KTM 390 Adventure: 5 Things You Need To Know

Evans Brasfield
by Evans Brasfield

Lightweight adventure bike with class-leading features

ktm 390 adventure 5 things you need to know

Some readers have asked us what we were thinking when we put the little KTM 390 Adventure in our South Dakota shoout with the Aprilia Tuareg 660, the Ducati DesertX, and the BMW 1250 GS. We were saying that Adventure bikes don’t need to be big to have fun on all terrains. Significantly lighter than the other bikes in the shootout, the 390 has a lot of things going for it. The 390 Adventure has been a good seller for KTM, and we’ve really enjoyed it every time we have one in our hands. So, what makes the KTM 390 Adventure so special?

Motorcycle.com's 2023 South Dakota Adventure Tour

KTM Adventure Shootout! 390 or 790R?

2020 KTM 390 Adventure Review – First Ride

Motorcycle.com would like to thank Travel South Dakota for sponsoring this video.

ktm 390 adventure 5 things you need to know

1. Solid Engine

The 390 Adventure gets its power from a 373 cc Single, and the 89 mm x 60 mm bore and stroke breathe through four DOHC-actuated valves, delivering around 42 hp and 27 lb-ft of torque, like every other KTM 390 we’ve tested. While that’s not a lot of power, it was more than enough to almost hang with the big boys on our South Dakota trek. On the highway, it had a clear disadvantage under acceleration, but a judicious application of throttle and shift lever allowed the little KTM to catch up – just like with its siblings the 390 Duke and the RC390, which share the same power plant. When it came to rocky or tight, technical terrain, the Little Single that Could just chugged over everything we tossed at it. With an easy-to-manage clutch, the 390 was a popular choice in the tough stuff. The only fly in the engine ointment was a difficult quickshifter for upshifts in lower gears. This was a huge surprise since KTMs generally have very slick electronics in this regard. Finally, in off-road riding, where it really matters, the 390 engine sipped the gas from its 3.8 gallon tank, allowing for extended range.

ktm 390 adventure 5 things you need to know

2. Outfitted For Adventure Travel

The 390 Adventure comes with key components for life on the road. First and most importantly, engine guards are standard equipment. Anyone who is honest with themselves about wanting to ride this bike off-road knows that at some point, the bike will end up on its side. The engine guards are a key component for keeping an embarrassing moment from being a trip ending one. When it comes to getting to, from, and through those remote locations, the standard Continental TKC-70 tires are more than up for the job, delivering great performance on pavement and competent performance in the dirt, which is the very definition of a good all-around adventure tire.

Still, there is room for improvement. The plastic hand guards look the part, but we’ve managed to crack one every time we’ve tested the 390 Adventure. We wish that a stronger supporting structure were used. Similarly, while a portion of the included bash plate is metal, we’d prefer an all-metal one. Fortunately, there is one available from KTM’s PowerParts catalog. Even with these quibbles, the little Adventure arrives ready for road and dirt. All you need to do is strap on some bags.

ktm 390 adventure 5 things you need to know

3. Awkward Standing Position

Newbies and pros alike know that when the going gets technical in off-road settings, often the best position to be in is standing on your pegs. Handlebar placement is key for comfort and ease of operation. Unfortunately, the 390 Adventure’s handlebar is simply too low for most riders. Our crew ranged from 5’8” to 6’4”, and every single rider complained about the KTM’s handlebar height. The good news is that the fix is quite simple. Buying an aftermarket handlebar riser will place the bar right where it should be. One nice note about the handlebar is that it is a tapered aluminum item instead of the less sturdy steel that many manufacturers use.

ktm 390 adventure 5 things you need to know

4. More Expensive Than Others In Its Class

The KTM 390 Adventure has a base retail price of $7,399. That’s $1,950 more than the Royal Enfield Himalayan and $1,500 more than the Kawasaki Versys-X. That’s a big chunk of change. Still, you do get a lot for all those greenbacks. First, the 390 has lean sensitive traction control and cornering ABS which are all controlled by a three-axis IMU. While maybe not as necessary as on larger bikes, both of these are good to have when the going gets slippery. Also included is the WP Apex suspension, which comes with a compression- and rebound-adjustable fork and a rebound- and preload-adjustable shock. Neither of these are available on other bikes in the class.

And then there is the 5-in. TFT screen. KTM has been on the forefront of this type of display by including it on all of its street-going machinery. This gives you access to the easy-to-use menu system. Additionally, if you’re going to be revving out the engine to keep up with the bigger kids, having the tach change colors and flash as the engine approaches redline is a nice touch. Also, if you want to spend a little bit more, you can update to include Bluetooth that allows for the use of KTMconnect and its ability to show call information and, more importantly, turn-by-turn directions.

ktm 390 adventure 5 things you need to know

5. Punches Above Its Weight

If you still think the 390 Adventure is too expensive, consider this: The mere fact that we included it in our South Dakota shootout says how highly we regard the bike. Comparing it to a 660, a 937, and a 1,250 may sound unfair, but the engine won our hearts and held its own. It even survived a bath in the same puddle that took out the BMW GS. Oh, and weighing almost 200 lb. less made the KTM much easier to pick up. And that’s all before we consider the minimum of a $5,300 price delta with these bikes.

With the 390 Adventure, riders get a willing engine that is just as happy singing at its rev limit as it is tractoring over baby head rocks. It has better suspension and more advanced electronics than the other bikes in its class, and although it may cost more, 390 Adventure riders get features commensurate with the cost. Adventure bikes don’t have to be big to get you where you want to go and have a ton of fun doing it.

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3 of 6 comments
  • David Clark David Clark on Aug 08, 2023

    And it is still made in India. I didn't know that until I started looking at getting one and the people I talked to that had them were not happy. Bad fitment, parts breaking and falling off, just a general lower grade of quality, not like KTM. I own 2 KTMs and I've they've been very wekk built and dependable motorcycles. If they go to building it in Europe or hold your breath, the USA I will go look again but until then nothing you say changes the fact.

    • Viraj Viraj on Aug 29, 2023

      Good Judgement. Though biased. US and EU are going gaga about Royal Enfields (British Pedigree), again, built in India. Being an Indian, I won't shy away from accepting that the REs have some serious quality issues. However, KTMs are way ahead in terms of quality and reliability. I own a KTM 390 ADV. The flexibility of the platform and the plethora of after-market parts available make it a go-to option. It may not be perfect, but many options exist to make it perfect without the electronics buzzing, even if a bolt falls off.

  • Richard Richard on Sep 07, 2023

    Ya know, its interesting. I've never really considered this bike. But I've been looking at getting a 450RL and using it for adventure touring. It occurs to me these bike are not tremendously far apart in displacement, and stock they may be similar in rear wheel HP (the Hondas are strangled). Plus the KTM is a lot less expensive.

    The India manufacturing bit is a concern. I'd have to go to some forums and get a read from there.

    My buddy has a Tenere so I'd be seriously outgunned, but it would be nice to know the bike could handle the off-road bit well, which would be the purpose of my purchase.

    I already have an older R1200GS for the road heavy rides.