We are bowling along at a perfectly stable 120 kph on the highway, trying to outdo a Maruti Swift pushing its limits, and this bike is not even winded. If anything, it is panting for more. Unfortunately we run out of road as some cattle wander on to the road and some judicious braking comes into play.
Meet the latest Duke from the KTM stable, the 390. At first glance, there is nothing much to differentiate it from its sibling, the 200, but a closer look reveals basic variations: the graphics, the colour scheme, spoilers on the handle bar... But the cylinder block looks just the same, and therein hangs a tale.
The 390 (the engine is actually 375-cc) is bigger only on the inside. The block is the same, bored out to accommodate a bigger piston and a longer stroke. But if you foul up the high-tech cylinder, you’ll need to get the engine replaced. No jugaad will work.
The other major differentiator in the bigger bike is the well-concealed ABS setup, which come as standard, and which played a major role in the abovementioned encounter with cattle. It is a great thing to have on a motorbike that belts out 44 bhp of power and nearly 40 Nm of torque.
First, the good bits. Great looks, if you like that sort of thing. The orange on white graphics are a bit more sober than the inyour- face orange of the 200, but the orange frame and wheels do scream out for that much more attention.
The sound is a bit more throaty. Instrumentation is essentially the same full-digital console, with a neatly disguised switch to disengage the ABS. This would be welcomed by that fraternity called bike hooligans, who love to show off stunts and need to be able to override the safe-braking ABS. The best bit about the 390 is the price. Bajaj has been spot-on in putting it at Rs.1.9 lakh ex-showroom, Delhi) or Rs. 2.01 lakh on road. There is no other 390-400 cc bike in India, and Bajaj has set the benchmark very awkwardly for competition. The Honda CBR250R, a sweet machine, is priced nearly Rs.10,000 higher. The twin-cylinder Hyosung GT 250R and Kawasaki Ninja 300 are in a different price bracket altogether, while the fan of the slightly cheaper Enfield Bullet is unlikely to look at the Duke seriously.
Going back to the ride, the 390 does everything that the 200 does, but much better. The six gears are better spaced out, and let you hit the three-figure mark in the third gear and in just over 5 seconds. Once you break free of the traffic, you can cruise, as we did, at 120-130 in the sixth with no trouble at all. The claimed top speed is 160 kph, though we have heard of people who have touched 170. But these are just numbers. Unless you are on a race track, the best you would need is 120-odd. Cornering is great, and the mileage attractive. Thanks to its extremely light body (just 139 kg) and its great power to weight ratio, it registers almost the same mileage as the 200 --- 30 kpl in city conditions. Now, the not so good things. It is a great looking bike, but couldn’t they find somewhere else to put the number plates? Especially up front?
WELL, THAT’S OUT OF THE WAY. WHAT’S THE VERDICT?
If you are a potential buyer, there are some things you should remember. Numbers are great, but if you are a family man, or like to take your girlfriend for a spin, do take her opinion on how the pillion seat feels.
Next, Duke is a precision machine. Not everyone wants to race all the time, but that is what it invites you to do. It demand a very good rider which inherently rules out those who just want a fast bike for commuting, It will suit you if you have a bike for regular days, and want a racehorse for those adrenaline occasions. If you are very competent, and want to hone your skills, look no further. If you ride 50 km a day at 50 kph, best look elsewhere.