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2017 KTM 390 Duke – Initial ownership experience

So after 940 kms on the new KTM Duke 390, here are my observations on the 2017 KTM 390 Duke. Note: Not mentioning the better bits of the motorcycle in detail so as not to veer off the aim of the following points:

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We had reported about the new KTM Duke 390’s First Ride experience after we got a chance to ride it at the Bajaj Chakan Test Track. But how is the bike in the real world? How is it compared to the old 390? How is it to own one? Well, here we try to answer all these questions, and a lot more.

I booked the new Duke 390 the day it was launched. Delivery was promised within days. But it took months. Finally when I had the keys, I had no complaints. Here is my report on how it has been to own a Duke 390 and ride it for the first 1,000 kms.

Power delivery is duller than the outgoing model. There is no sudden jump after 6,500 rpm as earlier. The seamless power band is good and bad, depending on what you seek from the motorcycle. Hitting the redline is much simpler, so feels less rewarding as well as less urgent. Fewer gear changes needed to keep it rideable at low speeds are a plus during commutes and sudden bursts are possible without downshifts! Low rpm riding, being more manageable, does not change the personality of the bike drastically as it did on the older 390 which would just explode once it hit its powerband. The added weight on the newer 390 plays a big part in this change. Cruising (high gear, low rpm) is now a possibility, not one worth entertaining given the kicks to be had with an open throttle, but it’s there for those who seek.

Vibrations are felt during off-throttling at high revs at the bars and pegs, (also where gripping tank). But coming from a Royal Thunderbird ownership experience, there is no pot of Parkinson’s waiting for you at the end of this orange rainbow. There are ‘good vibes’ at the higher end of the rev range beyond 7,000 rpm. However, knocking is negligible compared to its predecessor. Vibrations compared to the older 390 are much more muted, but still not entirely gone.

Rattle heard and felt emanating from the under the front of the fuel tank between 2,000 and 4,000 rpm, extremely annoying if your helmet is not soundproof. Embarrassing really, considering the price tag. Mech at service centre explained that the culprit here is the plastic grille and shroud for the radiator. They claimed to have fixed it during service, but after 30 kms of leaving workshop, noise was back albeit at a lower volume.

Display has amnesia, forgets date and time infrequently. It also forgets to to display the gear indicator at times. Display flickers on starting up the bike after a day’s rest. The night-day sensor is pretty quick to react to change in ambient light, as you’ll discover when you go into a tunnel.

Engine cooling is way sorted, whether in traffic or a long highway run, the temperature gauge did not cross the halfway mark at any point. The radiator fan is more active and comes on about 3 km after leaving the parking. You’ll hear it from inside the helmet and the folks around will definitely react when it suddenly starts whining at a traffic junction. But sadly the fans no longer aim to roast your calves and thighs, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Throttle stutters. This, as the mech as well as an experienced rider friend explained, is because of the Fuel Injection. The slow rate of air-fuel mixture being fed intermittently at low engine speeds as well as when you try to hold the rpm makes it jumpy. No cure for this, I am told. Overall the throttle response is worth experiencing with the by-wire system truly coming into its own as you rapidly accelerate, be it in a straight line or out of a corner. The system should also maintain its crisp response irrespective or riding condition and weather.

Headlamp is a beauty. And beauty is a cruel mistress. Imagine doing a ton-up in the twisties on a highway at night, and the brilliantly lit-up road suddenly disappears from view. The headlamp likes to take 2-second naps every 15-20 minutes – Not good when it’s the only source of light on an empty highway, worse yet if you are in the twisties. On high beam with all six of the LEDs fired up, two of these bikes can pretty much light up a stadium. A slightly wider beam could really ease highway riding, though.

KTM India were appreciably quick to begin a software update drive across dealerships in all major cities. This update claims to remove the ‘date and time amnesia’ bug as also the ‘headlamp napping’ issue (no clue if it solves the vanishing gear indicator glitch). However, given a one-hour notice on a working day, I could not reach the service station in time. It has now been 14 days since the factory guys came to Pune with their magic OBD machine, with no clue as to when they’ll visit next.

Tyres are still Metzelers, albeit with a ‘lower’ speed rating of H instead of W. The lowered rating allows a maximum speed of 210 kmph, still well beyond the 390’s top speed. However, the change in compound is enough to be apparent and you feel tiny power slides when you downshift in a corner. This tyre should be more fun and a wee bit scary in the rain. So be prepared for some surprises when riding in the wet. It should also last at least 1,000 km longer than the W with similar use.

Ride quality is, erm, different. Rear mono-suspension proved disappointing as its rebounding from halfway up was slower after only the first 400 kms of riding. It also makes a peculiar creaking noise every time one gets off the seat and they had better fix this if this bike has to sell. If the issue is commonplace, one can only imagine that 390 owner gatherings will sound like a symphony of half-arsed farts. Not to mention, the easy squish also cuts ground clearance. (KTM, PLEASE FIX THIS COMIC ANNOYANCE.)

The slow rebounding rear was mitigated by the mech turning the preload two notches higher – which I believe is telltale of the short lifespan of this part as also my need to take an ‘occasional’ 200-km walk. He also said the noise could be an improperly lubricated bushing during factory assembly – noise still heard so issue persists after service. The overall tune of the ride suggests it loves smooth tarmac. Show the rear an undulation on the road and it comes alive, violently protesting by throwing you off the seat – so not as suited for back road bashing or off the road riding. The front meanwhile is more conservative and composed in its response and this mismatch may prove unhealthy. Overall ride quality as it stands is brilliant on smooth surfaces.

Ergonomics are more suited to humans now. The recesses in the tank now allow taller riders to fit. The lower limbs love the less crouchy (more relaxed) footpeg and lever positioning. Managed a quick Pune-Mumbai-Pune run in style and comfort. Aiding this are the wider handlebars as well as (inconsistently) adjustable brake and clutch levers. Less weight on the wrist. The seat is way better padded and ever so slightly contoured to ensure it “love you long time”.

Finish issues. The large DUKE lettering stickers on the tank sides look more sophisticated than earlier. However with no coat on top they are also easily tampered. One side sticker has already begun coming off from the corner under the right knee. The matte-black coating on the exhaust can is so thin it seems to have been sprinkled on – a light rub of the boot l, et Voila, we have our first scratch! The rear where the side panels meet the tail lamp has major half-cm gaps on either side (some supplier didn’t note the dimensions correctly!) The adjustable levers hit the splash guards when the most extended setting is engaged, and the adjustment on both levers is different. A notch is felt when pulling in the clutch lever for quick shifts at high speed (beyond 100 kmph).

Front brake had strong initial bite, for about 100 kms after delivery. Now its progression begins from one-third lever pull inwards – rather large play which means the brakelight will always be on in traffic, even when not braking. Front also makes a rather drum-brake like screeching hum noise at low speeds, which the mech explained is a ‘characteristic’ of sintered brake pads (please verify). Irrespective, the brakes will halt it like a parachute engaged in case of emergencies with nary a loss of comfort. Minute delay acceptable owing to road conditions.

The inconsistencies are off-putting and are placed such that they intervene right when you’re about to finish spelling Z-E-N in your thoughts. Given its great price, the motorcycle certainly is a value package and as engaging than a conversation with Sir David Attenborough. Not mentioning the details on the display which, plentiful, helpful and customisable as they are, only serve to distract unless standing still. For, the font size of these details is rather tiny to decipher while on the move – reading comfort may or may not improve with time. An unintended issue is the display is assumed to be a touchscreen device by strangers, and is hence layered with more fingerprints than a crime scene every time the bike is parked in the open.

Fuel efficiency indicated: 27.8 kmpl (580 km highway, 360 km city)
Fuel efficiency calculated: 26.5 kmpl
Avg speed indicated: 47 kmph (overall)
Fuel used: Premium from various company pumps
Others: Cleaned and lubricated chain thrice until service (every 300 kms)

First service cost: Rs1,566 (consumables only; labour waived being a free service)
Parts replaced: none
Serviced at: AadiVenoo Motors, Nal Stop, Pune
Satisfactory servicein time, with staff that is open to listening to your issues and explaining the causes behind them. However, non-standard issues – rear shock creaking noise, rattle noise from under tank, weird adjustability of levers, noise from front brake not resolved in entirety.

P. S. The pointers are initial impressions and FYI only. Shall update with added thoughts soon.