No sooner that I was done testing the new KTM RC200, I received an invitation to test the new KTM RC390. Even better, the test ride is in conjunction with the KTM RC390 and KTM 890 Duke R Asia Launch at the Sepang International Circuit. Talk about having your cake and eating it.
The launch also involves KTM dealers from around the region, but we media had been given the honour to ride first in the morning session.
However, the universe had other plans because it started pouring down from 4am and it was still raining albeit not as heavy by the time we began our session at 9am.
Arrayed along the pit entrance were a long row of RC390's and 890 Duke R's. "Take your pick," KTM said so I jumped on the former that had the orange and navy blue colour combination a la Red Bull KTM Tech 3 Racing. This new colour scheme really works well because we are so tired of seeing the perpetual orange/black or white/orange combinations.
The team had swapped out the stock Continental tyres with the brand new Metzeler M9RR sport rubber. These are well known for their mad dry grip but the track was still fully wet at this point. Still, it will be interesting to test both bike and tyres in these conditions as the SIC tarmac is notoriously slippery when wet due to bumps and grooves.
Anyway, let us get going.
Personally, I loved the RC200's supple suspension but was kind of wondering how the RC390's would fare on the track where the speeds hence forces are higher. It turned out that my misgivings had (again) been misplaced.
The RC390 was as easy to turn into corners as the 200, which in turn was easier to turn than a 150cc bike. Think it and you are already on the cornering line. The adjustable suspension adds even more performance benefits to the bike.
So, off we went, following the marshal, while the back wheel kicked up a fine mist of water in the air. Soon, we waved us past and it was journalists GP time!
The tyres were still shiny new, so the front wiggled as I banked it into Turn 3. The engine's torque punched the bike out of Turn 2 easily but the rear tyre seemed to refuse to break loose. Was it because of the traction control? Another fully appreciated feature was the slipper clutch which did not allow the rear end to lock up even when we braked and downshifted aggressively for Turn 9.
Speaking about shifting, the Shift Assist+ function provided super smooth gearshifts without us having to worry about missing a gear. Missing a gear during braking in the dry is still alright as you can depend on the brakes, but such mistake in the rain can be downright scary.
Feedback from both ends was just spot on because we did not get kicked around nor was feel damped out and we knew what the tyres are doing well in advance. Confidence built up very quickly and we began hammering it down by the third lap out. However, the soaked track checked our exuberance when we leaned too much into the grooveless area of the rear tyre. A couple of times the rear kicked out over the bump in Turn 6, but the chassis settled down immediately without going into all sorts of weird oscillations (by keeping the throttle on). Similarly, the front tried to wash out when it traversed a groove in the middle of Turn 15. And again, the chassis took care of it (again, kept the throttle on).
The KTM RC390 may have a single cylinder engine, but that powerplant just pulled and pulled even down the two straights. It also features a soft rev limiter so hitting it (although rarely) only slows the bike's acceleration rather than retarding it. I kid you not, it felt a whole lot like a 500cc engine. I eventually saw just north of 170km/h at the 150m brake marker preceding Turn 1. It would have been faster if we could gas it fully out of Turn 15. (We could not because it was still wet, remember?)
All of us present loved the bike and had wished that it was dry. In all things considered, it was not a bad test as most of the RC390 sold will not see a single a minute on track so wet weather performance is just as important.
Before I close, personally, I felt that reducing some compression and rebound damping on both ends for wet weather riding would promote even better road handling. However, I would like to experiment with that on different tyres, say between Michelins and Bridgestones!
In a nutshell
Personally, I never got used to the previous RC390. Although I liked the concept, it felt like parts of it were not working together. This new RC390 changes all that and it is a very complete motorcycle. As it would complete my life if I had one.
At RM33,800, the 2022 KTM RC390 is worth every sen.