In a competitive market, there are some moves that are made to counter the competitor’s strategy; some moves are made in anticipation of a strategy from the competitors, while some moves are made to gain an upper hand in the competition. And then there are the master strokes, which are played simply to blow the competition out of the water. Ask me for an example of a master stroke and I’ll say the launch of the 2017 RC 390 by KTM.
The RC line-up from KTM has been around for more than two years now and it was kind of expected that they got a mid-life update. What was unexpected though is the long list of gadgetry that has been showered upon the consumers by KTM. Even though the RC 200 remains largely unchanged apart from a new paint scheme, it’s the larger twin that has caught everybody’s attention. The RC 390 never lacked a feature list that could be boasted of and it always punched well above its weight, but in its 2017 avatar, it is bound to step out of competition altogether – it is now in a class of its own.
So what’s this feature list that has got me (and the entire fraternity of petrolheads) so whipped up?
For starters, it has got an all-new paint-job. KTM has made sure that the new buyers can distinguish their rides from the older ones. The KTM theme-orange has been generously used and the overall paint scheme is on the louder side when compared to the subtle paint scheme of the previous generation. One other thing to be noticed is that the colours have been somewhat swapped between the RC twins this time around with the 200 having a predominantly white fairing and the 390 having a black one.
Another obvious new feature is the inclusion of a slipper clutch. The PASC slipper clutch that we saw on the Duke 390 has found its way on to the RC 390 as well. Rev-matching is a thing of the past, now we can go bonkers down-shifting as aggressively as we dare to, without the fear of locking up the rear tyre.
The previous RC 390 had many complaints regarding the scraping of the belly-pan while cornering. This has been taken care of with the inclusion of an all-new side-slung exhaust. Now the belly-pan sits comparatively higher and will do anything but scrape while carving aggressive corners. The new exhaust has also changed the way this bike talks; its voice is slightly more sonorous now.
It is no secret that the RC could do insane speeds without breaking a sweat. To shed all that speed better it has now got a larger 320 mm disk upfront. The master cylinder has been revised to get more hydraulic leverage and the brake pads too have been improved and provide a better bite. A little back-of-the-hand calculation reveals that this bike now has more than 15% more braking force.
KTM has also taken measures this time around to keep the rider comfortable. Anyone who has been on long rides on a KTM knows what a pain in the bum the stiff seat can be and hence it has been better padded to keep our rear-ends at ease. Also, to take care of our front-ends (I mean fingers; front-ends sounds better though, doesn’t it?) the clutch and brake levers now have an adjustable reach.
And now the mother of all updates that I have been saving for the last – the new KTM RC 390 gets ride-by-wire technology. Bam! Out goes the competition through the window. This is a feature that we get to see only in a class above. I can literally imagine a scenario where the bosses of Bajaj and KTM are sitting together and discussing on what they can do to give nightmares to their competitors and then a trainee raises his hand and suggests, “Maybe we can add ride-by-wire to our features list” and then all the big-wigs look at each other and give an evil smile. Maybe that’s what actually happened, because this is a feature that we could only dream of in the 300 cc bike segment.
KTM-Bajaj managed to add all these features to the RC 390 while restricting the price bump to a mere 12,000 rupees. That’s just incredible! But again, if we think about it, launching the RC series in India at such a reasonable price in the first place is no less incredible. Its price undercuts that of similar bikes in a way that has never been seen before. The bike closest to the RC 390 in performance is the Yamaha R3, which is a good one and a half lac rupees more expensive and yet misses out on many features that the this bike has to offer. If and when the CBR 250 RR (or maybe Honda will imitate Yamaha and launch a CBR 300 RR) comes to India, it had one USP – ride-by-wire. Well, Honda, that’s no longer a USP, KTM got you there. The only thing that the likes of Ninja 300, R3 and others have going for them is that they have twin-cylinder engines. This makes them much more refined and sound better too. Apart from that, and the fact that these bikes are not as commonly seen on the streets as the RC, there is no real reason to opt for them.
One thing that I personally missed on the RC 390 is the new LCD display that we saw on the 2017 Duke 390 launched in the European market. But that can be ignored as long as it means keeping the price low.
As a conclusion all I could say is, if someone asks me whether they should buy the new RC 390, I’d reply, “why aren’t you at the show-room already!”