373cc Single-Cylinder Architectural anarchy meets Austrian revelry
AMCN’s team are very familiar with KTM’s racy little RC390. We’ve had one as our extra-long long-termer since 2015, and recently I’ve raced it in the ASBK production championship. Like most bikes penned for KTM by design house Kiska, the RC has looks you either love or hate. The same can be said for the bright orange livery for which KTM is synonymous. The one thing about the KTM which galvanised opinions among our test team was that little bike with the (t)horny looks was an absolute hoot to ride.
With very little in terms of kW power to split the bikes other than the Braaap, the KTM’s ace card is its light weight and narrow profile. This is thanks to its single-cylinder engine, and gives it a distinctly nimble feel. Although it appears quite tall, an overly soft rear shock spring reduces both the stand over height and the sharpness of the steering geometry. The rear shock settings are the RC’s only disappointment for me – too soft – and let down an otherwise excellent chassis. The rear preload is adjustable, but increasing spring preload only amplifies the lack of damping control in the shock. Of course, these things must be put in perspective of the average road user. Away from the racetrack, few riders will be concerned with the KTM’s suspension, and the USD fork gives great performance in general use.
In the battle of the spec sheets, the KTM clearly gets top prize when it comes to braking. The RC is the only bike on test with a four-piston front caliper, produced by Brembo’s made-in-India budget-brand ByBre. There’s plenty of power there, but as with the other anti-lock braking models, it’s impossible to feel the full potential of the anchors before being rudely interrupted by Constable ABS of the stoppie police.
There’s no ignoring KTM’s signature tubular-steel trellis frame, or the cast aluminium swingarm with externally visible internal bracing. Add this to the clever integration of pillion seat and race-style tail unit and the twin projector headlights, and the RC390 is one of the most eye-catching bikes on the road.
But how well does the single-cylinder donk perform against the twins? Very well is the answer. That’s largely down to the KTM’s low weight, and the engine’s high cylinder compression ratio relative to the competition. Like the CBR500RA, which also has greater cubic capacity on its side, the KTM isn’t a high revver. It’s best to let the engine rpm drop much lower than on the Yamaha R3 or Ninja 300. Down between 4000-5000rpm it doesn’t always sound like there’s much happening, but the powerplant pulls strong, smooth and quietly from there, and it’s a far more effective and mechanically sympathetic way of negotiating slow speed corners than overusing the gearbox and revving the engine unnecessarily.
As lovely as the KTM is to ride, it lacks that little bit of sporty appeal a twin-cylinder bike provides. But it’s still a hoot to fang on, and if it was the only thing I rode all day it would feel like a second skin after a couple of sessions.
At $6095 its just $1600 more than the Braaap for a bike that’s probably three times better. No, make that 10 times better.
Probably the hooniest bike of the bunch. As soon as you turn the key she says ‘Ready to Race’ Looks trick, nice KTM branding. You wouldn’t be disappointed if your heart is set on a fair dinkum supersport bike. It is quite zippy and is light and flickable, and the good suspension was very confidence inspiring on the track
Very comfortable, even for a tall rider. Great engine and nice light weight makes for good acceleration. Transmission was vague at times, and far from the best of the group, but the stock suspension seemed to have a slight edge on the competition. Great value for money and pleasing to see that KTM can bring this LAMS package in at a price point that competes with the Japanese marques.
Perhaps the nimblest bike I tried and I like the fact it’s light, however, something about the complete package just didn’t gel for me. Some of that definitely had to do with the sound and feel of the single-cylinder engine – on the back straight the vibrations were noticeable compared to the other bikes. I could see from the way the others rode it that it really can work as a track weapon – I probably don’t have the skills to get the most out of it yet.