up immensely and I felt like an almost burning sensation on the inner thigh. There was also high coolant temperature warning. However, as soon as I got back to 30 km/h the temperature subsided. Still on city rides I feel the engine heats up in traffic and though it is mostly manageable I wish KTM would upgrade my fan so that the air gets re-directed at low speeds. (This they already have done to some owners in Mumbai).

The clutch is a heavy one. It is not an issue in day to day riding. But becomes a huge problem in heavy traffic where you have to use the clutch repeatedly. My hand aches very badly and if they upgrade the Duke 390, the first they should do is put in a lighter clutch that will improve the performance of this bike and make it comfortable in traffic. As for now, the clutch is really not good for city traffic.

The ride quality is not for everyone. I put up with it, because it is the same suspension settings that come in handy in those high speed corners. The rear suspension is even adjustable according to rider weight. But if you aren’t a performance aficionado, you won’t like it.

Pillion space is a premium and though it is the most desirable touring bike now, 2 up touring isn’t’t going to be possible. (Unless of course, you are having a pillion of referred size)

Service Cost:

KTM provides free services and the charge is only of Rs. 1400, for the engine oil. Due to parts sharing, spare parts cost is also less. After the first service next service is after 5000 km, so service interval is sparse as well. A very easy bike to maintain considering its performance and its competitors’ maintenance costs.

Summary:

The KTM Duke 390 isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. It’s for the purists who want to be involved with the ride. Most Moto-journalists have booked one. People have waited for a bike like this for ages. Owners of Yamaha R15, CBR and Royal Enfields have equally queued up to book the 390. The level of equipment and features along with the breathtaking performance makes most feel that it’s the most under priced motorcycle in the country.

As for me, 6 months ago I didn’t know that I would buy a KTM. But as I said at the beginning ‘Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans’. While I was making plans about possessing superbikes in an indefinite future the Duke happened. To me, the KTM 390 is a message. It says you don’t have to wait to ride a powerful bike. You can have me right now and I wouldn’t cost you a bomb to maintain either. If you wish to move to bigger bikes in future, I will teach you how to handle them. The KTM 390 is the present and this bike will provide maximum smilage to its owners for a long, long time. Thank you, Stefan Pierer.

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However, the story doesn’t end here.

KTM 390 the story continues at my YouTube channel:

PS: I thought I would leave out the mileage figures, just for once. But it’s India after all:

City: 22- 25 km/l
Highway: 28- 35 km/l

Thanks,
Rahul Mazumder

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{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

faisal December 23, 2013 at 11:03 pm

Very good review and love the honesty. People need to understand the ride quality is stiff and although slowing down helps a bit, it’s best to accelerate over bumps to prevent nose dive.

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Rahul December 23, 2013 at 11:11 pm

If I could upgrade, the first thing I would do is put in a lighter clutch. As for the ride quality, well I know that I can’t soften it without losing the handling.

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faisal December 25, 2013 at 1:52 pm

It’s worth losing some bit of the handling for a more compliant ride and it’s very compliant at setting 3.

Rony December 23, 2013 at 11:59 pm

Given the present road conditions Duke 200 if more practical

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Aashiq December 24, 2013 at 12:21 am

Will only agree. Duke 200 even if priced only 60k below the 390 still stands as a better proposition. We don’t have the roads to ride it to 160 often and given the high and ever growing traffic in this nation, we’re better off with an optimally powered and lighter on pocket, crotch rocket. If this bike can be used best at, its the highways. But it isn’t primarily meant for the highways now is it. The scenario with the on-coming of Dukes has changed, but the real game changers are yet to come and they are exactly what I’m waiting for. #TheBigPulsars.

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Abhijit December 24, 2013 at 8:45 am

You dont need to ride 390 on top speed to enjoy it. Dukes are meant for enjoying the ride, the way it handles, the way it flicks and the most important the way it make you feel. I have 200 since march 2012 and i love this bike. I am quite a rash rider and i have never lost control on this bike. It gives you total control, like it is saying “your wish is my command”. 200 had never failed me for any of my expectations.
So if you want to drive at high speeds better dont go for this bike.

Rony December 24, 2013 at 11:35 am

Yes and what I meant was that the 24bhp of KTM200 is more than enough given the present road conditions i.e the traffic cutting,overtaking,potholes, in comparison to the 44 bhp of the 390. However this scenario might change in the future.

Farhan December 24, 2013 at 1:41 am

Very good and honest review!

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Aditya Gupta December 24, 2013 at 10:13 am

Fantastic review rahul sir..well I ride a R15 too! Ride safe. Ride hard.

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Reeto December 24, 2013 at 10:40 am

Hi Rahul. Excellent review……….loved the way you penned down the details. Wish u many happy (s)miles on the KTM Duke 390. Shall catch up with you when I’m in Calcutta next time around. Cheers.

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Rahul December 27, 2013 at 7:30 pm

Sure, we could catch up some time, ride a few 100 kms together. That would be nice!

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Amit December 24, 2013 at 7:52 pm

Hi ,

Good article to understand this complex machine.

However a bike with 44 bhp is capable of only 160 whereas CBR 250 with 25 bhp can touch 150 mark?
Will you recommend this bike for 1000 km tour such as Bangalore – Mumbai in a day.

What about stability on road when pathole are never predictable on our highways especially for night riders.
I hope headlamps are equally strong as engine.

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Rahul December 24, 2013 at 8:39 pm

Hi, the true top speed is 168.5 kmph, I only said that I have taken it to 160, it’s more than capable to get above that. 168.5 is GPS tested Speodometer indicated speed will be much more at around 175+ (due to Speedo error present in all bikes). One common thing people forget is that more than top speed there is the important factor how fast does it reach there. The KTM geos to 100 mark from 0 in only 5.5 secs and goes straight upto 150 without any drama. So it’s acceleration that matters for the Duke.
People have already done 1000 km stretches on Duke. Due to the bike maintaining higher speeds constantly and good acceleration it does 1000km in 15 hours if the roads are good. In potholes if you hit over 100 kmph any bike will be in trouble. Below that this bike can handle. Good thing is that you can slow down the bike if you see a pothole ahead, the brakes are very sharp. Still if you hit one unaware, the bike will stay stable, but you will feel the jerk. Potholes can damage the bike, any bike, but you will most likely not fall off as the bike is very stable.

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turboss December 27, 2013 at 3:36 pm

You have to ride the 390 to feel the terminoogy “POWER”!!!
It can create a mess in the biological processes of your body. The exhaust note is good and pleasing to atleast myself. I like the 390 but I feel the 200 is more than enought for city commuting and the 390 for touring.

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Rahul December 27, 2013 at 11:18 pm

The 200 is the perfect city commuter. But the 390 is extravagant affair in the city. The power comes in handy when you are disappearing when the red light turns green. I mean with 5.5 sec to 100 you can be sure that you really disappear! Squeezing from the traffic gaps is a breeze. It feels great!
It’s for people who want all that power. It’s a performance bike, it’s not a basic necessity, it will never be.
In highways the bike does feel that it is at home. But personally I wouldn’t mind getting the 690, maybe 3-4 years from now!

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suyash December 27, 2013 at 6:45 pm

Gud review bro.. What’s the xact mileage u r getting when cruisng around 120kmhr?? And 1 thing i should point out , u can say r15 has a small windshield but cbr has a much higher one which actually keep the windblasts away from the rider mainly on chest. From my experience i rode a d200 n cbr250r back to back on the same highway n i found out there is a considerable difnce in high speed stability between both the bikes.. Thus fairing helps mainly above 100kmhr when one cruises at 120-125..;)

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Rahul December 27, 2013 at 11:26 pm

I didn’t check the mileage at 120 exactly, because we do 120-130 but then we are not in a condition to stare at the meter. And when we meet traffic we go down to 80-100 and then overtaking them resume. I think it will be around 30 at 100 kmph cruising. (I am not 100% sure).
390 is to be enjoyed and I don’t get bogged down by the mileage specs, just enjoy the power.
As for bike’s stability, I have taken turns over 100 kmph and straightlined at 160 kmph. 390 has harder suspension compared to 200 and metzellers add to grip and stability. It’s 100% stable even at 160. But yes, the windblast can be very very strong at that speed. It annoys the rider but the bike doesn’t sway. I have tried riding it sitting straight up over 130 and it was very hard. But generally crouch down on tank so I cut down the windblast a lot! Maybe that is the main reason I don’t get too bothered by the windblast compared to other riders who sit straight on the bike.

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akhil December 28, 2013 at 10:38 am

Rahul,
I ride a cbr 250. Practically , what are the advantages that you think ktm 390 has compared to cbr . I live in calcutta too and i don’t think here we have many roads which will utilize 44 bhps of ktm . And 35 kmpl??? srsly ?? And riding comfort…does ktm provide you ample riding comfort for long rides?

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Rahul December 30, 2013 at 4:18 pm

First of all where I said 35 kmpl? At 80 km speed cruise on highway in 6th gear. In city it gives 25 and Overdrive magazine official test figure is 28 overall. (so I am not making it up).
Now to answer you first question, a user may come and say that in Kolkata we don’t have many roads where you can utilize 25 BHP, So I think glamour is a better bike.
The question of power can never be answered. When I was riding R15 and had 17 BHP I was keeping up with CBR 250 in city streets. And sometimes even pulsar 135s kept up with me. You see that is the condition of Kolkata roads. Even poor R1 gets caught in traffic.
The power is never needed but it is wanted. And in that empty stretch or when the traffic light goes green from Red, 390 disappears. Even the CBR did offer great power when it was launched. And next year Honda coming with 500cc which will have even more.
That is the thing about tech. It progresses.
As for riding comfort both are good, KTM has a hard seat but otherwise very good riding posture. IF you don’t like the seat all you need to do it install a softer seat at a local modifier. Rest is good.
As for windblast, the CBR offers a better protection at 130 up speeds.

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gaurav chamoli April 23, 2014 at 10:13 am

Nyc..bro i lyk ur biking spirit..
Bro..i live in dehradun..but i want to go goa for vacation..the journey might be 2500 km long..can duke 390 take up this task..!!

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gaurav chamoli April 23, 2014 at 10:17 am

Nyc..bro i lyk ur biking spirit..
Bro..i live in dehradun..but i want to go goa for vacation..the journey might be 2500 km long..can duke 390 take up this task..!!

Reply

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