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KTM RC390 long-term test: 'A sports bike in its purest form, reduced to the essentials'

2018-04-20 09:00

Dries Van Der Walt

Image: Wheels24 / Dries Van Der Walt

Who says a commuter or first-time rider can’t have fun? Definitely not KTM, because their RC390 is a sport bike with all of the fun and excitement inherent to that category, but in a small, light and unintimidating package.

But how well does a single-cylinder 373cm³ machine cope with serious inter-city commuting?

Putting the RC390 through its paces

To find out, we asked KTM for an RC390 for a long-term test with the intention of subjecting it to 10 000km of daily commuting between Pretoria and Joburg. 

Let’s start off by taking a closer look at what lies under the skin of this little pocket rocket. KTM calls it "a sports bike in its purest form, reduced to the essentials."

READ: KTM SA lands all-new RC390 sportster

Whether you are on country roads or the racetrack, says the Austrian manufacturer, the Moto3 genes are perceptible in every manoeuvre and convey pure race feeling.

And this is more than just hype: the bikes that race in the RC Cup series are essentially identical to the road-going RC390, with the exception of a racing seat, uprated brakes and adjustable WP suspension, race tires and an Akrapovic exhaust.

The steel trellis frame, although visually similar to that on KTM’s Duke 390, has been modified to better fit the supersport ergonomics and dynamics.

Tweaks and increased performance

The steering head angle has been increased to 66.5 degrees, resulting in a shorter trail, shorter wheelbase and increased ground clearance.

These modifications, says KTM, release the complete racing potential of the RC and guarantee quick, agile and playful handling.

In the suspension department, a light alloy swingarm with a directly-linked WP shock absorber provides extreme torsional stiffness and outstanding tracking stability. At the front, the RC390’s WP upside-down fork has the same 43mm outer tube diameter as the RC8 R – an indication that KTM means business with the RC390.

Sadly, the RC didn’t inherit the new TFT dashboard from its sibling. That said, the dash, while looking a tad dated, offers just about all the information you would expect, including fuel consumption, tank range, gear position and much more.

Hard to fault

If I had to criticise the panel, it would be for having a tiny bar-graph rev counter which can be hard to read. 

The liquid cooled single-cylinder 373cm³ engine with twin overhead camshafts, four valves and electronic fuel injection, is the same one found in the Duke 390, and provides outstanding power for its capacity.

Thanks to the balancer shaft, the motor is also smoother than one would expect from a single. Thanks to KTM’s typical compact design with stacked transmission shafts, the engine weighs in at only 36kg. 

New to the current model is a slipper clutch that not only opens when the engine back-torque becomes too high, but also closes with the force of the clutch springs when you open the throttle.

The former prevents annoying rear wheel chatter when braking sharply or decelerating, while the latter allows the clutch to be pulled and controlled with one finger if you so wish.

Tame the little beast

Another new feature is the ride-by-wire, which is more than just no throttle control cable: the RC 390's ride-by-wire system ensures perfect application of the ample torque.

It also electronically translates the throttle commands of the rider into throttle valve positions perfectly suited to the riding conditions. The RBW system is fully compliant with the strict DIN 26262 safety standard from the automobile sector.

To tame the little beast, KTM worked closely with Brembo to develop a powerful brake-system: a four-piston radially-bolted calliper in combination with a bigger single brake disk (320mm diameter) in the front and a single piston floating calliper with a single brake disk (230mm diameter) for the rear wheel.

This setup would have served a heavier bike well, and on the light-weight RC it gives excellent braking reaction, even during the most aggressive riding. Disengageable ABS is standard.

The deal sweetener

With specification like these, it is evident that the RC390 would be huge fun to ride, and it hasn’t disappointed us in real life. It is surprisingly fast and nimble, making it easy to forget that you are riding a small-capacity single rather than a midsize supersport. 

KTM offer a deal-sweetener – when you finance the R70 999 bike through them, they will pay your R10 000 deposit. This, if I may plagiarise Don Corleone from The Godfather, makes it an offer you can’t refuse.

With category-leading performance, commuter-level economy and the exclusivity of the KTM brand name, it seems to be a great option if you’re in the market for a bike in this size class. What remains to be seen is how well it copes with everyday use. Stay tuned as we find out over the next few months.


Manufacturer: KTM
Model: RC390

Type: Four stroke, single cylinder. DOHC with finger followers, 4 Valve per cylinder
Displacement: 373cm³
Maximum Power: 32kW @ 9500rpm
Maximum Torque: 35.3Nm @7250rpm
Fuel supply system: Electronic fuel injection 
Fuel type: Petrol, premium unleaded min 95 RON
Fuel consumption: 4.0 L/100km (claimed)

Type: 6-speed sequential
Final drive: Chain

Overall length x width x height (mm): 2 002 X 873 X 1 267
Dry weight: 139 kg

Passengers: 1+1
Fuel tank: 10 litres

Front: Single 320mm disc 4 piston radial caliper
Rear: Single 230mm disc 1 piston caliper

Front: WP Upside-down fork
Rear: WP Monoshock

Tyre, front: 110/70 R17
Tyre, rear: 150/60 R17

PRICE: R70 999

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