2015 KTM RC390 - First Ride Review

KTM’s racy single is like a taste of Moto3.

Looking for something to celebrate that's been born out of these depressed economic times? Lightweight sportbikes fans have plenty to smile about. Consider the latest class entry to follow in the skinny tire tracks of the Kawasaki Ninja 300 and recently introduced Honda CBR300R: the KTM RC390 single cylinder sportbike.

The RC390 was designed and developed at KTM HQ in Mattighofen, Austria, but is manufactured in the company's Indian facility, which has kept cost down and allowed the bike to not only address the needs of emerging markets and developed countries with tiered licensing laws, but also to offer budget-minded American buyers an exotic alternative in the class. The RC390 is expected to hit dealers in February, 2015.

Based on the Duke 390, the RC390 is the new flagship of KTM’s small-displacement single-cylinder range made up of 125, 200 and 373cc models. The Duke’s proven liquid-cooled, dohc, fuel-injected counter-balanced four-stroke single serves as a stressed member of the RC’s tubular steel-trellis frame. The Duke’s 25-degree rake and 3.9-inch trail have been steepened/shortened on the RC390 to 23.5 degrees and 3.5 inches. Add in its shorter 52.8-inch wheelbase and it’s all about sharper handling response.

2015 KTM RC390 action shot

Likewise, suspension travel is also shortened to 4.9-inch front and 5.9-inch rear movement working with firmer damping characteristics. The non-adjustable 43mm inverted fork and spring-preload-adjustable shock are WP units manufactured in India.

In fact, nearly every component of the bike, including such notables as Brembo-designed cast alloy wheels and brake calipers, the two-channel Bosch ABS system and 46mm Dell’Orto throttle body are all sourced in India. Who knew the land of outsourced tech support hotlines has become a hotbed of homegrown technology?

I traveled to Modena, Italy, where KTM staged its RC390 world press launch. Following a morning technical presentation we threw a leg over the RC’s firm 32.3-inch tall saddle and set out on a street ride through neighboring villages and twisty backroads.

Weighing a claimed 324 pounds without fuel (add an additional 16 pounds with its 2.6-gallon tank filled), the RC proved nimble and exceptionally easy to maneuver out of a parking stall. Better still, once under way, pulling away from stops and accelerating up through its light-shifting six-speed gearbox was super easy and fun.

2015 KTM RC390 static 3/4 view

Power delivery is linear across the rev range with plenty of thumping grunt on bottom, and it builds to a fulfilling zing near the 10,000-rpm redline. Claimed peak output is 44 horsepower at 9,500 rpm, so figure mid-to-high 30s at the rear wheel, a good 10 or so more than the CBR. The beat of this over-square single is also notably more pronounced than that of the CBR300R, but it never felt uncomfortably coarse.

A more sporting riding position sets the bike apart from its class peers, the clip-on bars residing about level with the top triple clamp. Ample legroom between seat and footrests comfortably accommodates riders several inches taller than my own 5-foot-10 stature. The mirrors are excellent, control operation is polished and the brakes are effective with decent fade-free performance. Ride compliance proved exceptional on the street, but the bike was softly sprung and under-damped for my 180-pound butt when hot lapping the Autodromo di Modena in the afternoon.

The twisting 1.5-mile circuit offered an ideally scaled test course for accessing the RC’s sporting performance. Baby Ninjas and CBRs beware, as there’s a new weapon in town for low-cost corner scratching. Clicking timely upshifts on cue with the adjustable shift indicator light netted an indicated speed of 100 mph in top gear with revs to spare on the track’s main straight. ABS can be toggled off but on this smoothly paved circuit it seldom cycled and only in the hardest braking zones, so I left it on.

2015 KTM RC390 on-track action shot

Inspecting the Metzeler Sportec M5 radials after a riding session of peg-grinding, fairing-lower-rubbing corner speed, I was baffled to discover that the 110/70ZR17 front was scrubbed to the tread’s edge, but that there were 3/8-inch chicken strips on the 150/60ZR17 rear. I inquired about this unusual wear, but didn’t get an adequate answer leaving me to assume the rear tire is not a proper fit for the 4.0-inch wheel width.

Hard cornering at deep lean produced an occasional chatter slide at the rear, but there was ample warning to catch it. I wasn’t so lucky when the front let loose and tucked at the apex of a third-gear right. Actually, I did come away lucky, almost managing a Marquez-esque save, except that I ended up riding my knee and elbow to a stop without leaving a scratch on the bike!

How’s that for luck?

MSRP has yet to be announced, but “a price competitive with class rivals” is the word from a KTM North America spokesman in attendance. With the 2015 CBR300R ABS at $4899, we suspect the RC390 represents a good $600 or so added value. Hard times or not, entry-level and enthusiasts shopping for a lightweight sportbike have never been so lucky as now.

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Group static shot.

Static front 3/4 left-side view.

Static front 3/4 right-side view.

Studio overhead view.

Front wheel / brake.

Instrument panel.

Engine.

Seat.

Studio right-side view.

Studio stripped right-side view.

Cup Start - Lausitzring.