Anybody who’s been to Sepang F1 Circuit, may have also been to the kart track. Modelled after the main track, it features the similar wide asphalt and fast sweepers with hard braking chicanes and high grip surface.
The layout itself mimics the main track although it has a lesser number of corners and distance. This is where the track test for the stonkinly sweet KTM RC 390 took place by yours truly!
As per the street review, the test took place in wet conditions at the start. Reaching SGKC at around noon, the moment I park the bike, a heavy shower took the place by storm. And I mean storm, as in Thunder Storm!!
2 hours passed and soon the track was dry enough. Venturing out on the out lap, I was dismayed to find the surface was glazed with water, and the film thin volume was enough to make me, a seasoned rain racer, nervous. The RC is fitted with Metzeler Sportec tires, although good were not really generating enough heat to be pushed in these conditions.
So I rode conservatively for 10 laps or so to get the feeling and nuances of the RC in the wet, with a predictable flow, being as smooth and non-jerky as possible to try and find the maximum the RC can go in these conditions.
I am happy to report, the RC adapts well to these situations. As long as you’re smooth and predictable with the throttle, the RC responds and reacts accordingly. No surprises, jerk or tires slides and spins antiques. It will follow what you want it to do! The lightweight and neutral chassis certainly helps here, while the steady flow of torque meant you didn’t have to push more in order to move the bike forward. Here I have to add, is the wonderfully smooth engine brake, as you downshift the back torque is very subtle, but generating a really good down force with abundant mechanical grip. Planted! Even in the wet!
The minute I came into the pits it started to the rain again! Drizzling but steady flow of water meant the track took another soaking! Another two hour break to get the track to dry out, and luckily the sun started coming out of the clouds. Miraculously, it took only 30 minutes to completely dry the track.
I went out on a reconnaissance lap and surveyed the conditions. Great God in Heaven! It was dry! Got back to the pits and donned my racing garb, and here we go!
I gave it a bit more speed entering the corners, forcing more lean angle, gradually hanging until my knee pucks touched the tarmac. Beautiful! So neutral, no falling into the corners, no weave or pitch, and no drift! Wow, it really feels ready to race! I was expecting understeer because of the tall front end, but there wasn’t any, only a solid planted feel with plenty of feedback! You can feel the front wheel rolling predictably into the turns and track smoothly over any undulations, the superior damping smoothed out any harshness, making holding a line really easy and natural. Bravo!
A single will usually rev slowly or gobs of torque may push the rear excessively, causing oversteer. You can feel the engine raise the chassis, the chassis push down on the rear tires through the swing arm, but it’s so progressive with the throttle that you feel a direct connection of your right hand with the contact patch of the rear tire. It’s that good! So good plus the immediate push offered by the torque sends you hurtling forward with a powerful big bike feel. The next corner came almost too quickly! Again is this a single?!
As the track is really dry now, I decided to shift up, racer boy time. Giving it more gas and leaning more, the RC is ready to attack head on! Keeping the throttle steady in the sweet zone of 4K RPM and above, it sweeps calmly into the corners, just a steady and planted feel with the same great-right-hand-throttle connection with the rear tire. Edge grip is so consistent, drives out of corners are almost telepathic. Feed a steady stream of gas to keep the torque pulse thrusting, the mechanical grip is so good that getting on the gas early on the exit is encouraged! I felt I could always apply the throttle earlier as the chassis never stepped out of line or drifted and the engine mechanical grip kept the tire’s contact patch where you want them to be, never understeering or oversteering one bit. I’m hooked!
In the street test, I mentioned some things I didn’t like about the snatchy throttle and the 3 click lag of the fueling. Here on the race track you really notice it. A different approach is needed to tackle the corners, which is ALWAYS have at least 15% throttle on anywhere to place the engine and throttle past the lag. As long as you’re past that part of the fuelling, the RC will rumble on smoothly. Otherwise it will snatch and correcting it will result in a snatch and rough surge,pitching the bike to and fro, upsetting the chassis slightly. Not much, but still it takes the smoothness out of you.
To counter this, apply the throttle into the sweet spot, but use the weak biting front brake to keep excess speed in check. I reported in the street review that I didn’t like the brakes, but due to it being weak yet still able to stop the bike at the end of its travel, made for trail breaking and throttle checking a neutral and intuitive affair. Soon I was trail braking into every corner without worrying about front end folding or excessively diving due to braking. It’s a good technique to attack the corners, making me smooth on both the throttle and brakes! Was this a riding method design into the RC? Whatever it was, it helped carry higher corner speed and lapping faster. So the decal saying ready to race is true…
Maybe another thing I find nit picking is the angle of the bars. Too flat on track means in corners your wrist are at an awkward angle. I wished the bars were angled pointing down a few degrees to allow elbow out and elbow down angle feel more comfortable. Also the position of the foot rest and pegs are too low. No it didn’t touch, but hanging off made my outer leg tip-toe on the pegs. Higher and more rearward pegs would definitely help, both in reach of my outer leg, and steering the bike, by allowing more leverage and weight to be placed on the pegs.
On a last note, I’m neutral about the tallness of the front end of the bike. It might seem tall at the front, but once you mount, the slimness allows both feet flat on the ground.The reach to the bars are short and close, making it fatigueless to reach the bars and steer. One thing I like is its easy to go aerodynamic by going prone on the gas tank, the tallness of tank lets you rest your chest and torso naturally. Also chin on gas tank prone positions came relaxing and natural. Getting MotoGP and WSBK head beside/below windscreen positions are so easy. Refer to pix! And if you think that the tallness hinder turning, I was really surprised that it turns easier than my race bike in the ultra-tight S turns. This allowed me to take a variety of lines to my liking and still the RC turned with ease and a planted feel! Maybe one complaint is the lowish windscreen, its really too low to get under the screen, and when you do, its not clear with a bit of swirl and distortion if you’re not in a certain position which is exactly direct behind the screen.
After about 30 laps of track thrashing, I’m happy to report that the RC IS THE REAL DEAL! Bog stock out of the box, it’s a ready and capable track weapon, and it will make you a better rider, pronto! I’m a believer now, due to the fact that it feels 90% close to my fully prepped race bike, a souped up fully race modified ZX150RR. If you think you need a bigger bike to generate huge grins on the track, then you’re really missing a huge thing with the RC. It does everything you think it should do, all the hype, and then some more! I’m booking one now already..