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KTM Duke 390 vs Yamaha RD350 – Speed Kings Finally Meet


KTM Duke 390 vs Yamaha RD350 Shootout

KTM Duke 390 vs Yamaha RD350 – Click above for high resolution picture gallery

Shootout – KTM Duke 390 vs Yamaha RD350

Both bikes offer insane performance and are the fastest made in India motorcycles of their era.

KTM Duke 390 vs Yamaha RD350, you read it first on MotorBeam. It’s not every day when milestones occur and you are there, in that particular era to witness it. It’s a privilege, which very few witness. The two machines we have here today belong to different times. Both the KTM Duke 390 and Yamaha RD350 came and conquered hearts instantly. They are not here for a face off or to prove anything. It’s the parallels which they share, reunites them. Just like two friends meeting after almost three decades, sharing a laugh over the same jokes, which they cracked in their childhood.

Ladies and gentlemen, on the left side of the corner from the land of the rising sun is the iconic speed king, the dragon from Japan who spits blue smoke rather than fire, ever since the 1980’s, the Yamaha RD350! On the right corner, we have the finest finesse from ‘eastern kingdom’ painted in loud orange, it comes from, where music is more important than food, the Mattighofen growler, the sprinter, the KTM Duke 390, the new generation speed king, a modern interpretation of the icon which left us with no other choice than up till now.

Duke 390 vs RD350KTM Duke 390 vs Yamaha RD350 Test Ride

Enough has been said about both these motorcycles. The Yamaha RD350 has still been in the talks after its launch in the late 1980’s because there was not a single machine, which matched the sheer symphony and bliss of what the Yamaha RD350 provided. Shocking part is that all this happened when most of us were in diapers. The KTM Duke 390 on the other hand, well, ever since it was a concept, it has been a celebration with goose bumps rather than balloons. The feel of the Duke 200 and specifications of the Duke 390 combined such a fury that impatient enthusiasts just could not wait to get their hands on this machine.

The Yamaha RD350 looks like a thorough classic. It is best described in two words, chrome everywhere. The handlebars, the gleaming exhaust pipes, front fender and plain yet beautiful touch to the side panels and no nonsense fuel tank and round headlight are the real highlights on the RD350. The low stance and wide and long seat give it thorough classic feel. The Duke 390 is a modern playboy. Wearing hooligan loud colours and sleek machined body parts make it undoubtedly resemble its elder siblings.

KTM Duke 390 vs Yamaha RD350KTM Duke 390 vs Yamaha RD350 Review

Let us get a bit logical now. When you compare these two machines, there is a subtle amount of differences. The 373cc Duke 390 is a single-cylinder unit producing 43 BHP of power, weighing 154 kgs and sprint from 0-100 km/hr in 5.8 seconds. The Yamaha RD350 is a legend for a reason. Each one of the two-cylinders displace around 173.5cc, which when you observe are today’s workhorses, for an example a 180cc motorcycle. The parallel twin unit and this particular model, the LT, produces 28 BHP of power and weighs little over 140 kgs. This means, complete riding nirvana, 0-100 km/hr comes in under 8 seconds.

The Yamaha RD350 is slower than the KTM Duke 390 which it has to be, considering the time frame and better numbers in every aspect like horse power, torque and a bit more displacement. However, if this RD350 had been the Japanese spec model, which came with 41 BHP, it would have been tough, really tough for the Duke 390 to match. Kick start the engine and it comes to life with a loud soundtrack. Sounds like some creatures in the engine sacrificed their lives to bring the motor to life. Give it some revs and pop the clutch and the front is lively and wants to touch the sky. Open the throttle and it will scare the hell out of you at first.

Yamaha RD350 vs KTM Duke 390KTM Duke 390-vs Yamaha RD350 Comparison

If you are a rider who tames his machine in the same fearsome way the machines scares you, then you can tame the RD350 in few runs. The gearbox is like any other Yamaha. Yamaha two-stroke motorcycles which we have ridden till date still have reasonably slick shifting capabilities and to our surprise this was no exception either. For a 25-year-old motorcycle, it still is reasonably slick. The parallel-twin engine provides great flexibility. The motor feels immensely tractable for a stock motor and drivability is good too. When it comes to motorcycles, it is all about power to weight ratio, on paper at least. What the Yamaha RD350 gives is truly unmatched, the lovely, busy bee, crackling feeling from the engine, the relentless, reckless redlining nature that it has and then it’s the motorcycle, which keeps provoking the rider to do so and it is all part of the lunatic riding experience.

KTM Duke 390 vs Yamaha RD350 Road Test

The ride in typical Yamaha fashion was stiff, does not crash and is not harsh, perfectly tuned. Finally, it’s the way it disappears, forming a cloud of smoke, generating a biblically loud engine note and it’s gone! Makes you feel, black magic does exist. The RD350 we had with us was in pristine condition inside out. All suspension and panels were original, the engine was rebuilt with new pistons, rings, and other bits found in the block. The owner is extremely proud and loves his vintage bike collection.

The KTM is the new kid on the block but it has done its homework very well. Given the pedigree of lightness and hooliganism, it delivers so much power and carries minimum weight with it, hence the biblical performance numbers and jaw dropping riding experience. The Duke 390 is reminiscent of the two-stroke family. The power band, the frantic performance and the buzzyness is all undoubtedly two-stroke, in terms of feel. A small common phenomenon of both these machines is, that they need some serious revs to be dialled before you pop the clutch. After riding them back to back, we felt just at home. Splendid brakes and chassis and immensely agile dynamics makes it more fun to rode. Given the fact, we call it the modern day interpretation is because it comes with all the luxuries, which the RD350 does not possess (it’s not its fault) hence it’s the definitive performance motorcycle of the current era.

Bigger part of the lunacy is aided by lightness, which these motorcycles posses. Given the fact that twin-cylinder engines are always lighter than single-cylinder units, this does not mean the Duke 390 is heavier. KTM has achieved a feat with the engine. The engine weighs just 36 kgs. The lightness comes in from the light Trellis frame and aluminium swing arm. KTM has a lot more features than the Yamaha RD350 too. Bigger brakes and proper wheels and tyres. In short, both these motorcycles are lightweight in their own way. Meanwhile, the RD350 comes with spoke wheels and tyres that you see on entry-level motorcycles, which are slapped onto 18-inch wheels. The only weak point to the RD350 is the brakes. Drums at both ends sound crazy in the first place, imagine on the road doing 120 km/hr and you need good stopping power, which isn’t the RD’s forte.

All right, there are lot of RDs which have been modified with disc brakes at the front and international versions did come with discs which India didn’t get due to Indian mentality in those days (and still is) that disc brakes are killers. Killing reminds us that the motorcycle was named RD by Yamaha as their road going two=strokes but people named it as Racers Delight and mostly commonly Rapid Death. All this is true after all, any motorcycle with 30 BHP and 209 BHP per tonne with drum brakes and puny tyres will be baptised as a suicide machine for sure. It’s not a surprise, going back in time will tell you that after all Japanese are the one’s who invented the concept of Kamikaze.

By now you might have understood that the Yamaha RD350 is truly an icon and what Yamaha made 30 years ago, finally gets an answer today. Yamaha proved in the present too that it can set benchmarks in segments and the company is known to create segments too. Be it the spectacular FZ series of motorcycles or the superlative flagship R15. We would love to take this opportunity and ring the bell at Yamaha’s door and tell them it’s high time to give what we need (an RD replacement), enough said.

Anyways, ever since we rode the KTM Duke 390, it was very clear that it was evocative of the RD350 on how the motorcycle becomes berserk after 5000 RPM and how quickly it reaches the horizon. For us it has been a magnificent day riding these beauties back to back, for a short time, but every minute was special. The Yamaha RD350 then still represents what two-stroke performance machines are, but frankly, they are dead thanks to all sorts of misgivings. After all, what modern interpretations are here for? The Duke 390 fills in the shoes marvellously and gives us the thrills of the machine we aspired for years with all the luxuries which are required for daily practicality in our time. There is a saying “two-strokes are crazy and four-strokes are lazy” but here and now, with the Duke 390, it’s not the case anymore, not at all. The king is dead, long live the king, the RD350.

It’s taken 30-years for the Yamaha RD350′s spiritual successor to hit our roads. The Duke 390 is now the king of speed but the Yamaha RD350 continues to remain the king of our hearts.

Further Reading -

KTM Duke 390 Video Review
KTM Duke 390 Test Ride Review
KTM Duke 390 vs Kawasaki Ninja 300

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • SPITFIRE

    great review guys!!!!!!!!!!!!!! m happy to come across this review, i would have been happier if the RD was a HT anyways BRAVO!!!!!

    • Pravin

      The original RD was 39bhp in stock.. and that could do a 0-100 in 7 secs… so LT (27bhp) or HT (31bhp) is still no match for the Duke in sheer performance…

      • SPITFIRE

        @Pravin…..Agreed

        • aaron

          i agree its good

  • sidd

    how about a rd350 vs a classic RD review?

    • SPITFIRE

      @sidd .. What is the #Diff betwn “rd350″ and a “classic RD” ???????!!!!

      • sidd

        sorry i meant RE
        my mistake :P

        • SPITFIRE

          @sidd ….. Cheers bro !!!!!!

  • Golden

    nice review…… yup Yamaha should replace rd350 with something classic with latest technology. just like triumph Bonneville…..

  • Chet

    The jacket which is worn by the RD350 rider has ruined all the classiness of the legendary motorcycle, I wish you had used a leather jacket, it would have been classic, this is really disappointing.
    ____ How about Yezdi 250 vs CBR 250.!?____

    • Pravin

      Yezdi’s 13bhp vs CBR’s 26bhp!!! no comparison really…

      • Chet

        Yezdi was used as race machines in India, also in this comparison they are not racing each other. That is what I meant.

        • Crazywheels

          There is no comparison with the old classics like Yamaha RD 350, Honda CB750 4 cyl beast, etc..they occupy a throne of their own. Dont compare with the plastic machines of today.

      • Anand

        yezdi 350 is 23 bhp or 26 I think so and the roadking has 16 horses

    • Mohit

      Chet, we believe that the RD is classic and sporty at the same time! Its always about protective gear rather then “showy” gear ;)

      • Chet

        I can understand, but still it would have been nice.

  • Ben

    wonderful wonderful wonderful is all I can say, such a majestic mind blowing review, well done motor beam team. it was like ice to eyes to read the review, it was so cool. my heartfelt encouragement to you to continue on your success.

    • http://www.motorbeam.com/ Faisal Khan

      Thanks Ben, glad you liked it as much as we enjoyed doing it ;-)

    • Mohit

      Thank you Ben! Frankly, it viewers like you who encouraged us to do all the stuff!

      Thank you for support!

  • Sumit

    Awesome guys, where’s the drag vid btw ? :D
    I had guessed it right yesterday, it was duke vs a 2stroke.. wish I could get a chance to test ride a 2stroke one day and find out what’s all the fuss about.

    • http://www.motorbeam.com/ Faisal Khan

      Thanks Sumit. No drag race, the Duke 390 would win it easily anyways. Also the RD350 doesn’t have good enough brakes to stop post the drag.

      • pravin

        One thing that no Indian bike can match RD for is the exhaust sound!! wahh its the best sounding Indian built machine ever…

      • Anand

        I can simply beat that fellow (KTM) with a tuned JAWA 350 retro twin.
        Mr. RD is an unmatched legend at Chennai Sriperumbuthur race track achieving in excess of 220 km/h when tuned.

  • Ben

    there is a recent technology being developed by ktm called two stroke direct injection, this tech has claimed to address the emission drawback of two strokes. if it does then there is definite revival of two strokes.

  • Nitesh

    Before we compare bikes from Different era and technology, How about this ?
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GqzD7tIvmAs

    • SPITFIRE

      That #RD with its #Flipping wheels is hugely #Modded……Its #Fast that’s agreed but not as this much as shown in the video

  • Faraz Ibrahim

    Cops can catch a duke but not RD350 cuz the smoke will blow them out. RD and duke???? I don’t think so RD is two stroke and duke 4storke means that twice the power in same time. It might not max out in top speed but in initial it will strangle even SBK’s that’s what I heard from SBK’s owners. Saw an RD and duke 200 battle on palm beach some time back. The duker suffocated from the smoke and defeat. Lolzzzz.

    • Rahul

      Unless the RD makes some exhausts up front it won’t catch up to the 390. Adding Lol after every post doesn’t mean you are actually laughing. It means something else…

    • Pravin

      RD is faster than the Duke200, CBR250 n even a Ninja250.. So Faraz that’s not surprising.. However Duke200 n 390 are light years apart in performance! More than 3.5 secs to 100 n more than 30kms in top speed.. Seperating them..

      • Faraz Ibrahim

        That’s what people think!!! The fact is that even if the duke defeats RD 350 (only in maxxed) it would obviously be unfair as both are of different era. RD is a classic from 80z and the duke made in 2013. Even a 1931 ariel square four makes 45bhp. If you go deep in the history of motorcycles you will find that even carburettor bikes at that time would easily max out 200-240 kmph. Technological advancement in the “top speed” has not taken much of a leap as other factors. Two stroke is “two stroke”. u cant equate a four stroke to two stroke. It’s means twice the power developed than in a four stroke. Don’t just dig on these bikes. Get some real data @rahul @pravin.

  • Baljinder

    Well written review……really enjoyed. if Japn RD350 model would be thr then the test review was superb. We don’t have in India to arrange 1?@ Nitesh, tat RD is Jap model and modified one to competite with Cbr 600

    • Mohit

      Thank you baljinder ji! Agreed! That RD is insanely tuned i can vouch on that for sure now :)

      • SPITFIRE

        @Mohit … I guessed it right, the way it was flipping its front wheels up n down that bike was HUGELY MODDED..

  • Faraz Ibrahim

    http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=vSAVidGmLPk look how this gsxr got slammed out by RD.

  • SPITFIRE

    Finally the #Fabled RD has met its #NEMESIS….

  • Nitesh

    @ Baljinder, agreed. That’s my point actually. we should have the Indian RD on a modern chassis, CDI and a tuned engine before we have a ‘shootout’ like that and announcing the Kings demise.

  • sandy

    Ya… thats right.. we were in our diapers during Yamaha RD 350 era and so was our market. But interesting finding reveals that KTM and Yamaha motorcycles started their diaper year on 1954. But also found that KTM is also producing improved and clean 2 stroke engines now. How is it? Is it clean enough or at par w.r.t 4 stroke now?

  • george

    Neither in look dept nor tech RD has any similarity with Duke 390, except the similarity in cc. but s slightly tweaked RD with good condition engine & mechanicals is still a handful for a ride. RD is classic cult value is above anything for that matter…no doubt, same sentiments for RE, see the amount of new RE .s on the road 

  • Baljinder

    If Yamaha again start the production of RD, tat would be great with tuned verision and modern tecno…… Buyers will think twice to go for RD or RE classic… It surely effect Royal enfield classic sales. Why in India we don’t have even a single JAP RD to competite???

    • Pravin

      I believe RD or not.. RE will never be affected.. as RE is a totally different breed n RD can’t be its competitor..

  • Ben

    comparison with cbr250 ? pls……..

    • Pravin

      D390 n CBR250 are 2 different classes of bikes even though they are priced same…

    • Jai

      @ Ben : Don’t feel bad dude but this is called Dual standards. When KTM 390 compared with Ninja 300, you gave an example of Pulsar 150 Vs R15. But now you are asking for comparison review for CBR 250 Vs KTM 390. Now don’t these bikes belong to different league when price is not considered? If CBR 250 VS KTM 390 comparison makes sense, then KTM 390 and Ninja 300 comparison makes sense even more. Consumer (Performance oriented bike aspirants)point of view , Price and performance matters the most and go hand in hand.

      • Ben

        @jai. it’s not me, some one is using my name to comment.

  • Sahil Kohli

    Must say a very well written article about the two bikes. A perfect example of how a 30 year old should be put up against a bike that’s just born. Every part of the article made sense and never made you feel that it was article comparing the two. Been reading a lot of articles on comparison, must say this is one of the best i have come across. Great job!! Cheers!!

    • Mohit

      Sahil, the review was written the way you described it! Thanks for the warm comment! We strive to be better, Expect more from us all the time!

  • Sunil

    Let us compare RD350 LC (60 BHP) to Duke 390, to be fair. LCs may be 80′s technology but can still pulverize Duke390.

    • Faraz

      Agreed fully.

  • harsha

    any idea what was the price of RD during launch??

    • http://www.motorbeam.com/ Faisal Khan

      Harsha, not sure and a pure speculative guess, around Rs. 30,000/-.

      • Anand

        Rs. 19000/-

  • Harshvardhan Baisoya

    @Harsha, price was 22,500/-. RD350 is a massive machine till now, original rd(41bhp) can give a big slope to yur duke 390… Remember THERE ARE MAN BUT ONLY ONE IS KING!!
    #NOTE : intellegent people understood my wordings as this for the difference B/W RD & KTM

  • ajaysanthosh

    RD is (41BHP) in stock japan engine. but new duke 390cc new technology does not bet the RD …,

    • http://www.motorbeam.com/ Faisal Khan

      Ajay, but in other departments?

  • Dr Amit Kansal

    I purchased brand new RD 350 0n 4/05/1987 at the age of 26 years for Rs 20,000 and I did twenty thousands kms before I sold it.
    The biggest problem with RD was synchronisation of timing of two contact braker (CB) points of two cylinders.
    Then RD 350 has two carbs and fuel average of my RD was 16 kms on highway despite of all efforts.
    I achieved a top speed of 135 kms/hour on RD on Kanpur Lucknow highway many times.
    The brakes were drum but very large drums of 8 inches diametre and used to give good bite and feed back but the tyers with butyl rupper tubes were not so good. Riding posture was good but I invariably found myself sitting on rear side of petrol tank at the spped of above 120 kms/ hr. Autolube function was good in RD 350 but onece I forgotten to fill the autolube tank with 2-t oil and some noise creeped in from cylinders.
    I got married in 1988 and was forced to sell my RD 350 1n 1989 for a princely sum of 18000 as my priorities were changed after marriage.
    Then I purchased Royal enfield lightning 535 cc in 2001 and Yamaha r 15 in 2009.
    Out of the three bikes I enjoyed The 535 cc the most and did long tours.
    Now I am planing to purchase KTM Duke 390 cc.

    • http://www.motorbeam.com/ Faisal Khan

      Amit, thanks for sharing your RD experience with us. The Duke 390 is a fitting replacement to the RD. One must not forget, the RD used to give stellar performance 30 years back and it’s only now that bikes are able to match its performance.

  • Fazal

    I would gladly buy a 4 stroke Rd if there ever was one. Nothing to beat the classic laid back riding posture and comfort that it offers. Oh yeah, Yamaha make that a 500 cc parallel twin while at it & im pretty sure drop a gear & disappear feeling will be back albeit without blue smoke.

    • http://www.motorbeam.com/ Faisal Khan

      Fazal, but Yamaha doesn’t plan any new launch anytime soon.

  • bharat choudhary

    Sir..which one is better..honda unicorn .yamaha fzs.or hero xtrme..in terms of ride quality and performance..mileage…. Or go for pulser 150..or 200 Ns

    • http://www.motorbeam.com/ Faisal Khan

      Decide what you want. You can’t get the best of everything. Fazer would be my pick.

  • Subhankar Das

    Still then RD 350 is best….bring the japanese model in for competition,with its 41 bhp engine it would make just chew the Duke and spit it out of its exhausts and about 2 stroke the Aprilia RS 250 can kick the ass of the 4 stroke Duke and Ninja 300s anytime with utmost ease..

    • Anand

      Of course! the RD compared is RD350 B Indian version LT.
      The KTM can’t face HTs, Japanese version RD350 A, LC, YPVS, etc.
      not even the cagiva mito.
      They’ll blow off him.

      • http://www.motorbeam.com/ Faisal Khan

        Ya but the KTM will beat the hell put of the RD in corner and braking.

        • Anand

          Check for “History of Indian Superbike” in Wiki. the mv agusta like rd350 of 80 bhp, the dare devil, can beat in cornering too, bcause of modern shape. The only drawback of stock RD is its vast rake angle in order to minimise the distance b/w engine and rear wheel’s centre in an attempt to minimise transmission losses. If the Rd 350 is tuned to just 39 bhp and mounted in a cagiva mito, it can beat ktm duke/rc 390.

  • Kevin

    I firmly believe the Ktm 390 just cannot beat the rd…if put against a well tunned rd it will leave d Ktm to its smoke…..Yamaha RD 350 still remains the king….and for dos who disagree with me needs to get on one to experience wat I’m saying….that plastic Ktm toy needs to be kept in the showcase and cannot be compared to the legend….Yamaha Was way advanced dan any other company and will always be….

    • http://www.motorbeam.com/ Faisal Khan

      What about brakes, handling, stability? The RD doesn’t stand a chance there.

  • MB Rajesh

    I will put as Son meeting father & only to Beat him ,But nevertheless.RD-350 will still rule our heart , Because all it did without any drama.Well King die in royal way you know.It will exist in our room or computer Thanks FB & your website.But great article ,enjoyed it much.-Thanks you.
    MB Rajesh

  • atul

    A true biker doesn’t need new age technology for handling and all for a bike, a true biker can ride any bike coz biking comes FroM blood not from technology, I sold my FZ and bought an 1987 model rx100 And my riding is more than how I used to ride my fz

    • Anand

      Certainly.

  • sharky

    Okay fine..the ktm is the IN-THING for now…its d new cool !! But how long??? Rd ruled for 30 years** ! KTM cant even rule india for 30 MONTHS* !!! Ktm any1 can buy…rd, u need fate too!!! Ktm is such a common bike now…evy tom dick n harry buys a ktm in my college.. Its as common.as PULSAR N ACTIVA… But RD WILL NEVER EVER BE SEEN LIKE DAT* IT turns more.heads

    • http://www.motorbeam.com/ Faisal Khan

      RD does not have good handling or brakes. You want to turn heads or you want to have fun while riding?

  • Harshvardhan Baisoya

    Original RD comes 7 times ported from the factory itself! ofeers dynamic power of ranging from 27 – 41bhp and 347cc with each cylinder having replacement of 173.5cc. Classic styling, INCREDIBLE SOUND, chrome everywhere & eye catchy looks. RD dont need to shout to be heard or seen to be seen, its sound says it all! I too have 20 yrs old Yamaha RX100 with me and if RD & RX runs on road, it looks like dinosaurs & sabre tooths came to Earth again. RD & RX cracked the spine of the sales of every bike in India including jawa, yezdi, rajdoot, royal enfiled. They were the first bike which can started in evry gear by simply pulling clutch if in gears. Now there is a fever of bullets but though it is, 3 RE owners have appreciated me & told me to never sell that gold RX100 & i dont heard any appreciation from RX’s owner about bullet! That’s the diffrence, even new bikes, old bikes owners too respect RD & RX. They looks like missile, shines like missile, grabs attention like missile, smokes like missile, sounds like missile & finally GOES LIKE MISSILE. In my opinion, there is no bike in the world that can replace an RD or RX because once their bug bites you, its impossible to escape!

  • Anand

    Yes! a 20 year rd can be sold to about 150 Grand, while a 5 year duke can’t be (just check the used market price of both of ‘em in 2020). A rust RD ‘ll be in a “Garage” while a rust KTM’ll be in “Garbage!” Soon KTM’ll be replaced by (or beaten by) some bike else on sometime in which RD ‘ll still stand increasing its price day by day. The 2-stroke sound of RD is Gigantic and addictive while the duke version of all KTMs create a sense of a bike assembled from Waste (thrown) Metal Shop in both appearance and sound.