Austria and India Collaborate on a Ninja Killer

They say: Reduced to the essentials. We say: You don’t need more than this to have fun.

Click play to take a quick video ride on the RC390 with Associate Editor Zack Courts at the Autodromo di Modena:

It’s hard not to be impressed with KTM lately. The Austrian firm is expanding its range, especially on the street side, at an amazing rate, which makes sense when you know its stated goal is nothing short of being the world leader in “sportcycles.”

And as with any other major brand taking part on the global stage, KTM has expanded production internationally—specifically, a partnership with Indian maker Bajaj. While 125cc and 200cc single-cylinder engines have been fitted to both Duke and RC (for “Race Competition”) chassis, the RC390 is the first of these Indian-made KTMs that we will see stateside. What it appeared to be in pictures was stiff competition for Kawasaki’s Ninja 300 and Honda’s new CBR300R. Ever the thorough journalists, we attended the world debut of the RC390 in Modena, Italy, to get the whole story.

From the first display model we were allowed to sit on, the RC390 feels every bit an entry-level sportbike. It weighs in at a claimed 325 pounds (without fuel), and has looks to turn heads, with angular bodywork and orange-powdercoated wheels and frame that scream KTM. A seat height just over 32 inches isn’t particularly low for this class of bike, but the saddle is narrow and the bike feels light off the kickstand.

Bringing the 373cc single to life for our ride the next morning, we were greeted with a polite but enthusiastic patter from the under-slung exhaust while the low-effort clutch will inspire confidence from beginners. Once rolling, the RC390 feels predictably agile, but surprisingly roomy. Testers ranged from about 5-foot-7 to 6-foot-3 and everyone was happy with the ergonomics during the 90-minute ride into the hills southwest of Bologna.

The more time spent around the RC390, the more the issue of global build comes into focus. It was designed in Austria, but it’s hard to say that it has been held to truly European standards. The tubular-steel trellis frame is striking and adds an exotic flair, but isn’t quite as premium once up close, with heavy welds that don’t exactly shout “Euro exotic.” Off-brand brakes—or at least unfamiliar to American eyes—and a slightly cheap cast top triple clamp that include “clip-on” inserts hint at efforts to keep costs low and use components from the RC’s assembly land (if not its true home land.)

Still, with the help of a cast-aluminum swingarm and a 43mm inverted fork, the RC390 has a stable chassis. Other obvious KTM touches include a fully digital dashboard with a fuel gauge, gear-position indicator, and even an adjustable shift light. The RC’s WP-built suspension front and rear is decidedly soft, but blame that mostly on the size of rider that’s expected.

The DOHC engine impressed from the beginning, and never missed a beat, putting through Italian villages with immaculate manners. A very light-throw, KTM-esque gearbox proved easy to use through all six gears, though it’s not as precise as the premium bikes’; we found a false neutral between third and fourth gears more than once. Fueling was agreeable in every situation, though, and the pocket-sized powerplant delivers a satisfying rush of power above 7,000 rpm. KTM claims 44 horsepower at the crankshaft, so this is not an arm-stretching machine, but expect it to keep up with American traffic. Displacement advantage granted, we imagine it will make the red and green competition in its mirrors a little smaller on straight stretches of road.

The ride eventually led us to the Autodromo di Modena, a closed course, to find out if the RC390 was ready to have illegal amounts of fun. Adding a couple of clicks of preload in the 10-position, ramp-style adjuster stiffened the rear a little, but even with not nearly enough spring for this 185-pound tester, the RC390 provided loads of fun around the 1.2-mile, 11-turn autodromo.

A radially mounted, four-piston Bybre caliper squeezes a single 300mm disc up front, with a 230mm disc astern pinched by a single-piston Bybre. The brakes operate happily up to about 80 percent of maximum power (perfectly acceptable on the street), after which it takes a firm squeeze to add stopping power. By the time the rear wheel lifts off the ground and engages the standard Bosch 9MP ABS there is very little feel at the lever. The binders never faded during three 20-minute sessions, though, suggesting that more aggressive pads would probably improve brake feel.

A few sessions on track during a blazing Italian summer day meant the stock Metzeler Sportec M5 tires eventually succumbed to the heat and became greasy, although not before many a knee was dragged. Footpeg feelers touched down too, but didn’t hinder the fun. And even without a hugely long front straightaway, the RC390 consistently showed 101 mph just before braking for turn one.

Motorcycles like the RC390 are sometimes easy to pick apart because they are small, underpowered, or built on a budget, but the truth is this bike doesn’t leave much wanting. Our short list to make this bike truly exhilarating would be brake pads and stiffer suspension; not exactly a comprehensive overhaul.

Price will certainly play a part in how attracted new and returning riders are to the RC390, and that has yet to be announced. It will sell in Europe for 5,500 Euros, or just north of $7,000. KTM North America hopes to beat the exchange rate, but only time will tell. What we can say for sure is that this latest KTM is ready to take on the street, the track, and everywhere in between. We’re thrilled that it’s bound for America, and we can’t wait to test one out on home soil.

PRICE $5,599
ENGINE 373.2cc, liquid-cooled single
CLAIMED HORSEPOWER 43.0 hp @ 9500 rpm
CLAIMED TORQUE 23.6 lb.-ft. @ 7250 rpm
FRAME Tubular-steel trellis
FRONT SUSPENSION WP 43mm fork; 4.9-in. travel
REAR SUSPENSION WP shock adjustable for spring preload; 5.9-in. travel
FRONT BRAKE Bybre four-piston caliper, 300mm disc
REAR BRAKE Bybre one-piston caliper, 320mm disc
RAKE/TRAIL 23.5º/3.5 in.
WHEELBASE 52.8 in.
SEAT HEIGHT 32.3 in.
CLAIMED WEIGHT 341 lbs. wet
AVAILABLE February 2015
CONTACT [ [ktmusa.com][]

Click play to watch KTM's Ready To Race video featuring the new RC390