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2022 KTM RC 390: MD First Ride

KTM does things their own way, and this is something MD admires. By not copying its competitors, KTM has more headroom to develop new bikes. Take a look at their approach to MotoGP racing.

After success in the lower classes, KTM took on the MotoGP category in 2017 with a bike built from scratch. While other manufacturers were using Öhlins suspension and box aluminum frames, KTM was willing to tackle an extraordinarily steep learning curve with a unique approach.

Trusting its vast experience with chromoly steel tube frames, both off-road and in road racing at the Moto3 and Moto2 levels, KTM became the only manufacturer with a steel-framed MotoGP bike and the only manufacturer to develop its own suspension for that bike in-house with its WP forks and shocks. While KTM hasn’t won a MotoGP championship yet, it has come a long way to the point where it has now won races with both factory team riders Brad Binder and Miguel Olivera.

What does any of this have to do with a budget-priced 373cc single-cylinder sport bike tested by MD at the Streets of Willow race track in Southern California two weeks ago? Quite a bit, actually. Read on.

At a U.S. MSRP of $5,799, the redesigned 2022 KTM RC 390 is priced roughly the same as an ABS-equipped Kawasaki Ninja 400 (depending on the paint scheme chosen for the Kawasaki). MD fell in love with the Ninja 400 when it was introduced by Kawasaki in 2018. In fact, it was named MD’s BOTY that year. The performance offered by the nimble twin cylinder machine was a big step up from the 250s and 300s offered by other Japanese manufacturers at the time. This new RC 390 from KTM, however, takes a big leap ahead of the Kawasaki in terms of the standard features and technology offered.

The Ninja 400 has non-adjustable suspension, except for spring preload on the rear shock. The 2022 KTM RC 390 offers compression and rebound damping adjustment on the front fork (30 clicks of each), as well as rebound damping adjustment and spring preload adjustment on the rear shock. As discussed below, the KTM suspension performs at a level way beyond that of the stock Kawasaki units.

Moreover, the 2022 RC 390 now has its electronic rider assist features informed by an IMU. This allows for lean-sensitive ABS and traction control, which are features found nowhere else in this displacement/price category. Until recently, IMU assist for these features was found only on top-drawer sport bikes and nakeds.

Other changes/upgrades for 2022 include a TFT color instrument display and a concerted effort to lose weight, both sprung and unsprung. KTM claims a very significant 7.5 pounds of weight was removed from the wheels and brake rotors. The front brake rotor is now bolted directly to the wheel (removing the traditional carrier). Another 3.3 pounds is removed from the frame. Although overall weight is up slightly, the lighter wheels/rotors promise benefits in acceleration, stopping and direction changes.

The RC 390 also features new bodywork that KTM claims improves aerodynamics and rider comfort by, among other things, directing engine heat away from the rider.

Ergonomics were also an area of focus in the redesign of the RC 390. The rider seat has much more padding, and the knee area is narrower and shaped to allow the rider to move easily fore and aft. The fuel tank is a larger 3.6 gallons.

KTM is not claiming an increase in engine peak horsepower, but does describe an increase in torque resulting from a new airbox design, which, along with a revised exhaust system, moves substantially more air through the system.

All of these features and technological enhancements look great on paper, but what is the new RC 390 like to ride? Does the revised suspension work well? What about engine performance and the new braking system? Do the ergonomics work on the race track and the street for more mundane activities, like commuting?

MD loves the finger-adjustments at the top of the WP Apex forks on the RC 390 – compression on the left and rebound on the right. File photo of our Norden 901 – the RC 390 fork adjustments are identical.

The RC 390 has reasonably comfortable ergonomics for a sport bike. More upright than traditional sport bikes, the adjustable bars don’t place too much weight on the wrists, but put the rider in a semi-aggressive position for track days and attacking canyons on the road. The new seat seems particularly comfortable and the seat/peg distance reasonable given the ground clearance requirements for a bike of this nature. It is nice to see a TFT display panel on a bike in this displacement category, which provides a dramatic improvement in brightness, contrast and legibility.

Clutch pull is easy and gear engagement positive. The engine makes good mid-range torque and decent top-end. Dyno charts indicate peak horsepower is very close to the Kawasaki 400 (down one or two horsepower), while torque in the meat of the powerband exceeds that of the Kawasaki.

Fuel injection tuning is spot on. The ride-by-wire throttle response is predictable, and there is no problem opening a closed throttle mid-corner.

The revised frame and suspension are a real highlight. KTM actually allows a rider to adjust the stiffness and flex of the frame by adding or subtracting frame bracing. MD didn’t play with this during the press launch, obviously, but the stock chassis settings worked very well with the WP suspension.

We started by testing the stock settings which were a bit too soft for track use. The fork responds to compression and rebound adjustments quite well … even a click or two of the 30 step range can be felt by the rider. We stiffened the fork with a few clicks of compression and rebound, and added just one additional step of spring preload to the shock while also slowing the rebound out back.

The experience KTM has gained racing with its own WP suspension is clearly benefitting its production motorcycles, including for sister company Husqvarna. MD is currently testing a Husqvarna Norden 901 (stay tuned for that report), which also features WP Apex suspension units. The stock adjustable WP suspension is getting better and better.

Heavier and faster riders who plan to ride the RC 390 aggressively at the track may need stiffer springs and/or more damping, but the stock units (when adjusted) worked well for our 170 pound test rider.

The bike changes direction with very little effort, as one might expect given its claimed 342 pound dry weight, and the new, lighter wheels. At the same time, the bike remains stable, and tracks well through corners (another benefit of the good suspension) and down the front straightaway. The handling is hard to fault.

The single, front 320 mm brake disc gripped by the four-piston caliper provides surprising stopping power and good feel. Combined with the rear brake, even at track speeds there is good control slowing down the lightweight machine.

The six-speed transmission offers a good spread of ratios that compliment well the 43 horsepower (claimed) single-cylinder engine. As stated earlier, shifts were positive, but the optional Quickshifter+ was not working well on down-shifts (which were a bit clunky). On up-shifts, it worked fine. We know KTM is capable of producing an outstanding Quickshifter system, because we experienced one when we tested the recently introduced 1290 Super Duke EVO. This feature on the RC 390 could still use some refinement, however.

Our only other complaint is that the stock tires were not ideal for the racetrack where we tested the bike. Admittedly, the Continental ContiRoad rubber should be fine for street use, and even canyon riding. For hard track use or racing, however, more aggressive tires would be of great benefit.

After one day at a race track, MD can conclude that the redesigned 2022 KTM RC 390 is a fun, lightweight, reasonably priced motorcycle with class-leading suspension and rider assist features. This is a lot more bike than most competitors offer in this class, and should prove to be a fun, accessible ride for novices, while still entertaining for experienced riders who enjoy an ultra-light, flickable machine. For additional details and specifications, visit KTM’s web site.


  1. austin zzr 1200 says:

    I’ll stick with my N400 with GSXR shock swap and PCV. Its faster and better-handling than my old zx6r (up to 85 mph)

  2. Donk says:

    Nice bike and good fun for the price. For not many $ you can turn it into a serious track bike. I’m waiting for it’s big brother the RC 890!

  3. Doc Sarvis says:

    I guess I am constantly amazed at what cash cows the EXC line is. This is a whole bunch more bike for half the money.

    • Jeremy says:

      Well, the EXCs are really light, and nothing on a motorcycle cost more than lightness. So in the case of the EXCs vs this bike, paying a lot more for less is the point.

      This RC still does seem like a great bike though regardless.

    • Mick says:

      The EXCs are real dirt bikes with lights. They are not built to a price point. You get the same suspension components that the dirt bikes have, not the cheap stuff. Ever EXC is in a class of one. Thank God and KTM for offering them. They are living proof that it can be done but no one in the street bike industry even tries, not even KTM, to sell race bikes with lights except for the EXC models.

      They are pretty much the only bikes sold as street bikes that I take seriously at all. I don’t have one because, after chasing my tail during the nineties, I decided that dual sport bikes were not for me. I either ride on the road, preferably on a supermoto, or off road on a 300 or 295cc two stroke dirt bike.

      For me it’s all about tires. I guess if I were to try to configure a decent dual sport bike from an off the rack street bike, I would get an EXC and do a DTX setup with 19 inch wheels and dirt track rubber. It would still rock on the tarmac while being able to run circles around anything sold street legal, that isn’t an EXC, off road.

      All hail the EXC! I had an ’89. But it was a 350 two stroke that wasn’t sold street legal. I did license it. But it wasn’t a very practical street bike. It was fun to go out and bother the normals with it once in a while. But only if I was going to replace the tires afterwards.

  4. Mick says:

    Pull seven and a half pounds out of the wheels and a little over three out of the chassis only to add more than the sum back in with electro garbage that a 43hp single doesn’t need at all.

    It’s one thing to play the horsepower war thing and give the no skill spec sheet warriors a rain mode to ride around in all the time. But electronic garbage is just ballast on anything south of 75hp. The only wire you need to ride by is a wire rope, also known as a throttle cable. People talk about fake throttles like it’s a positive feature. It’s not. It’s a nanny that runs the throotle for you because you can’t be trusted with it. And now they’re putting it on tidlers. I’ll never buy another new bike from the nanny bike industry. The wife wanted me to buy a new bike for my 60th birthday last fall and I bought a thousand mile 2012 with a throttle cable. Riding by wire in the darn car is bad enough. Don’t even think about trying to sell me on that garbage in a piece of sporting equipment.

    • Dave says:

      I wouldn’t miss the T/C on a bike with this kind of power (in America, anyway) but lean sensitive ABS? I can’t think of a riding situation on public roads where that isn’t worthwhile. That’s worth a lot on any motorcycle, certainly it’s worth 7lbs..

    • Kevin2 says:

      Another intelligent, well thought out rant by Mick. Mick, we aware that you will never buy a new bike again. Trust me, you have made it very clear that modern motorcycles are not built to your exacting standards. We appreciate your point of view (well some of us, anyway), but to constantly spew your righteous indignation at today’s motorcycle industry on this website simply serves no purpose. The content of this website is mostly new bikes and GP racing. You hate both of these subjects yet you obviously feel like you need to continually remind us of your hatred by posting here. Might I suggest you find a forum of like minded people and spread your gospel there??? I think the game of golf is a complete waste of time and real estate but I have much better things to do than constantly post my beliefs on a golf website. Just my 2 cents, ymmv.

      • Mick says:

        I have supported this industry my whole life with dozens of new bike purchases. It frustrates me that the industry does not evolve and make a single decent street bike. It’s not rocket science. They have been making excellent dirt bikes for decades. Switching to four stroke motocross has made powerful little four strokes that don’t grenade nearly so quickly.

        What has MotoGP done for street bikes? Are they getting lighter? Nope! Look again. They are getting heavier all the time. Maybe you could say that they are getting more powerful. But I wouldn’t agree. The horsepower wars have been raging forever and displacement, and the gyro that comes with it keeps going up

        • Fivespeed302 says:

          The Honda Navi with a whopping 109cc motor is right up your alley. Not only do you get your throttle cable, but you get a carburetor too!

        • Jeremy says:

          Displacement is the easy and less expensive answer to produce more power while still complying with current and future emissions regs. However, bikes have definitely gotten more powerful in those categories where the buyers are willing to pay for it. 1000cc sport bikes make considerably more power than they did 20 years ago from a package that is very durable and reliable. True, they could make them a lot lighter too. But while people will pay premiums for power, they are much less inclined to do so for less weight, in the street bike market anyway. Minimum weight rules in racing (I think it is 370 lbs dry for WSB, which is only 12 to 15 lbs less than the fully street legal production counterparts) doesn’t give OEMs much incentive, either. I think your grudge would probably be more accurately directed to the typical street bike consumer who has no issue with 400 – 500 lbs bikes than the manufacturers themselves.

          • Dave says:

            We’ve been over this with Mick over and over. Bikes can’t be made much lighter. Period.

            Consumers don’t care about WSBK rules. If the manufacturers could make bikes significantly lighter, they would because light weight is a compelling attribute to all performance oriented riders.

            Performance street bikes bottomed out in the low 400lb range in the early 90’s and have stayed there. In that time, horsepower has increased exponentially, from the CBR900rr to the current bikes and technology is a pretty big span.

        • TimC says:

          The bottom line is it’s farging tiresome dude.

    • Stinkywheels says:

      I’m with you on most of this. I wish the manufacturers would give an option of with or without most of this stuff. I can’t fathom they MUST put a lot of useless stuff on tiddlers when they could save a LOT and only have to lower the price a little. More profit, less hassle and maybe more sales! What a concept. We need new riders to keep the sport alive, they need more sales to keep dealers in business. More expensive and complex isn’t a sales pitch.

  5. Dave says:

    Wow. That seems like a whole lot of bike for the $$, especially compared to the other offerings in the class. I too am looking forward to the 490 twins.

  6. Kermit says:

    This is the best looking bike in their street lineup. I like it.

  7. Marcus says:

    Ok. These high performance low displacement bikes available to the public were a long time coming. So now we need a KTM 390 vs. Kawasaki 400 comparo.

  8. SparkyK says:

    KTM bikes sound like great bikes…I just wish they weren’t so ugly.

    • Jeremy says:

      While I’m not a fan of the color orange, I think this is a nice looking bike.

    • richard says:

      motorcycle design is catered mostly to attract young buyers..they are the future for motorcycle sales while us older ones reflect on past technology and dont exactly embrace new styles and design..we are also fading out..a good example is Harley..they are struggling to attract young buyers !! have been for years.i like some of the new stuff ..not all..adventure bikes are ugly ..however they serve a purpose i am a great KTM fan and love the look of this bike..its the future..we need to get over the past and embrace new designs..if not go search for a 20 to 40 year old bike on Craigslist lol

  9. Looking good, Evan! Say hi to your dad.

    • Motoman says:

      Wow! Gabe surfaces. Get out if your jar much these days Gabe?

    • TimC says:

      Waaait. THE “Gabe Eats-Hyphen”?????

    • todd says:

      I miss the old days of City Bike.

      • TimC says:

        And how. “Gabe Eats-Hyphen” is what I came up with in mock review when (for some reason) CB told readers to get online and submit negative Yelp reviews (what the occasion was is lost in the natural processes of the smoothing of my brain over time).

        In fact, they are still up, LOL/OMG. Turns out I’d JUST moved to CO but was still active on BARF.

        “I don’t know where he gets off (or how, for that matter, though some useful advice exists in other reviews of this publication), but Mr. Gabe Eats-Hyphen is ignorant to at least six decimal places.

        Apparently he hangs out on some webboard for the chronically nauseated, many of whom chanced a glance at CityBike before staggering to their computer.”

        This is far from (the) clever(est) (depending). Check it out:

        The amazing part is a few reviews for apparently an actual rental business similarly-named. Top kek.

  10. JOHN says:

    KTM has alway’s paid attention to light weight, good suspension good chassis and good brakes. Hard to find fault with these priorities. Currently own a 690 duke which on a twisty road is magic. Looking forward to the 490 series.

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