KTM 390 Duke review Maximum fun at a minimum price

Funny old thing, horsepower. If you’re a horse, one is enough. If you’re pottering through the Himalayas on an eponymous Royal Enfield, 22 is entirely adequate, and if you’re a MotoGP rider, nothing short of 200 will suffice.

But on a bike weighing 159kg, or about the same as one of Kim Kardashian’s buttocks, 43bhp is just the ticket.

Which by an astonishing coincidence is exactly the weight and power of the single-cylinder KTM 390 Duke, which can be ridden on an A2 licence but is a bargain blaster for a day of high-revving fun.

Comfy: The riding position is surprisingly spacious for a smallish bike
Comfy: The riding position is surprisingly spacious for a smallish bike

Walking up to it, it looks like a small and slightly pissed off wasp, or possibly a 1290 Super Duke R that’s shrunk in the wash, but climb on board, and the high seat and wide bars make for a surprisingly uncramped space for even the taller chap or chapess.

Even more surprisingly for a smallish budget bike, the mirrors are useful, far from a given on a small bike and too many larger ones, and it’s got a very brightly optimistic and informative colour TFT screen which gives you speed, revs, gear, fuel, temperature and even the date, in case you forgot what day it was during lockdown, and never got the hang of it since.

Neat: The TFT screen is small but give you all the info you needed
Neat: The TFT screen is small but give you all the info you needed

Mind you, the fuel gauge is unlikely to move in your lifetime; since the bike sips fuel more frugally than a spinster having a Christmas sherry, I’d say the range is anything up to 260 miles in normal riding. Not that most KTM riders would know normal riding if it walked up and introduced itself.

Rather cleverly, the tacho also ticks you off if you try to thrash the engine when it’s still cold.

Right, Time to Race, as the KTM motto which appears on the screen when you switch on says.

Progress is smooth but languid until the engine hits 4,000rpm, after which keeping the revs up makes acceleration pleasantly perky until the red line at 10,000rpm, at which you really should stop thrashing the little darling to death and make more use of a dinky six-speed gearbox as precise as a Swiss watch.

All this is accompanied by a purr trying its hardest to be a snarl and almost succeeding, until you finally hit the giddy heights of 70mph, at which point the engine is buzzing away busily at 7,000rpm.

But motorway speeds, of course, aren’t what this bike’s about. It’s about shifting your weight around, keeping your corner speed up and blasting around corners with a manic grin; particularly since the bike’s so small that if you lean far enough into corners, it disappears from your vision and you feel as if you hurtling around corners on an invisible magic carpet; an effect you normally need hallucinogenic mushrooms to achieve.

Pinpoint: Handling is sharp thanks to light weight and brilliant suspension
Pinpoint: Handling is sharp thanks to light weight and brilliant suspension

Mirror Motorbikes

Handling, thanks to a winning combo of brilliant suspension, light weight, 17in alloy wheels, short wheelbase and steep fork rake, is instantaneous, and I proved the value of the ABS when I came around a corner and had to brake sharply for a banana skin some careless chimp had left in the road.

Good thing too, since coming to grief on a cliché would have been a funny but tragic way to bring my fabulous motorcycling career to a close.

There’s only one disc up front, but with a mere 159kg of bike to bring to a halt, it’s more than adequate, especially with a nifty slipper clutch to stop the back wheel locking during aggressive downshifting.

For off-road hooligans, the alternative riding mode of Supermoto switches off the rear ABS to let them slide the back wheel to their heart’s content.

So all in all, I wouldn’t want to ride one of these around the world with a pillion, but for commuting while avoiding public transport or weekend A and B-road blasts at a bargain price, it’s a hoot.

·Bike supplied by Phillip McCallen Motorcycles, phillipmccallen.com

Perfect: It's the ideal bargain machine for city commuting or weekend fun
Perfect: It’s the ideal bargain machine for city commuting or weekend fun

The Facts: KTM 390 Duke

Sharp: Looks like a 1290 Super Duke R that's shrunk in the wash

Engine: 373cc single

Power: 43bhp @ 9,000rpm

Torque: 27 lb ft @ 7,000rpm

Colours:  Orange; white

Price: £4,799

 

Going The Wrong Way

In the 1970s, 21-year-old Chris Donaldson left the bombs of bullets of Belfast on a Moto Guzzi Le Mans.

He had no insurance, no plans other than to keep riding on a completely unsuitable bike for long journeys.

Chris Donaldson's mad adventure. A great read
Chris Donaldson’s mad adventure. A great read

What followed was 50,000 miles around the world and more adventures and near-death experiences than Indiana Jones and James Bond put together.

He’s finally written about it all in Going the Wrong Way, which is a great read, in turns funny, terrifying, gripping and inspirational. Up there with Jupiter’s Travels, it deserves to become a classic.

It’s £13.99 in paperback or £3.99 Kindle on Amazon, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

MotorcycleDirect.co.uk

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