• KTM RC 390 first ride review

The second generation sportsbike feels calmer, friendlier, yet very potent

As much as you love sportsbikes for their purity of intent, which is going fast around racetracks, the very intent can also become an Achilles heel. And that’s because, this single-minded focus can thwart their rideability in the real world. That’s a conundrum engineers face the world over when developing new sportsbikes. This was also very obvious with the KTM RC 390. It looked very futuristic and edgy, but was also very edgy to ride. Pushed hard, it felt satiating around corners and was a treat to thrash around racetracks and for a sub-400cc sportsbike it really let you challenge your own limits before you could reach the bike’s.

In fact most friends who are track day regulars and even own litre-class superbikes never found it too small or underpowered! On the road though, the RC 390 was a different story. It wasn’t quite the motorcycle I could enjoy in city given the committed seating position, it had vibration creeping in from the seat at low revs and felt harsh, while throttle responses were too sharp. And like the second generation 390 Duke that has been toned down and feels more civilized, I was also expecting the all-new RC 390 to feel friendlier. Except that the launch of the second generation RC turned out to be a long wait. The bike is finally here though and is all-new, inside-out with a raft of mechanical changes and more importantly, a new design. Well, new as compared to the previous RC 390, but it looks identical to the new RC 200.

So you have the same, flatter looking face with a wider flyscreen which we’re told also contributes to a lower drag coefficient. The radiator is a curved unit and improves cooling by 10 percent. The livery looks similar to KTM’s MotoGP machines and thus sportier than the older bike. Turn indicators sit flush in the fairing while the new fuel tank is a 13.7-litre unit (up from 9.5 litres), meaning longer tank range and is made of metal and not plastic like before, besides which it has also been moved ahead to aid handling.

Seats are split units and the pillion perch now has purposefully engineered grab handles. The end can is new and looks more like an aftermarket one and its design will be appreciated by enthusiasts.

Seat height remains unchanged at 835mm but the seat uses 50mm extra foam for better cushioning. The bike is suspended on 43mm WP Apex upside down forks, though we get the non-adjustable version while markets abroad get adjustable versions.

The rear monoshock is a WP Apex unit with preload adjustment while the subframe is a bolt-on unit now, a major step forward. Front suspension travel is up from 120mm to 130mm, while rear suspension travel is up from 148mm to 165mm, a huge improvement, especially on the ride quality front. Wheels are lighter by a significant 1.1kg and brake discs are lighter by 1.1kg too, besides which the RC 390 now uses hollow axles that are 600gm lighter and effectively, unsprung weight is down by 3.7kg!

The seat assembly is 0.9kg lighter, though the bike’s overall weight is down by just 1kg due to the larger fuel tank and other mechanical changes. That doesn’t sound like a lot on paper but the overall effect of the weight reduction of various parts makes a significant difference to the riding experience. And then there’s the new airbox that’s 40 percent larger and is responsible for bumping up the peak torque output by 1Nm to 37Nm. Peak power produced by the 373cc, liquid-cooled single cylinder engine remains unchanged at 43.5PS though. The engine is mated to the same six-speed gearbox as before and ratios remain unchanged but the transmission benefits from the addition of a bi-directional quickshifter, besides a slipper clutch.

The new RC 390 is also equipped with a host of electronic rider aids including cornering ABS, traction control and ‘supermoto’ ABS mode that turns the rear ABS off. The bike also gets the same colour TFT display as the other KTMs and offers Bluetooth connectivity too. Our bikes were running the stock riding position though removing the spacer placed below the clip-on handlebars drops the handlebar position by 14.5mm for a more aggressive feel. That’s a sea of changes and aptly so, considering this is a full generation change. The engine doesn’t sound very throaty now but certainly feels a lot smoother and the improvement in refinement levels is obvious, instantly. Gear shifts feel lighter and more precise now, though I found the quickshifter to be lacking in terms of responses and feel intermittently.

Acceleration feels quicker thanks to the meatier midrange now, which is a distinct highlight on the performance front. This should also enhance rideability at slow speeds in traffic, besides making for better grunt out of corners as I discovered on track. The engine feels a lot more tractable now and its easy to see why Bajaj didn’t feel the need to extract more performance from the motor, as it feels very potent in its current form. Down the long back straight I was able to hit a speedometer indicated 163kmph consistently, with the engine still having some performance in reserve, so breaching the 170kmph mark will be an easy affair. The performance feels more accessible now, meaning the RC 390 is a more welcoming motorcycle.

But the biggest gains are on the handling front. The RC 390 feels a lot nimbler and easier to change direction now and around chicanes is where you can really feel the drop in unsprung weight making a difference. And that’s what you want from a sportsbike, right – a nimble, agile feel, quick directional changes and excellent stability. The new RC 390 ticks those boxes well and grip from the Metzeler tyres is very impressive as always, adding to the bike’s likeable dynamics, also with help from the electronics now, especially traction control, which is not intrusive at all but does its job really well.

All this, for a premium of just Rs 36,000 over the outgoing version! That’s a steal in my books, given the new bike’s ex-showroom price tag of Rs 3.14 lakh. In fact, quite honestly, the premium is quite negligible when you consider the updates to the motorcycle, how much friendlier and easier it is to ride, while feeling as potent if not more. And that’s a job well done by the boffins at KTM in my books!

Bikes First rides

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