Since its debut in 2015, the KTM RC390 has represented the pointed end of the lightweight sportbike spectrum. Aggressive in its styling, and dedicated to its Ready to Race brand promise, the RC390 has always been pitched as a fun little track bike that also happens to be street-legal with enough comfort for daily duty. This has caused the little KTM to be lauded with praise at the track in our previous comparisons, but at the same time, that attitude has caused the Kawasaki Ninja 400 to come out on top as a better well-rounded motorcycle in our last two comparisons.
In typical unapologetic KTM fashion, for 2022, the RC390 has been scrutinized and revised to deliver even better sport and track-focused performance. Hey, if you know what you’re good at, why not double down? And doubledown the Austrians have. KTM has brought over many of the features and tech from the 390 Duke, which brings the two 390s to a level playing field. In addition, KTM has managed to shave off 7.5 pounds (!) of unsprung mass thanks to its new wheels and brake rotors. Aerodynamics were reworked to provide better wind protection and to better optimize a rider’s ability to move around on the motorcycle. The result is a physically larger looking motorcycle with an all-new look and a larger, differently shaped fuel tank.
Fittingly, we got our first taste of the new RC390’s performance at Streets of Willow, a 1.6-mile circuit adjacent to the larger Willow Springs International Raceway. Thankfully, we were able to coax KTM into letting us take the bike home for some day-to-day riding as well to get to know the wee RC a bit better.
There’s really no better place to find the limits of a motorcycle safely than in the controlled confines of the racetrack. Not only was it my first time piloting the new KTM, it was also my first rip around Streets, and I couldn’t have asked for a better machine to learn the course on.
Lightweight sportbikes are excellent equalizers. You can’t rely on outright power or performance to make up for a lack of skill. It’s all about maintaining the maximum momentum that you and the components can handle. And, of course, when you get some similarly skilled riders on track with the same machines, you’d be hard-pressed to not have a grin plastered across your face for the duration.
The chassis and handling of the new RC390 are unequivocally the talking points of the KTM’s newest supersport. Lopping off 7.5 pounds of unsprung mass with a new wheel and rotor design contributes massively to a bike that already handled well, but now is nearly effortless during direction changes.
With the adjustable WP Apex fork and shock, the rider not only has suspension that is set up better from the start, but also has equipment that is more easily adjustable to suit rider preferences. The compression- and rebound-adjustable (separate legs for each) fork withstood all the braking force I was able to generate at the track and maintained composure for the duration. The shock, with its preload and rebound adjustment, also maintained balanced performance. Despite its quick handling, the RC390 manages to keep things confidently stable.
While the weight savings from the wheels is substantial, KTM also managed to shave 3.3 pounds from the frame. Even with this weight savings here and there, the new RC is actually six pounds heavier than the previous gen. The new trellis frame now features a bolt-on subframe and passenger footpegs. In addition, and also keeping with its sporting ethos, the ‘22 RC has multiple braces within the frame that can be added or removed to tailor torsional rigidity – a feature to allow the ultimate tuning of chassis flex not before seen in this category. Previously, these braces had been welded together. Former TT racer and chief product designer of the new RC390, Shaun Anderson, saw this as an opportunity to provide a further level of tuning that would make the bike even more Ready to Race.
The suspension held up well on track and the chassis design made the RC390 so easy to maneuver that it took some getting used to for me to not turn in too early. The new front rotor design is reminiscent of Buell’s perimeter rotor in that much of the center is removed for weight savings. The 320mm disc, together with the four-piston fixed Bybre caliper, provides excellent stopping power with plenty of initial bite. Both levers are also span-adjustable.
ABS and TC are now IMU-based in this latest RC390. Similar to that seen on the 390 Duke, ABS can no longer be switched off, but you do get “supermoto” mode that allows the rear ABS to be deactivated. Traction control can be switched off. Hardcore track enthusiasts may be rolling their eyes at the inability to switch off ABS entirely, but after having spent a day at the track without getting into the ABS at the front wheel at all, it may be less of a concern than one might think. This sentiment was echoed by even the fastest guys at our track day.
KTM tells us the engine and transmission are relatively unchanged with some minor updates within the engine for durability (ones that KTM reps couldn’t or wouldn’t explain to me), and the option of an up/down quickshifter to the transmission. Mapping however, was substantially changed thanks to an airbox/exhaust redesign that is said to flow 40% more air. KTM tells us this results in a claimed 44 hp and 27 lb-ft of torque. On the Rottweiler Performance Dynojet, we saw 40.1 horsepower at 9000 rpm and 24.1 lb-ft at 8400 rpm. It does feel like the engine has lost some of the Single’s bottom-end punch in favor of a stronger mid- to top-end rush. As before, the RC390 pulls hard right up to its 10,000 rpm redline with the rev-limiter coming in hard and fast.
I wish I could say I was happy to have the option of a quickshifter, but during our track day it proved to almost be more of a hindrance than an upgrade. Upshifts and downshifts feel notchy at best. Nearly all of the riders at the track during our test experienced the bike falling out of gear or back down a gear. Forgoing the quickshifter entirely seemed to work better. Shifts on these pre-production Euro-journo hammered bikes (the Europeans all had their way with these bikes before they were shipped to the US) had to be done very deliberately for them to hold.
With KTM’s clear emphasis on sporting performance, I was eager to see if these changes affected the RC’s street manners.
Ergonomically, the KTM still offers a wider, more open cockpit than the tighter sit-up-and-beg position of the Kawasaki Ninja 400. It is a more canted forward, sporty riding position, but the wider, height adjustable (10mm) handlebars, 32.5 inch seat height, and fairly low stock footpegs make for a really comfortable ride – and not only relative to sportbikes, the RC390 is a comfortable steed for a full day of errand running.
Given the quickshifter’s less than stellar performance, it’s nice that pull at the clutch lever is exceptionally light. The quickshifter on the motorcycle that I brought home actually seemed worse than the RC that I spent most of my time with on the track. Also, in an unusual departure from the norm, the quickshifter (which is software-based rather than a linkage type) seems to shift better at mid-rpm than closer to redline around town. I also haven’t had the transmission jump out of gear during daily duties. These irregularities could likely be smoothed out by a software engineer working on the 1s and 0s, but as of now, it’s not great.
Despite the engine feeling that it has lost some of its low-end, the RC390 is still a fun lightweight machine to hustle around city streets. The fairing and riding position aren’t too extreme to cause discomfort and are just about perfect for keeping the weight off of your wrists during prolonged freeway blasts at speeds of 80 mph and above. The seat is also much more comfortable than previous iterations we’ve perched upon, including the 390 Duke. KTM tells us the seat foam is double the thickness from before and features a new cover – which also provides a nice amount of grip.
Considering the last few sportbikes I’ve spent time on the street with (a Yamaha R7 and Speed Triple RR), the RC390 is actually the most comfortable of the bunch. With a day of street riding considered, the RC doesn’t seem to have lost much, if any, of its street manners on the way to being an even pointier lightweight sportbike.
Thinking back to our 2015 Beginner-Ish Sportbike Shootout and the 2018 Lightweight Sportbikes Shootout, the KTM RC390 has never managed to eke out an overall win. Maybe that’s okay though, depending on what you’re looking for. Maybe it’s okay for one manufacturer to fully focus on its sporting performance versus trying to make the best all-around machine.
Of course, Kawasaki has managed to make a formidable opponent in the Ninja 400, both on track and off. With the little Ninja taking the top step of the podium in our last two shootouts, there’s only one way to know if the Austrians have finally managed to gap the Japanese in all-out performance in the lightweight sportbike segment. Perhaps we can rustle up some decent riders and some decent-er riders to provide some differing perspectives.
|2022 KTM RC390 Specifications|
|Engine Type||Liquid cooled, Single-cylinder, 4-stroke DOHC four-valve engine|
|Bore x Stroke||89 mm x 60 mm|
|Horsepower||40.1 hp at 9,000 rpm (measured)|
|Torque||24.1 lb-ft. at 8,400 (measured)|
|Clutch||PASC antihopping clutch, mechanically operated|
|EMS||Bosch EMS with RBW|
|Frame||Powder-coated steel lattice|
|Front Suspension||WP APEX 3343 inverted fork with adjustable compression and rebound damping; 4.7 inches of travel|
|Rear Suspension||WP APEX 3446 monoshock with adjustable spring preload and rebound damping; 5.9 inches of travel|
|Front Brake||Four-piston radial fixed caliper, single 320 mm disc|
|Rear Brake||Single-piston floating caliper, 230 mm|
|ABS||Bosch 9.1MP Two Channel ABS (Supermoto ABS)|
|Front Wheel||Cast five-spoke wheel|
|Rear Wheel||Cast five-spoke wheel|
|Front Tire||110/70 R 17 M/C 54V TL Continental ContiRoad|
|Rear Tire||150/60 R 17 M/C 66V TL Continental ContiRoad|
|Fuel Capacity||3.6 gallons|
|Seat Height||32.4 inches|
|Ground Clearance||6.2 inches|
|Rake / Trail||23.5° / 3.3 inches|
|Wet Weight||362 pounds (measured)|
|Service Intervals||9,300 miles|
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