What do you call it when a racing-oriented European motorcycle company teams up with an Indian factory to produce a performance-oriented, entry-level motorcycle at a price competitive with the Japanese big Four? I call it brilliant, but KTM calls it the RC390. It’s based on KTM’s light, cheap and quick 390 Duke, and it will very likely be on sale in the USA next year for a price not too far from other entry-level sportbikes like Kawasaki’s Ninja 300 and Honda’s CBR500R.
“The new KTM RC390, which will be available for sale in 2014, will meet a big demand for affordable, quality sport bikes for the lower displacement class,” KTM CEO Stefan Pierer said at a press conference showing off the race-only RC390 KTM is building for the Red Bull Rookie’s Cup. Since KTM has already confirmed the 390 Duke is coming to U.S. dealers for 2014, it’s logical to assume the RC390 — which will use the same chassis and engine — will get here too. Kawasaki’s Ninja 300 is about 600 Euros more than the KTM 390 Duke in Europe, so expect the RC390 to be the same price — or less. The U.S. Ninja is $4,799 without ABS, $5,499 with it, and the 390 will probably come standard with the anti-locks. My prediction? $5,299 for the RC390, $4,999 for the Duke.
But to compare it to the other bikes isn’t really fair. The Duke has a claimed tank-empty weight of 306 pounds and claimed hp is 43 (expect a little under 40 at the wheel). We loved the 300 Ninja, but it’s no out-of-the-box racebike. It weighs almost 390 pounds gassed up and makes about 35 horsepower at the wheel. And the CBR500R (and its naked and Adventure-Touring brothers the CB500F and CB500X) is a big hit for Honda, but it’s also very heavy—well over 400 pounds wet—and makes about 45 hp at the wheel—more power, but it’s lugging an extra c-note of poundage, too. That’s like having a passenger who won’t get off.
In a Honda CB500-like approach, the RC390 is the Duke with different styling, including that angular, Gerald Kiska-penned fairing. The race version is trimmed down to 286 pounds and less than 39 hp, but that’s probably due to racing rules — we expect the U.S. street-legal version to be identical in spec to the 390 Duke, as it’s easier and cheaper to certify one motor for regulatory purposes than two.
A final thought — will KTM be able to compete with manufacturers like Kawasaki and Honda, global companies with vast production capacity? If there is huge demand for an entry-level, affordable sportbike (and we think there is), will KTM dealers be able to keep up with demand? Kawasaki has said for years its Ninja 300 (including the 250cc predecessor) has been its best-selling (or close to it), and though it doesn’t release sales numbers by model, we estimate it sells around 5,000-8,000 a year. Can KTM make that many RC390s for the US market?
Yes. Remember that 47 percent of KTM is owned by India’s Bajaj Auto, a small company by Indian standards, but vast by European ones. It has actually been having a bit of labor trouble lately, so production is down, to a mere 3,000 units.
At one factory of three. A day.