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Review: KTM 390 Adventure review, test ride

Rishaad Mody
Foldable gear lever tip to prevent damage in a fall.

What is it?

There have been two very different KTM 390 Adventure models in development for the past couple of years. The first has been coming together in the R&D departments of Chakan and Mattighofen, while the other has steadily been taking shape in the collective imagination of the Indian motorcycle enthusiast.

KTM-390-Adventure

For too long we’ve been starved of a seriously capable, off-road machine that comes at an affordable price. Many, including myself in the early days, saw the upcoming 390 Adventure as just that: a unicorn that would usher complete adventure motorcycling salvation. Bajaj and KTM, however, see things very differently. To them, a market that has a distinct dislike for tall seats and one that never embraced off-road motorcycling – not that we’ve really been given a decent chance – simply isn’t ready for a hardcore machine. Making good business sense will almost always prevail over appeasing the enthusiasts.

What does it look like?

Yes, what I’m telling you right at the start is that the 390 Adventure isn’t quite the bike many of you have been dreaming it would be. But I’m also going to tell you that it still deserves your full attention. It will probably grab it on the first glance anyway because this bike has quite some presence, and in person, you’ll realise that the 390 ADV is a considerably large machine. It’s bigger than the BMW G 310 GS in every dimension, and is taller and wider than the Royal Enfield Himalayan as well. Thankfully, it isn’t as hefty as the 199kg Himalayan, but at 177kg kerb weight, it’s about 8kg more than  the BMW.

Substantial it may be, but the 390 Adventure certainly isn’t pretty. Just like KTM’s big ADV family, its trademark insect-like styling is instantly recognisable – but it’s not for everyone. There are a few interesting details, though. The fuel tank plastic, for example, is infused with colour, instead of being painted, and this should help keep a cleaner look after time’s effect of scratches and general wear.

KTM-390-Adventure-radiator

New radiator design for improved heat management.

There are a few off-road-oriented touches too. The rubber foot peg tops can be unscrewed to reveal wide and toothy metal pegs, while the toe section of the gear lever is sprung, which should protect it in case of a fall. The foot brake extension at the end is bolted to the lever arm separately; so even if that breaks off, you should still be able to use the lever to make your way back home. The engine bash guard is made of plastic, with a small metal section around the front left area where the exhaust pipe is routed through. Finally, the brush guards and engine protectors are part of the standard equipment list.

As far as comfort and practicality go, well, this bike is miles ahead of anything else KTM offers in India. The 14.5-litre fuel tank is the largest on any India-made KTM to date, and you should easily get well over 300km on a tankful. A new subframe has liberated vast seating space for the rider, and there’s a decently sized pillion seat as well. If you’ve been managing with the cramped space that remains after mounting luggage on your KTM Duke, this level of space will be nothing short of luxurious.

KTM-390-Adventure-screen

What are features on offer?

Technology-wise, there’s the now-familiar, full-LED headlamp that comes right off the 390 and 790 Duke. The TFT display is also nearly the same, but this one can display turn-by-turn navigation assists if you purchase the optional Rs 600 KTM MyRide Navigation App. And then, of course, there’s the headline-grabbing electronic assists. The bike gets a bi-directional quickshifter that works decently well, if not as smooth and crisply as the system in the 790 Duke. There’s also a three-axis IMU that enables a cornering ABS feature, as well as a corner-sensitive traction control system. The ABS can’t be turned off completely, but you can switch it to an ‘off-road’ mode, which deactivates the rear and loosens the intervention at the front wheel. In theory, the traction control (TC) system can be switched off too, but this is another bit that we’ll get to a little later.

What's it like to ride off-road?

Our first taste of the 390 ADV was on some rocky, gravelly trails, with a few steep climbs strewn with large boulders. First things first, the ergonomics are quite decent, in terms of the feet positioning and shape of the fuel tank, but most of us agreed that we’d have liked a taller handlebar for when standing up and riding. Over the rocky sections, the suspension has a firm and taut feel that gets the job done fairly well, but overinflated tyres meant that things were quite bouncy the first time we headed out.

Switching to the faster, more open trails, the 390’s trademark raucous power delivery was great fun, especially when you cross the magic 6,000rpm mark. But just as the 390’s excellent top-end thrills in the fast stretches, its grumpy bottom end makes it an absolute pain when climbing steep and technical trails at low speeds. There is no significant pull below 3,000rpm, and you have to slip the clutch quite a bit to get things going. Shorter gearing or at least a change in the final drive ratio would have been nice here, but the setup is identical to that of the 390 Duke.

KTM-390-Adventure-seat

In an off-road setting, most of the KTM’s advanced assists aren’t very desirable. The off-road ABS mode worked beautifully, but the same can’t be said for the traction control. A number of us encountered an unusual issue where the TC would randomly cut in briefly, robbing you of all power, and this was with the system fully turned off and while the engine was running. Some riders even experienced the TC randomly switching itself back on, but this didn’t happen with my bike. The way I see it, this behaviour was either due to the TC system misbehaving or an issue with the fueling. When you’re navigating through a tricky off-road section, it’s not a nice feeling to be suddenly deprived of power, and this is something KTM needs to look into.

KTM-390-ADV

While the 390 ADV was fun in the fast and open off-road stretches, it isn’t really designed or equipped to truly enjoy the particular terrain we put it through. Its 170/177mm of suspension travel is adequate, but not fantastic, and since the fork has no adjustability in the Indian market, we couldn’t back off from the compression/rebound settings, which would have been helpful over those big boulders. While none of us had any issues with the rims, the tubeless Metzeler Tourance tyres were out of their element in this hard, washboard-style terrain. What proved to be adequate though was the 200mm of ground clearance, and the only time I scraped the belly on a rock was when ferrying our photographer, Kuldeep, to a nice shoot location.

What's it like to ride on the road?

Overall, the 390 ADV will get you through whatever you point it at, but it’s clear that this is no enduro motorcycle. It’s on the road where the Adventure’s 1.5-degree increase in steering rake and 77m increase in wheelbase over the 390 Duke reveal their biggest change. While we didn’t get to evaluate high-speed stability, it’s clear that this bike feels nothing close to as fidgety or on edge as the Duke. Instead, there’s an enjoyable sense of stability, which comes without a major sacrifice in agility and front-end feel, despite the 19-inch front wheel. Another enjoyable aspect is the firm and sharp feel from the front brake lever; this comes as no surprise as it uses the 320mm disc setup from the Duke. On a winding road, the 390 Adventure, with its taut suspension, grippy tyres and generous cornering clearance, reminds you that this KTM still knows how to party.

KTM-390-Adventure-corner

As far as comfort goes, the riding position is simply excellent. It’s spacious, comfy, and since you’re sitting quite high up, it’s also very commanding. Ride quality is good too, but there is a sense of firmness – bad roads shouldn’t really affect the bike, although this is something we’ll have to save for our full review. What you should know is this is a bike that will be easier for taller riders. On the road, the 855mm seat height will be just about manageable if you’re over 5ft 6in, but things can get quite tricky off-road if you don’t have long legs to mask a lack of talent (guilty as charged).

Performance-wise, the BS6 engine makes the same 43hp/37Nm as the BS4 motor in the 390 Duke, although the exhaust note sounds a bit more muffled. It has always been a thriller of an engine, with all the power you ever need on our roads, and that hasn’t changed. What’s new, however, is a redesigned curved radiator with a dual-fan setup. The intention is to improve cooling efficiency and redirect the hot air away from the rider, and we’re keen to see how this works in the drudgery of big-city traffic.

KTM-390-Adventure-rear

Should I buy one?

This is the very first KTM I’ve ridden where the company is trying to do ‘approachable’ rather than the typical and infectious ‘ready to race’. Initially, I felt a bit let down, but it’s not hard to see KTM’s point of view. When you do see this bike for what it really is, you realise this is just the sort of motorcycle our country really needs. It’s got the capability to go almost anywhere, but it also looks to be a fantastic long-distance road bike. And then there’s the price – to be getting all these segment-busting features at Rs 2.99 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi) is simply stunning. If KTM can offer a reliable and niggle-free experience from the start, the 390 Adventure could be quite a special machine. We’ll, however, hold off on giving our final verdict until we get to spend many days and hundreds of kilometres with it on the open road.