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Long term update: Highland fling

Published: 16 July 2015

Updated: 08 October 2015

All relationships have their ups and downs, and the RC390 and I were going through a bit of a rough patch. A couple of flat-out and fraught jaunts across country had left me frustrated by its lack of fuel range, white-fingered from the vibrations through the bars, and mentally exhausted from the constant concentration required to conserve momentum when overtaking traffic on B-roads.

So I planned a journey that would make us, but most likely break us: a non-stop, main-road blast to John O’Groats. A mind-numbing ride of 600 miles from Peterborough to the most northerly point on the British mainland, and I’d do it in a day – the longest day. 

The mid-summer sun had been up for hours, but we were – still – only 160 miles into our journey. The monotony of the A1, and its synapse-extinguishing effect on the brain, was sucking all the colour from my day; even the KTM’s bright orange trellis frame appeared to be fading to grey. This wasn’t right…

As I idly pumped another nine-and-a-half litres into the RC’s fuel tank at Scotch Corner services, I was flooded with a dramatic change of heart. Instead of flogging endless miles up north on a pointless journey of hate, why didn’t I go and see if I could rekindle some love with the KTM against the life-affirming backdrop of the Scottish Highlands. We’d turned a corner the KTM and I, and even as we purred over the A66, onto the M6 and then up to Glasgow on the M74, everything felt easier.

I was genuinely impressed by the A2 licence-friendly sportsbike’s comfort; now that I’d upgraded the seat to KTM’s Ergo seat (£116.36) the RC’s riding position has to be one of the most comfortable over distances I’ve ever experienced. The double-bubble racing screen (£55.81), teamed with the fairing and tank, did a brilliant job at shielding me from the inevitable Scottish rain. Cruising at sensible motorway speeds, the revs below 8000rpm, massively reduced the buzz through the bars, sparing me from numb fingers. And, what’s more, because I wasn’t redlining it in every gear and wringing its neck, the tank range increased from an annoying 112 miles to dry, to a much more reasonable 148 miles with a litre still to spare. 

The upshot of all this good-time motorway cruising meant that when I did peel off the motorway onto the start of the Highlands highway, otherwise known as the A82, my heart was thrumming in time with the KTM’s willing little single. I spent the next six hours threading my way along the banks of Loch Lomond, paused for a coffee at the Green Welly Stop in Tyndrum, then climbed higher and on to Glencoe, snow-capped peaks to my left and right.

Still feeling fresh, we ploughed on past Fort William and west to the ferry port at Mallaig, where we jealously watched as other riders and bikes awaited the ferry to Skye. As much as I wanted to roll onto the jetty with them, the KTM and I didn’t have the luxury of time – it was Saturday evening and as I’d not had the foresight to book Monday off work, our Scottish adventure would have to end here. Although not without getting up early on Sunday and following the A86 north up to along the shores of Loch Laggan before picking up the A9 through the snow-capped Cairngorms and heading back down south to Edinburgh. 

Scotland’s beauty never ceases to surprise me, but so too has the KTM’s unlikely ability as a distance machine. It may lack the monumental tank range of some, or the ability to shield you from the bumping and buffeting of a long journey in the same way as a purpose-built tourer, but it’s light, easy-going and loads of fun; and I’ve got a new-found respect for it. 

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