xBhp rides and reviews the KTM RC390 and RC200 on Bajaj's Chakan track near Pune. Also find specifications, price and comparisons with the competition in this review.
Photos: Gourab Das / xBhp assisted by Sundeep Gajjar / motoGrapher
Today is the age of smart ideas. And how smart it is to make just one good engine and put it in different style of motorcycles? Jackpot! That is what KTM and Bajaj did. And the possibilities are endless. You already have a racer and a street naked and if KTM would, you could have an adventure bike and a cruiser too! Heck, they can even have a scaled down version of the xBow car with this 44 HP engine! And of course a trial bike, if India so shows that it desires one badly enough.
So there you have – an entire lineup to choose from. And it will appeal to the ENTIRE spectrum of motorcyclists, brilliant!
Ready to Race, yes sir, the RC 390 is for you.
Ready to Hoon, yes sir, the Duke 390 is for you.
Ready to Discover, yes sir the Adventure 390 is for you.
Ready to Relax, yes sir the CC 390 is for you.
Not Ready yet? Go home and peel off an Orange son.
The KTM – Bajaj partnership was a masterstroke. Building small capacity quality high performance affordable motorcycles have launched KTM into an orbit other manufacturers will find difficult to match. This could have been done by Ducati, BMW or any of the big four Japs, but no, a relatively small Austrian company riding piggy-back on an Indian motorcycle giant steals the show. And it all started with the KTM 200 back in Dec 2011. That knocked the socks off all the other manufacturers who were probably wondering in their board rooms – what the hell just happened? The Honda CBR250r is a great bike. So is the Yamaha YZF-R15. But how can you compare these with an affordable but very high quality high performance machine. It is just not possible without planning and foresight. Everyone else is just too late and I am not quite sure what are they waiting for?
Anyways, it seems only Oranges are invited to this party for now and so let the juice flow…
xBhp was invited by Bajaj to ride the RC390 and the RC200 (the latter having its moment of glory stolen as everyone was so much in love with the 44 horses possessed by the 390!). So let’s start with the obvious…
Looks: Hot, hot, hot!
It is not easy to make something look different and beautiful today where there are plethora of options, yet KTM has wisely borrowed just enough lines from the RC8 1190 while dropping the debatably weird front and choosing to go with the new and relatively fresh horizontal dual projector setup. The profile of the bike hits the right spot, the proportions dead right and it looks like a big sports bike. The front and rear is however a different story. The bike is pretty sleek, measuring 748mm at its widest (Ducati Panigale is 810 mm in comparison), if you look orthogonally from the rear. However, move just a bit to get a rear three-quarter view and it will blow your mind with its sizeable fairing surface area and the under-belly exhaust blending beautifully down below. The triangular exhaust end complements the rest of the angular lines on the bike.
There is no shortage of clever design trickery on the bike. From the neatly integrated turn indicators on the mirror to the transparent fairing cowl/windscreen that does its job without making the bike look big. I would have preferred the bike to actually look bigger; hence a part of the windscreen could have been dark to accentuate that.
The starkest component of the bike would be its orange steel Trellis frame which gives it a very purposeful and different look.
Another great job by KTM on the RC390 is the rear seat which actually closely imitates a plastic cowl, seamlessly integrating with the bike’s plastic under-tail. However it is a proper soft seat with grab bars tucked away on the sides.
The bike will also come across as being a little too steep once you sit on it with an aggressive riding position, but people who know its purpose will not complain.
So as far as the looks are concerned, I think it is the most beautiful bike made in India today. Something that I said in 2003, when the Hero Honda Karizma was first launched.
I wish I had something like this in my college days; it would have been a blast to pose on! However, those were the days when Hero Honda CBZ was the hottest bike in town. The youngsters (not that I am old!) today must realize how fortunate they are!
There are many instances where bikes look great but something doesn’t feel right once you make the connect which happens when you sit on the saddle and bend forward to grab those handlebars. The RC390 knows how to make friends. I was instantly in a position that though is a typical sports-bike crouch, was still not too uncomfortable but felt ‘race ready’. If you like tanks as big as the Hyosung GT250 which you can practically sleep on, then look elsewhere. This one’s slim and trim in all aspects except for those heavy-muscled horses raring for a gallop. I suspect that even riders above 6 feet will be at home on the bike (I stand at some 5 feet 10 inches or so barefoot).
The ergonomics are decent and there is nothing out of reach. You have enough space to move yourself back and push against the stepped-up seat to give you a nice crouch on the straights to slipstream behind other riders or go WOT to warp speeds. And it ‘feels’ very light because it is light! At 147 kg dry, it feels as if you can literally lift the bike up single-handed! This translates into quick manoeuvrability of course, but the design ensures there is enough down-force and stability even at the speeds reaching 170 kmph plus (and probably more once we start seeing the mods coming in).
So there you have it, it looks good and it feels great! But does it really go?
Performance on the track
The only other bike closest to this segment which I have ridden on track is the Ninja 250R. And that was an amazing bike, one that inspired great confidence in the corners and the braking was phenomenal, even without ABS.
So how does the RC390 fare? The Bajaj Chakan track is 3.2 kms long with a long straight of 1.2 kms and a series of quick consecutive turns. The tarmac is decent with bit of gravel and dust on the sides more often than not. These were the conditions that the RC390 was ridden in. They proved to be sufficient to get an idea of what it might be capable of on a full-fledged track like the Buddh International Circuit (BIC) near Delhi. I have seen people do wonders with the Duke 390 on it, so this will be quite something do deal with, even if it is being ridden along with 600s, provided the rider is good.
The acceleration is decent and it will make anyone more than happy, provided they are upgrading from a machine like the Ninja 250R or the CBR250r. If you think you will be happy on this as a secondary machine to your Fireblade 1000RR just because it is cheaper to drop and take on the edge, then you will be deeply disappointed. People often make this mistake. You will never get that power. However, this can be a great machine to learn on how to take corners flat out without worrying about too much power at the exit. It has got all the ergonomics and character of a 1000RR race bike without the unusable power. Plus 17 lacs vs. 2 lacs is not even an argument! This bike screams: First tame me and then think of a 600, and then a 1000! Its affordable good-looking practicality in metal, plastic and rubber.
According to me the perfect garage would be to have a naked like the Yamaha FZ1 for close-quarter urban riding, an adventure bike like the Triumph 800 for touring and the RC390 for the track. A good rider on the RC390 on BIC can probably do something like 2.30. In comparison, Gurvinder from Delhi often clocks 2.05 on his Kawasaki ZX10R on his fast days at the same venue.
The bike is very flickable, but not so much as to cause sudden entries into corners and throw you off guard. While the ByBre (By Brembo) 300 mm brakes
is adequate, the feel and feed-back is not as good as the Ninja 250R, but the ABS works very well indeed and the icing on the cake is that it can be switched off by pressing down on a button next to the digital display.
Lots of components are derivatives of the Duke 390 including the chassis which is tweaked to be sportier. The wheelbase is shortened to 1340 mm (from 1367 mm on the Duke 390) and the steering rake is reduced by 1.5 degrees, all for those cat-like responses to the steering inputs.
Hard leans are supported by the Metzeler M5s (110 /70-17 up front and 150/60-17 in the rear). For serious track riding you may want to opt for the stickier Metzeler Sportec M7 RR tyres, which I suspect won’t be available officially in India.
The engine is wonderful at 9000 rpm producing 44 Hp. With 35 Nm of torque (compared to say 15 Nm in Yamaha R15) it will be good for city rides and touring as well I presume.
There have been a few instances of Duke 390 getting overheated, especially in the summers, however they seem to have been sorted out in the recent production runs. Hope KTM have a permanent fix on this setup, more so since this one is fully faired.
I managed to touch a top speed of 173kmph with a GoPro on my head and a not so comfortable helmet. I suspect 180 kmph on the speedo should not be too unrealistic on a properly run-in bike and a 1.5 kms straight.
Some people might also be concerned about the vibrations from the bike; it being a single cylinder their concerns are not entirely unfounded. However I am happy to report that the vibrations did not make it into my conscious field - i.e. I did not feel them substantially enough to be noticed, probably more because there’s a lot more to do at 3-digit speeds than worry about some vibrations! If it crops up in the long run and after a few thousand kms of bumpy rides on the test track we call Indian roads, then that would be another matter.
KTM 390 CUP: The real use of the bike
The RC390 is being used for the ADAC Junior Cup which is organized in Germany since the past 21 years, primarily to promote young talent in motorcycle racing. Till last year ADAC was using a 125CC two stroke single cylinder with a super-tuned 35 Hp engine. Since 2014 it has switched to the KTM RC390, which is called the KTM RC390 CUP edition. This is a testimony to how good and perfectly timed this bike is for the world.
This also shows that it is high time for India to start something seriously in racing. We are currently around one plus billion people and have no one to represent us at the international stage in racing. This is VERY SAD to me. Bikes like the RC390 will hopefully be used the correct way and not only for posing and street racing.
There are a few changes to the bike to make it the CUP edition, for example:
Extra parts not needed in a race like blinkers etc. are removed. Power is downgraded to ~40 Bhp, the underbelly exhaust replaced by a Titanium Exhaust system and the bike gets kitted with the KTM Powerparts for the RC390 road version. KTM claims that in this setup the bike can reach speeds of up to 190 Kmph which I find a little hard to believe since I topped out at 174 or so myself at the Chakan track in Pune, but it’s not impossible. The gear shift pattern can also be altered easily aiding turns, especially extreme right hand leans. Fork and suspension struts were modified which are now entirely adjustable with regard to spring preload and damping. Even the front brake pads were adjusted to the permanently higher loads while racing by extending the diameter from 280 to 320 mm. The footrest system is further relocated to the back, hand levers (foldable and adjustable), lever hoop guards left and right and the knee slider can be found in the KTM PowerParts range.
Special stress has also been given to the fact that the CUP bike can take a decent amount of crashes without getting substantially damaged, so that’s good news for track junkies.
Instead of the Metzeler Sportec M5 that are fitted on the road RC390, the CUP version is fitted with Metzeler Sportec M7 RR tyres, that are also available for purchase for the average consumer.
In fact as late as August, British Superbike bosses were in talks with KTM UK about introducing a 1-make series next season with the RC390.
So everyone is recognizing the potential that is there in the bike, but will India use it how it is supposed to be? We shall see. Fingers crossed there.
In all the hullaballoo about the RC390, let’s not forget the younger (and no less capable sibling) – the RC 200. I had a ride around the track and managed a 1.52 minutes lap, record according to Bajaj officials is 1.44 on the RC200 on the Chakan facility. The bike looks almost the same, but the tyres are MRF and not METZELER.
This is another great moment for Indian motorcyclists as they get more options to choose from. But the real thing is whether the bike will be actually be used to actually hone racing talent in India or it will end up just being another misfit (tourer)!
The KTM RC 390 is produced in India and it gives the company the opportunity to price it extremely competitively as compared to the rest of the world as we found out.
This is how the KTM RC390 stacks up against the competition -
The KTM RC200 in comparison with the competition -