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Are KTM’s unreliable? Not really and here’s why

Having owned two of Team Orange’s bikes, here’s a personal account about the brand’s reliability.

KTM 790 Duke 799cc Engine

Perhaps you’ve heard the rumors, you’ve heard of the horror stories, or you’ve heard of the hearsay going around the forums about how KTM bikes are unreliable before the “praying mantis” Kiska era came about. Perhaps there are still stories about how unreliable KTM bikes are, but after a few years of ownership spanning two KTM motorcycles, there is something to be said about the big “R” that often goes missing with KTM motorcycle reviews. 

I’ve been a KTM owner since I started riding and writing. The first KTM I got was a 390 Duke. It was my first big bike and the first bike that I ‘really’ learned how to ride on. After about two years with the light-heavyweight, I moved on to a 790 Duke, and have been enjoying it ever since. 

How I Became a KTM Rider

KTM 390 Duke

Before I bought my first KTM, the 390 Duke, I was looking for a bike that could go on the expressway but effortlessly run through the city. In other words, I was looking for a light and powerful motorcycle that would fit my riding style and fit inside the metropolis. The 390 Duke was a perfect fit at the time with its light and narrow build but with a thumpy and decent 373cc single cylinder beating at its core. 

KTM 790 Duke

I was forewarned about the bike’s finicky ownership experience, in which people told me that it’ll cost a pretty penny to maintain and repair should it come down to it. I can safely say that I had a relatively issue-free experience with my bike, in which I had no breakdowns or stoppages on the side of the road. The ownership experience was good enough to keep me wanting a KTM for my next bike, and that’s exactly what happened with the 790 Duke when I decided to go back and upgrade again. Currently, the 790 is my main bike, and it’s a great upgrade from the 390. 

The good news

KTM 790 Duke

What’s great about KTM motorcycles is that they’re good for the more intense riders out there. The bikes respond well to aggressive riding and experienced input, and their engine components are more or less tailored to those that are “Ready to Race.” Part of the reason why I went with KTM as my brand of choice when I was shopping around for my first big bike was because of the suspension and the overall handling of the bike. The 390 Duke is known to give bigger bikes a run for their money on a twisty road, while the 790 is a distillation of that ethos, but with a lot more power and torque. 

In 2023, I can safely say that KTM Philippines has made a number of strides with their bikes, and with regard to addressing any maintenance and repair concerns. Of course, it’s also safe to assume that the brand has learned from its shortcomings in the past, and things are much more streamlined. Parts are more available now, service is prompt, and addresses things properly. Following that, it’s also a matter of quality, and so far I have no complaints, even if the price is on the more expensive side of things. 

The bad news?

KTM 790 Duke

To be quite honest, the KTM motorcycles aren’t bulletproof, but then again, not all motorcycles are if you don’t take care of them. When it comes to KTM reliability, you have to be a little more conscientious about your maintenance and have a working knowledge of how motorcycles operate. As they all say, knowing is half the battle, and as the service center says, maintenance is key. Don’t get me wrong, KTM bikes are built strong, but they’re a little at the limit when it comes to engine performance, so much so that some considerations must be taken into account when talking about longevity. 

As for my specific problems. I did run into a stator and a regulator-rectifier issue with my 390 Duke, but that was because the previous owner of my bike installed the wrong size battery, enough to cause the stator to work overtime, and the rectifier to burn out prematurely. Everything held constant with the manufacturer-recommended battery, I would have been fine and without any issues. User error was to blame for this encounter, but a proper battery and a stator and regulator-rectifier change later, and I was riding again with no drama. This tells me that KTM’s electronics are a little finicky. They’re not fool-proof, but they will last given ample care and attention is given.

KTM 390 Duke

My 390 Duke performed flawlessly since, although I did have to take extra care with regard to oil changes, going for an interval of 4,000 km rather than the casa-recommended 5,000. I carried this practice with me for my 790 Duke when I got it. The quality of parts is also an important factor here, and making sure you get the good stuff when conducting maintenance on your bike is paramount for flawless and reliable performance throughout its life. 

The biggest kink in the road for KTM ownership in my book, however, is storage. I’ve noticed that KTM motorcycles frequently developed problems while in storage, as is the case with a few owners I’ve encountered, and with my KTM 790 Duke. Prior to me taking ownership of the bike, my 790 Duke sat for quite a while before got to call my garage its new home. The result was a malfunctioning fuel pump after my first month of ownership. Now, the issue wasn’t bad enough to get me stranded, as the bike was able to limp back to the service center, and the situation was understandable since I’m well aware that KTMs tend to be divas if you don’t ride them regularly. You could say that it has something to do with the personality of the bike, but I feel that the components around the engine don’t like the humidity and heat of our country. The way around this is to ride the bike as much as possible. 

KTM 390 Duke engine

One of the reasons why I had no engine problems with the 390 Duke was because it was regularly exercised for most of its life. The 790 I got, on the other hand, was a demo unit whose riding history is rather spotty at best. On top of that, I was actually advised to ride the bike hard and like a KTM, otherwise “it won’t like me.” On this, I believe that a few things are at play here. One is that the bike likes being pushed harder compared to other brands. I’ve noted a certain roughness with both my KTMs if the engine isn’t loaded up, and it seems most comfortable when it’s not lugged. That “myth” or saying about the Italian Tune-Up isn’t without merit. The bike’s comfortable being pushed, so I just run it as it was designed. 

So, are KTMs actually reliable?

KTM BGC Service Center

Based on my experience, there are a few things that shouldn’t have broken on the bike, whether it was due to user error, or a problem with storage. There are ways around these problems, and I believe that they are addressable with good maintenance and rider habits. My experience with KTM wasn’t flawless, but they were all traceable. For the rider that likes to ride and stretch a bike’s legs, I believe that at least in the case of the 390 and 790 platforms, the bikes are reliable given a good track record of maintenance, uptime, and proper storage for brief periods of time. 

For any would-be KTM owner, it’s important to consider that the bikes are kept in a shaded area, and are run regularly, even if it is just a short ride or a few minutes of idling. It’s also important to maintain the bike religiously and to go with the dealer’s recommendations. Apart from that, it’s also important to make sure that the bike gets to stretch its legs more often than not, and ridden a wee bit harder than usual in order for it to go through its entire power band and to keep it from getting rusty, so to speak. 

KTM BGC Service Center

In fact, I’ve also encountered problems with my Honda in the past, all brought on by age and by user error, and mis-installed parts. I’ve kept my bikes mostly stock, opting for ergonomic enhancements and modifications rather than invasive ones that deal with the engine control unit. However, I can’t say for certain that my experience will be the same as yours, and every bike is different to a certain extent. However, consistent use, proper storage, and religious maintenance are all factors that will give you a worry-free experience. A little faith in the bike’s engineering also goes a long way, as well as a working knowledge of how motorcycles work. 

So are KTMs reliable? It’s definitely a two-way street. You have to see to that yourself because I know I have put in the work to keep my bikes running right. 

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