KTM RC 390 review test ride: Surprisingly awesome!

By | October 2, 2014

I’m not easily impressed. I’ve seen too much and met too many people to be surprised by what goes on in our beloved little world. Since the launch of the KTM RC 390, I really wanted to swing a leg over one and ride the bolts out of it. However, I don’t like short test rides, and I NEVER ride someone else’s bike. Also, I didn’t really expect the RC to be much different from the Duke, which I’ve ridden about 22,000 kms now. Add to that my incredible laziness, and I wasn’t the first guy to run out the door to test ride the latest orange kid on the block. 

But the stars matched one fine day, and I found myself in front of KTM Kanjurmarg. The manager of that place, Sanjeev, is one hell of a guy. Always so courteous, patient, and helpful in whatever way possible. Even though he was out of the showroom, he arranged for us to go out and have some fun on the orange beauty. Here is my KTM RC 390 review, after a test ride of about 15 kms.

KTM RC 390 review: Looks (8.5/10)

The KTM RC 390 looks quite quirky, but definitely better than the Duke 390. It is not just a fairing strapped onto a Duke, the RC 390 gets completely redesigned front and rear sections. The fairing is well built, with no visible panel gaps, and the underbelly exhaust nicely cradled inside it. The horizontally stacked projector headlights and lisp-reminding DRLs look slightly weird, but do their job well.

As you can see from the photos above, the RC 390 looks slightly smaller as compared to the Duke, thanks to its low stance. Side by side comparison didn’t lead to any useful results, both bikes looked almost similar in dimensions. The RC 390 manages to look a tiny bit tinier than the Duke, even though it is heavier on paper. Great success I would say!

The seat is completely different from the Duke as well, with the pillion one designed to look like a cowl. The mirror integrated turn indicators look pretty awesome too, as does the KTM RC8 inspired tail section. The fuel tank looks muscular and humongous, although the battery box on front had visible panel gaps in it. Overall, the KTM RC 390 is a well built machine, and you would be hard pressed to find a single fault in the quality department.

KTM RC 390 review: Comfort (5/10)

Un-freaking-comfortable, that’s the only way to describe the seating position on the RC 390. The seat is tiny, and not flat like the Duke. It tapers down towards the sides, with a ridge in the middle. Following were the thoughts that came into my mind the first time I sat on the bike, in chronological order:

Oh my balls!

Oh my asshole!

Very sporty riding position.

The fuel tank and seat is vastly different from the Duke, in the sense that my balls were thoroughly thrust against the tank, and kept banging at it on sudden deceleration. The sporty riding position and tiny seat don’t help either, since you are always leaning more and more forward, and the tiny seat leaves no room to go back.

Because of the weird seat design, there is a noticeable bulge along the center, which kept pushing inside my asshole all through the ride. The seat is incredibly hard too, Duke 390’s seat feels like a sofa in front of it. The rear seat also has that weird ride in the center, and tapers along the sides, which is understandable because KTM wanted it to look like a cowl. It is heavily padded though, but too high to be comfortable in.

I’m not used to lean-forward riding positions, so I found the RC 390 extremely taxing on my neck and palms. After just 15kms of riding, my neck was paining heavily, and so were my hands. I kept trying to find a comfortable position to ride in, but it didn’t happen at any point during the test ride. People used to R15 and Superbike riding positions may find themselves at home on the RC.

Another item that made the RC extremely uncomfortable was the heat. Damn it gets hot! When I took the bike, it had not been used since last night. But as soon as I had crossed about a kilometer, the bike heated up tremendously and the fan started. This fan never stopped, all through the remaining 14 odd kms. No matter what speed I went at, slow or fast, or if I completely stopped, the fan remained on, spewing super hot air all over my legs and thighs. It’s possible that the bike I got had some issue (although it didn’t give any low coolant warning), but I think the fairing is to blame here for the extra tandoori hot feel.

The silver lining in the comfort department is that superb suspension. I was wrong in assuming that the suspension will be worse than the Duke 390, since the front shock absorber travel had been reduced by 25 mm. However, I was pleasantly surprised by how plush that ride felt! I purposely went into bad roads and potholes, and still couldn’t feel a thing. On such bad roads, the Duke 390 is a nightmare to ride, but the RC 390 absorbs all the bumps with great dexterity. KTM have done some magic here which I don’t really understand, but it works flawlessly!

KTM RC 390 review: Performance (9/10)

I had expected the RC 390 to be exactly the same as the Duke 390 in the performance department, I was slightly wrong. Although the pull and the top speed are more or less the same, the RC 390 is a much smoother bike as compared to the Duke. The acceleration is much less jerky, and the engine doesn’t knock as much as the Duke’s does. The bike is actually a delight to rev and pull, it doesn’t have a mind of its own like the Duke.

The RC 390 has lost that hooligan character of the Duke, and has a rather gentlemanly feel about it. It is still not even close to the Ninja 300 as far as refinement goes, but I guess it is as smooth as a single cylinder 375cc bike can be. I obviously couldn’t time the RC against the Duke, but I think the Duke will win in acceleration by a slight margin, only to be overtaken as the top speed approaches, which should be more or less same for both the bikes.

KTM RC 390 review: Positives

  1. Very light clutch, extremely comfortable to use in bumper-to-bumper traffic as well
  2. Excellent brakes, ABS as standard is awesome too
  3. Slick gearbox
  4. Less knocking at low speeds as compared to the Duke 390
  5. Awesome illumination by the dual projector headlights
  6. Extremely flickable bike, even more so than the Duke!
  7. Very narrow machine, ease to push through tight traffic
  8. Much better tail section as compared to the Duke, doesn’t vibrate at all
  9. Bright mirror mounted indicators
  10. Excellent build quality, better than the Ninja 300 in most respects
  11. Magical suspension, works wonderfully even with less travel
  12. Very smooth performance, no jerky throttle response
  13. KTM says the wheels are now of better quality, so that’s nice

KTM RC 390 review: Negatives

  1. Extremely uncomfortable seat, with a very weird mountain like shape
  2. Almost unusable rear seat, too high and also shaped like a mountain
  3. Ground clearance looks lesser than the Duke 390, although on paper it is 8.5mm more. The front part of the fairing moves down considerably as the rider/pillion mount the bike
  4. Windshield can’t be replaced with an aftermarket one like with the Duke. It is one giant piece of plastic that goes from left of the fairing all the way over the headlights and to the right. Windblast will be a problem at high speeds
  5. Very sporty riding position. Not suitable for long rides. Taxing on the neck and palms
  6. Even though the rear seat is too high, a heavy pillion + soft suspension setting + deep pothole may bring the tail section and rear tire too close for comfort
  7. Extreme amount of heat. I’m quite used to how hot the Duke gets, but the RC is a whole other beast
  8. Under heavy acceleration, audible vibrations from the fairing can be heard. This is kinda expected, no matter how careful you are, some bolt somewhere will always be loose, since there are so many to begin with
  9. Battery compartment is in front of the fuel tank, and visible panel gaps could be seen on the bike that I rode
  10. Beautiful looking, but overall useless mirrors. They look big, and don’t vibrate either, but somehow manage to fuck up the entire rear view range
  11. Fuel tank is reduced by 1 liter from the Duke, to just 10 liters now. Another reason to not tour on this thing

KTM RC 390 review: Verdict 7/10

All the points I’ve mentioned in my previous articles about the RC 390 here, here and here, are correct, except one. The suspension on the RC 390 is far superior than the one on Duke 390, despite looking shittier on paper. So I would reiterate what I’ve said before.

KTM RC 390 is a better bike than Duke 390 for city and track usage. But it is far too uncomfortable for long distance touring.

KTM RC 390 price is about 2 lac 19 thousand (on road, Mumbai), which is just ~23,000 more than the Duke. I am surprised by the pricing, almost shocked! Bajaj KTM have done it again with the RC 390, another brilliant product at an abysmally low price. Hopefully other manufacturers will follow suit, and we’ll have better machines to ride at cheaper prices over the next few years.

Question? Let me know in the comments.

  • Harshal Patil

    Hi Akhil, m daily travel 30 Km up & down for office,(60 km),
    i like RC390.., my hight is 6 feet, Please suggest should I purchase RC390..?
    or its Not suitable for long rides ..? Taxing on the neck and palms…?

    • Akhil Kalsh

      Yes, unsuitable for long rides, city and traffic. It only likes the track.

      Test ride the Mojo, Benelli 300 and Himalayan. Although for daily office use I’d strongly recommend a 150cc 🙂 Everything else is a waste.

  • tarun kumar

    Hey akhil, I like the looks of rc 390 but worried about -it is not for city use, is rc 390 is better than cbr 250,which bike costs high maintainance, I’m just ride in the city not for any touring or track purpose, is build quality is better in rc 390 for longer use, nd I’m 5’8 is rc suitable for me, tell me about brief bro….

    • Akhil Kalsh

      Yes, RC is fine for a guy of your height, but it’s not a city bike by any stretch of the imagination, and neither is the CBR. If your aim is just city, buy something in the 150 cc department, Gixxer or FZ or something. These bikes belong on the track or the open highways.

  • Saira Jacinto

    Which one is better for two up? RC or Duke?

    • Akhil Kalsh

      Both are horrible, Duke is slightly less horrible as compared to RC.

      • Saira Jacinto

        Hahaha thanks !

  • Jatin

    Hey akhil this Is jatin from rajkot m 19 years old I wanna to buy a sports bike under 3.5 lakhs is hyusong gt250r is better than KTM I usually go for trip hardly 250 -500 km a day once a month I also own royal Enfield classic bullet 500cc.I am bulky too 100+ 😉 🙂
    My number +91-9033904045 plz what’s app me if possible

    • Akhil Kalsh

      Hyosung is not better than KTM, but for your size the KTM would be too small. Try riding the new Yamaha R3, and if that doesn’t work for you, the GT250R is your only option.

  • Imam Jafer Ali

    Hi Akhil, I am in the dilemma between DUKE & RC 390.
    I already owned RE TB 350 for nine months(10,000 Kms) & now sold.
    Will RC make problem like hand & back pain ?
    I need to take bike to office 5km daily
    And weekend ride to pondicheery from chennai 170 km ride in highway
    And rare rides like 300 to 500 km ride once in three to six months
    Give you view on this

    • Akhil Kalsh

      Go for the Duke, RC is not what you are looking for.

  • Soham

    Hey, bro, i have read all your articles related to rc 390, and i seriously love this bike, im planning to buy rc 390 in march 2016, im just 18, do you think this is a good choice, or can you suggest me any other which could be better than rc 390. Do you think that this bike is good for just attending schools and colleges and no racing thing!?!?!

    • Akhil Kalsh

      RC390 is not a beginner’s bike, it’s far too fast, not very smooth, and easy to misjudge your capabilities on.

      Buy something smaller, Suzuki Gixxer or RS200 or something, get comfortable riding for a year or so, and then upgrade.

  • Akhil Kalsh

    Sorry that I missed this. RC390 does not need high maintenance, as long as you have zero-dep insurance, you don’t need to worry about anything. Unfortunately, I don’t see any space to put frame sliders on an RC. All bikes are prone to damage by potholes, so don’t worry about that either. RC has a pretty nice GC.

  • Maheshwaran AJ

    Just fix new throttle grips which comes on new duke 390 and on the rc 390 on your old duke. Trust me it makes a world of a difference. The travel has been reduced, throttle response is more instantaneous and linear. And the bike struggles lesser in lower rpms like the rc. Disagree with rc quality better than ninja. That bike starts rattling from different places, Tank paint starts fading. Both these problems are not present on the duke. The front suspension is softer because of the extra weight upfront. For some reason my 2014 duke 390 feels smoother than RC( the vibes can be felt more on rc’s clipons). The clutch is as heavy as on duke. Initially I felt my friends rc’s clutch to be better than my dukes. But as kms piled on the rc, it became just as heavy on my duke. Found that lubing the clutch cable and the leaver makes a good difference in the feel of the clutch.

    • Maheshwaran AJ

      Plus the brakes on the rc tends to loose bite and squeal under hard braking just like the duke as kms pile on. And the same goes for the gear box which becomes clunkier. Here a well lubed chain with just the right amount of slack aids in smoother gear shifts. In short some of the advantages you mentioned are because, rc being a new bike. I guess yours needs more maintenance.

      • Akhil Kalsh

        Possible! I’m rather lazy at taking care of my bikes.

  • Rajat

    Hey akhil..nice article…
    i was plannig to buy one..but thinking again as its not good for touring. ..so im confused between buying the ABS version CBR or this… dont wanna go for duke as I prefer faired bikes…

    • If you want to tour, you simply cannot go for the RC! Having said that, the CBR will soon be replaced and sales of it have dwindled recently. You are in a tight spot 🙂

  • sandeep

    Hey Akhil, You have a knack of writing good . Meaningful and funny at the same time. My compliments. Regarding teh pillion on duke, I get your message loud and clear, which will not be passed on to my pillion..haaaa….I will go with the duke yes. Something crazy. Im 40 years. Might look a bit odd on Duke but who cares. I have gone through the Chetaks, Yezdis-My Roadking being missed always , and royal enfield. Currently stuck with a …..guess what hero honda passion almost 10 years. So lemme check out this weekend how the trip at KTm showroom goes. CBR300R is priced too too stiff for the power they are offering. Buying a duke390 is like buying a CBr300 an dthen stuffing my 100 cc Hero passion into it . Why pay extra for a 300 then…Thanks for your help on letting me decide….ciao.

  • sandeep

    Yes Akhil, i will keep that in my mind. I think i have made a decision on duke 390 at the back of my mind. Just one more test ride to remove any webs if i have of the Rc390. Eating up the road to laddakh is in my list of “to-dos” and i think Rc is certainly not gonna make it, untill unless i keep myself on huge shots of painkillers throughout the journey. Not able to carry a pillion on duke is slightly worrying me. Somehow i convinced my wife to agree on this “Hooligan ” looking Devil which is gonna cost a lot by our middle class standards. She is not so happy over buying this “Bull-Horse-lion and a bit of om-puri ” cross called Duke 390. If she finds out she cant accompany me on a long drive she will surely bang the lights out of me. Can we do something aftermarket stuff to ease teh pillion’s ride without voiding teh warranty. I really do not want to go for Cbr250 which look-wise would surely look good to a lady who even might know much about biking and all. I am doing my best to keep her away from a honda showroom. Give me some inspirational words .

    • LOL, I have some bad news buddy, there’s nothing you can do to ease the pain of the pillion on a Duke 🙁

      It all boils down to this, there’s no other bike there within 5 lacs that can do all that the Duke can. There’s only one other bike with ABS within 5 lacs that is more comfy for the pillion than the Duke, which is the CBR250R. The CBR is a brilliant machine, but outdated and will most likely be replaced by a 300 soon. It also costs a lot if you compare it against the Duke or the RC.

      So the way I see it, you don’t really have any other option but the Duke 🙂

      Not very good with inspirational shit I am.

  • sandeep

    Hi there. Nice review. I was so awed by the RC 390 that i decided to check it out this last sunday. i went to this bajaj showroom and they had just one rc390 standing there right in the last dungeon of their showroom hidden from any visitor in teh showroom. I saw it and i got awed even more. what a beautiful looking baby. asked them a test ride. The mechanic bhaiya ji came. pushed the key in and self started. The sound of engine didnot impress me much but it wasn’t bad either. i though t ok, let’s move on. For the test ride the mechanic bhaiya got on the pillion lest i might run off with the bike,, but i dont blame them for that. I was still awed by teh way i felt in the riding position. Statred off. Th ebike felt clumsy to start with, maybe bexcause i am not used to that “dandavat pranam” riding position an dthis huge monkey sitting behind me making life even tougher for me. 3 kms on a regulae city road and i felt it was better to u-turn else my wrists and shoulders will swell to painful redness. My awe was pretyy much a sob by now. I wa sfeeling so bad wen i parked it back. such a lovely bike but unridable , Not everyday im gonna run it ona race track. But im not sure if i can run it ona a good highway for an hour long stretch. i found teh front too heavy to manouvere even i mild traffic. Maybe 3kms is not a justifiable test ride. i will test ride it again some day. After that they had a duke 200 standing . i couldnot see a duke 390. But the way duke 200 responded made me feel so much at ease the way i could manouvere it and no stress n my wrists and hands. hopefully duke 390 will be the same . I am still plit over my decision over Rc390 and duke 390 but i feel Duke my take a score here for a much more relaxed riding posture. i dont like the looks of duke though compared to rc. Will keep u folks updated. Do pass on suggestions and personal experience on the two bikes and which one u suggest.

    • Your experience is absolutely spot on Sandeep, that’s how things really are. RC looks great, but is a pain to ride. Duke looks so so, but is very comfortable even on long distances.

      Buy the RC only if you will be doing short city rides or track days. Buy the Duke if you’ll be touring. Pillion is not possible on either for long distances, and absolute torture on the RC.

  • ravi kiran

    Can u tell me the exact milage of the bike

    • Hey man, mileage can never be exact, it depends on the riding style, bike condition, road condition, speed and whatnot. The RC390 gives a mileage of 25-32, depending on how nice you are to it 🙂

  • Viraj Bhardwaj

    Thanx again Akhil,
    One last question on thhic bike 🙂
    M Just turned 18 & i am about 5’9.
    I am not much of a biker yet.
    Haven’t driven lots of sportbikes yet !
    Would leaning forward for RC 390 & that posture be a big issue for me ?

    • Yes, it would be. 390 isn’t a very good first bike, you should probably start smaller. Check out the Gixxer, looks nice and goes well too.

  • Viraj Bhardwaj

    Thanx for instant reply Akhil,
    Had few more question!
    Which of the KTM bikes is most attractive ?
    How is RC 390 uncomfortable for the pillon ?
    I read your review, but U said that it’s almost unusable& like torturing the pillon !
    I know Mountain shaped seats n all but,
    How exactly is it uncomfortable ?
    Can you describe it please ?

    • RC390 is definitely the most attractive bike in KTM’s range, it looks the best .

      RC390, like all KTM bikes, has rough fueling. Although not as bad as the Duke, it’s still a pretty jerky bike. On top of that the rear seat is tiny, and far too high in the sky. What this does is that the pillion will be continuously rocking forward and back as you brake or accelerate. The pillion only has an ugly looking pipe on the right side to grab on to.

      It’s not just hard to the pillion, but the rider as well, as when you brake more pressure will be felt on your body. Over long distances it’ll be a nightmare.

      I would suggest take your girlfriend with you and go for a test ride. You’ll know what I mean 🙂

  • Viraj Bhardwaj

    Amazing review !!!
    I’m looking for a 2-3 lakh bike for use in mumbai city …
    M not too much of a traveller though …
    But I’ll be riding the bike 24*7 with my girlfriend behind me …
    Which bike would be comfortable for both of us ?

    • Hey man, that’s a hard thing to do, make both the rider and pillion comfortable. The only bike I know in that range than I think that can do that is the CBR250R. However it’s an old old and bound to be replaced soon. Unfortunately, there’s nothing else out there apart from Royal Enfields that’ll keep you both comfy 🙂

  • I have ordered RC200 and preferred RC200 over 390 considering the fact of RC390 getting heated up in city traffic and that too when it is going to be Delhi summers and I am going to use this bike in daily office commute.
    Please suggest should I change the option from RC200 to RC390…

    • You have to ask yourself this: “Am I going to use this bike ONLY for daily office commute, or will I also do weekend rides, track days and short trips?”.

      If it’s just daily office commute, RC200 makes more sense. But if it’s anything more than that, the RC390 would be better. The single most important reason would be the ABS on the RC390! Hope that helps.

  • The front suspension travel appears less when the bike is loaded with rider and pillion, any chances of it bottoming out? Is the pillion seat slippery? The RC fairing is supposed to deflect heat away from the rider.

    • Yes, with heavy load and a big pothole, suspension can be bottomed out.

      Pillion seat is not too slippery.

      Yes, but it doesn’t!

  • Jimeet

    Its 2 lakh 19 or 2 lakh 34 on road Mumbai?

    • At KTM Kanjurmarg, it is 2 lac 19 Jimeet.

  • Hi Akhil,

    Nicely done review,
    However, having ridden the RC for a good 300 kilometres, I can report a few things that I felt differently about.

    CLUTCH:
    Felt very heavy on our test bike.
    Riding in the city becomes a major pain after very little time.

    GEARBOX:
    Slick, agreed.
    Refined, No.
    Clunky at low speeds, and the gearing makes it almost impossible to use below 4000 rpm.

    PILLION SEAT:
    Unlike what it looks like, it is actually very comfortable.
    Our pillions report that if they had to go somewhere on a bike they’d choose the RC to travel on.
    The comparison test was among the RC, Duke and Ninja.

    WINDSHIELD:
    Wind blast is very well controlled at high speeds, read >100 mph and the wind deflects away from the body. A bit of crouching on the tank leads to no wind blast for even really fat riders like me!

    PARTS QUALITY:
    Its just not upto the mark.
    Especially since you mentioned the Ninja in the comparison, I am shocked.
    Coming from the Ninja to the RC, it felt like coming straight from the presidential suite at the Marriott to the ramshackled Hotel Decent!
    By the end of the second day when we were supposed to return the RC, it felt like the parts would come off at any point in time.

    Overall, I liked the bike, and especially like you mentioned, at that price point, there is nothing else that can do what the RC can.

    That said, I can’t see myself putting my own money down on this bike.

    Cheers Mate!

    • Hey guys.

      As far as the clutch and gears go, coming from the Duke they feel exponentially better!

      I haven’t taken a pillion on the RC, and it definitely looks very uncomfortable, if you say it’s good, it’s good!

      Hard to believe you didn’t feel any wind blast. I barely crossed 120, and could feel it for sure. It is definitely not as disturbing as the Duke, but still quite there.

      I tested the RC along with 2 other Ninja owners, and they loved the parts quality as compared to their own bikes! It is possible that the parts may not last as long as the Ninja’s, but my point here was of overall fit and finish.

      I also won’t be going for the RC, or recommending it to anyone. It is a great machine, but for a very narrow field of purpose.

      Thanks for the comment, cheers!

  • Bertrand

    This is ” the” most interesting review i have ever read…made me LMAO….you got a super sense of humor dude!!….:)