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2015 KTM RC 390: MD Ride Review

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It wasn’t that long ago that KTM, at least in the United States, was viewed as different or quirky by the majority of motorcycle enthusiasts. Unusual styling, odd engine displacements and street legal models derived almost directly from dirt racing models could seem somewhat out of place in our market. Times change.

Lately, it seems that KTM responds to new, sometimes niche, markets before larger competitors have a chance to convene a committee to discuss the subject. Sometimes, KTM seems to invent a niche that never existed.

As inexpensive, small displacement models became popular (beginning with the Kawasaki Ninja 250R and then the Honda CBR250R), the usual refrain could be heard from motorcycle enthusiasts … “This is great, but it would really be great if the bikes were lighter and larger in displacement, say … in the neighborhood of 350 cc.” We want lighter and more powerful. What a surprise.

Then along came the KTM 390 Duke, with a 373 cc single-cylinder engine and a claimed dry weight of 306 pounds. A fantasy bike for many, when it came to the United States MD tested it and was impressed. Now we have had the chance to test the sport bike version, the 2015 RC 390.

The specs of the RC 390 are largely identical to those of the 390 Duke, so you can look back at our test of the Duke for details. The same engine with the same claimed power and torque is used in the RC (peak horsepower is a claimed 44). Differences relate to the chassis.

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The RC features a steeper steering head angle of 66.5° and is heavier at a claimed dry weight of 322 pounds. The front suspension travel is slightly shorter at 125 mm on the RC. ABS brakes are standard.

The frame is modified from the Duke to not only increase the steering head angle, but to allow for the ergonomics appropriate for supersport racing. The seat looks like a race bike tail, but actually incorporates a pillion seat.

The stout 43 mm fork holds a front wheel with a single 300 mm brake disc squeezed by a four-piston, radially mounted caliper.

In street testing, we appreciated the same, grunty low-end and mid-range of the motor that we found in our test of the Duke. Power is good on the street, and the clutch and shifter cooperate well when you try to make quick progress. The bike changes direction easily, as you might expect, without feeling twitchy.

The suspension is plush on the street … almost too soft. The ergonomics are reasonable for the sport bike category, but we didn’t like the bar angle, noting that it was too close to flat, forcing elbows up a bit higher than comfortable.

Taking the bike to the track left some different impressions. Switching the bike to a race shift pattern (1 up and 5 down) is very easy, which is nice. The riding position is generally comfortable, and putting in lots of laps was no problem, even though my hands tend to go numb on some bikes.

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That torquey engine isn’t the best fit for the race track, particularly now that Kawasaki and Yamaha (with its new R3) have raised the displacement of their twins, which love to rev high and have good peak horsepower. On the track I was hitting the rev limiter frequently, but I normally race a Kawasaki twin that revs much higher.

Basic chassis geometry and handling is good for the track, but the suspension is lacking in damping and spring rate as delivered in the showroom. If you are serious about racing the RC 390, I would suggest you do some suspension work.

The KTM RC 390 is a good looking bike with nice detailing (such as the cool swingarm), that offers perhaps the best street motor in the class. It is a great beginner sport bike, and can be a fun track day bike. Serious riders and racers are going to need suspension tuning, and perhaps some engine work to hang with the latest twins from Yamaha and Kawasaki.

The bike is comfortable for a sport bike, with decent wind protection and good brakes. At a U.S. MSRP of $5,499, there is good value here. Take a look at KTM’s web site for additional details and specifications.

Acknowledgement to Fastrack Riders – MD thanks Fastrack Riders for sponsoring our track use during the test of the KTM RC 390. Take a look at the Fastrack Riders web site. Fastrack Riders is one of the most professionally run track day programs we have dealt with. They generally operate in Southern California at Auto Club Speedway, Chuckwalla and Buttonwillow. They are also affiliated with some track days located at Laguna Seca in Northern California. Fastrack Riders has a Rider Development School that eases first-time track riders into a safe, enjoyable experience.

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65 Comments

  1. billy says:

    A $5499 390cc single built in India is called a good value? Just wow.

    • Dave says:

      ^That^ is why smaller displacement bikes will always struggle to evolve into premium sport bikes in the US. American’s equate engine size directly to value, forget the rest.

      • Jeremy in TX says:

        Do small displacement bikes exist as premium sport bikes anywhere in the world?

        • Dave says:

          Re: “Do small displacement bikes exist as premium sport bikes anywhere in the world?”

          Yes, though I can’t speak to today’s market, the 250cc and 450cc categories have been home to premium level bikes in the past, especially when 2-strokes were more popular in Europe and Asia. Our 600cc supersport category was born from bored/stroked 400cc sport bikes for Japan.

          • Jeremy in TX says:

            In the past certainly, but that is not true today. I can’t think of a premium, small displacement sportbike anywhere. Possibly in Japan where 400cc displacements are still built into (I think) the licensing tiers? The KTM 690 Duke R and SMC R might be the closest things that related to those old feather-weights, but I hardly consider the KTMs to be small displacement. The American market isn’t the only place that relates power and value.

      • Mike says:

        Dave: I admit it …I do not understand your statement about small displacements bikes not ‘evolving” into premium sport bikes ….because KTM already has wonderful range large capacity sport bike in their current lineup.

        My view is KTM is offering this 390 for other world markets where the smaller sport bikes do sell and are the norm………and btw…..their view might be why not give it a try in the USA also even though small capacity sport bike have never sold well here (just as you stated)

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        • todd says:

          Small capacity sport bike are one of the best sellers in the US. What’s that statistic about how Kawasaki sold 20 Ninja 250s for every one Honda VFR…

          • Mike says:

            Thanks for your comment.

            Thinking about the bikes I see on the street here in SE PA …there are alot of small capacity sport bikes. Soooo….I think my statement in paragraph 2 is not correct, but will check it out.

            Now related to the following you said “Kawasaki sold 20 Ninja 250s for every one Honda VFR” ….my question is …have any cc capacity VFRs sold well in the USA over the past 5 years?

          • todd says:

            Ninja 250 was more than five years ago. Most bikes I see on the road are sport bikes.

          • Jeremy in TX says:

            I have read in multiple articles over many years that the Nina 250 has always been Kawasaki’s top seller. Considering how many I see (along with the new 300 now), I believe it. I also see quite a few CBR250/300Rs.

            Recently, I’ve also been seeing Honda’s new 500cc bikes. It makes me wonder if people are only just starting to discover them or if the elevated price of the 300cc class is changing the value dynamic of the small displacement market.

          • mickey says:

            Most of the bike I see on the road are Harleys, probably 10:1

          • todd says:

            In the San Francisco Bay Area, I notice that Harleys make up less than 1 in 10. That’s out of 30 – 50 bikes I see each day. You can see why it’s easy for me to question their popularity. Still, even 1 in 10 does make it the most popular brand.

          • mickey says:

            Todd said this before, I was out in your area a couple weeks ago and you are right in southern CA, sportbikes ruled, they were everywhere. As I got to northern CA and actually the rest of the country I have ridden in, Harleys dominated. You have a unique circumstance there in So Cal. maybe a lot of young, high tech rich types or somethirng.

            Come to the midwest and try and find a sportbike. Like looking for the Holy Grail.

          • todd says:

            San Francisco is in Northern California. I’ve spent a fair amount of time in Northern and Southern California and the mix is pretty much the same; dominated by sport bikes. Sure, when you get into the (hot, boring) Central Valley, Harleys seem to be more common as the roads are long and straight (and hot and boring…).

          • mickey says:

            Sorry been to Cali twice and LA is the most southern I’ve been and it’s a long way to Oregon so I figured LA WAS so cal lol

          • mickey says:

            man I am really geographically challenged..yes we left LA and drove north to SF up the PCH. I don’t know what is considered North or south CA all I know is down south (below SF) it was sportbikes, up north (above SF) it was Harleys and once we got into Idaho and Washington it was ADV’s lol. I also remember the best roads I saw were above Bodega Bay along the coast, even better than the stretch between Morrow Bay and Monterey

          • Jeremy in TX says:

            “Sure, when you get into the (hot, boring) Central Valley, Harleys seem to be more common as the roads are long and straight (and hot and boring…).”

            You just described about 97% of the US. Now we can all accept that Harleys are indeed as popular as everyone says they are. 😉

  2. Mike says:

    Another great review. I like singles, I like KTM and I like this bike.

    I am old now and dont fit on most bikes that weigh only weigh 75 to 100 pounds more than me….but I would lose weight for the 690 version of this bike or better yet the EJC 690 version with standard ergos vs the motard approach.

    I think this 390 should easily put the hurt on many bikes in the tight stuff of say WV on sport rides.

    Great looks, proven manufacturer and a reasonable price for the ability to ride very fast with ease, have fun every mile and become re-acquainted with the concept that sport rides in the tight stuff mile after mile at lower threshold speeds can also very, very thrilling…and yes a wee bit safer.

    So my vote is a big yes for this bike…..admiration yet again for KTM…..and yes just the thought of having this be my first street bike vs a way ole retired BSA Goldstar roadracer no one wanted which was one of the only options back then vs now. Ohhh…to have a bike like this KTM RC390 back then….and now of course also.

    Count me in for the Fast Track “ole timers” run for the checkers with all of us on one these bikes….any other candidates?

    • todd says:

      I can’t imagine myself riding this bike any slower than my other bikes. Likely because of its lighter weight and lighter/quicker steering this bike will be even MORE dangerous for me…

      • Mike says:

        Question: is the KTM RC390 safer in the tight twisties mile after mile ……going say 20% or faster than sport bikes weighing 100 to 300 pounds more?

        My answer is yes the KTM is safer based on weight and agility differences …and real world results duking it out in the mountains of WV with the heavier sport bikes on a shall we say “slightly” tuned Suz 650 motard single. Busa vs the Suz there….. makes this totally clear in my view.

        Of course the first straight section everything changes….but the big bikes going 120mph to 180mph+ is not safe given other vehicles, critters and other street issues we all know about. So…I think the KTM RC390 would also be safer on the straight aways with the lower top end, plus the ability to stop faster and take evasive action easier.

        Thanks for your post…….now for me losing some the weight to actually fit on the 390 for a test ride…..the most likely outcome is I will have to depend on posts like yours when your test ride or buy one….plus eval tests like this one here by Ed Sorbo….thx Ed .

  3. Tom Shields says:

    ED, thank you for an objective and informative review.

  4. TURBOMAN says:

    Hyosungs all new GT250R is goin to be the best bike for the money..It wont be the fastest or best handling but @ 3999.00 its 1500.00 less than the KTM and the bike is only as good as the rider in real world riding Hyosung is making a statement for 2016 ..

    • Jeremy in TX says:

      “riding Hyosung is making a statement for 2016”

      Yes, and that statement is “I’m a loser in 2016.”

      OK, not really, but I couldn’t resist.

      • mickey says:

        So cruel Jeremy. You got to feel for Hyosung fans. They get no respect. It’s like pulling for Dani Pedrosa lol

      • TURBOMAN says:

        Actually that new unit goin to sell well..Also Benelli is coming with their BN 302 @ 3999.00 with 38 hp..I see that KTM Dukes not all are being assembled in China..Did someone say loser??Also a GD 250 is coming..

      • zuki says:

        TURBOMAN sure does love some Hyosung.

        • TURBOMAN says:

          Turbo charging a GD 250 the only one in the country right now and then will be looking for that Duke and see what its got..

          • mickey says:

            You are turboing a 250 single?

          • Jeremy in TX says:

            So you are going to spend $6000 to turbocharge a $4000 bike to see if it can beat a $5000 KTM?

            Not that I am discouraging this type of behavior. I am all for “just because” projects. What country? The GD250 isn’t available in the US yet as far as I know.

          • TURBOMAN says:

            Actually it doesn’t cost $6000.00 to turbo charge a single and money isn’t a issue to everyone.I have a GD 250N the only one in the country..If you would like a photo of the unit with todays date on it let me know.

          • Jeremy in TX says:

            I’m not asking you to prove anything, TURBOMAN. I just didn’t know that bike was available in the US yet. That is why I was asking if you lived in a different country.

            However, I would love to see pictures of the bike once you have the turbo mounted and tuned. You may know more about it than I do; but unless you have some very special machinery and fab skills and assuming you are shooting for more than just a couple of psi of boost, I would think this will become a $5K to $6K project.

          • TURBOMAN says:

            Im here in the USA..When its all ill hit you up.Ever see a turbo bike win a National Championship??Turbo bikes are a lot of fun ..Johnny Pag is oming out with a turbo also ..Who do you think did the turbo?

    • rg500g says:

      And jesus wept…

    • azi says:

      Hyosung should buy EBR… wait, hang on

  5. Guu says:

    So, not suprisingly it would need suspension work. But how much? Are the forks useless 60’s tech damper-rods or cartridge forks?

  6. Stephan Pingel says:

    Sooooo…….speaking of that GoPro mounted on the front of the bike…..When are we going to get to see that footage?

  7. zuki says:

    I’m surprised nobody has mentioned the little beak. Does it get a pass since it’s a sport bike and not an adventure machine? Adventure bikes seem to be more nit-picked.

    • cbrcrx says:

      That is probably the only reason I haven’t bought one.

    • Tyler says:

      From looking at the pictures, apparently the beak is there to hold your GoPro 😎

      In all seriousness, I bought a 390 Duke after having sold my Duc 900SS and while it certainly gives up a lot in terms of sheer power it more than makes up for it in terms of fun. This is a gem of an engine, loves to rev, solid at sustained interstate speeds, I can imagine the RC would be a fantastic track ride and would love to have one as well. Oh, and the forthcoming 390 Adv bike they keep teasing. A garage full of 390 based bikes would be a good thing, man this orange kool-aid is addicting…

      • todd says:

        I’ve been considering selling off my ’93 Monster 900 for a 390 Duke but then start thinking that would only pay for half the bike even though it’s in excellent condition. It’s sad to think the Ducati is only worth half as much as this little KTM.

        • mickey says:

          Give it another couple years and it will be worth 1/2 of a Hyosung 250.. Ok no, it will be worth more than that lol

        • Mike says:

          Your Monster is only 23 years older than this KTM 390, there has to be other explanations for your concerns

          Must be me..did I do the math right on this!

          • todd says:

            I guess the age doesn’t mean much to me, I care more about capability and desirability. Is a 2016 KTM 390 twice as desirable as a clean ’93 Ducati 900?

          • Mike says:

            Todd…I hear you….for all of us the bikes we own and actually love ….the age of the bike does not matter. I spend alot of time on a bike that was made in 1980!!!

            However …unless we are lucky enough to have our ole fave bike be sought after by collectors and going up in price….the remaining older bikes are sort of ….just that …old as it relates to selling prices. Thx for your reply

  8. GKS says:

    One item not mentioned is the country of origin. This KTM is not manufactured in Austria, but in India. It might not matter to some, but I am sure that it does to many potential buyers. It definitely helps keep the purchase price down.

  9. ABQ says:

    For riding in the street, in the real world, it would be nice if the pegs were not putting us in the fetal position. As for me, I can’t lift my leg so high and feel confident.

  10. todd says:

    Would love to have this or the Duke but am a diehard Yamaha fan. R3 is in my future – probably in a couple years when they’re $3000 with a few miles on them. I wish there was some sort of way to test them out and compare first.

  11. Ed Sorbo says:

    The stock shock can be re-sprung and re-valved.
    As to lap times, the difference between the stock KTM tires and the race tires on my 250 race bike make lap time differences pointless. Also I was riding in a track day passing very nicely versus racing with a clear track. I’ll be racing with WERA at ACS on the 30th, if there are any 390’s there we will see but rider skill will be the telling point. From what I can tell so far someone may need to loan me a 300 Ninja…

  12. Can’t wait for a comparison shootout!

    • TimC says:

      Motorcyclist mag did one. KTM won it, with R3 second. R3 mainly dinged on suspension (overly soft), which MD finds same fault with on the KTM. So either R3 is WAY too soft, or opinions differ (though admittedly MD opinion seems more focused on suitability for track use as opposed to all-around).

      • TimC says:

        Edit – I now note “The suspension is plush on the street … almost too soft.” – So, yeah, if this is soft and MC mag is right, the Yamaha must not even have a suspension?!

        Bottom line, for average American riders this entire class probably needs some suspension work is how it’s sounding….

        • Dave says:

          Cycle World also did a comparison including the Honda, Kawasaki, KTM, and R3, where the R3 won.

      • rerun says:

        Just saw one of these in person. The fit and finish is not bad, but not up to par. Not saying the bike was bad or destined to be unreliable, but you could tell the bike was made in India and for my money, it’s a chance I wouldn’t take.

        The guy who bought said he drove both the KTM and R3 and said the R3 was so much smoother. He only bought the KTM cause it had ABS (he’s a beginning rider and scared out of his pants). He was in full riding gear in 105 weather while riding a dinky little bike, LOL.

        From what he told me and from the looks of the KTM, I don’t see how it could beat a R3, a Ninja, or even the Honda for that matter.

  13. TF says:

    The rear suspension (on the bikes I have sat on) is especially bad……almost no damping in either direction. It’s strange but the Duke’s shock seems worlds better even though both have no adjustment other than an old style pre-load collar. Yeah, you’d better add an aftermarket shock to the purchase price if you want one of these bikes.

    It’s still a cool bike. It’s probably a good thing that I can’t find a Duke on a dealer’s floor…..it would probably follow me home.

    • ApriliaRST says:

      >> on the bikes I have sat on <<

      That sure beat actually riding it, LOL

      • TF says:

        Actually, I sat on both bikes and would gladly ride the wheels off them given the opportunity. There is a stark difference between the two bikes with the rear suspension on the Duke feeling much more stable and workable for the intended purpose.

  14. Paul says:

    what were your track times with the KTM vs your normal Kawa twin?