Owning a 390 Duke myself, I whole-heartedly believe that KTM is the maker of rash and brash brand of motorcycles, that sort of motorcycles that are tailor-made to see the world from a higher prospective, on one wheel, that is (Pun and a stunt intended, religiously!). While not perfect in many departments, the KTM's certainly have the skills that can shame the anti-social capabilities no less than a mob with unlimited smoke bombs, in short these are absolute hoot to ride while inducing some of the stupidest Grins ever plastered on your face. Anyone who owns or has ridden any of the KTM products available in India till now would have the same response if asked.
In fact, even internationally, KTM's majority of motorcycles say “Hooligan Onboard”. Even when you scroll YouTube for the Austrian brand’s racing heritage, you would find their motorcycles crossing desserts and splashing through rivers, loving the torture environments of the Dakar Rally and onto the countless victories that their SMX machines have achieved over the years in Motocross. But with their recent success in Moto3, KTM as a brand has proved to be more than just an off-road/adventure motorcycle specialist. And the RC 390 is their carefully designed time bomb of a package readied to explode onto the world with KTM’s road racing knowhow onto the streets. Even internationally there is no motorcycle that looks quite like it.
The Eye and the Beholder
The RC 390 is one radically styled machine. Dual projector headlights and LED DRLs creating a sinister visual when looked at from the front, it looks like a motorcycle which changes to a psychotic serial killer at nights. This motorcycle is all mean business, there is nothing sober and soft about it, and it has got us fallen in big time love with the way this KTM describes demonic looks.
There is a sense of minimalism and purpose that runs through the motorcycle. From its tiny turn signals mounted on the rear view mirrors to the rear indicator and taillight assembly neatly tucked under the tail, there are no unwanted bits protruding out to spoil the clean side look of the machine. Even the exhaust is neatly tucked within the belly pan and enclosed by high quality fade n burn resistant plastic. The detail to design carries on to create the most innovative rear seat ever seen on a motorcycle. To keep the racing looks pure, the rear seat and the whole upper section of the tail unit is actually made out of a high density material consisting of special memory foam that resembles a rear seat cowl from a distance. There is a surety that some of the design elements of the RC 390 would certainly be copied and implemented on other motorcycles around the world, and KTM’s design partners Kiska would be proud to be the innovators.
While everything looks and feels pretty top notch in terms of quality, there are few indications that this bike was made to fit a price tag rather than make for a splurge spend. The leavers are non-adjustable, and the rear suspension does not get full adjustability. And the handle grips, though not made of cheap rubber, do give that typical Bajaj motorcycle feel. But all these are tidbits that would only ruin an anorak’s day because there is much more to this mini supersport than these minute shortcomings.
Way She makes us Feel
Straddled on and eager to get out of town, the first thing that came to our notice was the instrument cluster coming straight off the 200/390 Duke cousins, sprayed with features, there was nothing to complain here. Further down, like the Dukes, you expect to find a large and protruding fuel tank, which isn’t the case. Skinny and raked towards the front for better ergonomics, it also moves the position of the battery towards the front of the tank. Lean over to grab the handlebars and you instantly understand the committed position you are in. The front forks have been angled inwards reducing the steering angle to 66.5 degrees, giving more weight over the front axel. The 43mm front inverted forks offer a reduced but generous 125mm of travel, but unfortunately cannot be adjusted. And neither can the rear, set at an easy 150mm of travel with only preload adjustment settings.
Insert the key and thumb the starter, the 390cc single-cylinder pumps to life with a clean note. Unlike the Duke’s rather rough and hopped-up note, the RC’s engine settles in quickly into a smooth rumble. Engage gear and you instantly realize what KTM has done here. The RC progressive engine map accelerates with utter smoothness delivering linear power throughout the rev range.
Unlike the Duke 390 that keeps you informed of the speed with a kick in the back at every gearshift, the RC is quite un-dramatic, it’s the sudden increase in wind forces that make you realize that the ton has come and gone. Even while at slow speeds on higher gears the RC doesn’t splutter like the Duke and makes for a very manageable ride through town traffic.
Of Ride and Of Handling
Out on the highways, the RC settles for a smooth riding experience. It might take a while to get used to the forward biased riding stance, and while initially it feels quite a bit demanding, within a few kilometers you feel acclimatized and right at home. Travelling at 100kmph, the engine settles in at a smooth 6000rpm and it is only past 130kmph that slight vibrations can be felt. The claimed 44bhp and generous 35Nm of torque are good enough to take you past 160kmph before you engage 6th gear. Although past 160, the increment of numbers is quite slow even while ducked down under the visor. The RC would make for a comfortable cruiser capable of doing 140kmph plus speed on the highways throughout the day.
It's when tackling the mountain roads, the true nature of the RC is unveiled. This is where the front biased riding position and the shorter steering angle comes into play. While loading up the front end into corners, the Bosch-KTM developed two channel ABS gives reassurance to press harder on the brakes and cuts in only when its absolutely necessary. Coupled with a massive 300mm four piston caliper at the front and 230mm single piston at the rear, the RC sheds off speed like a skydiver popping up his parachute.
If you come off anything other than a sportsbike, the RC would completely ignore your cornering abilities. Capable of carrying some serious corner speeds, the RC dives in sharp into corners. While there is very little scope of adjustment in the suspension, they feel right at home while going through twisty sections of road, staying flat on hard cornering. Although they might be a bit jumpy over uneven surface or slight cracks on a lean, the sticky Metzeler M5's offer huge support to bring the bike back on line and carry on without breaking a sweat. And the steel braided brake lines make sure that there is absolutely no fade in braking performance to lower the cornering fun.
At a price of 2.30 lakhs, the RC 390 makes a really strong case for itself. While not as smooth as the twin-cylinder Ninja 300, it doesn’t demand the same kind cash to pick one up. KTM is known for making overly engaging single-cylinder motorcycles and this is just one more example of the Austrian manufactures wizardry.
As a package, the RC is an enthralling piece of motorcycle designing, she doesn't even blink to prove just how incredibly exciting motorcycle it is while riding hard and compliant enough to get one through their daily chores in city traffic. With radical styling capable of turning heads the RC is here to please the eyes and hearts of many. We wont be surprised if this would be another success story for KTM and would land up as the top selling motorcycle in its segment.
Photography by: Ishaan Bhataiya