As it turns out, we are about to hit the 10,000km mark on our long term KTM 390 Adventure in just nine months since we acquired it. And in this time, apart from the gruelling daily commute, and not to mention, a few enjoyable long highway trips, the 390 Adventure has spent quite a bit of time off-road as well.
We attended the KTM ProXP Trail ride with it (read here), as well as the ProXP Adventure Day (here); the latter is a must-attend adventure riding school for KTM owners in our book. Then of course, with its new Martini livery in place, the 390 also participated in our annual off-road event - the BikeWale Off-Road Day. You can read more about that here.
What’s more, after having spent so much time riding the motorcycle off the road, we found a list of things that make the 390 Adventure a good companion to go off-roading with, and a few shortcomings that one must keep in mind before going all gung-ho when the road runs out. Here then, are a list of pros and cons of the KTM 390 Adventure when it comes to off-road riding.
Light on its feet. The 390 might be more high-strung than most motorcycles meant to be taken off-road, but, once you get the hang of it, it’s actually exploitable. With the index finger of your left hand covering the clutch to keep the bike from stalling, one does eventually learn to tap into the 390’s power reserve, then be it to take on a steep incline, get out of a rut, or spin it around in a tight spot. And, of course, to jump obstacles with, be it logs or rocks, because well, it’s fun.
Easy to walk with. One of the many things I have learnt about riding off-road is that sometimes, you can’t ride at all. Instead, one must ‘walk-the-bike’ because it is just the easier or safer thing to do. A few things matter here. One, the footpegs shouldn’t foul with your shins which is a function of positioning and design. The 390 ADV has that covered. Two, the handlebar height from the ground should be such that it doesn’t make the rider reach for them or stoop over. For my height - 5’9 in riding boots - and for those who are a couple of inches short or tall, the 390 feels alright. Finally, the clutch. It has to be both light and progressive so one doesn’t have to bank of the throttle to keep the bike moving at snail’s pace. And we had no complaints here either.
Switchable options. On the road, I most certainly liked the ABS working on both the wheels. It’s the difference between me coming to a stop the right way up, or going down in a dramatic slide when I call on the brakes in an emergency. But off-road, it’s a little different. It’s more about slow speeds and controlled slides. Even though I would like the option to turn the ABS off on both wheels, I am also more than happy to have the option of turning just the rear ABS off. The 390 gives me that option, which helps when coming down a slippery slope, or if I want to indulge in some theatrics. Speaking of theatrics, also having the option to switch off traction controls means I can pull small, unnecessary slides for a laugh. And of course, one also needs this electronic nanny switched off to make any and all jumps.
Well-balanced. The last thing one needs off the road is a bike that feels cumbersome because its weight sits in the wrong place. Low is good. As is a little front bias. The 390 has that. Which means, when riding slowly over narrow trails, through closely stacked trees, or a rock and rut minefield, it’s not only easy to steer the bike at slow speeds, it’s also easy to keep it upright, and ride it standing up.
Great for flat trails. Slow, technical trails aren’t where the 390 ADV shines, to be honest. Yes, it has the balance, but its engine’s character makes such proceedings a bit challenging. Show it a faster, hard-packed trail though, and the motorcycle comes into its own. Its well-damped suspension flattens all but the deepest of potholes. It skims over small bumps and ditches as if they were almost non-existent. And, even though you can feel its front and rear sliding around, it happens in a relatively slow and controlled manner, which doesn’t let panic set in.
Low-end torque. Lack of low-end engine torque means one has to work this KTM off-road. Ideally, that shouldn’t be the case with any bike off-road because riding off-road is hard as it is. In case of the 390 ADV, one is either relying heavily on the clutch or using one gear too low to keep the grunt flowing unabated. The clutch is light, so that’s not a big problem. But, a gear too low means one must have fantastic throttle control to keep the momentum, and keep things smooth and fluid. I don’t have that. So, it’s the clutch play for me.
Ground clearance. Yes, this can be an issue for some. The 390 sits 200mm off the ground. And on hard-packed dirt trails, or even through forests, over gravelly roads, or water crossings in Ladakh, for that matter, it shouldn’t be a bother. It’s only when you decide to take on something more challenging like deep ruts or rocks or rolling off a really high divider, does the motorcycle’s belly get in the way. And that plastic bash plate wouldn’t be of much help if it’s going to take repeated hammerings.
Rider footrest angle. The rider’s footpeg on the 390 ADV is angled slightly forward. It’s good for road riding. It feels natural. But, when one rides standing up, it tends to push you forward a bit. It’s not ideal, but as I have come to realise after using some after-market, levelled-out footpegs, the stock set isn’t that bad. It feels odd at first, but it’s not difficult to get used to.
This then was our list of pros and cons for the 390 Adventure specific to off-road riding. Now, if you are wondering if it’s worth buying for someone looking to go off the road; it most certainly is. It’s not hard-core, but it’s capable. Now, do let us know if you agree with our list, or have your own; we’d love to find out.
Odo Reading: 9,516km
Fuel Efficiency: 33.2kmpl
Price: Rs 3,92,500, OTR, Mumbai (when tested)
Photography: Kaustubh Gandhi
KTM 390 Adventure  Rear View