In this world plagued with new normals, judging a motorcycle by its looks alone seems to be the latest one. When the first set of spy pictures of the new KTM RC 390 went viral on the internet, keyboard warriors were quick enough to yield their virtual swords and decimate KTM. So is the new KTM RC 390 all about its polarizing looks or there’s more to it? The same conundrum needed to be addressed and to do that, KTM invited us to get the first taste of their reborn thoroughbred supersport in the confines of Bajaj Auto’s Chakan testing track.
For a motorcycle to justify a generational upgrade, it should look radically different from its previous generation. The new KTM RC 390 scores heavily in this regard because its whole bodywork and attire are heavily inspired by KTM’s RC16 MotoGP machine.
Be it the bubble visor up front or the cuts and creases incorporated within the bodywork, the new RC 390 follows KTM’s racing lineage and brings it to the masses. The new bodywork not only serves form but function as well. Apart from making the RC 390 look a little bulkier than before, the new bodywork is also aerodynamically more efficient. This allows the new RC 390 to clock a higher top speed of around 180kmph which is speedo-indicated and is around 10kmph more than before.
It also aids in its heat management as it drifts the hot air emitted by the radiator away from the rider. Moreover, if you wish to convert your RC 390 into a proper track weapon, the fairing can be easily swapped for race fairings.
The new seats are draped in Alcantara material which not only feels premium but provides good amount of grip when you are hanging off the motorcycle. Razor-sharp looks and KTMs go hand in hand and the rear section of the new RC 390 is a moving testimony in this regard.
I certainly don’t have any issue with its redesigned fascia because I have been living with my face for the past 24 years. Moreover, if it serves the function, the form should be secondary because, at the end of the day, motorcycles are meant to be ridden, not to be stared at.
The 2022 KTM RC 390 might look a little bulkier than before but don’t let its looks fool you because major weight-saving measures have been implemented. So much so, that they might surpass your favourite fitness influencer as well! Lighter alloy wheels and braking equipment have resulted in 3.4kg lighter unsprung mass.
These reductions really come into play once you hit the road because the new RC 390 feels even more agile and flickable than before. Despite getting a larger 13.7-litre fuel tank, the new RC 390 is a tad bit lighter than its previous iteration. Even the overall weight distribution of the motorcycle has been calibrated a little to provide a more balanced feel.
It wouldn’t be wrong if we stick our necks out to claim that the old RC 390 was the most potent track tool on the lower end of the spectrum. It would have been a misdeed if KTM dialled down the RC 390’s track potency but gladly, they haven’t trodden down that cursed path. It is still a thoroughbred track weapon which has become a little friendlier in its approach.
The lighter unsprung mass definitely makes its presence felt and especially when transitioning from one corner to another because the new RC 390 presents itself as an absolute revelation. The old RC 390 felt like a knife used by an assassin because it was razor sharp and sort of unforgiving in nature but the new RC 390 feels like a surgical knife with the same level of precision but a lot more forgiving. It feels like thin air while changing directions and is a lot easier to handle as well.
The suspension setup feels a little supple because KTM has increased the rear suspension travel to 165mm which is 25mm more than before and on the other hand, the front suspension travel has gone up by 10mm as it now gets 130mm of travel. However, the front end is still very communicative as it talks a lot and if you have the ears to listen to it, get ready to get bowled over by how the suspension setup performs.
It eats corners for breakfast and guess what? It won’t even burp after devouring the whole racetrack because it has become civilized than before.
The braking equipment might have become lighter than before with disc brakes being more perforated but holy freaking lord, do they bite and how! Up front you get a 320 mm disc brake with radially-mounted 4-piston callipers and a 230mm disc brake with single-piston callipers for the rear wheel. Keeping the numbers aside, the feedback and bite that is experienced when you squeeze the front brake lever is enormous! Abusing the cliché here, the RC 390 can literally stop on a dime.
Dual-channel ABS comes as a standard fitment and now we also get supermoto mode for the ABS which deactivates the system for the rear brake.
I still remember riding the first-gen RC 390. As soon as I whacked the throttle open, it just wanted to bite my head off. While we still get the same level of explosive performance, the power delivery and the overall nature of the engine are now a little sedated.
Performance has always been RC 390’s forte and it would be safe to say that it still feels like a maniacal motorcycle but a little civilized than before. Imagine a mercenary dressed up in a tuxedo. Courtesy of the bigger airbox and 1nm of more torque, the RC 390 feels a bit livelier at all RPMs as compared to the older generation.
The twitchy nature associated with this nature is gone for good as the performance is now delivered in a smoother and more linear manner. The old RC 390 felt like it was always overdosed on caffeine because of its restlessness and sudden spikes in the powerband.
The new RC 390 has eliminated all the rough edges as it feels more mature than before. It should aid new riders in getting accustomed to a powerful motorcycle like the RC 390. It also feels more tractable than before but the motor really comes alive after crossing the 6000 rpm mark, after that, it still doesn’t take long to hit the rev-limiter which still hits like a brick wall.
However, the top-end performance associated with the old RC 390 has tapered off a little because the new-gen RC starts losing out on some steam after 130-135kmph.
The aggressive nature of the old RC 390 has been toned down a little to make it a friendlier proposition for new riders. The India-spec RC 390 gets a 14.5 mm higher clip-on handlebar as compared to the euro-spec model.
But at the same time, if you wish to extract the full potential of this motorcycle, you can also lower the handlebar by around 10mm.
The previous generation of the RC 390 had a diminutive fuel tank but the new one gets a larger 13.5-litre fuel tank which should affect its range by some crucial kilometres.
The revised bolt-on subframe not only has dynamic advantages but it can also be replaced separately in case of a crash so you don’t necessarily need to get the whole frame replaced.
Over the past few years, we all have become suckers for TFT instrument clusters. A good thing for us, the new RC 390 borrows the same TFT cluster from its naked sibling. Just like the Duke 390, it also gets brightness adjustment and Bluetooth compatibility with the help of KTM’s My ride application.
It is a widely renowned fact that KTM can go all bonkers while loading their bikes with electronics and they have repeated the same with the new RC 390! It has now received a three-directional inertial measurement unit and with its help, the motorcycle traction control and ABS are lean-sensitive.
You also get a bi-directional quickshifter as a standard fitment which is a boon when you want to shed some crucial microseconds out on the race track. Both the traction control and ABS aren’t that intrusive and that is a major advantage because electronic nannies can really spoil your fun when you are out on the racetrack.
The 6-speed gearbox feels a little clunky to operate. A little slickness in this department would have made the RC 390 a more polished motorcycle.
The same can be said for the quickshifter as well because even in the mid-range, it feels very mechanical. However, it gets a little smoother once you put it to use in the higher revs.
Even though we know that the addition of adjustable suspension up front would have made the RC 390 a lot costlier than it already is but still, its arch-rival, the Apache RR 310 has upped the game and we were hoping to see KTM repeating the same feat. For someone who wishes to tap the full potential this motorcycle packs, adjustable suspension up front would have seriously impacted their buying decision.
Although it is purely subjective but personally speaking, a throatier bark from the new exhaust setup could have elevated the whole riding experience to a whole new level. More aural drama in the low and mid-range would have definitely made the RC 390 even more fun to ride than it already is!
The KTM RC 390 was already one of the most potent track tools in the lower end of the spectrum but it has become even better now, and that too, in each and every aspect! The changes implemented by the Orange Brigade really come into play once you’re on the move and moreover, it looks like a proper mini-GP machine now!
It’s still the most powerful and one of the most feature-packed motorcycles in its class. It’s commendable on KTM’s part that they have not only made the new RC 390 better on the track but more accessible and rider-friendly as well. And if you still believe that the new RC 390 is all about its polarizing looks, I feel sorry for you mate.
Riding Gears Credit: Rynox India