KTM RC390

Fast Bikes - - TEST -

I f the CBR500R is the fat bird of the group, then that makes the KTM some sort of an­gry-look­ing, kinky, anorexic porn­star. Be­ing the light­est and least pow­er­ful ma­chine, yet dare I say the most de­light­ful look­ing of the three, KTM have worked won­ders with those edgy fair­ings and that ag­gres­sive, trans­former-style front end.

It’s not just looks that drew me in, as even though the RC has been largely un­changed since its un­veil­ing in 2014 be­sides the odd ride-by-wire throt­tle and slip­per clutch, the sporty RC390 has a lit­tle place in my heart that was rekin­dled as I hopped on board.

Even though I found it comfy, as far as sporty cock­pits go, they don’t come much more ag­gres­sive than the RC, with the low­est bars and high­est peg com­bi­na­tion out of the three. The seat was cushty as well, but the only nig­gle I have with the cock­pit is that you can still tell the age of the RC thanks to the bor­ing, ba­sic dash, which could do with a TFT up­date like KTM have given its brother, the Duke 390. Even so, as I hit the ig­ni­tion the words ‘Ready to Race’ popped up like a clear mes­sage from the bearded bloke up­stairs. And whether you’re 16 or 60, if that doesn’t send your mind into ‘let’s spank the liv­ing day­lights out of this bike’ mode, I re­ally don’t know what will…

Fir­ing up the lit­tle sin­gle cylin­der in­duced a fairly throaty note from the ex­haust, and as I pulled away the ride-by-wire throt­tle sys­tem ac­tu­ally suc­ceeded in mak­ing that lit­tle sin­gle-cylin­der lump an in­cred­i­bly user friendly smooth oper­a­tor. For­ever want­ing to rev its tits off, the KTM’s en­gine was the gift that just kept on giv­ing. No mat­ter how many gears I threw at it, those 373ccs just kept work­ing harder and harder to keep me smil­ing. In all hon­esty it felt like it could have been a slightly big­ger ca­pac­ity con­sid­er­ing how it fired out of cor­ners and roared its way up to its lim­iter. And even when I was a gear too high it wouldn’t pun­ish too harshly – I mean, if I tried in­cred­i­bly hard I was able to pop wheel­ies in sec­ond gear, which is bloody im­pres­sive for a bike of this ca­pac­ity. That en­gine is helped by the fact that lit­er­ally ev­ery­thing felt light on the lit­tle 390: from the clutch and throt­tle re­sponse to the ini­tial feel as I pushed the ’bars, the RC in­stantly in­jected about as much con­fi­dence as a litre of vodka straight to the veins would.

Of course, power is noth­ing with­out control, and that’s where the sur­pris­ingly plush WP sus­pen­sion came into its own. Al­though fairly soft as stan­dard, it ac­tu­ally of­fers a solid amount of feel when push­ing on, with more than enough sup­port to leave me sat­is­fied when blast­ing along B-roads as fast as the mo­tor would power me.

Even the brakes of­fered an am­ple amount of power, and their high level of feel meant they were bob-on for some se­ri­ous trail brak­ing, made bet­ter by the bike’s im­pres­sively un­ob­tru­sive ABS sys­tem. Cou­ple these virtues with a short wheel­base of just 1340mm, and it didn’t take long to re­alise that the tight and twisty el­e­ments of the ride were the real nat­u­ral habi­tat of the RC390.

The only place where the KTM did strug­gle on the roads was on the long haul, as it didn’t seem to be as com­fort­able sit­ting at high speeds as the other two big­ger ca­pac­ity bikes it was ri­valling, but even so it still wasn’t a ma­jor is­sue.

Sur­pris­ingly, the is­sue with the RC ac­tu­ally came on track where we thought it would be at its very best. In iso­la­tion, the KTM felt in­cred­i­bly ca­pa­ble, be­ing the light­est on its feet, with a chas­sis and sus­pen­sion combo that put the other two bikes to shame. There was ab­so­lutely no wal­low­ing from an overly soft set-up, and even the ground clear­ance was good, and thanks to the track-fo­cused rid­ing po­si­tion I could re­ally have a good gig­gle on the RC, eat­ing up big­ger bikes like a pe­cu­liar orange mon­ster. Even the brakes were no­tably su­perb, of­fer­ing up a fair amount of an­chor­age into Cas­tle Combe’s bus stop chi­cane with­out the ABS try­ing to put me

into the bar­rier. In fact, cor­ner en­try, mid cor­ner and even on the exit the KTM was some­thing of a weapon, but straights made it look a bit silly. Al­though the low end punch is good from that lit­tle sin­gle, the RC390 worked out about 8 or 9mph down on the Ninja at the top end, and when you’re only just top­ping a ton flat out, that kind of dif­fer­ence is pretty ma­jor. It was re­ally frus­trat­ing, as any track you go to is go­ing to have big straights for a lit­tle bike like this, and even when I was on the RC and Beej (who’s car­ry­ing a foot of ex­tra lard than I am) was on the Ninja, he was just driv­ing past me, the bas­tard.

As far as fun fac­tor goes, the RC390 was def­i­nitely the most at home on track, even though it just needed that bit more oomph in the tank.

It’s al­most a shame ac­tu­ally, as if you had that lit­tle ex­tra Ninja power in the KTM chas­sis you’d have an ab­so­lute corker of a ma­chine, and it would be the ab­so­lute dog’s. Who knows, maybe next year?

A proper beaut in the bends...

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