It isn’t often that I’ll drag myself out of bed early to go to work, no matter how exotic the motorcycle, or car, or location. Especially when I’m febrile, overworked, under-rested and hungry, and can’t be bothered to chop another half hour from my sleep to get a proper breakfast. It is rarer still for me to attempt to hit an embargo and provide a timely piece about whatever device I was operating. But the KTM 390 Adventure is special, as is evident from my extended paean on tech2.com.
I’ll give you the summary here: I think the 390 Adventure is a bike whose time has arrived. We already have an active and growing community of riders who enjoy traveling by motorcycle, often to hard-to-reach places. It routinely surprises me just how much some of these riders are willing to endure to get their scooters/Bullets/other wildly inappropriate vehicles up Rajmachi. Add to this the generally poor (but improving) state of our roads and highways, and the case for a do-it-all, comfortable, quick and capable motorcycle is not just made — it’s a requirement.
What we get
Since I last visited the topic of the KTM 390 Adventure, there have been some changes. At EICMA, we saw it with a full sweep of electronic aids as well as adjustable suspension at both ends. For India, the suspension has been skipped, but we get a bonus electronic quickshifter. This is in addition to the cornering traction control, cornering ABS, the colour TFT dash, Bluetooth connectivity and so forth — all of which are present.
The 390 Adventure is based on the 390 Duke, but gets a different chassis to make it suitable for the intent of the motorcycle — touring and the occasional trail. It’s a long, tall motorcycle and feels more substantial than the tiny, sharp Dukes we have in India. And yet, there is only a minor weight penalty; the Adventure weighs in at 177kg, just 14kg over the Duke. Tyres are 19” up front and 17” at the rear, affording a bit of off-road ability. They’re cast alloys though, so there’s a limit to the kind of punishment they can take. A manually-adjustable screen is present, and the 14.5l fuel tank is expected to give it 400km of range.
On the street, my experience with the 390 Adventure was limited to showboating for the camera, as is evident on this story page. It’s comfy, light on its feet and the blocky tread on the tyres doesn’t seem to force any compromises. I expect this to be a very comfortable tourer. Ergonomics also seem to be very neutral, with only a marginal bend at the knee when riding. There’s a huge grab rail out back so tying down luggage or carrying a pillion should be no problem. Considering the relative accessibility of the 390 Adventure, expect a myriad options for add-on accessories, crash bars and the like.
Despite the intent of the bike and its target audience, KTM chose to throw us into the deep end with the press ride. They brought down Australian motorsports athlete and filmmaker Adam Riemann to show us the ropes on some punishing trails they had prepared at an adventure park in Aamby Valley. And by “show us the ropes” I mean clamber up and down rocky trails that were hard to walk on, let alone ride on. The tall Aussie made it all look like he was rolling downhill (and uphill too, if that makes any sense). We also had Ashish Raorane there, freshly returned from the Africa Eco race to put the bike through its paces and give us a few tips. It was tremendous fun and utterly humiliating.
But it did throw up some answers. The KTM 390 Adventure has a smaller diameter front wheel than needed for the sort of rocky trails we rode. A 21” wheel would have been preferred with narrower tyres, say more experienced dirt riders. Nevertheless, the bike took it all in its stride and I’m happy to say that there were very few mishaps in our group. I don’t consider myself dumping the bike out of sheer exhaustion and frustration as a mishap, however.
I’ve previously been skeptical about the suitability of the high-revving, oversquare single 390 motor for off-road duty. Much as it is with 4×4 vehicles, low-end torque and the ability to crawl through punishing terrain slowly but surely is the order of the day. I did not relish the thought of spinning wheels and staying still. For the 390 Adventure, there’s a minor tweak to the rear sprocket: 45 teeth instead of the Duke’s 44. If you’re stuck between rocks pointed uphill, you’ll still need some skill with the clutch to break free and get going again, but downhill, the Adventure is happy to chug along at walking pace in first gear without stalling. With traction control disabled, it’s more than willing to spin up the rear wheel and powerslide everywhere.
The lack of adjustable suspension did not seem to worry me, and the consensus seems to be that as supplied, the suspension is very plush and quite suitable for our conditions. Of course, with any sort of pace off-road, there will be a need for more sophisticated and adjustable items. Thankfully, that is an easy (but not cheap) change to make. Ground clearance proved to be excellent., and I don’t think I ground out the bike even once, despite the large rocks across the trail. I think KTM made a wise choice in deciding to keep the fancy electronics but leaving the adjustable suspension out, in order to meet a target price. You can add suspension, you can’t really add traction control.
The electronic package was good in that it could be turned off, as is required in off-road conditions. The Offroad ABS mode allows one to lock the rear brake but not the front, while turning traction control off allows wheelspin — essential in these conditions. The only bugbear was that the Traction Control seemed to randomly switch on despite being turned off, and usually came on again if you restarted the bike. This can be frustrating if one is stalled on an incline and trying to get going again, only to realise that traction control isn’t allowing it, and you thought you had turned it off.
While I thought the ergonomics were spot-on, opinions seem mixed about the comfort of the 390 Adventure. Some riders such as Ashish Raorane found the ergonomics to be excellent, and the quickshifter useful, while others of a similar build and some experience, did not like it at all. There will be some level of customisation required for experienced riders — bar riders for example — to make riding standing up easier, but by and large, I believe the 390 Adventure will suit most riders. If you’re more Hagrid than Dobby, the 390 Adventure will perhaps be the most comfortable and usable KTM you can buy, thanks to its more generous proportions.
Should you buy it?
Short answer: yes. This can be your only bike, because of the breadth of ability in a small, light, cheap to maintain package. Those who are already used to riding larger bikes with similar capabilities, the KTM 390 Adventure may not feel special enough. For lateral upgraders coming from sport bikes, other KTMs or Royal Enfields: you’ll be shocked at just how much you can do with this motorcycle. It’s quite tough (which I tested by dropping it a couple of times), and KTM has taken special care of cooling requirements by adding an extra radiator fan. I stand by my assessment that this will likely end up being the fastest KTM you can buy in India, simply because of the practicality, suspension, ground clearance and comfort (790 notwithstanding). You won’t have to stop as much for fuel, to stretch your legs, or calm yourself after the last hairy tankslapper.