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

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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