Ninja 300 vs RC 390: Apples and Oranges?

By | September 19, 2014

KTM RC 390 is finally here, and everyone is going nuts! My Facebook stream is littered with people going gaga over it, with many Duke 390 owners giving confused stares to each other, and many Ninja 300 owners feeling cheated and sad. I personally feel that KTM RC 390 is one hell of a bike, but not a huge improvement over the Duke 390.

Having said that, the Kawasaki Ninja 300 vs KTM RC 390 comparison is pretty interesting, to say the least! A few other automotive sites have done this comparo, but they can’t seem to go beyond looking at the specs. I will try and make it something more, and bring out the perspective from the eyes of a real rider, not entirely based on logic or money.

Ninja 300 vs RC 390 – Which one will be faster?

That’s what everyone really cares about in the end, isn’t it! Well, going by just the on-paper figures, RC 390 should be faster than the Ninja 300. But there’s more to that than meets the eye, because you need to decide what “faster” means. If by faster you mean that the RC 390 will accelerate better than the Ninja, you are right, but if you think the RC will be faster at the top end than the Ninja, I really doubt that.

Last Sunday I was coming back from a ride with the LOST group to Charoti. It was a great mixture of bikes ranging from 125 to 1000cc! There were 4 Ninja 300s, 1 Ninja 250, and 2 Ninja 650s. On the return ride, the lead group consisted of the CB1000, both 650s, 2 Ninja 300s and me. We were fast, really fast. I was more or less on my limit. But at no point during the ride could I overtake the 300 on my Duke 390, at least not safely.

The Ninja 300 is a deceptive performer. You don’t hear anything! It just wooshes past you, making you shit your pants in the process. It is not the quickest accelerator, but it is not that far behind the Duke 390 either. Where it excels though, is pulling away in top gear. Ninja 300’s power delivery peaks at high RPMs, unlike the mid-range punch of the Duke.

RC 390 is identical to the Duke in terms of gearing, so I expect it will also not be faster than the Ninja. On paper you might see a difference, but in real life, the Ninja 300 is more than capable of keeping up with the RC 390. It depends a lot on the rider as well though, but there is no clear cut winner as far as the “faster” department goes, they are more or less equally good.

Result: Both will have nearly same top speed, you won’t be able to tell the difference in the real world.

Ninja 300 vs RC 390 – Which one will be more refined?

Austrians are not knowns for being refined! At least not KTM, they are known for rough, jagged hooligans, which you have to tame with all your guts and gusto. Japs, on the other hand, have an eerie, almost frustratingly long relationship with finesse. The RC 390 will not be as rough as the Duke 390, but definitely not as smooth as the Ninja 300 either.

The biggest reason for this would be the engine configuration, the RC being a single cylinder will obviously have more of that redneck character as compared to the twin cylinders of the Ninja. The Ninja is an extremely smooth performer, things happen in a very linear, predictable fashion. The RC on the other hand is a bit cocky, and stuff occurs with jerks, and unexpected pulls.

Please keep in mind that this difference in refinement will only be noticeable at low speeds, like while you are stuck in city traffic. If you have a clear stretch of tarmac, the RC will make the sprint to 170 and beyond without the slightest hiccup, it’s just that KTMs don’t have the best gearboxes, or the amazingly linear power delivery of the Ninjas, which make things really fucked up low down the RPM ladder.

Result: The Ninja wins, hands down!

Ninja 300 vs RC 390 – Which one looks better?

This is a bad question, but one that must be answered! Looks are subjective, some people find Priyanka Chopra beautiful, I find her square eyed and giant nosed. In the battle of these two beauties, you will never be able to find one single answer! So let me put it this way, out of these two bikes, which one do I like better? Which bike is the one that I would pick, if all else was same?

The answer is the Ninja 300, it is just plain fucking fantastic. If you look at it from the rear, you might be fooled into thinking it’s a superbike. That bulby fuel tank, chiselled headlights, beefy tail section, all look just ready for a photo shoot. The best part is, a Ninja 300 looks better when its dirty! Although it is quite hard to find a dirty Ninja, or any Ninja, if you know what I mean 😉

The RC 390 has a very quirky style, those horizontally stacked projectors with that hanging lower lip of DRLs, absolutely tiny seat, Duke’s tail section, exposed rear frame, they all give it that raw aura that is physically present in the bike as well. It has a mischievous look to it, playful, young. The Ninja on the other hand looks matured, placid, and just amazingly beautiful!

Result: No one knows!

Ninja 300 vs RC 390 – What is better value for money?

Time to complete my duty of being an Indian! So you throw some money at some motorcycle dealer and you get 2 very different bikes, but which one gives you more bang for you buck? The answer here is a no brainer. At a cost of around 2.25 lacs, the RC 390 is grossly underpriced! How can such a brilliant performer, and equally brilliant looker be available at such throwaway prices? Ask Bajaj, they seem to know magic.

The RC gets projector headlamps, DRLs, standard ABS, vastly informative instrument cluster, mirror mounted indicators, and Metzeler rubber as standard. Ninja gets NONE of these goodies, with the absence of ABS being the biggest downer. The level of tech that has been crammed up into the KTM bikes is just pure madness, and hopefully other manufacturers will wake up soon too!

Ninja 300 costs about 2 lacs more than the RC 390, you could actually buy 2 RCs in approximately 1 Ninja’s money! I agree that the Ninja does have that premium feel about it, and is a massive crowd puller, but it is not, by any means, worth twice the cost of an RC. The KTM RC 390 is one hell of a machine, which someday I hope I’ll be able to take to track and piss myself with excitement! I am sticking to my Duke for now, since my needs are more for a tourer than a track God.

Result: Definitely the RC 390, that price is insane!

Ninja 300 vs RC 390 – Verdict

There is no clear winner here! If you are a performance enthusiast on a tight budget, go buy the RC without second thoughts. However, if you are a Kawasaki fan/have too much money/need extremely high standards of refinement, go for the Ninja. You won’t be disappointed with either bike, not even slightly, but they are very different bikes, with very different experiences for their riders.

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  • Swadhin

    Umm this is a tasty burger. I mean what an article :), absolutely brilliant. Blunt views, uncensored vocabulary, name calling etc. Man sometimes you writes like Jeremy Clarkson.

  • Still people are confused about this word ‘faster’. IN the world of motorcycles faster does’t mean top speed more, neither does it mean acceleration. Faster means a combination of acceleration, top speed, braking, and corner speed… that is why it’s measured by lap times and not highway rides… The RC390 or even the Duke 390 will be faster, much much faster, thanks to the better acceleration, better brakes and tyres combo. Late braking take seconds off lap times. Better tyres reduce brake distance and give more corner speed. So the faster point, didn’t really work for me.

    • You are correct Rahul that “faster” in itself is a rather vague term, and can mean many things. An acceptable definition would include all the points you’ve mentioned, and would apply for track lap times.

      But how do you convert that into regular time for regular roads? Do you think on a highway the 390 will be able to use every last bit of its tires, brakes and engine to pull away from the 300?

      • Both the bikes are vying to be sport bikes, whether naked or faired. So yes, on track the Duke will be faster as well as in the streets where the low speed agility is much favoured to the Duke and the RC. But on the highway, unless you are both riding at top speed there is no question of faster because most people tour at around 120-130 kmph. And that speed both the Ninja and Duke are equal. Even a highly stressed Duke 200 can keep up with them. That is why I never compare faster on simple highway tours. Cause tours aren’t races.
        on city heavy traffic, even splendors keep up with me fine. That doesn’t really mean splendors are as fast as my bike. That is why I leave the faster question for tracks.
        More on this later.

        • True Rahul, we gotta define “faster” to answer this question properly.

          • I can think of only one scenario where the Ninja 300 would have an edge over the RC390, albeit very slight – an arrow straight expressway with negligent traffic with enough road for both bikes to hit their top speeds. The RC390 though tall geared might do about 180kmph before it hits the Rev limiter. Ninja 300 though might accelerate a top speed a tad higher than the RC. In every other scenario, the Rc390 will be ‘faster’ . Be it a track setup or a winding road or an expressway which requires you to slow down to about 100 kmph and accelerate side by side, which is exactly what happened to me on a Saturday morning. I was on NICE road at my daily commute where I met a N300 rider. We were accelerating from 100 to about 150kmph before slowing down, once I completed an overtake, he could never go past me.
            I also have ridden the Ninja 300 at the track, though the slipper cluth is absolutely fantastic and the parallel twin motor is a gem, it is simply not as dynamic as the Duke 390 let alone the Rc390. The tyres lack any sort of grip unless they’re heated up and the brakes simply don’t inspire any confidence to brake hard into a corner.
            Most people shower praises on the twin cylinder N300 engine, for eg mototorbeam. Although a fantastic unit most of the short comings of the engine is overlooked because they are simply overwhelmed by the aural sense of riding a twin cylinder engine being used to riding single cylinder bikes all their life .
            If you read comparos from journos abroad, you’ll see the clear picture and how 390’s powerplant compares to the Ninjas. I’ve ridden a Ninja 250R for 22k kms and the ninja 300’s is not a world apart. They lack midrange grunt and make up for it in the top end . When you’re out there having fun on a bike, ‘linear’ and ‘predictable’ don’t exactly translate to good fun. Compare that to the KTM’s power plant and the power delivery is absolutely manic and engaging from an enthusiast point of view. I’m not saying one is better than the other, they’re just different and both have their own shortcomings.

          • You are right Vijeth, I personally prefer the hooligan character of KTMs, but some people don’t! My point in the “faster” segment was that in the real world, there won’t be a world of difference between Ninja 300 and RC 390. Of course on a track the RC would be absolutely unbeatable.