KTM RC390 (2014 - 2020) Review
- A2 licence-friendly sports bike
- Brilliant handling on road and track
- Cheap to run, holds value well
At a glance
|Owners' reliability rating:|
|Annual servicing cost:||£150|
Overall ratingNext up: Ride & brakes
After all these years the KTM RC 390 is still the sharpest A2 licence weapon out there. Think of it as a Moto3 racer for the road…sort of, or maybe the spiritual successor to the 250cc two stroke and 400cc four-stroke pocket rockets of the late 80s and early 90s.
- Latest: 2022 KTM RC390 review
Its single cylinder motor is punchy, but friendly and it handles well enough to run rings around its rival in the corners. Light and accurate it’s the perfect tool in which to learn your cornering craft (it even had its own BSB-supporting race series: the KTM RC 390 Cup), but it’s also friendly for everyday riding, can handle long journeys without breaking a sweat and is decent on fuel.
It's isn’t all orange ice cream with sprinkles, though because it suffers poor brakes, a hard seat, sloppy gearbox and iffy build quality in places, especially compared to its Japanese competition.
Updated in 2017, we hoped it would get the same top-to-toe overhaul enjoyed by the vastly improved naked 390 Duke the same year. Its naked sibling had better build quality, a smoother engine, crisper handling, stronger brakes and a higher level of equipment. Instead the RC390 only got a handful of Euro4-enforced tweaks, including ride-by-wire, a side-exit exhaust, new bellypan, adjustable levers and a bigger front disc.
But despite its ills the KTM RC 390 is still a sought-after piece of kit for restricted licence holders and well-looked-after examples hold their value reasonably well.
If you're after an even sportier version of this sports bike primarily for track useage, there was also a homologation special called the KTM RC 390R.
During 2015 MCN ran a KTM RC390 on the long-term test fleet to see what it's like over an extended test period. Find out how we got on here.
Watch: KTM RC390 video review
Ride quality & brakesNext up: Engine
Laid out like KTM’s Moto3 racer, the RC 390 has a lightweight tubular steel frame, aluminium swingarm and WP suspension – chunky non-adjustable 43mm upside forks up front and a single shock, adjustable for preload at the rear.
- Related: best A2 licence motorbikes
Although relatively stiffly sprung the damping at both ends is soft, especially at the rear but it makes for a comfortable ride and combined with its light weight (just 147kg dry) it’s easy for the less experienced to jump on and ride the wheels off it, which is what the RC390 is all about.
It’s perfect for learning the art of cornering and there’s always something electrifying about riding a small bike to its limit that you just don’t get on a bigger, more powerful machine. The key to peddling the KTM quickly is to maintain momentum through corners, brake as little as possible (just as well – the single disc set-up lacks power), hold your breath and flick it on to its side.
Despite its bouncy set-up the chassis is composed, there’s lots of ground clearance and things never get out of control, even when you’re bouncing off the kerbs on track. It’s only when you want to flick from side to side quickly you wish the suspension had slightly more control – something KTM addressed with the limited edition (500 built) RC 390R, which had fully-adjustable WPs.
Controls are smooth and light and it’s easy to thread through traffic but ride the KTM a long way and you wish the bars weren’t quite so low and that the seat didn’t have all the cushioning of concrete. Fitting a more comfortable perch is a must if you’re going to do big miles, which it’s perfectly long-legged enough to do. On the flip side, those bars are set wide and the tall seat gives you lots of legroom, which makes it ideal for taller riders.
Aside from the front disc diameter growing 20mm to 320mm, which didn’t improve braking power by much, the chassis was left unchanged for its light 2017 refresh, which when compared to the new and improved 390 Duke of that year, made the RC 390 feel old and refined at a stroke.
EngineNext up: Reliability
Lifted from the 390 Duke of the day, the RC 390’s liquid-cooled, fuel-injected, six-speed, single-cylinder 373.2cc motor produced 44bhp and weighed just 36kg.
It’s a gem of an engine, if a little vibey. The original model had a smooth, friendly throttle, but after it gained ride-by-wire, Euro4 fuel mapping and a side-mounted exhaust (with a corresponding new bellypan), its throttle became snatchier.
At low revs old and new RC 390 motors are docile, but the KTM will still out-grunt its twin and four-cylinder A2 licence rivals. There’s an almost two-stroke-like step in the power at 7000rpm, which fizzles out around 10,000rpm, so you need to scream it through the gears and keep the throttle welded to the stop to really get going.
But keep it pinned and it’ll quickly hit the magical ton and even pull clutch-up wheelies in first. It sounds great on the throttle, too, rumbling like a Moto3 weapon.
Ridden normally it’ll do around 63mpg, which will give a theoretical range of 138 miles from its tiny 10-litre tank, but after 120 miles the dash will be screaming at you to say you’ve run out, even when you haven’t.
Reliability & build qualityNext up: Value
Made by KTM’s partners, Bajaj in India, RC 390 build quality is acceptable, but it has a more plasticky feel than its Japanese rivals, especially machines like the Honda CBR500R and Kawasaki Ninja 400.
We’ve experienced gearbox problems on test bikes before (jumping out of 4th gear) and KTM RC 390 owners' reviews of running hot in traffic, excessively loud cooling fans and general corrosion, aren’t uncommon.
Value vs rivalsNext up: Equipment
New prices aren’t cheap, but RC 390s tend to hold their value well, which is important on a machine you’re likely to trade up from, once you’ve moved onto an A licence.
- Track twin test: KTM RC390 vs Kawasaki Ninja 400
It won’t cost the earth to run and insure, but if you’re willing to do without a fairing and clip-ons you get a lot more for your money with KTM’s own 2017-onwards 390 Duke - an altogether more polished and well-rounded A2 licence option.
300s mega test: KTM RC 390 vs Honda CBR500R vs Kawasaki Z300
First published in MCN 13 May 2015 by Michael Neeves
Just like a big super-naked makes more sense than a superbike on the road, the Z300 is more fun to ride than its faired rivals. OK, so you don’t get the wind protection, but you get a bigger impression of speed, and with its straight bars and upright riding position it’s easy to control and to flick through traffic.
The Honda is still a class act. It’s smooth, roomy and handles impeccably, but as our new riders remark, it doesn’t get the heart pumping. If you want to go flat out everywhere the KTM is perfect. It handles superbly, has a snappy little engine and decent ground clearance, but the brakes are weak and gearboxes can be iffy. Living with it every day won’t be as easy as on the Japanese bikes. The seat is hard, the fuel tank is only 10-litres and build quality is questionable.
Standard equipment includes a four-piston Bybre radial front caliper, 10-spoke lightweight wheels, LED running lights, a multi-function LCD dash with a gear position indicator, WP suspension and racing seat hump made from a foam/plastic material that doubles up as a pillion perch. You even get backlit switchgear and nice detail touches including orange cable ties holding the wires in place.
KTM also offer a wide range of optional extras under their Power Parts line-up. You can order an ergo rider's seat, a pit mat, touring equipment, and even an Akrapovic slip-on exhaust.
|Engine type||4v, single|
|Frame type||Steel trellis and ali swingarm|
|Fuel capacity||10 litres|
|Front suspension||43mm non-adjustable WP forks.|
|Rear suspension||Single WP shock adjustable for preload.|
|Front brake||300mm disc with four-piston radial calipers. ABS|
|Rear brake||230mm single disc with single-piston caliper. ABS|
|Front tyre size||110/70 x 17|
|Rear tyre size||150/60 x 17|
Mpg, costs & insurance
|Average fuel consumption||82 mpg|
|Annual road tax||£47|
|Annual service cost||£150|
|Used price||£3,000 - £3,800|
15 of 17
How much to insure?
|Warranty term||2 years unlimited mileage|
Top speed & performance
|Max power||44 bhp|
|Max torque||26 ft-lb|
|Top speed||105 mph|
|1/4 mile acceleration||-|
|Tank range||180 miles|
Model history & versions
- 2014: KTM’s A2 licence friendly (2015 model) RC390 arrives in dealers late October.
- 2017: Updated for Euro4 - ride-by-wire, side-mounted exhaust, new bellypan, 320mm front disc, adjustable levers.
2018 RC390R. Limited run of 500 built. Still A2 licence-friendly, but with shorter intake trumpets for more performance. Full adjustable WP suspension, machined ali top yoke, clip-ons, flip-up brake and clutch levers.
SSP300 Race Kit also available comprising of over 230 individual parts, including titanium Akrapovic exhaust system, race ECU, STM slipper clutch, quickshifter, race wiring loom, spare wheels, sprocket selection, uprated cooling system and bodywork kit.
More KTM RC models
Owners' reviews for the KTM RC390 (2014 - 2020)
2 owners have reviewed their KTM RC390 (2014 - 2020) and rated it in a number of areas. Read what they have to say and what they like and dislike about the bike below.
Summary of owners' reviews
|Ride quality & brakes:|
|Reliability & build quality:|
|Value vs rivals:|
|Annual servicing cost:||£150|
Annual servicing cost: £150
Great small displacment sports bike for all levels of rider with bags of character. Cheap to run/insure but requires a little more care than others. A niche bike but a blast to ride! Looks like a mini decepticon and attracts plenty of compliments.
The ride quality is very compliant but bouncy at the rear. I've had no problem with the stock seat on extended rides and even taken a passenger on the faux seat cowl. However the suspension squats significantly even at the highest preload with a passenger. The RC thrives on being ridden at high RPM's on twisty roads and sails through corners with ease.The Bye Bre callipers do a good job of stopping the bike on the 320mm rotars and the ABS isn't obtrusive. Overall a brilliant riding experience.
Low down the power delivery is snatchy due to lean fueling from the factory and runs hot when in traffic. The cooling fan is loud and sounds like a fighter jet prepearing for take off. The bike can unexpectedly stall when feathering the clutch at low RPM if the throttle is not opened enough but is easy enough to work around. Ride this bike pinned however and it rewards with a jump in power after 7k and surges upto the red line encouraging spirited riding. Great for back road blasting and tight twisty roads. It keeps up with bigger bikes and provides plenty of fun. It can even handle the motorway, comfortably cruising at 70mph at the 7k mark with plenty left for overtaking.
Its worth taking the bolts out and applying quality thread locker as they work themselves loose especially on the main fairings. I've had 2 vanish while out riding. In one year of ownership the only fault has been a leaking fork seal (fixed with a Seal Doctor for £20).Some parts of the bike feel a bit overly 'plastic' and certain things such as the rear sprocket have very rough, untidy edges on the cut outs. The bike has been build down to a price so such things are to be expected but in no way detract from the overall experience.
Average range is around 120 miles even when ridden hard. The fuel gauge and miles until empty setting on the dash have a mind of their own, best to set the trip work off that instead. With the small tank size, filling up with premium fuel (E5) rarely costs more than £14 for a full tank.
Switchable ABS is great fun for antics and the adjustable shift light make it a fun to bang up through the gearbox. The stock screen is low and almost feels like riding a naked bike. The fist mod I made was a KTM powerparts bubble screen which is just big enough to fully tuck behind (6ft rider). The stock exhaust is underwhelming and worth replacing for a better sound. The dorky projector lights do a great job on highbeam in the dark and the back-lit controls is a nice touch.
Buying experience: Bought from a dealer in Scotland for less than £3995 straight from the showroom floor. 1 year KTM warranty and Motobility breakdown cover included. Drysdale motorcycles (Perth) highly recommended.
Mental performance for under sub 600 cc motorcycle! The engine could've been a little more refined, torque comes in lumps, not a very smooth / linear feel as, say the Ninja 300. Very uncomfortable saddle for touring! Superb for the track! Brakes need some getting used to, not as sharp as you would expect a 300 mm rotor to be! Tires - Excellent for track + wet conditions (METZLER SPORTEC M5). A little too soft for everyday street riding, very low mileage (mine are about to almost die now). Front suspension is bang on! Just so perfect! Inverted 43mm telescopes The rear suspension is way too soft and bouncy. Putting in on the highest pre-load setting makes it just acceptable, but the damping could've been a lot better actually. The 82 MPG figure that MCN has given is not true. The highest MPG so far is 76 (while using not more than 25% of the throttle at all times), Done over 6000 miles so far - Avg mpg is 60 to 70 MPG.