KTM launches the RC390 and RC200 series in India today, making us one of the first, if not the first countries in the world to receive the two new sportsbikes based off the same platform as the Duke series. KTM did launch the RC125 in Europe earlier, but we understand that deliveries are at least another week or more away even there. As you might know from our previous reports (KTM RC200 first ride, KTM RC390 first ride and KTM RC390 ridden on track), we think KTM have gone and made two sportsbikes that're potential blockbusters. But here are the things that we think you will love and hate about the two bikes.
The KTM Duke tank has a surface forward of the knee recesses that extends outwards aggressively. It gives the motorcycle an extremely hard to miss definition but is also the cause of much misery. You see KTM sees the Duke and the RC series of bikes as being for youngsters. India, however, is a dramatically different market where the prices, though affordable from the segment and value perspectives, are more likely to attract the late 20s and higher age group of riders. For these riders, that surface and the short seat lengths combine to create a tight, compact space package. I'm 6 foot and I find the Duke 390 (and 200) tight to the point where there is almost literally only one riding position.
The good news is that the RC390 and 200 don't have this trouble. At the Modena launch, there were motojournos all the way from 5-foot-something to 6-foot-4-inches from what I've read so far. Not one has complained of a lack of space which is a great omen. It is, also, explainable. The tank shape is dramatically different preferring a relativelly taller looking shape with narrow sides. This, in combination with slightly more rear set and lower footpegs (the taller ride height means cornering clearance isn't an issue) gives a more spacious ergonomics triangle. You do lean forward a bit to the bars but you won't have trouble fitting into either of the RCs.
At the end of two days of hard riding - KTM launches famously ensure that on-bike time is maximum and off-bike time is nearly non-existent - many had sore necks and sore thighs from the bikes. This is a good sign if you like your bikes to do their jobs properly. Pain is good? Yes it is. It's become acceptable to water down the abilities of a bike to ensure it appeals to as many paying customers as possible. A certain Japanese sportsbike, for example, has a tremendously neutral, capable chassis that in racebike form is a thing of wonder and ability. But in streetbike form it has just soft suspension that it wallows around a racetrack when you're pushing the pace. In the end, what was supposed to be the great entry-sportsbike has been reduced to the India's top tourer.
KTM reiterates, underlines, italicises and marks it in bold that it doesn't do this as a company. That KTM stands for KHardcore TNoMessingAround Motorcycles (Read with K and T silent). Which is why despite their roles as entry-sportsbikes, the RCs don't budge from the sportsbike formula - which is all-out engine and chassis performance. To ensure you get as much feedback as possible, the ergonomics are committed and unless you're a fittie, a long ride will cause some wrist aches. But the flipside is that the bike is as precise any motorcycle I've ridden in this kind of segment and that sense, of being in control and having a tool this finely honed, is marvellous to feel and amazing to wield. Sportsbikes aren't for everyone, but if they're your kind of motorcycles, the RCs will bring you big smiles. They're entry-sportsbikes but they're more sportsbike than entry-level. To their credit, KTM have made it clear that they set out to craft the sportiest bikes in the segment. That, without a doubt, I think they've managed. The RCs are fat-free, lithe, agile and swift.
Like the Dukes, you'll spot the silly backlit switchgear, including the brown engine kill switch as well as the cheap looking levers. But these glaring niggles aside, you'll find that the RCs are extremely well made and all that plastic sits really well together. KTM even confirms that the fairing plastic was heat validated to ensure that the lovely integration of the exhaust tip with the end of the left side of the fairing will not discolour the plastic from the heat eventually. To wit, the launch bikes in Modena, which say daily hard riding and on the RC390 a daily hard trashing on the racetrack wore pristine white fairings without a hint of colour damage.
Design and aesthetic sensibilities vary across people and cultures. There are a couple of places where the RC does look unfinished, sort of like a plastic panel or two have popped off. One is at the leading edge of the fuel tank where the a triangular piece seems to have gone missing and another is below the handlebar where the clear plastic ends and above that you can see a part of the fairing that looks oddly like the inside of a plastic panel. On some bikes, a red connector was visible dangling down from the instruments - there is a shelf of sorts there which you can see from the front through the clear plastic. They didn't bother me too much and to be honest, I only noticed these some eight hours or so into the ride but they were there and they caught my eye. Would these stop me from buying the RC, hell no. But they're there.
While cleaning sportsbike should be easy since they come wrapped in plastic, the RCs are going to be hard work come Sunday morning. That's because there a whole bunch of places where two pieces of plastic come very close together and you will not be able to reach in with a cloth. For a full Paris-approved clean, you're going to need a pressure washer.
KTM says the rear seat is pretty resistant to wear, tear and damage
No I'm not repeating myself. Consider going touring on the bike. The engine and chassis can most certainly handle it. But the issue you will run into is with luggage. The RC tank has a very small top with surfaces that slope downward from the filler cap. This is going to make mounting a tank bag hard work. At the back, similarly, the foam pillion seat is bolted on and there are no bungee cord points that you can use so mounting a tail bag of any description (Here's one of our favourites) is going to require work. And just so you know, the key lock for the seat releases the rider's seat and there's precious little space under it.
If you don't alter gearing and outputs then an 8kg weight disadvantage will be hard to overcome. So the RCs may have a top speed advantage because of the fairing but the fact is that the corresponding Dukes (KTM 200 Duke road test and KTM 390 Duke road test) will probably turn out to be marginally quicker in acceleration to 60 and 100kmph.