The 400cc segment hasn’t always been as bland as it is today. The 1990s were the richer years, the years when the Supersport 400 race reps ruled on local race tracks and winding mountain roads. The Japanese had made the newbie riders’ racing wet dreams come true. Honda CBR400R, Suzuki GSX-R400, Honda VFR400R, Kawasaki ZXR-400R, Honda CBR400RR, and Yamaha FZR400RR SP, the choices for the Hashiriya (street racer in Japanese) were endless, and if you had the skill to stay on the pipe, plenty of 250cc 2-stroke Supersports.
Watching the Hashiriya or “Winding Riders” in 140p on YouTube today still gets the hairs on my arms raised, it was a motorcycle knee-scratching lifestyle of note. As the year 2000 approached many manufacturers fazed out the lightweight and high horsepower Supersports and turned their focus to the bigger cc motorcycle market—leaving the 400cc market abandoned for the next decade.
In the last decade, the 400cc segment has made its return, but with a commuter-biased blueprint. Whilst offering commuters lightweight and economical machines, many just lack the fun factor and sex appeal to turn a youngster on. One brand that has always put the fun factor at the top of the brief is KTM and for 2024 their 390 Duke is even more “Ready to Race”. After owning my own MK2 390 Duke and having spent over 30,000 km on the whole 390 range, I was very keen to see what this year’s model was all about.
I don’t know about you, but I am tired of boring motorcycles and with KTM’s new “no bullshit campaign”, I think they are on the same page. This year’s 390 Duke is a stunner, the signature Electronic Orange colour gives off the typical KTM visual impact, it has longer tank spoilers featuring prominent air intakes, larger radiator covers, and in my opinion a much more attractive LED headlight with external covers.
The bike just looks premium in design and finish, but to top that all off KTM has thrown in top-of-the-range electronics, a 43 mm WP APEX Open Cartridge front fork with rebound and compression adjustment, and a split piston rear shock absorber with adjustable rebound and preload. Just like the massive jump from the second-generation Super Duke to the third, the 390 is almost completely new and follows the same methodology for 2024.
The smaller details stand out too! The Dukesters amongst you will notice more premium switchgear, slicker adjustable brake and clutch levers, handsome new mirrors, a new banana-styled swingarm, ribbed seats, a larger centreless Bybre front disc, a new 5-inch TFT, an optional quick-shifter+ and even the engine casings have received a visit to the design studio. Tasty upgrades indeed!
This year’s power plant has been bumped up from 373 cc to 399 cc and some airbox mods along with some headwork help the 390 deliver a 2 Nm climb to 39 Nm and a 2 hp increase to 44 hp—not game-changing by any means but enough to make a difference on a sub 150 kg motorcycle. What you do notice is that the 390’s peak torque kicks in earlier and the top speed has been increased by 8 km/h. For the commuter, this lowers the rpm almost by 1000 rpm for highway commuting, which means you can cruise at a comfortable 130 km/h with 3000 rpm to spare. You also hear an almost mini Super Duke-esque intake growl at 7000 rpm as the motor enters its peak power band.
Visually the 390 Duke scores a full five stars, but how does its performance and practicality stack up in the real world? To find out I spent this past December and the early part of Jan getting to know the new Duke around our local B-roads and city streets. To no surprise, the little Duke makes the Hashiriya proud.
Sitting on the Duke the riding cockpit for this year is aggressive, but the ergos are more accommodating to shorter riders by bringing the seat height down by 10 mm, and by narrowing the profile of the seat you can move around more freely. On the model we tested the Duke had a two-tone seat with grippy ribbing on the edges to round off the look and to add function. Personally, the seat compared to the previous model is a day and night difference, you can now spend more time having fun or commuting in comfort with the new foam padded seat.
Before you twist a throttle on most high-end motorcycles today, you need to decide what kind of riding you’ll be doing, so that your mode, wrist and bike can all agree with one another when the throttle gets twisted. On the 390’s TFT KTM has kept a very technical electronics package simple, with an easy layout and pre-programmed modes like Rain, Street and Track. For the rider who wants to have a bit more fun, KTM allows you to adjust the ABS and traction control settings. With each Riding Mode comes a unique interface that shows you all you need to ‘know’ about the intended riding you’ll be doing.
Track mode gets unlocked with the tech pack and quickshifter+, this opens up launch control, pit limiter and a lap timer screen display. Even with our test bike being equipped with Track mode, Street offers 90% of the functionality and tuneability to play with MTC and ABS, but with the extra perk of looking at all your trip, fuel and music settings—your typical riding info. The one must-have is the quickshifter+, it is smooth up and down and just works like magic on the LC4C—low or high rpms KTM have dialled it in. The perk to having all these modes as a rider is that you can progress your riding skills in a smart and safely setup package—”hoonschool”.
The 390 Duke loves the twisties from a handling point of view and a point and squirt point of view too. Your surroundings quickly become a Gymkhana on the 390 and it’s happy to crest hills, carve corners and back itself into tight twisties on the brakes. It’s a bike a newbie can progress on, a good rider can have serious fun on and a bike the daily commuter can enjoy an Orange day instead of a beige day on.
There’s not much to hate about the 390 Duke, it has minimal vibes from the motor as any single would and a hideous exhaust due to Euro 5 emissions but otherwise, this year’s entry into the Duke family is pretty flawless. For those looking for a subtler look, the 390 also comes in a dark blue with silver details.
If you are looking for a fun street bike with more tech and better quality suspension than most middle-weight Japanese nakeds, then the 390 Duke should be on your shortlist.
After 1000 km on the 2024 KTM Duke 390, I can say that it is at least 30% more bike than its predecessor and it now doesn’t only offer more bang for your buck, but more fun for your buck than ever before.
It’s no hardcore ’90s Supersport, but it’s no bland commuter, I’d say it’s a Super commuter for those who want a piece of orange cake in their lives. For the youngsters, the 390 Duke will blow your mind and for the guy who wants to park his big beast for the weekend rides, the little Duke will make mince meat out of the Monday to Friday commute for an indicated price of R110,000.
KTM 390 Duke
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