NOW, WE’RE REALLY READY TO RACE
A light, fast, cheap supersport. This is the dream
IF YOU WERE TO TAKE an aerial video of the Mutha ghat leading up to Lavasa on weekends, you’d see tiny specks rapidly traversing the many curves and corners that start around Mulshi dam and seemingly go on forever. Occasionally, you’d see flashes of orange when the KTM 390 Dukes lay on their sides to carve up those corners. Seriously, it’s like a significant percentage of Bajaj-KTM’s production capacity ends up in those hills come Saturday. Today was a Tuesday, though, and we had the entire ghat to ourselves in the early morning. Perfect visibility, perfect weather, perfect bike for the terrain: the brand spanking new 2014 KTM RC 390.
If you were one of the many who complained that the 390 Duke, while a great performer, was just too similar to the 200, then the RC should interest you. Despite the bikes being alike under the skin, they look entirely different. And as we found out during the course of the day, they ride quite differently as well. This is no bolt-on plastic job, however; the RC very flamboyantly shows off Kiska’s design chops, perhaps even more so than the Duke, which is in itself a pretty edgy visual.
Apart from the obvious fairing, seat and subframe differences, there are a lot of little details that add up to a very interesting package. The windshield and upper fairing are a single, transparent piece of plastic. Most of the inner bodywork and details are black, so the effect of a floating fairing is funky. The front turn indicators are now integrated into the rear view mirrors, and mounted on solid aluminium stalks; a surprise! In the seat, you look at the familiar console borrowed from the Duke stablemate, but the handlebar has been replaced by faux ‘ clip-ons’, which attach in the same plane as the top triple-clamp. The result is an aggressive, but not uncomfortable seating position. It certainly suited me better than the R15 v2.0.
The seat pad is harder, but it needs to be for the intended purpose. If you’re looking at the RC as a sport tourer, look elsewhere or be prepared to mod it, starting with a gel seat. The pillion seat is another delightful detail, once you realise that the rakish-looking ‘cowl’ at the back is actually a seat. It looks like a matte-finished plastic item, but it’s plush and significantly better than what you (or your pillion) get on the Duke, which is another pad. We’re told that the India-spec RC gets 10mm more padding out back, which makes sense. There’s a nicelyintegrated metal grab rail for the pillion on the right, a concession made for Indian regulations. The Euro-spec bikes make do with two indents below the rear seat for the passenger to hold on to. They probably work, but I wouldn’t want to be the one using them.
At the press launch of the RC bikes, I noticed, to my relief, that KTM have provided proper heel plates for the rider, unlike the Duke’s
If you’re looking at the RC as a sport tourer, look elsewhere or be prepared to mod it
little excuses. I thought they might still be inadequate, but after my ride, I can say that they work fine. Foot controls have been replaced by forged items, so you’ll still get home with a bent lever if you lay the bike down, while the Duke’s die-cast metal parts will just snap off. The rear footpeg carriers are also nicely designed, and folded up they take nothing away from the sleek lines of the RC. The package is completed with a new front fender and rear hugger, and there’s plenty on the bike that would make Duke owners just that little bit envious.
On to the riding then, and the immediate feeling is that of familiarity. The 390 Duke you see being ridden unimpressively on these pages is my personal vehicle, so it stands to
reason that I’d be comfortable on the RC. While the riding position is committed, there’s not as much weight on your wrists as I’d expect. The footpegs, while rearset, aren’t extreme, and there’s plenty of room to move around, thanks to the slim new tank shape. On the move, if you need to hang off, there isn’t much purchase for your knees, so more aggressive riders would do well to install some grippy tape on the tank.
Which brings me to the turn-in. When we, and most of our peers, sampled the 390 Duke on the street and track last year, one often heard the term ‘telepathic’ to describe the bike’s ability to follow your directions. After riding the RC 390, I must revise my assessment. It is the RC that is telepathic. The reduced rake angle of 23.5 degrees and attendant drop in wheelbase (by 27mm) is no doubt the reason. Compared to the RC 390, the Duke takes some muscle to turn, and it’s quite evident when you ride the two back to back.
Despite the familiarity, there’s some adjustment needed on the move. The steeper rake and reduced front suspension travel (down 25mm) means that the front tyre is now talking to you a lot more, and you need to be prepared to listen. While the Duke will just hammer through dusty, gravelly shoulders, the RC 390 is verbose about how much (or little) grip you have left up front. It can be a bit unnerving at first. Back on cleaner tarmac, the first handful of throttle indicates that despite using the same engine as the Duke, the RC has come some way in power delivery and refinement. While the Duke is punchy, sometimes peaky (depending on your model year), the RC is smooth and linear. There’s no other way to describe it. Linear. Power builds quickly from the bottom end and seemingly stays strong all the way to the redline. There’s little or no surge, making the bike predictable and forgiving in corners. Don’t try to hammer down multiple gears unless you know what you’re doing, though. Like the Duke, the RC 390 will also do a little jig as the rear breaks free.
Thanks to the new tank design, the intake tract of the RC 390 has also been revised over the Duke, and there’s more intake noise now. It’s nice. Gruff, but not annoying. We rode an early production model that’s been thrashed for 800km by a national-level racer, so there was a bit of buzz, possibly from a loose fairing bolt, coming through the handlebars.
Back to that handful of throttle: despite a
The steeper rake means that the front tyre is now talking to
you a lot more
weight disadvantage (close to 12kg heavier than the Duke), the RC 390 goes about as well as it’s naked sibling. VBox data will probably show a marginally slower 0-100kmph time, but the aerodynamic effect of the fairing is palpable at speed. I have no doubt that the RC 390 will be the faster bike beyond 100kmph. Hard on the brakes before turn-in, the feel is slightly better than the Duke, probably because of the steeper rake, since the equipment is the same. A gentle push on the inside bar and we’ve attained cornering attitude. The well-regarded Metzeler Sportec M5 tyres remain, sticky as ever, and you’re unlikely to upset the bike with throttle on a good surface. Clip the apex, sight the exit and power out with abandon. If you’re in a low enough gear, the RC will even salute with a bit of wheelie at the exit. Switchbacks are good fun on the RC with the unimpeded movement afforded by the new tank, and very little effort is needed to change direction.
If I were a different sort of rider, I might even consider trading in my Duke for the RC. The new engine mapping makes it feel more sorted and predictable on the street and in the hills. It isn’t even as uncomfortable as you might expect from a supersport. For the die-hard, aggressive sport rider, this is the bike you want. Every day. In rain or shine. On street and track. For the wandering type, the Duke is still a better bet with nicer ergos on the long haul, and the same sort of poke. The new RC 390 is a lot of motorcycle for not much money, and to my mind, is the perfect sort of supersport machine for India. Small, manageable, fast, cheap to maintain and an incredible learning tool to improve riding technique.
Comparatively, the Duke takes a bit more effort to turn in than the RC 390
Above: There’s plenty of clearance for lean, though we did scrape a peg and the belly pan once Left: New-for-the-RC footpeg carriers look sleek
Top: Stalk mounted indicators look neat Right: Projector headlamps and LED DRLs are new for the RC Below: Exhaust hides in a belly pan and sounds nice and gruff India | October 2014
Top: Tail lamp is an LED unit with a cool-looking stripe down the middle. Above: Clip-on handlebars actually aren’t; they’re attached to the triple-t Below: Thanks to the slimmer tank, there’s plenty of room to move around on the RC 390, despite its...