Long-Term KTM RC390: Final Update

Farewell from the sidelines.

KTM RC390
Wrist: Ari Henning
MSRP: (2015) $5,499
Miles: 3,788
Mods: More time in the shop
Update: 15
Julia LaPalme

This photo Julia shot of my long-term KTM is beautiful, but to me it has a touch of gloom to it. Perhaps that's just a reflection of my feelings toward the RC390's long-term test, which is coming to an end. The past 18 months have included many fun races and plenty of memorable laps aboard this bike, but I've also spent an inordinate amount of time working on the RC.

I’m not talking about the upgrades I did to the suspension and brakes or the clip-ons and rearsets I installed, all of which improved the RC’s performance and readied it for racebike duty. I’m talking about the blown head gasket, electrical gremlins, and aberrant valve clearances that have regularly interrupted my enjoyment of this bike. I like to work on motorcycles nearly as much as I like to ride them, but the KTM has tested my love for wrenching.

And I’m hardly the only one frustrated. The online forums and race paddock are rife with anecdotes of faulty radiator fans, dry swingarm bushings, and other fairly serious issues. Throughout my tenure with the RC390 I’ve reported my findings to KTM North America, and recently I had the opportunity to sit down and speak candidly with a table of Austrian VIPs. Everyone has shown concern for the problems others and I have encountered, but forum chatter and a journalist’s experience aren’t sufficient to spur Mattighofen to action.

What's needed, explained Robert Pierce, KTM North America's VP of operations, is official documentation. That means getting repairs done at a KTM dealer instead of in your garage or your local mechanic's shop. There's plenty of grumbling at ground level, but those complaints won't yield improvements unless they make it up the chain of command through the necessary, official channels. And while you might think that racing or tracking your RC390 will void its warranty, KTM says it won't.

Given the abundance of more reliable small-bore options out there, I’m not likely to recommend the RC390 to others. But for all the trouble the KTM has caused me I have to say this: The RC390 has done wonders for the riding public’s perception of small bikes. When KTM jumped into the little-bike pool and built this aggressive-looking, fast little bike, people noticed. And as such a popular bike, the RC390’s faults are in the spotlight. Hopefully KTM will invest in the future of the model by reconciling its current issues.