Review: KTM 390 Adventure

For years, KTM has been building the most offroad-worthy bikes. They make use of the knowledge they’ve gained in the rally world to build a production bike with – just like any brand nowadays – the pieces they have in stock.

This way they’ve constructed a full 1290 line-up: from The Beast all the way up to the Super Adventure. The engine of the 790 Duke was the base for one of the most praised adventure bikes of recent years, the KTM 790 Adventure. Recently they repeated the trick with the 890 Duke.

Downsizing is a popular trend in the motorcycling world as well, because not everyone can afford an expensive motorcycle. Especially European constructors want to get a piece of the cake that we know as ‘growth markets’. When you’re present in one of those BRIC-countries, you’ll want to have the bike built over there to reduce costs. So KTM took the engine and the frame of the Duke 390 platform to India where the Bajaj factories gave birth to the KTM 390 Adventure.

For the last test ride of this year, I went out for a ride on this smallest adventurer from Mattighofen. During a staycation I travelled from the Ardennes to the coast, wondering how much of an adventure one could experience on this Indian Austrian. After all it’s “but a four hundred”.

I’m pretty confused when I stand next to it for the first time: is this the 390 or the 790? The 390 isn’t at all as small as I expected. The standard seat height measures 855 mm, half a centimeter higher than the 790 Adventure. The bodywork looks just as mature as the one on its bigger brother with baked-in colors and a nice finish.

Just like the rest of the family, the 390 flaunts a bolt-on trellis subframe, cast swingarm and adjustable WP suspension. The standard equipment features ride-by-wire, adjustable and lean-angle dependent traction control and ABS, a slipperclutch, LED-lighting and a 5” TFT dashboard. The buttons on the tapered aluminum handlebars look identical to the ones on previously mentioned bigger KTM adventure bikes and the structure of the menu on the dash feels KTM familiar. You get all of that for an impressively low starting price.

My test bike was equipped with loads of accessories from the Power Parts catalogue to make it more offroad-worthy ,such as a flat rallyseat, aluminum handguards, a skid plate and a radiator grill. The Akrapovic exhaust looks a lot cooler than the standard boxy exhaust, which takes care of the only part on this motorcycle that’s really not nicely designed. It has a quickshifter too, both up and down. On a four hundred! Sweet!

The optional panniers feel a bit flimsy at first. They are incredibly light though and the flexible material allows for you to stuff in more luggage. A push on the button is all you need to take them off or put them back on.

When I leave, I need some time to adjust to everything. It might not look like a small bike, but the riding position is quite compact compared to other classic adventure motorcycles. The footpegs are higher, which makes for a sharper knee-angle and the handlebars are close and rather narrow.

It doesn’t take long to get used to the bike. I feel at home quite quickly on the small, but feisty mono. It’s very smooth on the gas even though not too much happens in the lower rev range. Only at 4.000 revolutions the 390 comes to life and you need to be between the 6 and 8 on the rev counter to get things moving. After that, the torque curve smoothes out and at 10K the limiter cuts power abruptly. Which happens rather often, it is really that rev-happy. There will be a lot of gearshifts and that’s no problem thanks to the superb quickshifter. Throttle wide open and a nice little tap on the lever suffices to gently go through the gearbox. Even when cruising along nicely with the revs in between 4000 and 6000 rpm this small adventurer finds a way to charm me.

Because of the flat rallyseat you’re sitting ‘on’ the 390, rather than ‘in’ it and that’s something you’ll feel. On slow manoeuvres it’s easy to push the bike underneath you like an enduro and the long seat offers more than enough room to change your position. With that, your legs are well protected due to small wind deflectors on the tank. There will be a lot of wind on the head and torso however. The small adjustable windscreen doesn’t make any difference, even though it’s an advantage that the wind flows freely around your helmet without any turbulences. Not so much when you hit a rain shower though …

When approaching the Ardennes it wasn’t a problem keeping up with highway traffic. There was even some extra power on tap to overtake, as long as you don’t expect high speed accelerations. Sixth gear is an overdrive, so you’ll need to shift down and rev it up when passing slower cars.

The 390 eats up the small, badly paved roads of the Ardennes effortlessly. It’s equipped with WP APEX suspension which is top of the line. Humps and bumps are absorbed without any problems and the bike sticks to its riding lines. The rebound on the rear suspension was just a bit too hard, which bounced me out of the seat on a few occasions, followed by a soft landing. I enjoyed it too much to go through the effort of adjusting it. On the rear damper you can also adjust the preload next to the rebound, in front there are clickers to easily adjust both rebound and damping – even while riding. Only the brakes are a bit average. In the rear you get a lot of feel and brake power, but in the front you can tell it only has a single disk which requires a big squeeze to decelerate adequately.

The 390 really shines on gravel roads. Thanks to its relatively low weight – 158 kg dry weight is around 40 kg lighter than most middleweight adventures – and its active riding position, it’s very easy to throw into a corner. Typically you’ll be standing up when riding offroad, but on the 390 that just feels uncomfortable. You’ll be standing bent over, the footpegs are in a weird angle and there’s no tank to grab onto with your knees. So it’s easier to sit down with your crotch glued to the tank and the throttle wide open. When the traction control and ABS are in offroad mode, you can drift out of a corner, all 43 horses neighing.

The KTM 390 Adventure comes standard on the highly praised Continental TKC70 tires and they fit it really well. It’s mainly meant for asphalt, but a little offroading won’t hurt, which applies both to the tires and the 390 in general. If you want to do some harder offroading, the 200 mm ground clearance might spoil the fun and the tires and cast wheels will definitely have to endure a beating. KTM realized this and now also offers a set of spoked wheels.

Conclusion

The KTM 390 Adventure is an incredibly fun bike. It’s very easy to ride and it’s entertaining to rev the nuts of this small monocilinder. Apart from it being a great adventure bike, I think it’s an ideal city bike as well: it’s high, the riding position is straight up and it’s very agile.

Out of the box the 390 is already very well equipped – unseen in this price category – and on the option list there aren’t just gadgets but really useful additions that lift this bike to a higher level. I’m thinking Akra, quickshifter and rallyseat. On top of that the panniers are very useful and you can even get KTM’s My Ride connectivity on this little allrounder.

I looked hard and long to find negative points and of course there are some, but the pricing counters all nagging. It’s no problem to forgive KTM for the lesser brakes, or that you need tools to adjust the windscreen. That’s not any different on the twice as expensive 790 Adventure by the way. No, with a pricetag like that, you just swing your leg over the high seat and ride towards the horizon looking for adventure. Both in the city and far, far away from it.

Photography: Catherine S. en Jan F.

Pros

+ Very complete equipment
+ Pricing
+ A lot of fun with little hp

Cons

– With a pricetag like that, you can’t complain too much
– Front brake needs more bite
– Windscreen

Tech specs

Engine

Torque: 37 Nm
Transmission: 6-speed
Cooling: Liquid cooled
Power: 32 kW / 43 hp
Starter: Electric starter
Stroke x bore: 60 mm x 89 mm
Clutch: PASC™ antihopping clutch, mechanically operated
Displacement373 cm³
EMS: Bosch EMS with RBW
Design: 1-cylinder, 4-stroke engine
Lubrication: Wet sump

Chassis

Tank capacity: +- 14.5 l
ABS: Bosch 9.1MP Two Channel-ABS (incl. Cornering-ABS and offroad mode)
Front brake disc diameter: 320 mm
Rear brake disc diameter: 230 mm
Front brake: Four-piston radial fixed calliper
Rear brake: Single-piston floating calliper
Chain: 520 X-Ring
Dry weight: 158 kg
Frame design: Steel trellis frame, powder coated
Front suspension: WP APEX 43
Ground clearance: 200 mm
Rear suspension: WP APEX – Monoshock
Seat height: 855 mm
Steering head angle: 63.5 °
Suspension travel (front/rear): 170 mm/177 mm

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