Launch Report: KTM 390 Adventure (2020)

The new KTM 390 Adventure, the Orange Austrians’ smallest multi-purpose touring bike, was launched to the South African bike media in March. Uzair Abdul-Karrim practiced social distancing in the saddle, and filed this report. Photos by ZCMC.

Right-side profile of the KTM 390 Adventure
The 390 Adventure has alloy wheels: 19-inches up front and 17-inches at the rear. The tyres are tubeless Continental TKC 70s.

In typical KTM fashion, the 390 Adventure enters the fray with a spec list that outguns its competitors’. When the first KTM 390 Duke was launched, it brought radial brakes, upside-down WP forks, ABS and a premium feel to the sub-500cc category. Those features were unheard of for a bike in this class, and remain impressive. The 390 Adventure also moves the bar a few notches higher, to make its rivals seem almost paltry in comparison.

Strong heritage

The 373 cc single-cylinder motor is still a cracking good unit, and provides enough shove to keep even experienced riders interested. Also new, are fully adjustable WP Apex forks up front, with a rear WP Apex mono-shock, also fully adjustable. The 390 Adventure also introduces switchable traction control.

While not vital on a bike of this size, safety aids (especially for new riders) are a huge bonus. The electronic aids are easy to monitor and control through the TFT display, which was easy to navigate from the handlebar-mounted controls. The controls (as with the Duke 390 and RC 390) are all backlit, and that’s added convenience to those of us who ride at night.

I was excited to ride this bike, because the previous iterations of the 390 engine had been pretty full on. With Sun City as the launch venue, it was clear KTM wasn’t planning to show us what a great urban tool the bike is.

The KTM 390 Adventure, shown at an angle from the front.
The brakes perform very well, while cornering ABS and off-road ABS inspire confidence in riders less experienced than the old dogs.

Design

I didn’t find it attractive in pictures, but it turned out to be a fairly pretty little machine. The LED headlight unit is the same as fitted to the larger 790 Adventure, and mirrors the company’s design language well.

The bright orange paint and exposed trellis frame are also typically KTM, lest you forget. Another noteworthy aesthetic feature are the cast alloys, in the place of traditional spoked wheels. We were assured that during testing, the cast wheels proved more than capable of dealing with off-road punishment. Capable or not, it does make the bike seem less committed. It makes it come across as a bit of a ‘soft-roader’, aimed at very light off-roading. Which is unfair, considering what we learnt throughout the day.

Uzair Abdul-Karrim rides the KTM 390 Adventure on tar.
“OK, let’s get the tar behind us, so the fun can start,” he thought.

On tar

To ride, the 390 does feel a bit small, but that’s not a bad thing. I told myself I wouldn’t state the obvious, but it really is a light and nimble little package, weighing 172 kg fully fuelled. Road handling around faster sweepers is decent, but I did experience a little bit of head shake. It’s truly nothing dangerous, but could make inexperienced riders nervous.

Other than that, the bike feels like it would be perfect around town. It has quick and precise steering, and even though small in stature, still gives an elevated riding position. In fact, flicking it from side to side, it feels like a motard, with its wide bars and upright riding position. Also, don’t let the 14,5 litre tank dissuade you from touring. The theoretical range is over 400 km, and it cruises comfortably at 140 km/h.

What I did find a surprise on road, was that the motor feels so much smoother than previous versions. Also, this was the first KTM that I’ve ridden that didn’t have a single false neutral through the gearbox. At speed it feels solid, and its top end is north of 165 km/h. Yet it doesn’t vibrate you to pieces. You don’t forget there’s a single cylinder beneath you, but they have somehow damped most of the vibes, while retaining the character. It’s also the most powerful single-cylinder engine in its class, producing a maximum of 44 hp (32 kW) and 37 Nm.

Two bikers riding through muddy waters on KTM 390 Adventures
Off-road ABS disengages the anti-lock function on the rear wheel, so you can slide it about. The low weight allows for more speed in corners.

Venturing off road

The test route wasn’t road biased at all. After just 50 km we were off the bitumen and onto the dirt. The first stretch was the stuff soft adventure bikes are made for: Nothing too technical (except for some sand), and the 390 easily dealt with it. That the rider can easily switch off the traction control and disable ABS at the rear, made the bike feel properly equipped for light adventure riding. Though it inspires confidence, the 390 Adventure’s competitors can handle roads of this kind just as well.

The next part of the test showed how much faith KTM has in this bike and its all-road prowess. It was a mountain-biking trail. Tight, twisty and technical, it’s meant for light and manoeuvrable bicycles. The course had big, rocky inclines and declines, deep sandy bits and some faster sections between. I was nervous about tackling the course with something many times the weight of a bicycle.

Four riders going fast on a gravel road.
The 390 Adventure tracked beautifully on the fast, sandy stretches of our test route.

Soak-it-up suspension

The KTM 390 Adventure overcame every obstacle thrown at it. The WP Apex suspension did its job better than I expected. With its 170 mm (6,7 inches) of travel up front and 177 mm (7 inch) travel at the rear, it proved more than capable. The rear only bottomed out occasionally, on the roughest of surfaces. A few of the larger riders did complain about the suspension bottoming out, but that might have been because the set-up wasn’t perfectly dialled in.

I have limited experience riding in conditions such as this, but the bike helped me along, making the task of ascending rocky and rutted inclines far easier than I had imagined. The front wheel was hardly ever deflected, and sketchy moments were easy to handle, especially thanks to the low weight and modest seat height. The only change I would make, is to fit bar risers, and I am a long way short of being a tall man.

A rider trying to stay upright in the mud.
Mud is to be avoided – no matter what you ride!

Torque and traction

Just as much as the suspension, the motor excelled off road and made the bike so easy to handle in situations that were above my skill level. Just as on tar, I had found the engine’s performance a pleasant surprise, especially when revving it all the way out. This worked well on dirt too.

The engine has pulling power from what feels like no revs at all. This can be attributed to the torque figure of 37 Nm and the low mass of the bike. Thick sand and rocky hills paths were no match for the bike’s low-down power and expertly mapped ride-by-wire throttle. Even when I found myself in the ‘wrong’ gear, the motor was tractable enough to get the bike going again.

Uzair on the 390 Adventure, riding a forest road.
If you weigh less than 95 kg and measure under 1.85 m, you’ll have no trouble riding the 390 Adventure comfortably.

Conclusion

It is a really accomplished little motorcycle, and in practice could make a better adventure bike than the heavies that dominate the segment. You could take this bike to places most riders would never dream of piloting a 1200cc adventure bike. Everything is a little bit easier, due to the small size. If the front wheel goes a bit light, it’s easier to correct. Rock-crawling is almost effortless, and even picking it up hardly feels like work. Also, KTM didn’t skimp on equipment, even including cornering ABS in the electronics package.

After riding it, I can honestly say this is so much more than a beginner motorcycle. It can do pretty much anything and be entertaining the whole time. Also, considering that this comes in at R86 000, I’d be surprised if it doesn’t succeed in the South African market.

Kirsten Landman riding a KTM 390 Adventure bike.
Kirsten Landman, the first woman from Africa to complete the Dakar Rally, found the weight and height of the 390 Adventure appealing.

Specifications of the KTM 390 Adventure (2020)

Engine  373.2 cc, liquid-cooled, single cylinder, four-stroke, wet sump
Transmission  6-speed with slipper clutch
Power  32 kW (44 hp) @ 7 000 rpm
Torque  37 Nm @ 7 000 rpm
Front suspension  WP APEX, 43mm USD, adjustable compression and rebound
Rear suspension  WP APEX mono-shock, adjustable compression and rebound
Front brake  Four-piston Bybre radial calliper, 320 mm disc, ABS
Rear brake  Single-piston Bybre floating calliper, 230 mm disc, ABS
Weight  158 kg (dry)
Seat height  855 mm
Tank  14.5 litres
Range  400 km (estimate)
Price  R86 000
Warranty and service intervals  2 years and 7 500 km or annually

Uzair riding the 390 Adventure on red sand.

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