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...