I can’t help but think the KTM 390 Adventure is a very good motorcycle. There are aspects to this bike that I love and it’s impressed me hugely. If I was writing for MCN I’d be enthusing at great length. But I ride, write, shoot, edit, dish wash, sweep the floors, etc for RUST and so I have a very different approach and appraisal of its capabilities.
You see, here at RUST we – like many hardcore adventure types – have been selfishly awaiting the arrival from KTM of a 790 Adventure-lite. Actually not a 790 Adventure-lite, but a 790 Adventure R lite. The R is very important. And that is not what this bike is. We wouldn’t call it softer than an R because in some aspects of its dynamic it’s far from soft, but if you were to compare the Venn diagrams of the respective bikes’ concept and design then they’d look very different. We note at this point that KTM cunningly call their adventure segment ‘travel’ – and that is closer to what this bike is about. Think lightweight adventure-tourer more than lightweight enduro-adventure.
Only the bike is, as said, still very captivating, and once we remove our absolute-adventure blinkers we can see this bike has a bright future regardless of our petty wants and needs.
Part of the issue here is the bike isn’t entirely Euro-focused. Fact is the markets of India and Asia are far larger and are thus far more likely to influence the concept and design of bikes like this than a handful of eccentric Europeans asking for a jewel of small capacity adventure bike.
BMW has already opened up this Eastern adventure market. Not entirely successfully, for their adventure-lite 310 GS was considered a little expensive for the Indian market – a premium product, as it were – but nonetheless even in the troubled first quarter of 2020 they shifted over 800 units (so 3,200 per annum – which in Indian terms is very modest). But with the arrival of KTM’s competing 390 Adventure there’s been a bit of price matching going on and this should stimulate a lot more sales. And that’s just India, there’s Asia to consider, too. So despite KTM’s racing heritage, this is not an extreme adventure bike for us Euros; as KTM have put it themselves, it’s for ‘light off-roading and wider adventure touring’ as suits the emerging adventure markets in the East.
BOY IT GOES
One thing we can’t deny is that for all our talk of Eastern-centric design it’s a very lively little beast, even by Western standards. Based on the spunky wee Duke 390, the 373.2cc liquid-cooled, fuel-injected DOHC four-valve single likes to sing, and it’s pretty punchy with a fair 44hp coming at 9000rpm. There’s more Moto3 than ADV about this engine.
With an optional quick shifter fitted to this test bike, it called to my former road racer self to pin the throttle and flick it up through the gears. And it’s quick, it’ll see off the tin-tops easily and head toward 90mph pretty sharpish, although actually around 60-70mph is where it’s best; swinging along some smooth curving A-roads it was great fun while just about remaining legal. Much more fun than playing super high-speed Russian roulette with the traffic and tractors on a 600 or 1000 sports bike. And once I got over such juvenile obsessions it proved a great medium pace ride, too, an easy carefree ride.
So, on the road it feels pretty optimized. The ride position is generous and there’s no sense of cramping yourself aboard as a six-footer. The seat is comfortable, the screen does just enough to deflect windblast. The mirrors work. The 790-spec TFT screen gives you top-tech information and reminds you that the traction control and ABS systems ‘have got your back’. There’s even My Ride – mobile phone connectivity – which the under-40s will tell you is essential.
Yeah, on the road it’s one cracking ride. Even on a two-hour motorway stint it was good, easily cruising at 70-80mph, not getting bossed into the slow lane, and remaining comfortable to the end. And with well over 200 miles possible on a tankful, you can see it does indeed have good touring capability.
DANGER IN THE DIRT
Unfortunately what’s making the 390 Adventure such a demon street machine is not helping it when it comes to dirt riding. As ever with these things, you can put a gun rider in the seat and you can make any bike look good, doing their skids and wheelies in African hard-pack conditions. But those riders were earning their money. For once we pointed the 390 Adventure down a British green lane the truth became immediately evident. This is not a dirt bike. It’s a road bike that you can gently trundle off-road.
You might have supposed, this being a KTM, there’d be some EXC rubbing off here. And sure it’s got the WP Apex suspension, the steering head angle has been relaxed from the Duke’s 65º to the 350EXC’s more relaxed 63.5º but still the bike feels typical road bike when off the tar seal – too front heavy and unbalanced for confident running through the ruts of a British lane. You can ride it through the lanes for sure, but you’ll have to take it steady. The suspension doesn’t feel at home here, while the ground clearance really isn’t that much and you’re just mindful that in stock trim, this bike could do with a little more protection. Equally, when stood up you feel over-balanced yourself, feeling pitched a little too much over the bars. As excellent as it feels on road it feels the diametric opposite off-road.
THAT’S IT FOR NOW
So that’s it for now. We’ve got the 390 Adventure for a fortnight, so the testing will be ongoing and we’ve not finished with the off-road testing. The bike deserves a second chance; while first impressions are normally correct, sometimes with time you uncover new aspects and often you’ll soften some criticisms.
Equally, it’s a still very nice bike. Even though we know it’s now not going to be a total EXC in the dirt, we’re still excited to ride it – it is that enjoyable. We could be trite and say for new A2 licence holders it’ll be treat but even experienced riders are going to enjoy this bike. We’ve just got to understand better how we’ll get the most from it.
So… more soon!
PS. Thank you to Adam Mitchinson of Rally Raid Products for being the photo model. Jacket is the Linesman and the pants the Mongolia Trail pants both by Adventure Spec. Helmet is a Bell MX-9 Adventure MIPS (available from our sister site www.bell-motorcycle-helmets.co.uk)
2020 KTM 390 Adventure
Bore x Stroke
89mm x 60mm
Water-cooled, DOHC, four-valve, fuel injected, single cylinder four-stroke
44hp @ 9000rpm
Average fuel consumption
Steel trellis frame, detachable sub-frame
43mm WP APEX forks, adj for comp & rebound, 170mm travel
WP APEX rear shock, PDS, adj for preload and rebound, 177mm travel
320mm disc, Byre four-piston caliper, Bosch 9.1MP Two Channel-ABS
Single 230mm disc, single piston caliper
100/90 x 19 Continental TKC70
130/80 x 17 Continental TKC70
As always with Jon, an honest and unbiased report.
This is an excellent review, and Jon Bentman has a great writing style. One thing which no one ever seems to comment on is the general aesthetics of the entire KTM Adventure (and Road bike) model line up. To each his own of course, but I for one, at 55 years old, and with enough cash to buy any one of them, find the extreme angular lines of the body work unattractive and frankly a bit juvenile, and therefore can’t bring myself to buy one, no matter how well they ride. KTM is losing a lot of potential customers IMHO. Sticking just to Adventure bikes, I much prefer the looks of the Yamaha Tenere 700 or Honda Africa Twin (Hopefully, Honda make a 700-800cc version). If/when KTM starts designing bikes for grown ups, I’m all in.
Good point, Pete. Loving that first sentence too! 🙂