Sitting amongst friends, there is strumming of guitars in the background and occasional sound of someone pouring himself a drink. My head is rolled back, eyes shut and I am taken back to the storm before this evening calm. The eight hours that I took to reach this friend's farmhouse on the western coast of Maharashtra from Pune, were the most fun I have had on this route ever before. And the credit for it goes to the newly launched KTM 390 Duke which I have been riding for over two weeks now.
Usually there are the scary fast litre class motorcycles that give most riders the jollies of short acceleration bursts but they are impossible to tame and hence the pleasure cannot last for the entire ride without risking life. I mean before whacking open the throttle of a litre class bike on our roads and keeping it open, I know it will be a good idea to distribute my half a dozen motorcycles amongst good friends, tell mom I love her and probably tell that one girl that I have always loved her. That's the litre class story.
But the 375cc liquid cooled single cylinder engine powered 390 Duke that I have been piloting recently, is an altogether different machine. One that can scare you silly in a matter of few seconds or one which can keep you happy for the entire duration of the ride or impress even when trudging along the city traffic in a peaceful manner with its low slung exhaust humming out a throaty note - a machine that is many things to many riders and can do all those things better than any of its rivals. Even after spending two weeks on the saddle of the 390 Duke, there was no point where I could actually exploit each gear redline of the 390 on our roads, (barring the test runs of course) - the highways too dangerous, the twisties too tight and the cities too clogged.
That is why I would go on and say that the KTM 390 Duke falls in the 'just right for our roads' class of machines in India and by that I do not mean slow by any chance. That rather tiny 375cc single cylinder engine pumping out 44PS of power at 9000rpm and 39Nm of torque peaking at 7000rpm is by no means a slouch.
Packaged inside the lightweight tubular space frame helped by liberal use of aluminium and alloy bits (including the gorgeous swingarm, the footpegs, etc) to keep her lean on mass and mean in character, the 139kg of dry weight turns this little motorcycle into an angry Hulk within a fraction of a second of opening the throttle wide open in the right gear. For which the vote of thanks chiefly goes to KTM's emphasis on making lightweight motorcycles that hands the 390 Duke with a class leading power-to-weight ratio of 316.5PS/tonne.
KTM 390 DUKE ACCESSORIES
Otherwise how on earth can a barely 400cc machine record a staggeringly fast 0-100km/h time of just 5.6 seconds (and she could have done slightly better had it not been for the chain slack owing to countless wheelies the day before)!
But there is a lot more to this machine than just fast acceleration figures and an impressive top-speed of 171.09km/h. While by the looks of it, the 390 Duke might seem more or less identical to its younger sibling - the 200 Duke, there are a few vital changes and amends that help the 390 with its matured demeanour. The suspension setting is primed with a soft setting for Indian roads unlike the stiffer springs on the European-spec model I rode in Austria. And this setup goes a long way when riding on bad roads.
Considering the 390 Duke came into my hands right in the middle of Indian monsoons, I encountered some really demanding stretches of broken roads, where the soft setting worked wonders as I simply stood on the pegs and kept cruising on without having to roll off the throttle. And that especially joyous feeling when passing some exotic sedans that are crawling past their way through potholes while you ride past each of them like a boss. Bliss.
Another small yet significant change is the saddle height on the 390 Duke, which has been dropped by 10mm than on the 200 Duke. So now the rider is placed lower owing to which the handlebars feel more comfortable and easy to reach. The increase in wheelbase by 5mm too has helped mid-corner stability especially when doing speeds upwards of 120km/h banked in.
Despite being significantly more powerful and fast than the edgy 200, the 390 Duke has a much more docile and relaxed temperament than its younger sibling. Unlike the 200's agitated behaviour that demands the rider to be on his toes to get the jollies out of the tiny tornado, this middleweight mature doesn't like to rush things up unnecessarily. It knows it has the might to bring down rivals from a class above while being perfectly cheery with company from a class younger.
A perfect partner in crime for the speed hungry Indian bikers on a budget. Mated to a slick six-speed transmission, the power and torque is well spread out throughout the rev range and a meaty mid-range means power is always handy. Even within the cityscape, the 390 Duke will peacefully cruise at 55km/h in fifth gear with enough grunt for fast and quick overtakes with a twist of the wrist - for the gas and go moments. And it proved its versatility in our roll-on tests by registering an impressive fifth gear 60-100km/h roll-on figure of 7.56 seconds while the 30-70km/h third gear dash was completed in just about three seconds.
KTM 390 DUKE ACCESSORIES
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