What is it?
It’s cheap, modern, weighs next to nothing, and has enough power to keep things interesting. What more can you ask for? While KTM cut their teeth making fire breathing single-cylinder dirt bikes, their 390 Duke lays claim to neither of these. In reality, it’s still one of the most exciting learner bikes you can swing a leg over and a decent base for a custom build.
The good bits
Every time you turn a KTM on, you’re greeted with the Austrian firm’s ‘Ready to Race’ motto, and that pretty much sums up what you’re getting yourself into. Sure, we’re talking about a 373cc single-cylinder, learner legal bike, but the 390 Duke is one of the most hardcore little bikes you can get your hands on.
A big part of what makes the 390 Duke so Ready to Race, is its lack of weight. Ready to go, a 390 Duke weighs in at around 150kg. Team that low weight up with the punchy little single that spins out 32kW at 9500rpm and 35Nm at 7250rpm and you’ve got yourself a fun little combo. Impressively, the powerplant weighs in at just 36kg, including the sweet-shifting 6-speed gearbox, which has a slipper-clutch in later bikes. The gearing allows everything from first/second gear wheelies to comfortable highway cruising. In fact, the 390 Duke will go all the way to 160km/h, which if we’re all honest with ourselves, is plenty fast enough for the road.
The Duke’s frame, brakes and suspension are also top-quality, which is often where costs are cut in the learner-legal segment. The trellis frame features quality welds and coatings and is held-up by WP forks and shock, which although basic in spec, are well sorted. The brakes are by BYBRE (Brembo’s small-bike arm) and feature a single 320mm disc with a radial, four-piston caliper up-front and a 230mm disc, with single-piston caliper out-back. Both of which have switchable ABS that that can be placed in ‘supermoto’ mode that keeps the front ABS on, while allowing the rear to be locked. All this on a learner-legal bike!
The not so good bits
The 390 Duke has proven itself to be pretty solid over the years, with the engine, gearbox, frame and suspension doing service in bikes across KTM and Husqvarna’s range for going on seven years now.
In saying that, there are a few things to look out for - especially if you opt for the earlier 390 Dukes (pre-2016). These bikes were known to get hot under the collar in traffic and the radiator fan will be a constant companion in the warmer months. Again, on earlier bikes, some owners have reported dry swingarm bushings and blown head gaskets but these were generally reported in the US.
The 390 Duke, like many a little learner bike, isn’t great for those over 6ft, despite the high for the segment seat height. Actually, anything taller than below average and you’re knees are going to be bumping into the tank cut-outs rather than slotting comfortably into them.
Some will tell you that the fact that the 390 Duke is built in India isn’t great. In reality, it’s the only way KTM can sell you so much bike for under $7000 new. While the baby Duke is indeed built in India, they’re done so to Austrian-level standards and have generally proven themselves to be as robust as their European-built counterparts.
The custom for all occasions - Ellaspede’s 2017 390 Duke
Not all customs have to favour form over function. In fact, the owner of this sweet little Duke wanted a capable city bike that could be loaded with a weekend’s worth of camping gear and blasted down some backroads - all while looking like a KTM concept bike. Queensland’s Ellaspede has nailed that brief, delivering a properly usable little custom, based on a near-new 390 Duke.
With Husqvarna’s Svartpilen 401 having just been released, Ellaspede and the bike’s owner were keen to build their own take on a KTM-based street-scrambler. They focussed on making the 390 Duke less futuristic, while retaining a KTM factory vibe.
The biggest improvement has to be the front end, which features a Koso LED headlight and a basic Dart screen. These changes, teamed up with the removal of the panels on the front of the tank, simplify the looks and reduce the weight forward stance of the standard bike.
Our favourite part of this build though has to the custom rear subframe, which includes mounts for a removable pannier rack for those weekends away. The racks are made from laser-cut alloy, with mounts for Rotapax fuel and water containers and Kriega soft bags. There’s even a custom plate to replace the rear seat designed to hold a little extra luggage if needed.
The whole package is topped off with some dual-purpose Shinko 705 tyres, a steel bash plate, some Bark Busters and a SuperTrapp muffler. All in, this custom looks as good as it rides and proves you don’t need to go to extremes to build a cool 390 Duke-based custom.
Tough and ready - Colt Lyon’s 2018 390 Duke
If our last custom is looking a little, well, not custom enough, then this take on a 390 Duke should hit the mark. When the owner went to US-based builder Colt Wrangler and asked for a scrambler with inverted forks, monoshock rear suspension and a 500cc or smaller engine, the decision to use a brand new 390 Duke wasn’t a hard one.
While Colt started with a brand new bike, there isn’t he didn’t chop or change. The most obvious difference is the new tank, which started life on a Yamaha RD400. After much chopping (into 12 individual pieces) the tank was welded together and now plays an extra role. The stock 8inch LCD dash now resides under a cover in the tank, which frees up space in the cockpit, while retaining the trick display.
The new tank completely changes the Duke’s lines, so next on the list was a custom subframe and seat to match. The subframe integrates rear lights and indicators and hides all of the stock wiring in a hand-built tray. The seat was also made in house and suits the Duke’s new look to a tee. While he was fabricating, Colt whipped up a new headlight and high-mount front guard, which integrates perfectly into the stock upper and lower triple clamps.
The engine has also been tweaked, losing its airbox for a lone K&N pod filter. The stock exhaust was also shown the bin and replaced with an offset, under-seat unit now singing the sweet song of an unrestricted, rev-happy single-cylinder.
While cutting into a brand-new bike isn’t for the faint-hearted, the results speak for themselves. We’re not sure how KTM would react if you took this baby Duke back for a warranty claim though.