‘Pump Kinn’ grabs some more quality time riding KTM´s new 390 Duke. Here’s what he thinks…
Motorcycling usually involves a very simple rule of thumb: the better the bike, the more you want to ride it. A bit like eating chocolate. When I was riding the 390 the thought of Salzburg’s legendary chocolate – ‘Mozart’ – balls with pistachio marzipan and nougat came to mind; small but tasty and a real delicacy. Once tasted, it’s hard to stop.
After riding the 390 for a full day at the launch event on Salzburg, I went to the ‘orange people’ and coyly asked if some more bike time was possible. So the next day when the test fleet of 36 motorcycles were loaded on trucks to be brought back to Mattighofen, one was left over and the keys placed in my hands. “Have fun,” they said…So I loaded my stuff in the tank and luggage bags and rode off smiling.
Unprepared as I was, I just went straight out of the town with no fixed direction. Some crazy destinations went through my head: South of France, for example, play a game of boules in Bandol and sip some red wine? Or the Croatian coast for a nice swim, somewhere in the vicinity of Pula maybe. Vienna was another option; to taste a ‘melange’ (a milky coffee) and some more sweet stuff. Unfortunately the weather was not as vibrant as my spirit of adventure. Before passing the city limits the rain started and got heavier and heavier in addition to being very cold; in short, I rapidly fled into the next best cafe and waited for an improvement in conditions.
Sadly the immediate weather forecast was nothing short of depressing. Within the range of two fuel tanks everything looked terrible with no relief in sight. After the third tea and some ‘Mozart balls’ I pulled myself together and went on the Duke again to brave the rain. The 390 was unwavering, partly thanks to the performance of the Metzeler Sportec M5 tyres that oozed confidence; nevertheless the joy of driving wasc pretty limited. After less than 100 miles I gave up and looked for a hotel.
The next day the nightmare was over. Blue sky, a few clouds, the sun was shining. A T-shirt under the leathers was perfectly adequate. The overly optimistic dream locations from yesterday were of course out of the picture but for an ordinary day of riding I was pretty much set. So I took a look at the map and choose ‘Grossglockner’ as a target; Austria’s highest mountain. One tank to get there, another to return which should fit just fine.
On country roads the Duke 390 is in its element. Super-easy handling, fine brakes, suspension nicely tuned, an upright riding position. It was all quite logical really; less weight means more fun. It is hard to understand why this formula fell by the wayside actually.
The 390 Duke seems to put an end to ‘displacement-mania’ and with horsepower fixation. For years others had brought down 600 or 800cc bikes to 50bhp to hang ‘beginner-friendly’ labels on it. The Duke breathes new life to the middle class: balance rather than ballast, fun instead of boredom. Overall it’s true to the maxim: ‘less can be more’.
150kg fully fuelled and 44bhp are respectable figures. Of course, it does not break the asphalt like a big one-litre bike but we’re talking about an agile little beast and a likeable dynamic package. Best of all, the Duke 390 is just so easy to ride and it does not scare you. It does not get out of control with the engine to redline. Performance-wise the 390 is no meek kitten: 0 to 100 in about 6 seconds is sports car level, for which you have to dig deep into your pockets.
The 390 motor runs effortlessly and relaxed at high revs too and fittingly the gearbox works pretty smoothly. Normal riding in traffic is not an issue anyway. If you can constantly rev the engine in the top end of the band, the machine goes down like the (Mozart), ball out of the tube.
The ease with which the Duke 390 can be steered through curves is striking. Precise, safe and with crisp cornering speed. What a great ride. I had so much fun, especially on tight roads and switchbacks. Right-left-right-left. The longer I went, the less I wanted to stop, crazy.
When I do stop it is impossible not to notice that the sporty appearance of the bike is inviting. The trellis frame is a feast for the eyes, and the wide tank and short rear end give it a compact and feisty shape. The snub-nosed lamp rounds off the look with a friendly touch, not too aggressive. Although the frame and the bodywork of the Duke 390 is identical to the 125 and 200 sister models, it is visually more ‘adult’, which may be due to the larger engine and the orange rims. Anyway, I always felt ‘well dressed’ all the time with this modern and almost fashionable motorcycle.
After a few hours of an exhilarating trip on the Grossglockner a barrier stopped my trip. This particular mountain road was still blocked. Bad luck, I was about a week too early. Until 1 May the Grossglockner path remains out of bounds. So the latter stage of my route had been decided for me.
Cue a quick pizza break and then I took the way back towards Salzburg and on to Mattighofen. And again I enjoyed the curling country roads, a few smaller passes, no expressways or highways. Contributing to riding pleasure was the humming engine operation along with the efficient fuel injection. No stuttering, no slip, no hiccups. No matter at what speed, whether during acceleration or at half throttle or when coasting. The four-stroke heart of the Duke 390 always remains civilized, very clean and correct on the gas. The smoothness of a single cylinder heart is impressive.
On the way back I made a couple of rest-stops to admire Austria’s beautiful landscape with mountains, lakes, streams and a number of points-of-interest. I also discover some of the Duke’s subtleties: Bosch ABS, Fatbar handlebars and steel braided brake lines, upside-down forks, a double-piston radial-mounted front brake calliper, plastic coated rims, an engine spoiler, LED rear lights and LED indicators and a well fabricated chain tensioner on the aluminium swingarm. The dash with tachometer, LCD speedometer, fuel gauge, coolant temperature gauge and much more, even a shift light can be activated. You do not find any cheap stuff on the bike.
When it got dark just before the end of my journey, I was amazed not only by the remarkably good illumination of the H4 headlight but also by a loving detail – the switch symbols on the handlebars. So the high beam, turn signals, electric starter and kill switch are in fact illuminated (backlit) – you simply do not notice this in daylight.
The next day I gave the Duke back to those at Mattighofen. My conclusion: The new 390
runs great, looks great and at 4,995 euros is almost unbelievably well priced. KTM rocks the entire middle class. Who would have thought that before? Beginners, old-timers and ladies will love this bike as well as experienced motorcyclists that appreciate the finer points of riding. Power is not everything; a good balance is the deciding factor for fun. So, well done KTM, much respect!