KTM have continued their quest to improve things that might not have needed improving. They improved their 1290 Super Duke when it was still king of the hill, they improved the 1190 Adventure when it was already more machine than most people can handle and now the engineers have fettled the 390 Duke, a bike that was already funky, fun and enjoyable in every way. But this is KTM. More is more.

Story: Donovan Fourie

Pics: Meghan McCabe

KTM 390 Duke track
The KTM Duke 390 at our very own race track.

From this year, The Bike Show has been using a new studio. It’s in Honeydew, it’s lavish, classy, distinct and has its own convenient race track next to it. Before you have visions of Top Gear’s open and fast track at Dunsfold Airport, let’s be clear that this is a private go-cart track next to a prestigous residential area. While the tar is high quality and smooth, the track has not been used at all since we have moved in. This is partially due to the fact that we are hugely lazy and much to do with the fact that a superbike will not get out of first gear on it. But the 390 Duke on the other hand…

It arrived at our studio on a Friday afternoon accompanied by its very own marketing manager. Normally, we do not let anyone from the manufacturers near our tests because, let’s be frank, they are biased and will do nothing but overly glorify their own product for the sake of selling more of them, but Riaan Neveling is a bit different. Yes he is a marketing manager, yes he is from KTM, but he is a bit different, and the feeling of suspense at the end of this sentence justifies another ellipses…

A new bike, a new look, some new goodies

KTM 390 Duke headlight
The new LED headlight straight off the might Super Duke.

The new 390 Duke is different from the previous model, mostly because it looks very much like its older brother, the 1290 Super Duke. Sure, it is smaller, more slender and more compact than the SD, but there is a definite relation there. It even has the same face, sporting the new aggressive twin LED headlights, now a trademark of all new KTM road legal bikes. It also has a similar plastics layout, meaning there are very few plastics. Like the SD, the 390 has minimalist approach to clothing giving it a simpler, sharper look. Especially the tailpiece that is now almost completely non-existent, showing the trellis steel sub-frame that is now bolted on to the main frame instead of being welded.

There is now a new dash, a TFT full colour one that is splendid and glorious and wonderful to behold. It has similar functions to the 1290 controlled via the same set of arrow switches on the left handlebar. There is also the option of KTM’s My Ride that let’s the dash connect to your cellphone. Since 2008, teenage boys and girls have been dreaming about something like this more so than an attractive member of the opposite sex. With this, you can control what goes into your earphones, namely the track that’s playing, the volume it’s playing at and the choice of answering the phone when someone weirdly uses it to talk to you. It cannot reply to text messages yet, nor scan through Facebook, but you can imagine that something like that is coming.

KTM 390 Duke dash
The 390 comes with its own TFT dash, like the bigger KTMs.

This new dash is terribly easy to read because the rider sits close to the bars, nearly on top of them even. The bars are also wider and more out of the way. This gives it a more motardy feeling, and instills thoughts of mischief. The wheelbase is 10mm shorter and the trail has been brought in by 5mm meaning that if you thought the last model was quick of steer, this one will blow your mind.

The WP suspension has new settings with new, progressive damping springs making the bike more stable and more comfortable. The brakes are from ByBre, a name that is an abbreviation of By Brembo, the Asian cousins of the famous Italian brake maker. They offer ABS with a special Supermoto Mode option that disables the rear system if you wish to lock up the rear wheel. The front brake disk is 20mm bigger making it match those on a superbike at 320mm.

The engine is still a 373cc, single-cylindered four-stroke unit that now has a bigger airbox, a new exhaust and a new ECU with a new ride-by-wire throttle. The outcome of this is a better throttle response, more torque throughout the rev range and a max output of 44hp. To help the bigger brakes there is also a new slipper clutch.

Moving along, round and round

Since the last ellipses, Riaan has not changed from his previous position as the marketing manager of KTM. He is also still next to our track, but has changed into leathers. The truth is that while he is now fully engulfed in the corporate world behind the motorcycle scenes, in front of them he is still a multiple motocross and supermoto champion and a full blown maniac.

KTM 390 Duke corner
Riaan made light work of the slipper corners.

The idea here was to test this bike to its maximum capabilities, to discover whether is can live up to the trials and tribulations of everyday urban life with grit and gusto. Of course, the race track is the best place to find this out. Especially our tiny go-cart track. To make it yet more realistic, we hosted this test in late Autumn, when a chilly wind wrapped it in its icy hold, dragging fallen leaves along and leaving them scattered across the tar. More so, the unusual amount of rain for this time of year has left patches of sand where pools of water once thrived.

I wouldn’t want to ride around this track, but then again I’m not Riaan Neveling.

Luckily, Riaan Neveling is Riaan Neveling, and he climbed aboard undeterred, started the throaty motor and set off with an unsympathetic wheelspin.

KTM 390 Duke air
There might have been some air at some stage.

You and I are mostly sane, therefore when we set off on a filthy, unused, unknown track on a freezing day, we take it easy, test the waters and let things warm up a bit. Riaan shoved the 390 into the first corner, letting both tyres slide unrestricted, with his Rossi foot keeping the bike mildly upright and not skidding on its side. He twisted through the tight sections, flicking it this way and that, (with apologies to Walter de la Mare), putting the shorter wheelbase, narrower trail and new suspension to work. The new RBW throttle and torque helped it pull effortlessly out of the tight hairpins.

He then headed onto the back straight, accelerating hard as the motor sounded like a manic buzzsaw on a cocaine high. He kept it pinned until just before it hit the rev limiter where he grabbed the brakes, both a handful of front and a footful of rear.

Before he had set off on this savage display, he had the mind to use the handlebar buttons and the new screen to put the brakes into supermoto mode. Thus the front brakes had the full and thankful ABS effect, while the rear had buggerall. This became apparent at the end of the straight:


Riaan characteristically out of shape.

…went the back wheel at an angle nearly perpendicular to the direction of travel. This was taking supermoto mode to its full definition. This corner was particularly dusty, and Riaan was doing a particularly fast speed at a particularly sideways angle. He hit the dust, the front started sliding, and man and machine went towards the tyre wall supported by Riaan’s foot as he held a beautiful two-wheel slide. In the middle of the turn, right before the track edge tyre wall, he took a handful of throttle, let the back wheel continue its sideways journey and blasted out of the turn in a flurry of dust, revs and Riaan’s bellowing laughter.

He circulated for some time after that, with The Bike Show’s camera crew (namely a busy fellow named Ivan) and our stills camera crew (a lady named Meghan who rolls her eyes a lot more since she started working with us) getting some pure gold on their cameras as Riaan got faster and more seemingly out of control.

But this is more than a track bike

KTM 390 Duke wheelie
And, of course, a small wheelie.

Of course, as is the way with people in the motorcycle industry, boredom started settling in and with it came mischief. The track was fun, but the studio is more than just a track. A short cut over the grass let him loose on our fountain area and its beautiful brick pavework that, when wet, is perfect for some on the throttle drifting while dodging the palm trees, the ornate garden lighting and our long-term Indian Scout that was parked there.

Of course, simple fountain drifting is good fun, but why not go further? Our actual studio – the bit where the show is shot – is on the second floor. To get bikes up to it, we have installed an expensive lift that carries them up there smoothly and effortlessly. Of course, for humans, there is a flight of stairs. Apparently, Riaan gets confused with the difference between humans and motorbikes.

KTM 390 Duke stairs
Riding up the stairs much like a 390 Duke shouldn’t.

Remember that this is strictly a road bike, destined for a life of mostly smooth tar and not even the slightest off-road pretence. Despite that, he hit the steep, tiled stairs at speed, letting the momentum carry him about half way up before a series of wheelspins and the odd push of his feet carried him the rest of the way. With that he was on the balcony.

This is where things went awry – in the beginning, when I first started on The Bike Show, Mat and Harry would accompany me on whatever shoot I was doing as a sort of parental unit ensuring everything was done in a mature and responsible fashion. Recently, I have been allowed to do my own thing with them confident in my grown up choices. Giving Riaan access to our studio was not among the more grown up choices I have made.

The entrance to the studio is through a beautiful set of glass folding doors that were unfortunately folded open on this day allowing Riaan the opportunity to not only enter with the 390 but to do so at speed. All the rooms are delicately tiled, meaning drifting is easy and will be done so in bucket-loads.

KTM 390 Duke studio
And riding through the studio.

He spun through our bar area – stopping briefly to top up with Red Bull – he spun through our office area going around our laptop desk and past our landlord’s R1 million NCR collectors item, he spun through the lounge area bumping over our chairs, he spun through the kitchen, he spun through our workshop area narrowly missing our Snap On tool boxes and he even did a brief stop in the bathroom.

This created a lot of noise, left our furniture in disarray and left the tiles a darker shade of rubber. This all sounds like an act of pure inconsideration but truth be told, we loved every minute of it. The studio was beautiful and ornate, but we are a bike show – more so, The Bike Show – and such naffness is intolerable. Tyre marks and broken furniture are the path of the man cave future. Thank you Riaan.

More is still More

KTM 390 Duke exhaust
Mucho looks

More so, the 390 Duke did what we asked and more. We originally wanted to do a goof-around test at the track, but creativity flared, ideas went crazy and before long we were filming a bike wheelspinning inside a kitchen on the second storey while its rider played football with a dustbin. The 390 Duke can handle the stresses of the track and do so with even more competence than its predecessor, a large set of shoes it fills and then rips apart.

It is classy, elegant, good looking and like all KTMs it is also a bit mad. And that is exactly how we like it.

And at a price of R68,999. If you take a squiz at the prices of the opposition, that is not bad at all.