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
- Very light clutch, extremely comfortable to use in bumper-to-bumper traffic as well
- Excellent brakes, ABS as standard is awesome too
- Slick gearbox
- Less knocking at low speeds as compared to the Duke 390
- Awesome illumination by the dual projector headlights
- Extremely flickable bike, even more so than the Duke!
- Very narrow machine, ease to push through tight traffic
- Much better tail section as compared to the Duke, doesn’t vibrate at all
- Bright mirror mounted indicators
- Excellent build quality, better than the Ninja 300 in most respects
- Magical suspension, works wonderfully even with less travel
- Very smooth performance, no jerky throttle response
- KTM says the wheels are now of better quality, so that’s nice
KTM RC 390 review: Negatives
- Extremely uncomfortable seat, with a very weird mountain like shape
- Almost unusable rear seat, too high and also shaped like a mountain
- 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
- 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
- Very sporty riding position. Not suitable for long rides. Taxing on the neck and palms
- 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
- Extreme amount of heat. I’m quite used to how hot the Duke gets, but the RC is a whole other beast
- 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
- Battery compartment is in front of the fuel tank, and visible panel gaps could be seen on the bike that I rode
- 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
- 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.