REVIEW: KTM 390/250 Duke – full-size or half pint?

The middleweight and quarter-litre motorcycle market is the bread and butter for many manufacturers. In this arena, where you have the new riders, the young riders and the returning-to-the-fold riders, competition is fierce, and performance is paramount.

You can judge the bikes in the arena by many measures. For most, it is cost, for others, handling, or comfort, or versatility. But, for a certain few, the author included, a motorcycle is measured by the grin it leaves on the rider’s face when the helmet comes off.

To illustrate this, we have two examples on hand, cut from the same cloth, but alike as chalk and cheese. For your entertainment, we present, the 2017 KTM 390 Duke, priced at RM28,800, and its smaller sibling the 2017 KTM 250 Duke, going for RM21,730.

REVIEW: KTM 390/250 Duke – full-size or half pint?

The Duke name is well-known amongst Malaysian bikers, with a reputation for being nimble handling, front-wheel-in-the-air hooligan bikes, and this pair were revised for 2017. As single-cylinder machines, KTM’s Dukes were, first and foremost, always fun bikes to ride.

But has this trait made it through to the new machines? We took both the KTM 390 Duke and 250 Duke on review, setting out to find what has changed, what has stayed the same, and was the mix still enough to make the rider smile?

REVIEW: KTM 390/250 Duke – full-size or half pint?

As a pair in the KTM street bike catalogue, the 250 and 390 Dukes have proven themselves to be popular with local riders. For many, KTM represents a choice distinct from the usual crop of Japanese offerings.

After an introduction in 2012, KTM has given both the 250 and 390 Dukes model make-overs. In the case of the 390 Duke, the change is fairly extensive, more so than the 250 which mostly gets some graphic and body updates, new headlight with DRL and a new sub-frame.

For the 390, the biggest obvious change is the bisected headlight with DRLs, as seen on its bigger sibling, the 790 Duke “The Scalpel”. Inside the cockpit, the 390 also gets a TFT-LCD colour screen, much like the one seen on the Super Duke R and Super Duke GT we reviewed earlier in the year.

REVIEW: KTM 390/250 Duke – full-size or half pint?

Ride-by-wire is standard for the 390 Duke, while the 250 Duke makes do with the traditional throttle cable. Seat height on the 390 and 250 goes up by over an inch, to 830 mm from 800 mm previously, while wheelbase shrinks by 10 mm to 1,357 mm.

In terms of all up weight, both the 250 and 390 Dukes have put on a few kg, with the 390 now coming in at 149 kg, up by 10 kg, and the 250 Duke adds 8 kg, bringing weight to 147 kg.

Another change applied to both Dukes is the rear sub-frame, which is now a bolted on assembly, as opposed to the previous versions’ welded unit. This will make things easier to repair or replace should the unfortunate happen, saving having to write off a frame if damage is only to the rear-end.

REVIEW: KTM 390/250 Duke – full-size or half pint?

That’s most of what has changed, and what is new, for the pair of Dukes, but what everyone wants to know is, what are they like to ride? Well, we were warned by KTM’s marketing person-in-charge, the 390 and 250 were very different in execution, despite being the same physical size and only 2 kg apart in weight.

Going past the obvious difference of engine capacity, and to a lesser extent gearing, what sets the 390 apart from the 250 is the power delivery. We reviewed the 250 Duke first, with KTM Malaysia saying it was the best way to find out what each bike could do.

At the first approach, the smaller KTM Duke looked tall, and short in the wheelbase. The numbers bear this out of course, but after getting on, we didn’t feel the difference all that much from the 2016 KTM 250 Duke we reviewed, and found enough space to get comfortable.

The riding position, as befits a KTM hooligan bike, is all head-down, arse-up, elbows out, and this certainly aids in keeping the bike under control. Thumbing the starter button, the 249 cc thumper burst into life with little hesitation, settling into a vibe-y idle.

We felt the vibration most in the bars, but it must be noted, the vibration control is a huge improvement over the previous 250 Duke. While the last generation machine had engine vibration to put one in mind of a brush cutter, this year’s 250 Duke is a joy to ride.

Setting off, clicking the six-speed gearbox into first, the mechanical PASC slipper clutch was progressive and light. Engine response, with 30 hp and 24 Nm on tap, was reasonably lively, though the single-cylinder mill did rapidly run out of puff at the upper-end of the power band.

Taking the 250 Duke around our usual test loop and back on the highway, we found the handling to be very light and nimble, something we remembered from the 2016 250 Duke, and it would go into corners readily.

Out on the open highway, though, you will want to be careful. While 30 years ago a 250 cc motorcycle would have been considered to be a fast bike, today, we found ourselves being overtaken by Myvi boys.

But the 250 Duke is not really meant for mile-munching on the multi-lane highways. Its forte is the surface street, and country back roads. In these two environments, the 250 Duke’s light weight and short wheelbase give near zero-lag in steering response, and this allows the rider to carve through traffic and make short work of getting from point A to point B.

For this type of point and shoot riding, the 250 Duke’s ABS-equipped Bybre brakes, the front a four-piston radial mounted calliper clamping a 300 mm disc, performed well, with no hint of fade during some spirited riding. Clawing speed down when approaching a corner was a bit of a challenge on one very fast ride, but we put it down to our 82 kg rider weight more than anything else, as well as passing the braking point well beyond where it would have been advisable to do so.

On the suspension side of the things, the 250 Duke carries an upside-down WP Suspension fork, with no adjustability, while the rear is a preload-adjustable monoshock. For one-up riding we found the suspension compliant, if a little stiff at lower speeds, soaking up road imperfections with no fuss.

Adding a 12-year old pillion improved things during city riding, but when the time came to carve the canyons, our passenger was advised to grab a ride with someone else. On the edge, the suspension did give a little wallow and get vague, and we attributed this to budget considerations when the 250 Duke was in suspension design specification stage.

REVIEW: KTM 390/250 Duke – full-size or half pint?

Overall, we did like the 250 Duke for what it is, a naked street machine that appeals to the younger rider, or kapchai rider making the transition to a “real” motorcycle. But, we did find it wanting in the top speed department, despite the eager torque of the engine.

Handing back the 250 Duke, we informed KTM Malaysia of this, and the reply we got was a knowing smile, and “then you are going to like the 390 very much.” With a generous dose of journalistic skepticism, we grabbed the keys to the 390 Duke, and headed out.

If this review is too long for you to read, the short version is, which we sent as a message to the KTM marketing person within a hour or so of riding the 390 Duke, “this bike is bonkers mad!” If you want to know why this is so, continue on.

With the slew of upgrades it received in 2017, the 390 Duke took the old Duke’s formula of being a fun bike to ride, and made it better. The vibration that would numb our palms from the old bike is now very much minimised, making the 2017 390 Duke easier to live with, especially when things get fast and furious.

With a claimed 44 hp from the single-cylinder engine, and some 37 Nm of torque, up from the previous 35 Nm, the 390 Duke was found to be most entertaining, and did not like going anywhere slow. Or rather, should we say, the 390 Duke wanted you to ride it hard and fast.

This behaviour was encouraged by two things, the ride-by-wire throttle which made response sharp as a tack, and the three-mode Bosch ABS. Three modes you say? Yes, the normal two-channel ABS, the option to switch it off, and a “Supermoto” mode, which we first encountered on the Super Duke R.

REVIEW: KTM 390/250 Duke – full-size or half pint?

In Supermoto mode, the ABS is applied only to the front wheel, and this allows the rear wheel to be locked up at will. If you have to ask why anyone would want this mode on a motorcycle, then you are not the intended customer for the 390 Duke.

To best appreciate the 390 Duke, or, as one of our riding buddies refers to it, the “Baby Scalpel”, there is a need to be committed to the corner, to switch Supermoto mode on, and throw the rear wheel in sideways. If you cannot do this, then trust us when we say, you will soon learn how.

That the 390 Duke encourages hooligan behaviour is no surprise. It is one of the things we have always liked about KTM’s motorcycles in general, and that “stick it to the authorities” attitude.

REVIEW: KTM 390/250 Duke – full-size or half pint?

Throughout our review period with both Dukes, the trellis frame, with the bolted-on sub-frame, was nicely stiff in most conditions, save for certain instances when we could feel the swingarm flex in protest at being fed the power on full throttle, notably when already heeled over.

This would be a rare occurrence for most riders though, and under normal, and fast, riding conditions, this situation would not arise. In any case, the rider can take it for granted the 390 Duke will take everything the rider can dish out, and come back asking for more.

Performance from the Metzeler M5 tyres fitted as standard equipment was on the low side of acceptable for sports use, and are meant for general purpose riding and long tyre life. If either Duke were to be included in the stable, suitably sticky rubber will be sourced, which we feel will allow the Dukes to perform to the best of their ability.

REVIEW: KTM 390/250 Duke – full-size or half pint?

A welcome change is the increase in fuel tank capacity for both the 250 and 390, to 13.4 litres, up by 2.4-litres. We remarked on this during our review of the 250 Duke last year, and the increased capacity will make for easier journeys.

During the time we had the 390 Duke, the onboard trip computer recorded a variance in fuel consumption of between 4.4-litres per 100 km (best), and 5.6-litres per 100 km (worst). Your mileage will, of course, vary, but we felt these were acceptable numbers for a thumper being ridden very hard. Very hard indeed.

As for the 250 Duke, we did not perform any real fuel consumption tests, but from looking at the fuel receipts and cross-checking against the odometer, we came up with a nominal figure of about 3.8-litres per 100 km. Not to shabby, considering the little quarter-litre thumper had to haul around an 82-kg rider who was not gentle on the throttle.

REVIEW: KTM 390/250 Duke – full-size or half pint?

Seat comfort over the medium-haul was acceptable, and as mentioned earlier, the reduction in vibration through the bars and foot pegs was greatly improved. The wide bars made handling either bike a breeze, with the steering reacting quickly and with precision.

As for negative points, there were a couple. While fitting and finish were on the whole, good to above average, we noticed some panel gaps and fit issues, notably for the plastic panels on the fuel tank, though we would not call them deal breakers. Aside from that, the Dukes are tall bikes, as far as sub-500 cc machines go, and some riders might have an issue getting both feet down confidently.

A smaller issue, literally, was the size of the handlebar grips. While it might be fine for most riders, we had issues wrapping our gorilla paws around them, and would be looking at the aftermarket for grips in a larger diameter.

REVIEW: KTM 390/250 Duke – full-size or half pint?

So, who needs a 2017 KTM 390 Duke at RM28,800, or the 250 Duke at RM21,730?. It should be noted that while both bikes are similar in stature, their performance could not be more different. The 390 Duke is not merely an upsized version of the 250, and the 250 Duke is designed to ride differently from the 390.

In this market segment, for the quarter-litre class, there is a multitude of choices, from Kawasaki’s single-cylinder 250SL, priced at RM16,539 and two-cylinder Z250 at RM21,330, both without ABS, as well as the Z300 ABS, retailing for RM25,607. Other options include the BMW Motorrad G 310 R at RM26,900 and the soon to be launched Modenas Dominar 400, based on the previous generation 390 Duke, at a rumoured price of below RM20,000.

If you are in the market for a naked street 250, equipped with ABS, then the 2017 KTM 250 Duke makes a good choice. As for the author, the 2017 KTM 390 Duke will be finding a slot in the stable soon, simply based on the grin on his face when the helmet was removed.

GALLERY: 2017 KTM 390 Duke

GALLERY: 2017 KTM 250 Duke

Looking to sell your car? Sell it with Carro.

10% discount when you renew your car insurance

Compare prices between different insurer providers and use the promo code 'PAULTAN10' when you make your payment to save the most on your car insurance renewal compared to other competing services.

Car Insurance

Mohan K Ramanujam

Coming with diverse and extensive experience in heavy engineering, Mohan enjoys making anything with wheels go fast, especially motorcycles. His weapon of choice is the Desmoquattro engine, and he has a penchant for anything with a dash of Italian design. Strangely enough, he insists he's a slow rider.



  • Mustapha Kamal on Dec 19, 2017 at 7:43 pm

    Still very pricey. Gomen must abolish GST on bikes to make them affordable.

    Last year gomen collected RM100 bil just from GST alone… this is way too much of revenue

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 14
    • These r exp bikes which only the middle keras & rich can afford. So tax ’em, no problemo

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 4
    • 12yrsold on Dec 20, 2017 at 9:01 am

      I’ve told U B4 about GST collection buy U seem not to listen/read.
      2015 collection is around RM27 billion.
      2016 collection is around RM32 billion.

      If the next time U get it wrong, I will TEMBAK U Kaw Kaw.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1
    • Malaysia has the cheapest car prices and cheapest motobike prices in the world. Let us be grateful

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 16
  • Mustapha Kamal on Dec 19, 2017 at 7:50 pm

    Still very pricey for Malaysians. Gomen need to abolish GST on bikes to make it more affordable.

    Lasy year alone gomen collected RM100 bil just from GST alone…but we don’t see it

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 3
    • These r exp bikes which only the middle keras & rich can afford. So tax ’em, no problem

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 1
    • Rightwinger on Dec 20, 2017 at 6:13 pm

      No they didn’t. They estimate to collect 42 billion from GST in 2017. Stop lying.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  • Leoncino? on Dec 19, 2017 at 8:28 pm

    why left out leoncino? price point on par, motor already launched…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0
  • Your opinion on getting the 390 as a first bike?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0
    • BOYRACER on Dec 19, 2017 at 11:36 pm

      Should be no problem as long you know your own abilities and capabilities.Also respect your bike.With all this in mind there is no reason not to own one of these.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0
  • sohai on Dec 20, 2017 at 9:20 am

    how is KTM’s reliability in general?
    after sales service?
    anyone care to comment?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1
  • willie on Dec 20, 2017 at 9:38 am

    Mohan…its time to have a side by side comparison with all 250-390 bikes, if no riders in Paultan, perhaps than a side by side comparison in paper and your conclusion.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0
  • turbo_ridera on Dec 20, 2017 at 9:47 am

    Hi Mohan, can you make a review / comparison between the z250 and also this all new duke 250. And ofc which one would you prefer

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  • limitless on Dec 20, 2017 at 10:57 am

    Good review though.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  • i’m duke 390 owner, duke 390 is a fun bike,
    but the exhaust position make your city drive suffering…
    and the engine is very hot too… if you don’t trust me… you search duke 390 in youtube, you’ll see overheating issue within top 5 result.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 2

Add a comment