I like my bike, a lot. It is possible that in that love I may have blindly said that it is a perfect machine. KTM Duke 390 has been a game changer, with no bike even more than a year after its launch being able to hold a candle to its brilliance. But all good things aside, there are certain aspects that definitely need to be improved.
I have ridden the bike for around 11,000 kms now in just around 5 months (UPDATE: Done 30,000 kms in 1 year now). The terrain has included everything, except snow, which should be taken care of by July. I take it to office everyday, so that is city traffic for you. I rode it from Bombay to Bangalore in a single day, so that takes care of high speed riding. I took it from Bombay to Himachal and back, going through disastrous sections in Rajasthan and MP, utterly bad roads and hot + dusty conditions. After all of this bashing around, of me and the bike together, here’s some negatives of Duke 390 that I would like you to know.
Negatives of Duke 390 – Heavy Clutch
The clutch on Duke 390 is just too heavy. I have ridden a wide variety of bikes in the last 6 years, and this thing has to have the hardest clutch of them all. I think part of the reason it feels so uncomfortable is that it has been taken straight from the Pulsar family. I don’t think the clutch levers of Pulsars were made to handle anything more than 20 bhp, but that’s just my own theory.
After every long ride, my clutch hand pains like hell, especially the little finger. I have tried everything, done the two-finger method, whole hand method, and whatever else there is, nothing helps. If you get stuck in city traffic then it is just a whole new level of nightmare. I sometimes simply have to get off the road, stop the bike and rest my hand when stuck in traffic. The pain is so much I just can’t continue.
Negatives of Duke 390 – Rough throttle
The throttle response of Duke 390 is quite rough, especially at low rev ranges. The power comes in short bursts, which isn’t really good for stop and go traffic, considering how difficult it is to control 44 horses when they are all just waiting to run away like crazy. To fix this problem, I need to ride the clutch a lot, which again adds to the pain in my hand because of the heavy clutch.
I have heard people going for ECU remaps from KIIRUS getting better throttle response and smoother drive. I don’t understand why the OEM software would make the bike so rough, and why you need to pay around 12,000 bucks to an aftermarket guy to get that fixed. I haven’t ridden a KIIRUS bike till now, but hope to do soon.
Negatives of Duke 390 – Short gears
One of the advantages of Duke 390 over Duke 200 was said to be the longer gears. Guys on Duke 200 were always shifting to squeeze into the perfect rev range. Even after this supposed improvement, I find the gears on my 390 to be quite short. You can’t go over any speed breaker without shifting down to second gear. 3rd gear is only comfortable over 40 kmph, 4th over 50, 5th over 60 and 6th over 70 kmph. If you are in the wrong gear at the right speed, the bike lets you know that quite strongly, with horrible sound from engine and lots of vibrations all over.
This short gearing again leads to lots of gear changes and lots of pain in the clutch hand. There is a very narrow rev range where each gear feels at home, and constant shifts are required for any type of terrain. I can’t even begin to imagine how Duke 200 guys live with their bikes. This short gearing problem also appears to be fixed by the ECU remap by KIIRUS, which is again sad.
Negatives of Duke 390 – Bad wheel quality
I would like to clarify that this is NOT a problem that I have faced, but something I have seen in other 390s. The wheels seem to break with very little effort, the smallest pothole at a relatively slower speed. I have seen this in many photographs, and heard from many people. I haven’t met any rider or seen the bike in person though.
The wheels have been designed with weight saving in mind, you can tell that just by looking at them. But if the experiences of a few Duke riders is taken into consideration, you will feel that KTM may have gone a bit cheap with the alloys. It does look like a few corners have been cut in making this bike cheaper than anything out there with this much power. The photo was sent by a fellow member of Duke 390 Mumbai owners group.
Negatives of Duke 390 – Engine oil problems
This is again something that I haven’t faced with my bike, but I have seen it on quite a few machines, personally. A lot of Duke 390s seem to leak oil from top of the engine block. This leads to the oil level reducing over time, leading to major trouble. When I went from Mumbai to Delhi, I was accompanied by 2 guys on 2 Duke 390s. One of the guy’s engine seized just 150 kms from Mumbai. It started with white smoke coming out of the engine, and he suddenly lost power. The dude had got his bike serviced just days ago, but there was no engine oil to be seen in the window.
He got a new engine that same evening, and rode to Delhi like a mad man. In between he got the bike serviced again. Then on the return trip, his new engine seized too. His bike is now sitting at some service center in Mumbai. As expected, this guy is pretty pissed off and is looking to get a new bike, not just another engine change, and I totally agree with him.
The other guy on his 390 and I continued onwards, and just after Godhra his Duke’s “Low Oil Pressure” warning came on. There was no oil to be seen in the engine oil window. We looked around and couldn’t find the 10w50 Motul engine oil that Dukes use, so we had to do with Castrol one. We rode with that till Udaipur, got the proper engine oil and then went on our way. There definitely are some problems with the engine oil management on a 390.
Negatives of Duke 390 – Abrupt stopping of engine
This issue has been faced by almost every 390 owner that I know. When you suddenly apply the clutch from high speed, the engine simply stops turning. This is pretty scary on hairpins and corners, especially in hilly areas. No reason or explanation for this has been found till now. KTM service guys relentlessly deny this as a known problem.
For me this problem happens generally when the engine is cold, although it has happened after long rides as well. You would be approaching a speed breaker, you brake and hit the clutch to downshift and bam, the bike is off. All you can do is shift into neutral and start the bike and then go on your way. Pretty annoying at times.
I haven’t mentioned chain slapping, since that doesn’t do any harm, just an irritating sound comes from behind. There have been instances of coolant leakage, but that seems to be a common feature of the Pulsar family and is readily rectified. I also haven’t mentioned the low mileage, the pillion discomfort, and puny fuel tank, because that’s something I was aware of even before going to for the bike, and can live with.
Yes every machine has its own faults, yes we still love our bikes no matter how much tension they might give us, but this article is meant to make the future buyer of a Duke 390 aware of what might be in store for you. For the money you pay, there is nothing like the Duke 390 out there, just don’t expect it to be a perfect relation. If you think any more negatives of Duke 390 need to be added to this list, do let me know in the comments.