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As we rode the new KTM RC 390 around the Chakan test track, we realized that the best thing about KTM is how unapologetic they are when it comes to their road bikes. Ready To Race is their motto and Ready To Race is what they bring to the road.
It was a long time ago when we first rode the new RC 390 when it first came to India. But we clearly remember the feeling;
‘How the heck is this supposed to be a road bike?’
It was razor-sharp, always on the edge, protested if ridden slow and made you go nuts when ridden hard. It was everything a racetrack junkie could ask for. Yet, it sold like a cold beverage on a hot day. Correction; a searing hot beverage on a cold day!
So, is the new one more of the old one? Yes, and no. It is a complicated question to answer but we will try our best.
The new KTM RC 390 is surely a grown-up now. It feels more like someone in a suit rather than a bare-chested beast. It is easy to gauge that it will fare a bit better on the street. So is KTM not unapologetic about its ethos anymore? Not by a long shot!
Underneath the suit, it is a tattooed hooligan. Underneath the suit, it has weapon holsters that are filled to the brim. Underneath the suit, there lies the same crazed focus that made us fall in love with the RC 390 in the first place.
So yes, while the new KTM RC 390 uses beautifully crafted language that is empathetic and soft, one can easily hear how unapologetic it is in the undertones.
Enough of intros and building suspense. Let us get down to business and see what’s what.
In our typical fashion, let us start with the looks. Polarizing has always been the word we have used. Not to everyone’s taste but fits like a glove for some. But the new KTM RC 390 has garnered a rather harsh response to its looks.
To be fair, it looks better in person. More than that, whether you look at it from the rear or the side; it looks smashing. It is the front that made people go a little berserk.
In all honesty, the KTM RC 390 is not trying to be a pretty boy. It is inspired by the RC16 MotoGP prototype. And at the pinnacle of road racing, one does not worry about the looks. The new KTM RC 390 prioritizes function over form… unapologetically so.
There are two colour options; one with a dash of blue, the one seen here, and another which is completely orange with black decals. The latter looks a lot like the Tech3 KTM RC16, the MotoGP prototype raced by KTM’s satellite team.
But this is all form and we have already established that the new KTM RC 390 is chasing function. So let us talk about that. We will discuss in detail the changes on the new motorcycle in each section. Let us start with the engine.
The engine on the new KTM RC 390 is more or less the same. The only change is a larger airbox, ~40% larger (for the number crunchers). This results in a crisper throttle and a marginally more torque than the outgoing model.
On the track, the engine felt familiar; still eager, still rev-hungry, and still a menace. The delivery is softened a bit which makes it easier for newer riders to tame. But grab a handful of throttle and it still feels every bit like the maniac we have gotten used to.
Similarly, this is an engine that likes to rev and is the most rewarding higher up in the rev range. Above 6,000 rpm, it feels alive and redlining it in every gear is a joy. But when you slow things down a little, that is where you notice the slight chinks in this otherwise bulletproof armour.
First, it feels a tad unhappy below 2,000 rpm. There is a noticeable lack of grunt but then again, if you find yourself below 2,000 rpm often, then you are misusing the RC 390.
It is not a deal-breaker in any sense of the word. It’ll do okay on the road as far as we can tell but don’t expect any ‘orange intoxication’ around those revs.
Riding slow also shined some light on another issue- transmission. The gearing is perfect, the gearbox is perfect, and the clutch is nice and light.
The issue is with the quickshifter. At slower and even moderate speeds, it tends to skip a beat or two. But it does come into its own at full gas and that is where it is a joy to use.
This is down to the system being a software-controlled one and not the linkage type. The upside to this choice is that you can switch it off and go old-school. Another upside would be that it can probably be fixed by messing with some 0s and 1s.
The ride-by-wire system is better than ever. The connection between the throttle inputs and the response from the engine feels very organic. The fueling is also spot-on once you stop puttering around. Engine braking is also on point and the slipper clutch is there to take care of things if you get too optimistic.
Finally, the refinement level is also satisfactory. This is a high-capacity and high-power single-cylinder engine and yet, the vibrations are very well damped. There’s a slight buzz at higher revs but it feels more characterful than bothersome.
The handling is the department which deserves the most plaudits. Somehow, KTM has made the new RC 390 more manageable and sharper. Chassis design is a dark art but what KTM has done transcends even that. And this is not even an exaggeration.
It feels so pliant and so settled when you are taking it easy. But let the red-mist take over, go hard, and it transforms into something much more focussed.
This is also a department where we need to cover a lot in terms of changes. Let us list them out first and then we’ll talk about their implications.
One of the most crucial aspects of motorcycle dynamics is weight. The new KTM RC 390, despite possessing a bigger fuel tank, more electronics, and more junk (emission norms), still weighs a kilo less (kerb) than the outgoing model. Weight saving, therefore, is impressive. Even more impressive and impactful is where KTM has saved weight.
The wheels are lighter, the brake discs are lighter, and the new axle clamps and hollow front axle also help save weight. Crucially, this all counts as a reduction in the unsprung mass.
That is what has made the new KTM RC 390 lightning-quick when it comes to turn-ins and directional changes. In fact, for the first couple of laps on the racetrack, it was almost unnerving how quick the darn thing was!
The old RC 390 was already razor-sharp but the new KTM RC 390 simply blows you away, and it does the same with any other motorcycle you can think of in this class.
Then there’s the chassis. It has been completely redesigned and is now a split trellis. The subframe is new and bolted onto the chassis. The frame is not only lighter but has revised stiffness and characteristics to enhance the feeling.
It is very difficult to exactly pinpoint the improvements because that is pro-racer stuff. But even mere mortals like us could feel the confidence it inspired and the much better connection with the road it generated. The mechanical grip is absolutely phenomenal and the tyres held their end of the bargain even on a hot day.
The suspension is nirvana. The WP Apex system on both ends works like a charm. It felt supple enough for a motorcycle of this class but we would be able to make a more informed comment once we get it out of the racetrack and on some good ol Indian roads.
On the racetrack, it was bang-on and you can push this motorcycle to its absolute limits. In case you want to, the preload on the rear can be adjusted to suit your dimensions.
The brakes are stellar. No complaints in this department. The feel, the bite, the strength; everything is on point. And there was no perceivable fade even after consecutive laps.
We have already talked so much and there’s still much more to go on. So grip the tank tightly and hold on as we ride on.
That was our clever way to indicate that the next department is ergonomics. Right off the bat, the rider’s seat is much more plush and roomier. It feels like an actual seat now and it is pretty grippy too.
The pillion perch also seems to be better but the actual degree of improvement can only be gauged by the afflicted one who’ll volunteer to be a pillion on this sort of a motorcycle.
The riding stance is still properly committed but the handlebars are slightly higher which makes the new KTM RC 390 easier to live with daily. It is adjustable too. Move it 10mm down for the racetrack and back up for the road. Sweet.
Another massive improvement on multiple fronts is the fuel tank. They say it is inspired by KTM’s Moto3 race bike. We just love it for the added capacity and the added grip. The new KTM RC 390 can now store 13.7 litres of fuel which makes the range better. And since it is larger and redesigned, the fuel tank makes it easier to grip the motorcycle.
Let us now discuss the ‘function’ that we talked about in the looks section. The fairing is new which makes the new KTM RC 390 more aerodynamic. The front, which a lot of people are not too thrilled about, ensures better wind protection and better aerodynamic efficiency.
Generous use of CFD (Computational Fluid Dynamics) ensured that simply because of the better aerodynamics, the new RC 390 can reach a significantly higher top speed!
Do you still want form over function?
Out on the racetrack too, we could feel the difference. When fully tucked in, it felt like being in a bubble.
More than that, a good exit from the parabola and blasting it on Chakan’s straight resulted in a better speed by the time we reached the braking point for the upcoming turn. Headwind or tailwind might also make an impact but even then, the new RC 390 is decidedly faster in terms of top speed.
Up to this point, the new KTM RC 390 has only looked like the bare-chested racetrack beast that the RC 390 has always been. The usable power delivery and the adjustable ergonomics are little things like shoes and probably a bow tie.
The proverbial suit that we talked about is the tech. There’s the quickshifter, of course. But courtesy of a 3-axis IMU and ride-by-wire throttle, the new KTM RC 390 gets lean-sensitive ABS and traction control.
These features are first in class and make this motorcycle a much more forgiving motorcycle for newer riders. They can grab a fistful of throttle mid-corner and the electronics will have their back.
Better yet, the traction control can be switched off and ABS on the rear can be disengaged (Supermoto mode) and the hardened veterans can be even quicker by letting it slide when they want and letting the rear wheel hang in the air under hard braking. It is the best of both worlds.
We also loved the implementation of ABS. As hard as we pushed it, we never felt the intervention from the ABS. It just exists as a backup for appalling weather or treacherous road conditions. Just the way we like it!
All of these aspects can be controlled with the new switchgear and the new TFT screen which is Bluetooth-enabled. As you go further down the rabbit hole, you can adjust the electronics along with the shift RPM and peak RPM and what have you. Overall, it is a comprehensive package and the new KTM RC 390 is a more complete package than ever; both for the racetrack and the road.
Credit where it’s due, KTM has made a heck of a motorcycle here and apart from the fact that it does not like to be ridden too slow, there are no obvious blemishes on its resume. Except for one… the price.
The price of KTMs has been creeping up and at INR 3.14 lakh (Ex-showroom, Delhi), the new KTM RC 390 comes at a significant premium over the outgoing model.
All that is justified with the kind of features you get, mind you. But the premium is mostly because of the sophisticated electronics and we love the fact that they make this motorcycle safer and more practical. We just think that it could have done without the electronics too and it would have still been a banger.
But then again, suits don’t come cheap but they sure go a long way in making thugs and bruisers look more presentable and more appealing to a wider audience.