2017 KTM RC 390: First Ride Review
- Jan 29, 2017
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Photography by Eshan Shetty
The KTM 390 Duke has been one of those rare bikes that brought supersport-level performance and kit to the masses at an entry-level price. These two factors worked well in a price-conscious market such as ours and made the 390 one of the best-selling mid-displacement sportsbikes. The new-for-2017 KTM 390 Duke promises to take the game forward with radical changes in design, chassis parts and electronikery. But in the process, it has become heavier and more expensive while giving out the same power output. So has the new Duke lost the “Ready to Race” promise, or has it been dulled to some degree? Has KTM sacrificed the 390 Duke's raw appeal for a bike that will be accepted by a wider audience? We spend a morning at Bajaj's Chakan test track to know more.
Design and features-
One simple reason people will buy the 2017 390 Duke, me included, is for the way it looks. The 390 Duke was always a sharp and mean-looking motorcycle, but this is something else. It’s delicious. The earlier 390 Duke took inspiration from the 690 Duke while the new bike takes design cues from the outrageously designed Super Duke R. This is quite obvious when you look at the sculpted headlamp, tank and tail section. The headlamp is a futuristic looking LED unit with three rows of lights. Above that is the chunky TFT display console. The LED tail lamp is a larger unit now. The exposed split-trellis frame is a work of art in itself with the two-tone colour effect. Overall the bike looks like a concept bike that has come to life.
The TFT colour display is KTM's newest party trick. The only other bike we have seen a screen like this on is the Ducati Multistrada 1200. It gets a sensor that adjusts brightness according to the environment. During the day the screen features a white display and switches to a black background at night time. It resists glare and is bright enough to be legible all times of the day. There is no shift indicator here. What you have instead is the whole rev counter that flickers in red as you reach the redline and turns red, signalling you to upshift. Also, the side-stand indicator and ignition switch-off indicator has transformed into text displays that are prominent on the top left of the screen and are easy to register. Quite a bit of information can be changed to your preference via the menu selection bar on the left side of the handlebar.
Another nifty feature is MyRide which allows you to connect your smartphone to the screen via Bluetooth. This feature shows an incoming caller's info on the TFT display and allows you to receive or reject the call via the menu switches. You can also control your phone's music functions while on the move.
The clutch and brake levers are adjustable now. The switchgear is new with the addition of a menu navigation for the new TFT display. The plastics feel premium to the touch and look like they will age well. The handlebars have a satin black finish. The rear footpegs and heel guards get a glossy black finish. The rear footpegs now have a tubular-construction instead of the cast aluminium ones on its predecessor.
Chassis and suspension-
The previous 390 Duke always came with top-spec suspension parts and the 390 Duke takes the game even further. There is a split trellis frame in place of the earlier single-piece unit. The new modular frame will be more affordable to fix in the event of a nasty crash. The new frame , with slightly reduced offset, has resulted in a 1357mm wheelbase, shorter by 10mm over the outgoing bike. Ground clearance has improved by 8mm. The idea was to make the new 390 Duke even more compact and sportier than before; but keep in mind, it is 5kgs heavier than before.
The 43mm upside down WP front forks features an open cartridge system, and the rear monoshock now uses separate chambers for oil and gas for more consistent performance. The new setup is said to have the same amount of travel as before but is said to be more comfortable too. The front fork can now be adjusted and raised or dropped by 8mm as well.
The seat height has increased to 820mm to make space for a larger airbox. At 5'8" tall I could not set my feet flat on the ground. The new seats are both wider and longer and with the new, more compact fuel tank, you sit more forward than before. The tank recesses are larger and easier to hold now. The footpegs have moved further back. The new riding position is sportier and more accommodating than before. However, in the saddle you have more space to move around and the new seats have good cushioning too. Taller riders will also find the new Duke more comfortable. The pillion, too, gets a longer seat and has a larger grab rail to hold on to.
The 390 Duke comes with the same-sized Metzeler tyres but has a different, harder compound rubber that promises a 30 percent longer tyre life and will be 40 percent more affordable than the Sportec M5's. The front disc is now a larger 320mm unit, up by 20mm and is clamped to Bybre radially mounted callipers. It gets sintered brake pads now. The rear gets the 230mm disc setup as before. The Bosch ABS unit has 3 ABS modes integrated into the display that can be toggled via the menu navigation unit. The 3 modes are ABS, ABS off and Supermoto. Supermoto mode turns ABS off for the rear wheel so that you can easily lock the rear wheel.
The 373cc liquid-cooled single is now BS-IV compliant. The internals is unchanged except for a larger airbox that boosts torque by 2Nm to 37Nm @ 7000rpm, 250rpm lower than before. Power output remains the same at 43.5PS @ 9000rpm. The gearbox remains the same though the final sprocket now gets 44 teeth instead of 45. A major addition is ride-by-wire that smooths out throttle response and is more precise.
The engine feels smoother. It still has that typical KTM buzz around the tank and handlebars but it is more muted now. What has changed significantly is the nature of the engine at low revs. It is now easier to ride the new bike in 3rd gear at speeds as low as 30kmph, something you could not do on the older bike as it would start lurching. It still has the older motor's nature and you do have to shift gears a lot at lower revs to keep the engine from stalling. The combination of the extra 2Nm and a smaller sprocket helps. Theoretically, a smaller sprocket, while improving top speed, reduces acceleration a bit. This might contribute to the more mature nature of the new 390. The gearshift action is smooth and more positive and the slipper clutch works flawlessly. So you can downshift in rapid succession without the worry of the tail stepping out. The engine seems to run cooler than before as, despite our hard riding, the radiator fan cut in less frequently and the temperature gauge rarely went over the halfway mark.
The motor feels docile below 4000rpm, but once in the midrange the 390 feels its familiar frantic self. There is an immediacy and more surge in power when you open the throttle - a preciseness in fuelling that is prevalent throughout the rev range. The mid-range feels even stronger thanks to ride-by-wire system. Not only does the system improve responsiveness, it is also possible to be more precise with throttle inputs. It is hard to quantify the performance gains but the motor definitely feels civilised now. We could not test the bike for acceleration times though we did see a speedo-indicated 163kmph on the main straight of the test track. We will be doing a more precise performance test in the coming weeks. While the new 390 Duke gets rider modes, they have yet to hit our shores. The bikes sold here already have the hardware on them, so it is just a matter of a software upgrade now, which KTM will introduce later as an optional extra.
Ride & Handling-
In terms of handling, the new 390 Duke feels more agile and sharper than before. It is a lot more flickable than before and easier to switch directions. You can move around on the bike with ease. Turn-ins are quicker while the new forks are more communicative and inspire more confidence to dig deep in corners. The new forks possess excellent damping properties, comparable to high-spec suspension found on much larger bikes. The rear does not squat when you accelerate hard out of a corner. There is a slight headshake from the front end as it goes light under hard acceleration. We had a smooth racetrack to test the bike on and will have to reserve judgement on ride quality for later. The suspension, though, felt comfortable at lower speeds.
One big change is the tyres. While the 390 Duke continues to use Metzeler Sportec M5s, these tyres are rated for speeds up to 210kmph. That is a lot more than what the 390 Duke is capable of; the older W-rated tyres were tested for speeds up to 270kph! So, do they feel any different? For most riders the level of grip will be much more than they will need on public roads. However, while going flat out on a racetrack, we feel the older Sportec M5s would offer more bite. How the tyres perform in the wet is something that needs to be checked on a rainy day. These tyres meanwhile impress with their performance even during hard braking.
The front brakes have fierce bite, and just a tap on the brakes is enough to shed serious speeds. The ABS too is well-tuned and cuts in later and in a progressive manner. Brake feel, though, is lacking.
The Rs 29,000 price hike does dilute KTM’s value-for-money USP but when you factor in the kit offered and features and then look at the competition, even at Rs 2,25,730 (ex-Delhi) the 2017 KTM 390 Duke is a no brainer.
The 390 series has always made us question the need to go for higher capacity machines with its blend of performance, usability and ability to thrill on twisty roads. It came with its share of rough edges. The polarising styling, ergonomics, stiff suspension and that edgy, frantic motor was termed as character by some and inconvenience by others.
The new 390 is quite an evolution. It comes with a futuristic design and features (KTM is the only bike below Rs 10 lakhs to offer Bluetooth connectivity) that makes the competition feel horribly dated. The new 390 Duke offers quite a lot, both on the surface and under the skin. It is a more civilised version of the earlier 390 which in itself has evolved quite a bit since the first KTMs hit our shores. It does, however, retain that frantic demeanour, that typical KTM flavour veiled under layers of civility.
2017 KTM RC 390: First Ride Review
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