It’s become effortless, is my first thought as I come on to the long straight at the end of a tricky parabola at Bajaj’s test track inside its Chakan plant. Astride the brand new KTM 390 Duke, there’s no fatigue or even shortness of breath. There is just the Thrill of Riding.
The 390 legacy
Flashback to 2013. The Indian biking enthusiast has already had his brush with Austrian bike maker KTM in the form of the 200 Duke. He can barely hold on for the launch of the KTM 390 Duke. It’s an instant hit. It’s fantastic power-to-weight ratio gave it blistering performance while a taut trellis frame and some top notch suspension bits and a razor sharp steering geometry means a nimble footedness that could put Fred Astaire (or Michael Jackson or Justin Timberlake) to shame. The fact that it is superbly priced only helps the 390 Duke fly off the stores.
Cut to 2017. The old 390 Duke is virtually an icon for the Indian biking enthusiast who can’t afford superbikes. This is affordable performance but with none of the compromises that the word affordability usually signifies. But the old has to make way for the new and now there is a brand new 390 Duke. Will it be a worthy successor or will it buckle under the burden of a short but illustrious legacy?
From the look of it
Inspired by the much larger 1290 Super Duke, the new 390’s styling is even sharper than before. The split LED headlamp and the new glossy paint scheme makes it stand out. The tail end is sharp enough to draw blood if it nicks your skin. It’s compact and lean instead of being muscular. More like a martial artist than a body builder.
In the saddle
At 830mm the new bike’s saddle height is a bit more than on the old bike and the position of the foot pegs have also been moved further back than what we’ve gotten used to. The new bike however is anything but uncomfortable.
The larger 13.5-litre tank feels tiny and easy to grip with the knees while all switches are within easy reach of the left thumb. With the auto headlamp on function on this BS IV (and Euro IV) compliant bike, the right thumb is only used for the starter button and the engine kill switch. The larger mirrors come as a pleasant surprise too for you can now actually see what’s behind.
The 390 Duke is the first bike in its class to get this fancy full colour TFT display. The adaptive screen’s visibility adjusts itself depending on ambient light so that there is no discomfort while reading the numerous information on offer. It can also be paired with a phone via Bluetooth to display incoming calls and messages or operate your phone’s music (highly not recommended) using the buttons on the handlebar.
At the heart of it all
KTM has left the basic architecture of the liquid-cooled 373-cc single unchanged but there have been a few additions like ride-by-wire, an EVAP system, a larger air box and a side slung exhaust. At 43.5PS at 9000rpm, power output from this familiar unit remains the same but torque is up by 2Nm, taking the max torque to 37Nm at 7000rpm.
The unit appears to be smoother running and with the addition of the extra torque and the more subtle progression of a ride-by-wire throttle, it is now able to spread its grunt over the rev range much better. There is none of that slow speed jerkiness that plagues the older model. This new smoothness of power delivery also means better drive out of corners.
A willing partner
The new 390 Duke has a completely new chassis. The thoroughly capable old trellis has been replaced by a new split trellis (painted in two different colours too to help you notice) that turned out to be just as capable despite our initial misgivings that splitting the frame in two parts might end up compromising on the frame’s rigidity. The new Duke dances through curves with the same panache as the old Duke.
Up front there is a WP open cartridge 43mm inverted forks while the rear gets a gas charged WP monoshock. Unlike the old bike, the set-up has definitely gone soft a bit. In stock set up the bike shows a tendency to mildly wallow through bumpy turns. That said, ride quality is now much improved. It isn’t exactly cushy but it’s definitely a shade or two more supple than before.
Stop right there
To get it to stop, albeit reluctantly because you want to keep going, KTM has used the exact same brake set up as on the RC 390. There’s a larger 320mm rotor at the front wheel with four-piston radial fixed calipers and a 230mm dia rotor with single-piston floating caliper at the rear. There is a dual channel ABS, courtesy Bosch. The ABS can be switched off completely or can be switched off only at the rear wheel in an exciting Supermoto mode. The braking set up provides plenty of bite but more importantly tonnes of progression.
Is it worth it?
The new 390 Duke carries a sticker of Rs 2.25 lakh, ex-showroom in Delhi. At that price point there is absolutely nothing around it that can give you as much performance and as many thrills. As for the legacy, it’s every bit a 390 Duke and a worthy successor.