You don’t have to travel too far back in time to remember, how we wished someone built a proper quarter litre motorcycle and presented it to us on a two wheeled platter. That time arrived, people were happy, soon got over their quarter life crisis and then the hunger games for more power took flight. It was the terrific trio of Bajaj, KTM and Kawasaki who acted as the wind beneath our wings and gave us machines like the Kawasaki Ninja 250 and the Duke twins. The latter being the harbingers of a new dawn for motorcyclists across the nation.
It was one of those mornings yesterday, when you wake up before the alarm clock. A morning you look forward to, for the spirit of the rising sun to lift you up, hold you there and never let you fall. A dawn which made us witness three sunrises in a single day. We had the opportunity to stack the KTM RC390, the Kawasaki Ninja 300 and the KTM Duke 390 together and spend a sunny Sunday morning sampling out two of the best performance motorcycles made in India along with a Japanese twin cylinder machine. Needless to say, we made the most of it. We never realised that our experience with the three motorcyles which started at the crack of dawn would linger all afternoon and leave us wrapped in their aura well past midnight and maybe for a long time to come.
The purpose of this comparo is not to tell you which one is the best machine, as all the three motorcycles here are like method actors. They are born to perform with the sole intent of delighting the riders, elevate their senses and enamour them with their charm. These are the kind of machines which would make you ignore the entry to your apartment as you return after a long ride, and push on for another one.
Let’s break it down and talk some more about these machines then, which should make it easier to identify which one fits the bill for you.
At standstill, when you swing a leg over and extend your arms to reach for those clip-ons, the RC390 might come across as too focused. However, that is where it fools you into thinking that all that aggression is not what you need. Push the starter button, engage the gear and on the move is where you start experiencing magic. You slowly begin to understand that there is no other way the KTM RC 390 would’ve been as much fun, as it is, had it not been for the riding stance. The front windscreen does a neat job of deflecting the wind, while the crouched riding position further aids in cheating the invisible force of nature. It makes you feel connected to the motorcycle and reiterates the message that this isn’t a machine for your daily errands.
Having said that, controls are easily accessible and even taller riders will find enough room to move around, once on the saddle. The mirrors could’ve been extended some more, so you could see what lives in your afterglow and not your own arms, while the rider seat could do with some more padding. For a pillion, that space behind the rider is best experienced only on shorter rides. Unlike one may think of it, the rear seat is foam filled and not a matt black piece of industrial material which looks like a cowl. That piece of information should bring some respite for the prospective pillion riders, especially the PYTs. Tell your girlfriend that if she’s been persuading you against buying that baby.
Kawasaki Ninja 300
Now, if you perch yourself on the saddle of this quarter litre Kawasaki after a ride on the RC390, things will suddenly seem more relaxed. You might think someone just stopped fast forwarding and is playing the visuals around you at normal speeds. The clip-ons on the Ninja 300 are raised in comparison to the faired KTM, the seat is more spacious and the riding position, though sporty, is not as aggressive as the RC 390. For a pillion, the rear seat is not a couch on the Ninja either, but in comparison to the faired KTM, it is a comfortable place to be seated on for short to medium rides.
A wide, flat handlebar, rear set foot pegs, flared elbows and bent knees. That coupled with an eager motor is recipe for an exciting machine for the streets and open roads alike. The Duke 390 is a light weight motorcycle and the riding position lends it with fantastic manoeuvrability in traffic. Out on the open roads the little fly screen above the digital speedo isn’t enough to deflect wind at high speeds. Thankfully, KTM does provide an after-market larger screen. For six footers and people with wide frames, the rider seat feels very narrow, with not much space for movement while the rear stepped seat acts as a wall and stops you from moving backwards.
The first machine one would compare to the RC 390 with is its naked cousin, the Duke 390. When they launched the RC, even we thought it must be similar to the Duke 390, performance wise. It turned out; we weren’t exactly wrong, but we were, in many ways. The RC 390 will give you the feeling of being in control of something special, something which has loads of character. It gets to the point where if you ride the Duke 390 post a ride on the RC, the naked motorcycle feels very every day, which it definitely isn’t.
Accelerating down the straights side by side, the Duke takes a marginal lead initially, lesser weight at play perhaps, but then the RC catches up post the ton and starts to build up a lead. Both our test KTM’s were new motorcycles and had the limiter moderate our excitement. However, from standstill, the RC 390 takes off in a manner, no other made in India motorcycle would. As you build up the revs, dump the clutch, the front wheel gives up believing in gravity, while the forward biased riding position lets you decide when to stop unicycling. Even at triple digit speeds, the chassis remains composed and in similar fashion to the Duke 390, the RC will poke you in your guts if it finds you going slower. However, the comfort of hot air after a peak traffic ride on the Duke 390 is absent on the RC, thanks to better heat dissipation from a cooling mechanism that sounds like a jet turbine once it kicks in and attracts a lot of attention at red lights.
Kawasaki Ninja 300
Where both the KTM’s instil a sense of urgency within the rider, the Ninja 300 is more sage-like. It will make you believe that the world is at ease if you aren’t noticing the happenings on the speedometer. The butter smooth parallel twin engine is a master at masking its momentum and doesn’t let you know about the hardships its endures inside that motor while propelling you at fast speeds. In comparison, both the RC 390 and the Duke 390 will keep you on your toes; they are more theatrical and don’t intend to insulate you from the manic happenings underneath the chassis .
The Ninja 300 is not the machine for you if you have a penchant for drama, however, if you are on the lookout for a machine which will carry you at silly speeds, rev till 13,000 clicks on the rpm counter and make you believe the world has come to a standstill without a sweat, the Ninja is that assassin you need to pay to. However, at almost double the asking price of the KTM RC 390, it is priced on the higher side. For that price though, you get a slipper clutch, exemplary engineering, quality cycle parts and better build quality. What you gravely miss, is ABS brakes.
The RC 390 might just turn out to be the biggest nemesis for what was until now, the Duke of Powerburgh, the Duke 390. It’s not that this naked 400 cc monster has suddenly lost its hooliganism, but the RC 390 now provides an experience which although based on similar mechanicals, feels a part of a different atmosphere altogether. In urban environs though, it will be the Duke which will thrill you and if you aren’t paying enough attention, will kill you too. The way it shoots off once the revs start reaching the upper climes of the rev band makes it a tool which needs to be handled with all your attention. On the Duke 390, the power delivery takes a 90 degree flight, akin to a rocket launch, post the 7000 rpm mark, where things seem more in control on the RC. The power curve on the faired KTM climbs fast too, but the power delivery is slightly, and only slightly more linear in comparison to its naked cousin.
Handling & Feel
The suspension on the RC 390 feels different than the one on the Duke. Changing the steering rake and reducing the wheelbase has made this faired iteration of the 390 a motorcycle which you can ride from home, directly on to the track. Out on the open road, the motorcycle feels sure footed, sorted and stable, even on the limit. The aero bits do a fine job of keeping drag at a minimum and the entire package will take you closest you’ve ever been to an internationally respected motorcycle.
The RC will give you lessons in telepathy and every positive input from the rider will return in a reward that will bring about a wide grin inside the lid. The suspension didn’t feel bone breaking hard but surprisingly absorbed undulations on the tarmac quite well by sports bike standards. Braking hard and then getting back on the throttle doesn’t make the RC pitch as much as the Duke 390, and at any given point of time, it is the RC 390 which will instill more confidence on the limit in comparison to the Duke. In everyday traffic, it is the Duke which comes out trumps as it has a shorter turning radius, upright seating position and a wider handlebar.
Kawasaki Ninja 300
The tubular diamond frame along with the twin fork front and gas charged mono-rear suspension on the Ninja 300 offers a solid, sure-footed ride on the run. While it’s absolutely rock solid on the straights, the Ninja 300 has a charm of its own around the corners. Having said that, it’s not as flickable as the KTM’s. The Ninja is a potent machine but the entire package makes you feel so much at ease, it didn’t surprise us when Rikin, the owner of the Ninja confessed that it was his first ever motorcycle purchase. The high revving engine is at home across the spectrum of its power band, whether it is in the city, around faster bends or out on the open roads. But it all boils down to the price, where the RC 390 manages to make the Ninja feel overtly priced, more on that later.
The Duke 390 is a completely opposite machine in comparison to the other faired bikes here. It is an extremely flickable streetbike which instills a lot of confidence in the rider from the word go. The engine is hung off the light weight tubular space frame, and coupled with WP USD forks up front, WP monoshock at the rear and pin-jointed die cast swing-arm give the 390 its sure footed handling characteristics. Coupled with the sticky Metzeler rubber, you don’t have to spend a long time with this machine to start having fun. The front is light and some induced carelessness with the throttle will see it pointing skywards in the first initial gears. The stiffly sprung suspension has been the major complaint from its buyers thus far, and its in this department where the RC really brings much respite, while still bringing more composure and sure-footedness to the table on the limit.
KTM RC 390
Braking duties on the RC 390 are taken care by a 4-piston radially bolted caliper with a combo of a single 300 mm brake disc at the front and a 1-piston floating caliper with a 230 mm single disc at the back. Although a setup which is similar to the Duke 390, braking on the RC felt more reassuring and a wee bit more confidence inspiring. Similar to the Duke, the Metzeler rubber ensures the bike stays on track even under hard braking, while ABS ensures fish tailing is only a sight for the aquarium. However, if you like locking rubber or for any other reason, ABS can be switched off.
Kawasaki Ninja 300
The Kawasaki comes with a 290mm petal disc up front and 220mm petal setup at the rear. The 300 has satisfactory stopping power, but doesn’t quite dazzle you when it drops the anchors as much as the KTM’s. The sharpness is missing and there is a lack of bite. The Ninja would feel more controllable with some added bite and some more feel at the lever. Since tyres contribute immensely in the overall braking feel, it is surprising that the almost half priced KTM’s come with better rubber in comparison to the IRC’s on the Ninja, which although not all that bad, are just about OK.
KTM Duke 390
Since both the KTM’s here share similar braking equipment along with the rubber, there isn’t much difference except the fact that the RC 390 felt more confident under heavy braking, which could be attributed to the aggressive front biased riding position and some added weight. The Duke also has marginally more suspension travel in comparison to the RC, which makes it pitch that much more.
We found an empty stretch of tarmac, marked a distance of 400 metres and decided to let all the three machines loose to figure which one accelerates the fastest. Stacked against the Ninja, the RC came out victorious on all occasions. We tried multiple combinations of riders on both the motorcycles, but every time, it was the RC which would take the lead and finish 20-25 feet ahead of the Ninja. The way the RC 390 takes off from standstill has to be experienced to be believed. Keep the revs around the 5k mark, dump the clutch, and the motorcycle wheelies away to a raucous note. It gave us such a rush, we would’ve done it all day long.
Against the Duke 390, the RC would lag behind initially by a few inches, but a few metres later, in a crouched position, the faired KTM would stamp its authority. In a one off instance though, one of our feather weight staffers, whose ride until sometime ago used to be an RX-100, perched himself on the Duke 390 with an evil grin on his face and ordered one of us to bring the RC 390 alongside. We knew he discovered something about the Duke which would make things interesting. Alongside the RC 390, the ‘Stick’ just took off into the distance on the Duke and opened up a gap so large initially, it could not be covered, even with the aerodynamically aided KTM. As he came back, we made him believe in our story that the Duke we had was a modded motorcycle fitted with a smaller rear sprocket.
Summing it up
KTM RC 390
At the price for which it is being offered, nothing, and absolutely nothing comes close to the RC 390. It offers an eclectic mix of electrifying performance, international styling and modern equipment. It will provide you an experience, which if you have to match with anything else will require spending quite a few more lakhs. This motorcycle isn’t a pretentious machine, which just looks fast, it seriously is. It managed to leave such a mark on us, that by the time we got back for lunch, which was right next to the KTM showroom, we wanted to go back, pose as potential customers and try taking the RC out for a spin.
This isn’t a motorcycle you should be buying for everyday riding, although you can do it, it isn’t meant for that. What it is meant for is elevating that experience of riding a motorcycle, it makes the whole occasion special, where even before you thumb the starter. You probably might pop something sweet to celebrate the ride. If you intend to involve yourself in some serious motorcycling, do some justice to your life, get one of these, we are sure it will introduce you to a few verses of the motorcycling bible, which will add up as you start climbing the CC ladder on your way to become a litre class priest.
Kawasaki Ninja 300
First things first, the Ninja 300 is priced at Rs 3,94,193 (On Road, Mumbai). For that price you can buy an RC 390 and a Duke 200 and still be left with spare cash for some riding gear. For its price, the Kawasaki Ninja is an expensive piece of machinery to own. You do get a product which reeks of quality, has a butter smooth parallel twin engine, purposeful looks, characteristic handling, a deep exhaust growl and technology like the slipper clutch, which filters down from higher specced motorcycles. Speaking rationally, if you have the money, you sure can buy one, but do take a test ride of the RC 390 before you part ways with your money. It will help you decide what kind of motorcycling appeals to you. An RC that requires all of you, or the Ninja which only needs you on the saddle.
KTM Duke 390
If extracting the most amount of function while following minimalism is your thing, the KTM Duke 390 is what you should be looking at. It isn’t boring as the architectural sentence we just used, it doesn’t even know what that word means. The Duke 390 should be the top most contender for your parking slot, if all you intend to do is indulge in casual motorcycling, go out riding over the weekends and the bike will be bound within city limits for most of its life. It is the closest thing to the RC 390 on sale right now and also cheaper.
Similarly equipped, both the KTM’s make a strong case for themselves here. If you are about to buy a motorcycle amongst these, buy one which appeals to you the most. For us, the RC390 by far is the best thing that has happened to motorcycling in India. Go get one for yourself if motorcycles have appealed to you even once in your life. If the two wheeled species ever could make your heart flutter, the RC 390 will make your bpm go ballistic, don’t take our word for it. Go take a test ride.
|Model||KTM RC390||Kawasaki Ninja 300||KTM Duke 390|
|Transmission||6-Speed Constant Mesh||6-Speed, Return||6-Speed Constant Mesh|
|Fuel System||Bosch EFI||Fuel injection: ø32 mm x 2 (Keihin),with dual throttle valves||Bosch EFI|
|Frame Type||Tubular space frame made from steel, powder-coated||Tube diamond, steel||Tubular space frame made from steel, powder-coated|
|Weight||147 Kg||172 kg (Curb weight)||139 kg|
|Fuel Capacity||10 litres||17 litres||11 litres|
|Price (On Road, Mumbai )||Rs 2. 35 lakh||Rs 3.94 lakh||Rs 2.05 lakh|
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