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...

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from India

© PressReader. All rights reserved.