For $6,500, 390 Duke, Ninja 650 or a used 600?

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So you’re kinda new to motorcycling and you’re on a budget. That means a single bike that’s got to do everything: take you to work, take you on trips and make your weekends rad. Figuring you’ve got $6,500 to spend, would you buy the new KTM 390 Duke, a Kawasaki Ninja 650 or a used 600cc sportsbike?

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Why $6,500? Well, that’s around what the new KTM is going for over in Europeland, once you convert their troubled currency to the kind with all those Mason symbols. It’s what the Ninja 650 sells for new once you figure in the typical Kawasaki discount. It’s also just enough to put you on a mint-condition, latest-gen 600cc sportsbike. Let’s take a look at each bike in detail.

KTM 390 Duke

Power: 44bhp @ 9,500rpm
Torque: 26lb/ft @ 7,250rpm
Weight: 320lbs (wet)
Power-to-Weight: .134 bhp:lbs
ABS: optional

The 390 Duke might be relatively cheap (compared to other KTMs) thanks to a partnership with Bajaj that sees the bike made in India, but component quality is seriously high. The 43mm, USD WP forks are fully-adjustable, as is the WP monoshock. It uses the same steel-trellis frame as its 125 and 200cc siblings to achieve a very short 53.8-inch wheelbase which, combined with steep angles and flat bars, should make it very nimble.

Power comes from a surprisingly revvy 373cc four-stroke, liquid-cooled single. Again surprising for the price, the cylinder head borrows its 4-valve configuration from the RC8 superbike, operating those valves using two overhead camshafts.

Light, fast and fun to ride, the KTM’s Achilles heel will likely be distance; a high reving single with upright bars and no fairing doesn’t sound like much fun on the highway.

Kawasaki Ninja 650

Power: 71bhp @8,500rpm
Torque 47lb/ft @7,000rpm
Weight: 461lbs (wet)
Power-to-Weight: .154 bhp:lbs
ABS: optional

The Ninja 650 uses a much more traditional formula to create a practical, do-it-all sporty type thing. Parallel-twin, steel-tube frame, non-adjustable forks and other basic components. It’s heavy, but it makes good power, is comfortable over long distances and is relatively easy to manage for novice riders. There’s a fairing, but those are big, tall, comfy flat handlebars. A little boring to ride, but totally capable of performing any task you ask of it.

2007 Honda CBR600RR

Power: 118bhp @ 13,500rpm
Torque: 49lb/ft @11,250rpm
Weight: 410lbs (wet)
Power-to-Weight: .288 bhp:lbs
ABS: 2009-on

This is where budget bikes typically run into problems. For the price of a new one, you can get something that’s had the full weight of technical R&D from a massive company like Honda put behind it. Not much different from the new, facelifted 2013 Honda CBR600RR, 2007 was the first year for this frame and motor and ugly abrupt fairing arrangement. That means this is still pretty much on the cutting edge of track performance.

There’s a clear performance advantage here over both the KTM and Kawasaki and don’t think for a minute that the little Duke is going to have much of a handling edge. The CBR’s wheelbase is just 1/10th of a inch longer and its chassis geometry even more sports focused. It’ll lap a race track as fast as anything out there, but it’s easy-to-ride, smooth and comfortable, so it’s equally at home splitting lanes or putting in all-day rides.

The downside is going to be higher running costs; tires, maintenance and insurance are going to cost significantly more than the KTM or Kawasaki. Then there’s the image problem: full-on sportsbikes, complete with graphics, aren’t exactly en vogue in places with populations and culture and bikes like these attract much more attention from both cops and thieves, two parties who never seem to manage to find themselves in the same place at the same time.

Which one would you buy?

  • Alex Knollenberg

    KTM 390 Duke, no contest. Small bikes are just way more fun for the street. I can’t wait to snatch one up myself.

  • BillW

    You’re new to motorcycling? Buy something used, without a fairing, that you’re not going to cry over when you drop it. Maybe a DR-Z400, if it’s not too tall for you.

    • RideApart

      Yeah, I don’t envision these as first motorcycles, but rather first big bikes or first new bikes or first nice bikes or whatever. There’s tiers between n00b and expert.

    • KevinB

      This is spot on. A used 690 duke would also be a good choice.

      • appliance5000

        It’s a very specialised bike and it takes a good rider to make it sing – otherwise it’s kind of like the most beautiful lawn mower you ever had.

    • Wes Siler

      I don’t see any of these being good, very first motorcycles. Like you say, something old that you can drop and not care about for that.

      But, there’s tiers between total n00b and Valentino Rossi. Any of these would be a good first big bike, first new bike, first nice bike, whatever.

    • NY

      As a soon-to-be rider, that’s my current plan on both accounts: a used, naked bike and potentially a DRZ400SM.

    • BillW

      I will be very interested in seeing test reports of that mini-Duke, and the new Honda 500s, though. I’ve been thinking about a small(er) bike.

      • Justin Hilbert

        So far, the only thing i don’t like about the KTM 390 is the lack of fairing.

    • roma258

      I see the “kinda new” disclaimer to mean second bike territory. Which any of these do fit. If I was shopping for my second bike I’d probably go for the Ninja, but as things currently stand the Duke is mighty tempting.

    • Michael Hatton

      My first bike was an ’06 Ninja 650. Admittedly I dropped it a couple times. Both were at complete stops but both were (frustrating) learning experiences. I enjoyed the fact I had a new bike which had minimal maintenance, good power, good looks and a standard riding position. Only took me a year to completely gut the thing and turn her into a street fighter which was a ton of fun. Wasn’t pretty but I got looks everywhere I went and people wanted to know what the hell it was. Total blast.

      If I did it all over again I’d stick with the new bike personally. It was great to be able to do all my own shit to it and not have to worry about what kind of owner the bike had previously.

      • noah sherburn

        that thing is sweet

  • Jesse

    As a rider with a late gen 600, I’d repeat that choice, or pick up that wee Duke for a damned fine change.

  • BillW

    Since I can no longer find a “contact us” link or address on the site, I’m posting this here:

    There seems to be a problem with the new layout. Pages are sometimes showing up in mobile view, sometimes not, but I’m not on a mobile browser (but it IS Safari, in this case 6.0.2). It’s not at all consistent. Last time I looked at this page, it came up mobile. Now it comes up normal.

    • Wes Siler


      Thanks for your repeated feedback. As you’ve seen on the “under construction” announcement and as I’ve replied to you there, the site is currently being re-done and you can expect to experience bugs as a result. The good news is, we’re almost done. All this should be wrapped up by tomorrow.

      There’s large icons for various way to contact us up on the top right of the site. Facebook, Twitter and even email. You can email us anytime on

      • BillW

        Not a gripe on this one, Wes, just trying to be helpful in case it was an issue that wasn’t showing up for you. I missed the @ in those icons above.

      • Joe Bar

        BTW, can’t see disqus comments at work. DoD and all.

        • Wes Siler

          Sorry, we’ve got to design for the majority of users. Honestly, I’m surprised the DoD lets you access a site called “hell for leather.”

        • sixgunsteve

          Interesting, I checked periodically throughout the day today at work (DoD network) and I was able to see the comments but unable to post.

          posted as sixgunsteve (disqus), formerly AKA KLR Pilot at HFL.

      • Gene Cash

        So who’s on anti-spam duty? Nobody? Check out “2011 Kawasaki ZX-10R: mo’ power, mo’ problems” – over 150 spam comments.

        • Wes Siler

          Yeah, we’ve got to get back to all that. So annoying, they all snuck while our shields were down for like half a day.

  • alexlines

    $6500 will also get you the new cbr500 w/abs. not a screamer like the 600rr but maybe a better beginner bike.

  • Will L.

    Newer rider here – I did what Bill W. suggested, a 2003 Honda 919. I didn’t cry when I dropped it. I’m surprised you didn’t mention the CB 500R, which would be my first choice if I was looking for something $6,500 or less. Though it’s not available yet, I’d be tempted to wait.

    • Ben

      I imagine that part of the reason for not mentioning the new CB500s is that they’re still an unknown. They look promising, but who knows if there are some major warts?

  • Brian Milburn

    I’d just buy a 600 cc SuperSport, gear it high (-1/5+), take off the front fairings and clip-ons, slap on a dirt-bike handlebar, sliders, and a headlight with a small fairing… and call it a day.

    In fact, that’s what I have, and use daily for city living. A ’04 ZX6R that I park on a city street. People don’t try and steal it because it doesn’t have fairings (and there’s not really any help in recognizing it other than the giant KAWASAKI logo on the gas tank) and thieves aren’t “attracted” to brutally naked bikes. It’s easy for me to do maintenance. And it’s got superior suspension and engine performance… all for only $2,800.

    But then again, that kinda bike is a bit too hairy for a beginner. After three years of riding, that’s the bike that I like now.

    • Joe Bar

      I think you mean gear it low,.

      • Ken Lindsay

        Higher for the gas mileage.

        • Jesse

          -1/+5 = Down one tooth in the front sprocket, up five teeth in the back. That is geared low.

          It’s a pretty common set up for new stunters, and is great at consuming gas at a higher rate than you need to.

  • Tyler McAvoy

    Damn, 6.5k and I’d get a used FZ8 or FZ6 for a do it all bike and call it a day. As long as your careful with a used bike, they’re a much better option then going new.

  • Jean Charest

    I buy an old 600. Not a chance that I buy a brand new bike, what a waste of money !

  • Preeth Sangavaram

    i got my license via MSF courses here in NJ this summer. I had never rode a bike before. i was told by so many people to go with a used 600 of some kind. i decided to get a new ninja 250r (sad they came out w/the 300 so soon). i love the bike. for tooling around town its brilliant and its nimble. for a first bike, i’d go with a used 250r. ride it for a season and then sell it for something bigger if you NEED it.

  • Case

    $6,500 is a big splash so presumably the person will be financing? I can’t think of any reason to buy your first bike new if you don’t need financing.

    You can track down a used model for half the money. Get the SV650 without fairings for $4000 (or less). It’s got a great engine, big user base, enough pull low in the rev range to keep it interesting. Yeah the stock forks are mushy and need cartridges but once upgraded the bike is superb. Plus there’s a lot of aftermarket options. You want an upright riding style like the ktm? Put bars on it. You want racey? Add real clip-ons and update the brake pads and tires.

    If it were me I would buy the KTM. That thing looks like it does all the stuff a motorcycle should. Last bike I would buy is the used 600RR. That’s a shit first bike. Power is in the top of the rev range and it’ll cost you a grand when you (inevitably) drop it in the parking lot.

  • Vitor Santos

    Hello, iam new to motorcycling and iam having this exact same problem. Iam still getting my licence and i plan to spend around 5000€ on my first bike. Iam in europe so fuel running costs are a major factor, also i wont buy a bike without abs and getting a second hand bike with abs is very pricey here i live. So old sport bikes although tempting are completely out of the question. In my case, my reasonable side is SCREAMING honda nc700x, its a great all rounder with very low running costs, then the new cb500 series show up and i thought great, its almost the same thing as the nc but cheaper, although the gas mileage will be worst and has less torque. But then it came the new 390 duke and that one is really messing up with my mind because my heart is already in love… I am loving the bike, its very light, a rev happy engine, great looks, great components and must be a blast to drive. But on the long run i think the honda will be a better and smarter choice, in terms of gas milleage, service costs and has more power although more weight too… My question to you experienced bikers is this, isnt the whole point of getting a bike to have fun going from a to b? Or should i make a more dull and smarter honda choice because i will eventually get bored of ktm? Should i follow my heart and does love really lasts forever??? xD

    • Wes Siler

      The 390 Duke should actually be more fun to ride and faster than the NC700X, so you’d likely get bored of it LESS soon.

      • Vitor Santos

        ty for the reply, and Wes stop throwing wood to this fire! What is really making my decision hard is the sheer practicality of the honda. I can commute in the city, go on a trip, do some highway stretches and that helmet storage solution is a must. Plus the honda reputation :) I guess i must test drive them both decide for myself. Well, either way i think i will make a good choice!

        • Wes Siler

          If it’s your first bike, I’d get the Duke. The light weight is HUGE and will help you learn.

          • Vitor Santos

            it is, i’ll take that into account.

          • Guest

            You could strip the fairings off the CBR and get within a few cheeseburgers of the KTM.

            • Jonathan Berndt

              90lbs worth of cheeseburgers?????

  • the antagonist

    390 Duke hands down. Where I do most of my riding, inner city commuting and occasional trips to tight twisty mountain roads, light and flickable with low end grunt trumps big horsepower. It’s not ideal for long interstate hauls, but neither is a race replica. And while the 650 might be the most practical option, it’s also the most boring and least sexy. Gimme the Duke!

  • Alpha_Geek_Mk2

    How about $3000 for a used 650R and the rest for riding gear, aftermarket parts, and a few beers?

    • Ben

      Absolutely agreed with this. You can get 650s with barely any miles for cheap. The Ninja might not be as exciting as the other two, but it’s the better “only bike”.

      Kawasaki 650s seem to get overlooked while the Honda 500s are on a pedestal. It’s the same idea at a different price point.

      • Alpha_Geek_Mk2

        The new Hondas are cool, but I love my 650R. It might not scare the pants off you every time you go out, but you can lean it over just about as far as you’d like, and it’ll accelerate to over 100mph in top gear faster than you’d ever need to get there. It’s about as exciting as I’d recommend for a complete novice. Plus it does fine in the canyons and can even do some light sport-touring with a set of soft saddlebags.

    • roma258

      Yeah, I’ve been riding for 7 years and never bought a new bike. If you look around long enough, and time the purchase right (preferably dead of winter), you can get some pretty nice machines for not a whole lot of dough. Pro tip, never buy a bike from anyone under 30. I’m sure there are exceptions, but it’s a pretty fail safe approach.

  • Joey Welt

    As a new rider with this problem in 2010 I choose the Yamaha FZ6R, very similar the Ninja 650. With it’s manageable 68hp, it’s been a great all purpose bit of mechanical fun. The inevitable tip over did occur; in frame sliders we pray.

  • Joe Bar

    If I was “kinda new to motorcycling” I wouldn’t pick any of the above, but if it HAD to be one, I’d pick the Duke. It just screams “Fun!”

    But, I am not new to motorcycling. Folks new to motorcycling look for fairings, and performance appearance. Or, they go Pirate and get a Sportster or clone. At least around here, anyway.

  • Georgi Bonchev

    I believe a novice will have most fun on the Duke because it is just so light. It weights less than some 250cc bikes and delivers much more.

    You have forgotten the NC700S/X – in some parts of the world they can be bought for that kind of money. And we are talking about a 700cc (or was it 680cc?) bike with cool looks and built in storage so no need for ugly hard case – practical :)

    For me the perfect bike will be a naked 250-350cc (i’m a novice) with simple, clean, classic and functional look. Think Yamaha YBR250, not Suzuki GW250. It must be light! Small fairing, luggage options, good mileage, cheap parts and a lot of fun.

    Or a CRF250L with small fairing and larger fuel tank (like the TDR125 (my first bike) or DR250 of the 90′s)

  • Andy Scott

    I love the 390, it has so much character.

  • Emmet

    ^ found on Reddit. If I were to do it all over again, I would buy a used beginner bike or an 80′s vintage Japanese bike that runs good. Both cheap and disposable rides that won’t worry you if you drop them.

    interesting layout Wes. Looks like it’s still in progress so I’ll shut up now.

  • paulester17

    Don’t underestimate the effect of a fairing on insurance, even for small bikes. I went from a 2011 CBR250R to a 2012 Bonneville (900); my insurance WENT DOWN 20%.

    • Justin Bieber

      Edit: Misread paulester’s post. Disregard this

  • Raubert

    390 duke! It’s so unique compared to the other 2 choices and looks like tons of fun for all skill levels. Also the lack of fairings and relatively low power output will discourage high speed hooliganism (crucial for those of us with poor self control).

    Forget the ninja 650; it’s a great bike but so blaahhhh. The SV650 was far more exciting thanks to its L-twin and trellis frame and it was still pretty damn boring in stock form. If you just want to commute on the freeway and constantly remind people that you’re a responsible bore this is your bike.

    Also forget the used 600. Actually don’t because they’re still the best value in motorcycling in terms of the performance / exotica to price ratio. If you ever see yourself getting into trackdays this is your bike.

  • Jay

    I really like KTM’s weight and the high-quality chassis and suspension. What I hate about KTM is the “ready to race” engine. I don’t want a high-strung, high-maintenance, fragile race engine. I haven’t seen the maintenance schedule yet, but 44hp from a 373cc single is probably begging for trouble.

    Honda takes the opposite route: They provide very reliable, low-maintenance, high-tech, frugal engines and put them in extremely cheap, heavy chassis with poor quality suspension. I’m unhappy with both approaches but glad to see some mid-displacement bikes for sale in the US again.

    • TP

      Eh, a 250 four-stroke production race motor (read: a 250 mx bike) puts out about that much power. So same power with 125 extra cc’s is a significant amount of detune.

      Or at least I hope.

      I’m in love with the 390… don’t rain on my parade..

    • Jonathan Berndt

      you are thinking of their motorcross machines. Street KTMs are more complicated to maintain but no more fragile then anything else out there. i have 30k miles of hard riding on my 07 Super Duke and ive dealt with normal consumable parts.

  • Gene Cash

    No, no, and no. I bought a nice naked V-twin sportbike, with ABS & FI for that kind of money. Oh wait, Suzuki stopped importing the SV-650… darn.

    Actually and seriously, I don’t think there are any bikes on the current market that make me want to part with money if I crashed one of my current bikes.

  • Justin Bieber

    Given these options, I’d hands down take the KTM. Those ergos are great for beginners and the lack of fairings and low displacement would likely translate to a low insurance premium… at least I’d assume so, but I’ve never insured a KTM. That bike also seems like it would be a great supermoto-ish bike. Those have been getting pretty popular around here but they usually develop transmission problems from riding on the street. The KTM solves that problem. I’ve been riding for awhile and own a speed triple 1050 right now. I’d love to learn how to back it into corners and handle a street bike on crappy surfaces, but my bike is too big, powerful and expensive for that kind of tom foolery. The 390 duke would be perfect as my “other” bike.

  • Mark D

    For the type of riding a new, or average, rider is doing, I’d take the Kawi 650. Sure, that Duke looks like a barrel of fun, but you’re going to pay in fatigue everytime you need to get the hell out of the city. By the time you get to that awesome canyon, you’ll need a 30 minute yoga break just to get out the knots. Likewise, a CBR600 is going to be awesome for truly fast riding, but sitting in traffic is going to get real old real fast, and you’re going to waste your $300 tires and $2000 insurance policy putting to work at 35 mph. Better to use the money you saved by running a reasonable streetbike to buy a track-only bike.

  • Shaun Lunney

    My 06 SV650N puts out 75hp and only cost me $3200 in mint shape…I wouldnt want to spend any more on a starter bike, and because its the naked, its not classed as a sport bike. My advice…start with a used naked bike and install some frame sliders, invest the saved money in decent gear

  • Ben

    Regarding the new comment system: you’re always selling, aren’t ya, Wes? I remember such praise, once upon a time, for the high quality commenting achieved through a walled garden approach. Here’s to hoping the quality doesn’t drop as access jumps.

    • Wes Siler

      We’ll be moderating and doing what’s necessary to keep it good. As always.We’re growing and intend to grow in quality too.

      • Ben

        Understood and it’s certainly necessary for the goals I perceive. Hell, I’ll be along for the ride either way.

  • David Howland

    For what its worth.. in 2012 my room mate and I both got our licenses and first bikes. His is a 2012 Ninja 650, I have a 2011 Yamaha FZ8. I really enjoy his bike for what he got it for.. It gets better gas mileage, is easier for new riders to get on and try out but also has fairings and is treated like his baby (understandably).

    Not that I neglect my FZ8 but I spend a heck of a lot less time cleaning mine. I’m also rocking a few thousand more miles on mine. Its been down three times at low to no speed (came back to find it on its side in a parking spot once, sister dropped it once at a stop and my room mate dropped it into a flowerbed). The FZ8 has a couple little scratches and a bent rear brake lever. I’m still loving and riding the heck out of it.

    I think I get a lot more comments on my bike from people who ride; his tends to draw more overall attention though.

    I agree with all of the naked bike advice given out by other commenters. At the same time I think its a “to each his own” answer. I love my FZ8, I’d probably choose the Duke out of these three. But I also enjoy having the Ninja 650 in the garage when I want to borrow it for a ride.

  • Khali

    1200eur ’91 katana 600 (limited to near 50hp because this is europe)
    680eur made-to-measure, custom design, race quality leathers
    70eur dainese wave back protector
    120eur dainese giro-st sporty boots

    100eur racing gloves with scaphoid protection (local spanish brand)

    350eur tri-composite helmet Premier Dragon, Ruben Xaus replica

    350eur really great winter cordura jacket (richa – interesting european brand)
    100eur not-so-great cordura pants (local spanish brand)
    60eur rev’it leather winter gloves

    70eur gore-tex and CF alpinestars leather/cordura gloves
    30eur Richa rain overpants
    100eur Richa hi-viz jacket with additional rain jacket
    60eur Oxford 60L back seat bag
    30eur Lidl tank bag

    So I spent about half as proposed money and got more-or less a full set of proper gear for all the year, a learner-friendly, commuting-friendly, long distance friendly, cheap to mantain, cheap to insurance, yet capable of keeping up with a ninja 650,and robber unfriendly, motorcycle. Well, at least I can keep up when i ride along people with ninja 650′s and er6n’s (naked version of ninja650), which is a pretty common bike here.

    I use that bike daily, cold or hot, sunny or raining, have already put 15.000km on it, since March. Dropped it twice. Fallen off it once, destroyed half of the fairing, a mirror, my gopro, a glove, a boot, and rode it back home unharmed.

    Thats not what i would do, thats what I DID. 6500eur is a lot of money nowadays, specially for a first bike…better spend it on gear, gas and tires, get out there and ride!!!

    • Wes Siler

      You’re doing it right man.

  • Jordan Jones

    I’ve been riding for a while, and been on several different kind of bikes in my campaign. GIven I’m a broke college student at the moment away from my parents’ house that is home to my trusty old R6, I bought a mint 2004 SV650 for less than 3k to supplement my 300k mile VW for transportation duties. Despite very budget brakes and not-that-great-suspension, I’m really happy with my purchase and if I ever turn an income in the next six months I’m pretty sure it won’t take too much to rectify the SV’s problems for no more than $1,500.

    The only way my R6′s chasis and suspension advantages have made themselves apparent to me is through aggressive canyon runs and a lot of track days. Anything less than that and I’m pretty sure the new-ish average rider has no way of being aware of how much more potential a super sport has over a more standard bike and a standard would better suit their needs overall. They can spend a lot of time being timid on a SS bike or buy something with a fraction of the HP and actually enjoy themselves more.

    … So I guess that’s my answer.

  • Troy

    I ALWAYS buy used. I probably wouldn’t get a supersport bike, but whatever i got would be used.

    Modern cars and bikes are so reliable i just can’t think of many good reasons to pay for a new one when you can save a lot of money and still have the same performance and functionality with a used machine.

  • DoctorNine

    If you are limber, live in the city, and weigh less than 200 lbs., get the Duke. If you are taller or bigger, live in the ‘burbs, or need to do interstate, get the Kawasaki.

    If you are going to get a used bike, DO NOT get the Honda. It’s too much too soon for most beginners. You can get a used Kawasaki Ninja 650 or Suzuki SV 650 for $2500-3000 these days, and then get insurance, armor, and other gear with the amount you spend on one of the above two.

    You should only buy new, if you can afford the couple thousand it’s going to cost to get the other stuff as well. If you still want new, but can’t spend more than $5-6000, then get the Honda CRF250L and the equipment for off road riding. You will be a better rider by learning dirt first anyway.

    • Shaun Kelly

      I’m with the Doc. If we’re talking an age bracket between 18-30. Most new riders are looking for something that at least appears fast and sporty. In which case, race replicas are going to win out over common sense 9 out 10 times. For the money, in this case the Ninja picks up where the SV left off and is a nice smooth bike that a new rider can grow into with experience. Upgrade as need be either with this bike or with a new one. But I deffinatly wouldn’t spend $6500 on a new one when a 4 year old model can be had for half.

      Personal opinion, There are plenty of capable bikes in the $3-4K range that would do just as well if not better then the current CBR600 for a dedicated streetbike. And with the current state of motorcycle technology, there’s no way many of these bikes will ever be pushed to half of their true potential at any point of their lifetime. If my wallet is doing the decision making, I’ll stick with a mid millennium RR and tune it to my liking for much less then the cost of a new bike with half the power and handling ability.

  • jonoabq

    since its a rather contrived question to begin with I’ll go with option #4… a used speed triple or an sv650.

    • Justin Bieber

      Not a bad call. I paid $6000 for my used speed triple.

  • Brendan

    When I moved on from my Ninja 250, the first thing I considered was whether to go for the used 600cc sports bike or the more conservative Ninja 650. I settled on the 2012 Ninja 650 – Living in Chicago it has the best balance between long rides and quick blasts down Lake Shore Drive. But I have to admit the power doesn’t compare to a cbr600

  • carbon

    Duke. Because it’s neato.

  • FastPanda

    As a new rider:

    Given these choices I’d go with the KTM, Ninja, and CBR in that order.

    But what I’d really do with that much is a CBR250R with a full round of gear – new helmet to replace a slightly beat placeholder, two-piece suit, gloves, boots to fit my big-ass feet – and a Leo Vince pipe to rectify the one flaw on that gem of a machine.

    Then get a leftover new CBR600RR in maybe two years, after some good trips and track days. Even think they look pretty good, although the new headlight is awkward.

    • orthorim

      I second that – get a 250 for your first bike, you will be surprised how much go these have, and you can learn how to bike before getting on something more powerful.
      I had a KLXS 250 as my first bike – found it boring quick but realized later that I actually had no clue whatsoever how to ride it. These days, cbr250 cfr 250, or one of the new Honda 500s would be best.
      Kawasaki 650s are great beginners bikes too – they will keep you happy for years. I had an ER6-n and a Versys, the latter is a much better bike but the ER is wicked fun.
      The used 600 is way too much bike for a beginner – you will look stupid crawling around corners on that thing, and youll wipe out if you twist the throttle too hard. Not good.
      I don’t know about the KTM but if you are anything like me you will not be able to ride this bike in a way that makes it fun, and it will be more unforgiving than a Kawa too. IMO its a fantastic bike if you know what you are doing, but not so great for beginners.
      Of the above: Ninja 650.

  • John Ashman

    Apples, oranges and pears. The Duke is the obvious choice for in town riding. The CBR for sport riding, the Ninja for sport touring.

    That being said, the Duke is the most special and unique of those machines.

    It would be very cool if KTM built a parallel 700cc twin out of this motor to replace the 690 single.

  • David

    I got my first bike this year and since May have put almost 13k miles on it. I bought my Ducati Monster 620 for $1800 and got a new battery and fixed the speedo. I had money leftover for gear as well as plenty of upgrades and have thoroughly enjoyed learning to ride. I commute 120 miles a day (at least) to SF for school and use a lot of highway. I’d love the 390 and sell my bike in an instant, aside from not wanting to wring it’s neck for hours at a time for what will likely be 20k miles a year.

    If they only brought back the 690 platform I’d actually buy that new, and from what I’ve seen of the 690′s from ’08 on (Especially the lighter SMC!) they aren’t much more maintenance dependent than my current bike, and have a decent reliability record. The 390 is nice, but compared to the Ninja 650 (boring) and older supersports (boring and I can’t even use my current 63hp to it’s max.)

  • Rosenfeld8

    it’s rather depressing for me to see that bikes like that cost the price of my ninja 250R in Brazil, where I currently live. If I lived in the US I’d probably go for the used cbr600rr by now, I’ve had the ninja for about a year and a half now and started with a suzuki 125 3 years ago. But since I’m here I’ll go for something like a honda hornet 600 when I can afford it

    • orthorim

      Yeah I am depressed for you too living in Brazil, with sun, sea, and gorgeous girls everywhere… Hehehe perspective, my friend. I am in Thailand, we only got reasonably priced bikes a few years ago and most brands are still at 100% markup.

  • karlInSanDiego

    ’96 Katana was my first new bike when in this situation 16 years ago. Steered clear of the ’93 GSX-R 750 after a test on it scared the feces out of me.
    Now, I’d watch and wait for Yami to bring out a fully dressed 400cc 3 cylinder race rep with the ubiquitous rightside up cheap forks and non-adjustable shock. KTM single and 650R twin (wife has one) are the letdowns for me. I’d always go triple or 4 cyl given the option. I ride a ’73 GT550 and an ’08 675 Daytona now.

  • Heatsoak

    You’ve got three slices of the motorcycle pie here:

    The 600 represents the “starter” bike for far too many riders, a one way ticket to fail for new riders. Too much too soon, and costly in insurance, tickets, jail time…

    The 650 twin is a pretty good way to start, but still maybe a bit much, especially when new, as it’s going to get dropped.

    The KTM is, like the new Honda 500s, an all-new look at making a truly modern machine for new riders. Triumph’s long rumored 350 single is in the hunt as well.

    This is the first time that so many choices are on the table for new riders. I almost wish i was starting the sport now, and not spoiled by my VFR, or my previous Busa. Or GSX-R. Or Hornet.

  • Versys Jake

    I faced this same decision 2 years ago. Considering my 6’4″ stature I went with the Kawasaki Versys (Upright version of ninja 650r). The bike is a bit boring, but so dang practical… It just does everything. However after seeing that one ride apart where your buddy put mx bars on a 600 sportbike my mind has been spinning… Does anybody make a sportbike for tall guys?

    • Andy Scott

      The best bikes I’ve found for tall guys are the BMW S1k and KTM RC8. At 6’7″, these two bikes just fit me the best when I was shopping for a sport bike a couple of years ago. ..sorry for posting this on the beginner’s thread.

    • orthorim

      Versys is boring? That really depends on how you ride it. Take her to he twisties and keep the revs up and its a whole lot of fun. I see many people ride their V like my grandmother but you dont have to do that. They get absurd gas mileage – good indicator for the fun level, there is an inverse relationship there. Oh yeah, supercorsas or diablo rosso IIs are a must… and then…. fun!! Scraping your footpegs is easy on supercorsas.

      The only place where the Versys is boring is on long straights – it doesnt go much faster than 110 mph and the superbikes take off. Not a big loss for me, I like curves…

    • Speedo007

      The Daytona is probably one of the most spacious sports bike like most Triumph bikes, that said at 6’4″ I’d just forget about sports bikes unless you drive 15 minutes at a time. As for the Versys 650 I have one and it’s far from boring, I put semi-knobbies on it and even ride in snow lol!

  • Nick Farrell

    Spend half the money and get an SV650 that is like a Ninja 650 only less boring.

  • Neil Johnston

    One thing that isn’t taken into account here is the potential effect of the KTM and Bajaj on quality control. Our ownership experience with two 990 Adventure’s has been wanting both in terms of quality and warranty response and coverage compared to other brands.
    A refusal to warranty basic issues, like the rims being true and in round out of the box, failure of a seal in the rear shock at 2 months of age and an air filter that was improperly seated from the factory affects the cost of ownership substantially. Keep in mind, this was with Austrian assembled bikes.
    Based on that experience, one is pressed to recommend the KTMs until the new partnership settles out and the quality control of the product has been proven.

  • Ioannis

    I am kinda where this marketing campaign is aimed at. I have been riding for 3.5 years and currently own the 125 duke on which the 390 duke is based on. I got the duke last June, new, after 3 years on a Gilera Cougar. I also lie here with a broken collar bone. The duke is very sharp, very cool, but also very unforgiving, While the engine may be at learner levels the rest of the bike is not. I admit, it may be down to not having great motorcycling skills, but as much as I love the ktm I would advise to get a more forgiving second hand first bike.

  • Jose Manuel

    if you’ve never ridden anything in your life, you would go for the CBR250 or DR400 is less money and you can buy good protection with the rest of the money, BillW had a good point “have something that will not break when you drop it”, perhaps the KTM is the second option. .., but certainly not the most economical …

  • John Hyslop

    I love smaller displacement bikes but the manufacturer’s are chasing a dwindling segment and our buying power is at a 40 year low. Historically, the typical buyer for these bikes would be a young, new rider. The trouble is that young, new riders can’t get a loan. In the late 80′s, a high school kid could work for a summer and buy a brand new GSX-R if they wanted to. They didn’t need a loan. What parent is going to co-sign for a highly strung, fragile KTM? I think Honda’s CBR250 and 500 are going to have MUCH more appeal based on their reputation for reliability, economy and the perceived role of the line.

    Son: “Dad, I wanna buy a KTM.”

    Dad: “It looks like a goddamned insect and it takes 2 hours to change the oil on a 990…no.”
    Son: “Dad, I wanna buy a Honda to ride back and forth to state college. It gets 75mpg’s and it’s a Honda.”
    Dad: “OK…lemme talk to your Mom.

  • Speedo007

    I’d eliminate the 600SS to start, the Ninja 650 is an awesome bike (my friend has a 2013) the only thing that isnt good for a beginner is the injection on it, it’s very ON-OFF and at slow speeds for someone who is new to the sport it can be stressful. If they fix that it’s an awesome bike with great handling and low seat. The KTM for me is the sexiest of the bunch I just prefer naked bikes and for it’s weight the power seems pretty decent. You’d probably want more after a season, but it must be perfect to learn.

  • Aaron Trent

    Looking for a first bike right now and I’d take the Duke. I was going to get a DRZSM but the asking prices on Craigslist are bumping into new bike territory. I want light and flickable, cheap to own, reliable, and fun. It will never see highway because I live close enough to the mountains. Other than the DRZSM and WR250X,which are both out of production, I can’t think of anything that checks all of those boxes besides the Duke. There hasn’t been much made in the past 10 years that checks those boxes either, but I’m open to suggestions.

  • Austin Tiller

    “It’s what the Ninja 650 sells for new once you figure in the typical Kawasaki discount.” Are you trying to shoot dealers in the ass? I understand the point of that in the article, but help us out. If someone comes in to tell me that they read on Hell For Leather they can buy a Ninja 650 for $1,000 off, I will cry.

  • Sohl

    Feel like the Duke is in a different category than the other two. Seems like its own thing — focused on light and fun. But gor blimey, everyone seems to be ignoring the power to weight ratio on the Honda. That’s performance for the money. Plus, it honestly looks no-nonsense compared to the “right now” graphics on the Duke.

  • socalutilityrider

    Awesome article. I just converted over to riding full time as a noob about four months ago and it’s great to finally be able to read stuff like this. Ended up getting an ’08 DL 650 VStrom with less than 5K miles on it for $4,800 including a Sargent seat, tall fairing, and two Givi hardbags with mounts. I would have been down to get something like a 250 or 400, but the options aren’t great it you’re 6′ 4″ and since I live in San Diego, I hit the highway almost every time I ride and people are 80+ miles an hour on your tail the whole time. I really like the VStrom, even though people call it the Toyota Corolla of motorcycles. I don’t want to race around constantly. I just want to have fun doing what I do every day. It has more than enough power, and so far, has been a great experience.

  • Blixa

    As someone who started riding this year, with no experience on any of the bikes described above, I can only suggest getting the one that’s cheapest to fix when you drop it. That said, as a rider, you’re supposed to ignore all sensible advice and buy the bike that makes your groin the most tingly. In that case, of the three, I’d buy the KTM.

  • disqus_mlaFDYfejJ

    So we don’t even know whether it’s coming (wake up KTM NA) and now we speculate on price. OK, I will play … out of the 3 offerings I cannot believe you are asking. Of course the Duke.

  • Joe Bar

    One thing I don’t get in the discussions below. People speak of “Getting bored”. How can you get bored on a motorcycle?

    • socalutilityrider

      Man, I totally agree with this. I will say though, I did get bored on a 250 Honda Reflex, a maxi scooter (most emasculating name ever) after about 1.5 yrs. The lack of shifting gets to ya. So I upgraded to a VStrom. I can tell it’s going to take a LONG time for me to get bored on it!

  • Mackme

    At some point I hope the Moto news types, mags and blogs, wake up to the idea that small bikes are not just beginner tools but are enormous fun and the best training ground for those that want to learn to be really fast. I have sat back and watched the magazine guys pat themselves on the back and explain to the public that they need monster power in order to be considered real riders. This nonsense has been going on for the almost 50 years that I have ridden. By demeaning the smaller less powerful bikes as only fit for beginners they have chased away many potential riders and have contributed to the high injury rate of sportbike riders. Some of the best times to be had on a bike are when you are riding close to the potential of the bike. That almost never happens on 100+ HP sport bikes.

    • Wes Siler

      If you’ve been following HFL, then you’ll be familiar with our continued promotion of smaller bikes.

  • disqus_73ep8Bw314

    The Duke

  • Kyt

    I’m all for the used 600. Nothing like having the previous owner spend all the money upgrading everything only to sell it for the going price of stock bike.

  • Ryan

    I feel like the Duke is in it’s own league. I’ve been waiting for this bike for YEARS! Ever since the announcement of the 125 Duke I prayed one day a more powerful US spec bike would come. I’m a shorter guy, so engine size isn’t a problem for me, it’s bike size. The Duke is the best looking streetfighter on the market, but they are huge. This bike is attractive because not only is it fairly short, it’s light so I can hold it up easily, and the power is perfect. I don’t think anybody would get bored with it. 400cc is perfect for 99% of people. Enough to get you in and out of trouble. Another advantage for newcomers will be the ABS. What I like about the Duke though, is KTM’s “ready to race” means that you are getting a bike out of the box with everything you need. Adjustable WP suspension and Brembo brakes means this bike is no toy and will not only keep you safe, but will grow with you as you become a better rider and even if you decide to attend track days. Almost nobody takes a 600 to it’s potential, so the 400 is perfect. I will be buying one the day it comes out with as much orange as possible.

  • appliance5000

    I’d include the honda CBs – fun fast , and agile.

    I’d also argue that getting a new bike is a better idea than used. If something’s wrong you just bring it to the dealer. Also, modern tech really helps – FI and ABS. A used bike is going to have something wrong with it and it’s a drag for a new rider to have to dig around to find it.

    Get a new bike and enjoy riding. There’s some great choices out there.