If you ride the KTM 390 Duke and the 200 Duke back to back at the racetrack - or come to think of it, on the street - you quickly realise that they may share the chassis and have a visually similar engine, but they have very distinct flavours. I am happy to say that the RC 200 and the RC 390 also have all of those common things but a distinctly different flavour. We did not get to ride the RC 200 on the racetrack but a quick two hours on city streets and in the mountains around Modena, Italy quickly showed what a lovely little bike the RC 200 is. And the fact that if you were to choose the RC 200 over the RC 390 for any number of reasons, you'll still be riding a terrific little sportsbike.
It's a very familiar engine - because it is absolutely the same engine as the 200 Duke's. What that means, power and torque figures aside, is a smooth build up of power. Unlike the 390, it isn't all torque in the middle and you need to rev the bike to extract full performance. On the flip side, it is a smoother engine in feel than the 390's and that makes revving it a very pleasant task.
In the hills above Modena, in mostly dry but some intermediate road conditions, I found the feel of the powertrain very smooth and progress, whether languid or laser-fast, is easy to access. Trundling through town, on the other hand, the RC 200 will hold something like 55-60kmph in top gear without a hiccup or stumble, something the RC 390 finds hard to do.
As you know, like the RC 390, the RC 200 also gets the same chassis updates - the kicked up new subframe, tighter steering angle and because of the latter, less trail and a 27mm shorter wheelbase. On unknown roads, the RC 200 felt vastly more confident to corner fast than the 390. Initially this was a surprise to me but then two things make this possible.
First, because there is less power and the power spread is smoother in feel, you ride smoother and that feels really good. If you're riding with a friend who is on a 390, you might have some trouble keeping up, but the 200 feels significantly easier to ride fast. Although the power and torque deficit obviously mean the 200 is noticeably slower.
But the 200 is also 9.5kg lighter than the 390, which makes its behaviour in the corners very likeable. It has the same kind of flickability and quick reflexes like the 390 but because there is less weight, the taste of cornering is sweeter. It wasn't just me, many, many other journalists commented on this and a surprisingly large number said - surprise - that they preferred the feel of the RC 200 over its bigger sibling.
I was expecting the MRFs to feel inferior to the Metzelers on the bigger bike - which we know are imported, more expensive and significantly grippier. But the MRFs are excellent tyres and the chassis is able to extract terrific performance from them. What this means in the real world is that none of us really backed off when the dry corners became mildly wet and then fully wet during our ride. The couple of times I misjudged a corner and needed to shed speed in a hurry, the MRFs - I had a non-ABS bike - find a lot of grip and allow you to use an amazing amount of brake force.
To be perfectly honest, I wasn't expecting the RC 200 to shine right after we rode the RC 390, but it does. The RC 390 is like a bright spotlight but the RC 200 has its own more subtle sort of gleam. As I said in my stories on the RC 390 yesterday, the 390 is a terrific sportsbike with plenty of power, the promise of a sharp price and handling that'll keep you smiling for ages. The RC 200 is a slower motorcycle thanks to a smaller engine, perhaps, but it is as much of a star. Between the smoothness of the power, the sweet nature and amazing chassis, the RC 200 makes a persuasive case for itself as a motorcycle for someone new to fast motorcycles wanting a tool to learn on.
I said that I was wondering if I could persuade one of our Indimotard nutters to go halfsies on an RC 390 for track use only. Well, a day later I am wondering if I should forget partnering up and just spend roughly that amount of money on an RC 200 I can call all my own instead.
Like I said with the RC 390, if you get one, you owe it to yourself to take the bike out to a racetrack and explore its tremendous performance envelope. I started out thinking that this whole wee sportsbike thing was just a marketing gimmick. I am happy to have had my mind changed - they're real. And they're huge fun!
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