New KTM 390 Adventure punches well above its weight

26 March 2020 - 07:34 By Harry Fisher
The KTM 390 Adventure can hold its own against any adventure bike, no matter its size. Picture: SUPPLIED
The KTM 390 Adventure can hold its own against any adventure bike, no matter its size. Picture: SUPPLIED

The world of the adventure bike has undergone something of a revolution in recent times with the appearance of so-called "baby" adventure bikes.

These are sub-400cc-engined motorcycles with adventure styling, practicality and ability and so far, we have seen models from Honda, Kawasaki and BMW. The question that everyone was asking, however, was "when will KTM enter the fray?".

That question has now been answered and, if it seems as if KTM is late to the party, then at least it has come fully prepared. In fact, in one fell swoop, KTM has changed the game completely and left the competition floundering in its wake.

To refer to a bike as "baby" or "entry-level" implies a lower level of ability but this is an accusation that can not be levelled at the new KTM 390 Adventure. This bike isn’t a stepping stone to bigger machines but an extremely competent adventure bike in its own right that can hold its own against any adventure bike, no matter its size.

First impressions are that this is still a big bike. No, that’s not quite right; it isn’t big, but it isn’t small either; nothing "baby" about this. There is nothing to suggest that the 390 Adventure is anything but a fully-fledged adventure bike, something that the spec sheet does nothing to dispel.

All the numbers are right — 32kW and 37Nm pushing along 172kg (fully fuelled), 855mm seat height with 200mm ground clearance (suspension lowering kit available), fully adjustable WP Apex suspension front and back, ByBre brake calipers, 14.5l fuel tank that should give an excellent 400km range, ride-by-wire throttle allowing for switchable — and lean-sensitive — traction control, Bosch cornering ABS with off-road and fully-off settings, full colour TFT dash with Bluetooth connectivity, adjustable screen and brake and clutch levers, LED headlight and an optional quick shifter on the gear change.

Often, the spec sheet flatters to deceive but not with the 390 Adventure; the first twist of the throttle tells you that this is something special. On normal roads the performance is punchy — obviously not as fast as the 1000+cc behemoths but, at the same time, perfectly usable and even exciting, way beyond what the meagre output figures suggest. This really is a machine that could cover large distances with ease, aided by first-class comfort, even for tall riders.

But to suggest that this is a one-trick pony would be to do the bike a disservice. Turn onto a dirt trail and the qualities come shining through in abundance.

It takes a special rider to get the best out of the big adventure bikes, but the "little" 390 is so accessible. Far from being compromised on dirt, it has an ability that belies its humble stature but is completely in keeping with its impressive specification. It is so forgiving and so easy to handle whilst still giving a thrilling experience, especially when the going gets technical.

At no point do you feel that there isn't anything the bike couldn’t do and, because of that, you feel prepared to push yourself further into the realms of the unknown in regard to your own ability. Another way of putting it would be to say that the 390 Adventure is just a really friendly bike to ride. However, do not mistake that friendliness for a lack of bite; if you have the talent, then it has all the bite you could possibly want.

The KTM 390 Adventure will set you back R86,000 which, in adventure bike terms, is a bargain. Make no mistake, however; this is a bargain that punches way above its weight.

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