Didn’t you hear? Naked bikes are the new sportsbikes. Well, not exactly but the demand for naked bikes that offer virtually the same performance levels as their faired brethren has rocketed in recent years, so much so that many of the major bike manufacturers have begun offering naked entry level machines. After recent testing, we’re going to take a look at whether out of the Honda CB300F, Kawasaki Z300 or KTM Duke 390 there’s a clear winner, or if each offer something different for a new rider.
Let’s get the most subjective measure out of the way. The Duke 390 is probably the most polarizing of all three bikes based on its orange and black paint scheme alone. This is no shrinking violet – the Duke (like so many KTMs) screams “Look at me!” The bright orange frame and wheels are certainly recognizable, but otherwise it’s a fairly standard looking naked.
KTM also seems to pay attention to the smaller details including the design of the swingarm, engine covers and underside exhaust which all demonstrate that this is a quality machine and not a cheap runabout.
At the other end of the scale, Honda’s CB300F is certainly the most conservative, a typical Honda trait. It’s by no means ugly, in fact it looks quite handsome but it certainly isn’t anything special to look at. Honda has also appeared to save on costs by using a lot of black plastics on the bike, most notably on the half fairing at the front of the bike and the belly pan. It just seems a little bit underwhelming.
The Kawasaki however seems to straddle the line perfectly between classy and ostentatious. Its design isn’t restrained but it still looks attractive, with lots of angular and muscular lines really drawing your eye across the bike. The styling takes cues from its bigger naked brothers, the Z800 and Z1000 but we think the baby Z nails the look. Colors available on the bike also look great, especially the matte grey. In fact, out of the three bikes here, we say that the Kawasaki looked a great deal more expensive than the Honda and KTM just by the way it’s put together and finished off.
Comfort and Ride
None of the three bikes here are overly deficient in how they ride which is a credit to the three brands at this end of the price scale. You won’t get razor sharp superbike handling but given the price range we’re playing in, they all do an admiral job at carving through corners.
The Z300 has the most aggressive seating position of the three bikes, you sit further back and lean forward more than the other two. It’s all relative though – it feels very casual compared to say a Triumph Daytona 675 and you certainly won’t get a sore back from the ergonomics.
The suspension on the little Kawasaki is fairly good, though definitely dialed towards the firm side but the damping is spot on. So while the slightly more aggressive seating position creates a small sacrifice when it comes to weaving through traffic, it comes ahead on the ledger when tacking the corners.
The Honda is definitely tuned to a softer setting than the Kawasaki. It makes for a more pleasant ride on poor surfaces but it’s not as sharp. The seating position is more upright and relaxed as well, with slightly more legroom available too thanks to the pegs being slightly lower than that of the Z300’s. Trail and rake is 98 mm/25.3° compared to 82 mm/26° for the Z300 and it’s definitely apparent.
The Duke is a whole other story, though. You sit upright like the CB300F but much further forward – you get a feeling of sitting over the bike rather than on it. Riders of dirt bikes and motards will feel right at home while newer riders may be a little intimidated about how much you sit over the bars.
But if you can get your head around it, it’s a thoroughly rewarding experience. You feel in command while going through both traffic and canyons on the 390 Duke. It almost demands to be pushed through corners at silly speeds. I’d put forward an argument that the Z300 would be potentially more capable in the the corners, but the 390 Duke just feels that more willing.
Of the three bikes, only the 390 Duke comes with ABS as standard worldwide. Certain markets offer both the Z300 and CB300F with or without ABS which we have a strong dislike of. This is an entry level bike for learners – let’s ensure they have the best safety and get ABS as standard.
The Kawasaki has the smallest brakes of all three bikes, with a 290 mm single front disc compared to the 296 mm of the Honda and 300 mm of the 390 Duke’s. That said, the Z300 provides more bite and feedback than the CB300F by quite a margin and surprisingly so. On paper there shouldn’t be much between them, but the brakes on the little Honda just feel squishy and lacking in power.
I’d argue that even compared to the 390 Duke, the Z300 provides better feedback and it feels like it grips the disk better. In testing though, the Duke definitely comes to a complete stop quicker thanks to its four piston caliper as opposed to the two on the Kawasaki – but it does so in a less confidence inspiring manner. At the rear of the bike, the Z300 maintains a 2 caliper arrangement while both the KTM and Honda make do with 1, though you’d struggle to tell the difference.
Looking at the specifications, you could probably guess that the order from best to worst when it comes to speed is the 390 Duke followed by the Z300 with the CB300F taking up the rear. And you’d be right, but the difference between the Duke and the Z300 is actually a lot closer than you’d think.
In fact, it almost comes down to personal preference. There’s no denying the KTM 390 Duke will go from stop to go quicker than the Kawasaki in a straight line. It’s 373cc single produces 43.5 hp (32 kW) @ 9500 rpm and 35.3 Nm @ 7000 rpm while weighing 154 kg wet. The Z300 and it’s 296 cc parallel twin makes 38 hp (28.3 kW) @ 11,000 rpm and 26.9 Nm @ 10,000 rpm while mated to a bike that tips the scales at 168 kg with all liquids. There’s a clear performance advantage to the KTM.
But because the KTM employs a single and the Kawasaki a parallel twin, it becomes a closer story in real life than on paper. Riding the Kawasaki, you’ll definitely hit the power band quicker and more easily than the KTM which really only gets going once you clock up about 6,000 rpm. It means that you’ll be downshifting far more on the Duke, trying to keep power delivery up while the Kawasaki is happy to stay in gear more often.
That parallel twin is also much nicer to live with – vibration from the engine is less than that of the Duke. My hands got sore from vibrations after only 30 minutes with the 390 Duke – and that wasn’t even at overly high speeds. That said, the Z300 isn’t as smooth as I would have guessed and in fact, the Honda with its single is probably the best of the bunch when it comes to vibrations.
But that’s probably largely in part to the engine not doing as much. While it weighs 10 kg less than the Z300, it’s just too far down on power to compete with it or the 390 Duke. The 286 cc single manages to produce only 30.4 hp (22.7 kW) @ 8 500 rpm, albeit with a respectable amount of torque 27 Nm @ 7 250 rpm. That means the Honda is willing if not always able.
At this end of the price spectrum, there’s little difference between the three machines. All offer only preload adjustment on the rear shock and the most sophisticated piece of technology shared between them are ABS brakes.
The dash on the Duke 390 is fully digital and provides by far and away the most information including even a gear shift light. But it’s awfully difficult to read and I much prefer the mixture of analogue and digital displays as used by both Honda and Kawasaki.
One big card the Z300 can play is the inclusion of a slipper clutch. This is usually only offered as standard on higher end superbikes so to be included at this price point is a big deal. It’s definitely something that comes in handy at the track and in the mountains and is a welcome feature. It was recently announced the the 390 Duke will also be fitted with a slipper clutch this year bat as things currently sit, the Z300 takes the lead here.
While not really a piece of equipment, the Z300 has the largest fuel tank by quite some measure – 17 liters (3.6 gal) compared to the CB300F’s 13 liter tank and the Duke’s 11 liters – which gives some indication as to why the Kawasaki weighs the most of the three (and the KTM the least).
From a performance perspective, the fight really is only between the Kawasaki Z300 and the KTM 390 Duke. But given this is an article on naked machines and not sportsbikes, perhaps that’s not a completely fair way to make a decision.
The Honda is no doubt the most placid machine to ride as a daily and we don’t mean that in a negative way. Despite being down on power and handling, it’s the most comfortable of the three to ride and still manages to be enjoyable when pushed hard. It’s most at home in surburbia as opposed to twisty roads though so it depends on where you itnend to spend the most time riding.
The 390 Duke is almost the polar opposite to the Honda. It’s quick (for it’s capacity), it demands to be ridden fast and feels more motard than entry level machine. But for that, you do sacrifice comfort and practicality and as stated at the beginning, it’s aesthetic appeal is definitely debatable.
The Z300 however manages to stay close to the 390 Duke when it comes to both straight line speed and cornering, but without sacrificing too much in the way of comfort or practicality. It’s also (in our view) the best looking of the three tested her and we feel that from a long term perspective it is the machine that most riders would be satisfied with.
|Honda CB300F||Kawasaki Z300||KTM 390 Duke|
|Engine Type||286cc 4 stroke, single-cylinder||296cc 4 stroke, parallel twin||373 cc 4 stroke, single cylinder|
|Bore And Stroke||76mm x 63mm||62mm x 49 mm||89 x 60 mm|
|Induction||PGM-Fi, 38mm throttle body||32 mm x 2 keihin with dual throttle valve||Bosch EFI (throttle body 46 mm)|
|Valve Train||DOHC; four valves per cylinder||DOHC, 8 valves||DOHC, 4 Valves|
|Horsepower||30.50 hp @ 8,500 rpm||38.89 hp @ 11,000 rpm||43.5 hp @ 9500 rpm|
|Torque||20 lb ft @ 7,500 rpm||19.91 lb ft @ 10,000 rpm||26.03 @ 7000 rpm|
|Chassis / Suspension / Brakes|
|Front Suspension||37mm fork; 4.65 inches travel||37 mm telescopic fork||WP-USD Ø 43 mm|
|Rear Suspension||Pro-Link single shock with five positions of spring preload adjustability; 4.07 inches travel||Uni Trak with gas charged shock and 5-way preload||WP-Monoshock|
|Front Brake||Single 296mm disc||Type Single 290 mm petal disc||Single 300 mm disc 4 piston radial caliper|
|Rear Brake||Single 220mm disc||Type Single 220 mm petal disc||Single 230 mm disc 1 piston caliper|
|Front Tire||110/70-17 radial||110/70-17 M/C 54S||110/70 -17|
|Rear Tire||140/70-17 radial||140/70-17 M/C 66S||150/60-17|
|Rake||25.30 degrees||26 degrees||25 degrees|
|Trail||98mm (3.9 inches)||82 mm / 3.6 in||98mm (3.9 inches)|
|Wheelbase||54.3 inches||55.31 inches||53.8 inches|
|Seat Height||30.7 inches||30.9 inches||31.4 inches|
|Wet Weight||348 lb||383 lb||340 lb|
|Fuel Capacity||3.4 gallons||4.5 gallons||2.9 gallons|