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KTM RC 390: A 1200km all-terrain touring review

09 December 2022, 08:02 PM Anuj Mishra

Introduction

KTM RC 390 Right Side View

To tour on a motorcycle, it's the will and determination that matters more than the displacement, body style, or tyres … 

These are the words of those who have gone to great lengths to prove them. Now, while I don't completely agree with this notion, I do believe that the mind is extremely powerful and it can make or break a lot. 

My long ride on the KTM RC 390, for instance. Many people literally laughed and ridiculed the idea of munching miles on a sportbike. Some even said I will flat-bed the bike halfway through. However, my deep admiration for the bike ever since I rode it at the track made me take the leap and I set out to test the authenticity of the aforementioned words from the experts. It was time to test KTM’s claims that the RC is more useable, mainly in terms of engine refinement and tractability, ride quality, and seating comfort. What followed was a 1200km Mumbai-Goa round trip. Here’s how it went. 

KTM RC 390 Left Side View

Smooth coasting to Goa

It was around 6 am when I mounted the Viaterra Element tail bag on the pillion seat and headed out. The sun wasn't completely up, courtesy of the winter season, but the RC had already pumped up my energies with its brisk acceleration. And that helped me escape the city in no time and enter the ghats of Lonavala. These amazing twisties of Western ghats are where the RC came into its element, as I had expected. 

Around every corner, I braked hard and late and dropped the bike into corners with an unusual audacity, and the RC abided by my intentions. It leaned and carried on with the grace of a ballerina. Then, the corner exits, if I was in the right gear, were equally ballistic and smile-inducing.

KTM RC 390 Engine From Right

Now, after dancing around the ghats, as soon as I hit the wide-open NH48, the motorcycle didn’t stop impressing me. My usual stress-free touring speed, on almost all motorcycles, is 100-110kmph. And that's a cakewalk for the RC's 373cc mill which shows no signs of distress. Every time I overtook bigger vehicles, just a slight wring of the throttle was all it took to zoom past them. At times, I even tried to do 120-130kmph and the bike felt absolutely unstrained and overtakes were still easy. 

KTM RC 390

KTM RC 390

  • Displacement373.27 cc
  • Max Power(bhp)42.9 bhp
  • Kerb Weight172 kg
  • ;

Avg. Ex-showroom price

₹ 3,14,101

As I reached Satara, moving yet dense traffic awaited me and that meant a lot of gear changes and fast manoeuvres. The former is something I thoroughly enjoyed as going up and down the RC's gearbox is a profound joy. The cogs shift with the slightest effort and with a reassuring click. The experience is further accentuated by the bi-directional quick shifter. Every time I had to slow down in urgency, I would go down the gears with swift movements of my toe, without even touching the clutch! And then going up the gears and getting back to highway speeds was, for the most part, a similarly engaging and quick clutchless affair.

KTM RC 390 Left Side View

Another aspect that helps the RC in traffic is its braking prowess. The ByBre calipers are some of the best units in this segment as they deliver a handful of bite even with minimal force on the lever. The same goes for the rear brake. 

Now, as I crossed Satara, it had been over four hours since I started on the bike in the morning and the RC's committed ergonomics began showing their effect. My upper back started aching due to the intermittent pressure on my hands that was induced by constant braking in traffic. This is where the RC's revised ergonomics and my 5'11'' stature with long hands shone brightly. Since the handlebar is much closer to the rider now, I could sit upright for a while, holding the throttle with the tip of my fingers which gave some needed respite to my back. I repeated this exercise every few minutes which made the sporty riding triangle bearable.

KTM RC 390 Bike Seat

One aspect of its ergonomics that truly impressed me is the seat. There's such a generous stuffing of cushion that not once did I feel my backside getting soar. Also, an abundance of space meant constantly switching my body position from upright to a crouch was easy.

The journey was as smooth as a knife through butter until we reached Amboli Ghat. This was the section I was really looking forward to, mainly for the unending corners it offers. However, as we entered this hallowed territory, we kept coming across profoundly broken patches sporadically. And this is where the RC’s revised suspension setup came to the rescue. Now, although the bike’s ride quality isn’t outright plush, it isn't as unforgiving as before. I kept on gunning the RC through ruts and potholes and it kept flying without returning obnoxious jerks to my arms or slapping my back. It was only when the bike jumped into deep craters that I could feel the firmness of the rear spring. I throttled my way through the marginally broken patches and the RC glided over most of it without much reluctance.

KTM RC 390 Front Tyre

The arduous return journey

With the rosy part of the story out of the way, let me shed some light on my complaints with the RC and the excruciating return journey. You see, the route we took on our way back to Mumbai is the old highway which, for the most part, takes you through a scenic landscape comprising hills, farms, meadows, and villages. While all of it accompanies you until you reach Panvel, the road surface starts testing the man and the machine’s endurance and patience after nearly two hours of riding. The construction work underway every few metres greets you with a lot of diversions, gravel, stones, sand, and scarily deep craters. 

This is where the RC and its committed ergonomics felt out of place. The high-amplitude undulations meant the bike was bobbing almost all the time. To tackle this, I would lift my backside from the seat which would result in a lot of pressure on the arms and wrists. And if I remained seated, my lower back would take an immense toll from the shocks. Hence, riding slowly through most of the diversions and nastier cavities was the only option. 

KTM RC 390 Fuel Tank

Owing to the intermittently emerging undulations, I was also braking more frequently. While the brakes of the RC are commendable, the sides of the fuel tank are extremely slippery which results in the rider easily sliding ahead under hard braking. This is not a major issue on the highway but a significant gripe in the city or while tackling bad roads. Having said that, this can be dealt with by slapping on aftermarket tank grips. 

KTM RC 390 Front Tyre

I feel RC could also do with better tyres. The H-rated Metzelers deliver decent grip and feedback around corners on good roads. However, once you start showing profound confidence in the bike and commence pushing the handling envelope, the rubbers start lacking. I could feel the rear squirming a bit every time I went hard on the throttle while exiting corners. 

Another issue I had with the bike, and I might be nit-picking now, are the mirrors. Although they are large and wide, the placement is a bit odd and I could see my arms in half of the glass on both sides. I tried adjusting them in different positions, but nothing helped much. Every time I required a clear and wide view of the objects behind, I had to tuck my arms inside, which was slightly frustrating. 

KTM RC 390 Rear View Mirror

The bottom line

Now, on to the most important question — can you go touring on the KTM RC 390? My answer is a definite yes! However, there are certain things to be kept in mind. Firstly, the road surface. The journey from Mumbai to Goa was quite enjoyable because of the smooth road for the majority of the ride. Also, my tall stature and long arms allowed me to sit upright and relax which might not be the case with shorter riders. In fact, my colleague Ajinkya, who is considerably shorter, was tired pretty soon after he rode it in the city. 

KTM RC 390 Right Side View

If you’re planning to tour on a route that comprises a lot of off-roading, then the RC wouldn’t be a wise choice. Despite the revisions in its ergonomics and suspension, riding through profoundly broken roads for a long time isn’t a comfortable or sustainable affair, especially if you’re planning to tour over a few consecutive days. 

Having said that, touring on the RC 390 was a wholesome experience for me and the positives clearly overshadowed the drawbacks. As we have said multiple times before, it has become way more versatile and practical, and touring on it isn’t as dubious an idea as it was on the previous iteration. As for the minor challenges, well, some of the great minds have rightly said - it’s the will and determination that matters. 

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