rubber might significantly improve braking feel.
The Kawasaki uses 290mm/220mm front and rear discs, both
with petal-style scalloped edges, which are supposed to reduce
warping with heat, although we’ve never been able to notice
any performance difference with such a design. The calipers are
from Nissin. We were told that the 300 Ninja is made in both
Kawasaki’s Indonesian and Japanese factories, and that all the
Indonesian products come with IRC rubber, while some of the
Japanese bikes may wear Dunlops.
The KTM RC390, as it’s built in India, is fitted with Indi-an-made brakes and tires. The brake hardware comes from Brem-bo’s subsidiary, Bybre, and the tires—the only radials in the
group—are Pirelli’s Diablo Rosso II compounds; all the Japanese
bikes use bias-ply rubber. The Pirellis are 110/70R17 front and
150/60R17 rear and the KTM’s front wheel is a wider 3.00 x 17"
although the rear is another 4.00 x 17". Bosch 9MB two-channel
ABS is also standard equipment on the KTM.
Although we’d expect the KTM’s Pirellis to be a step up from
the IRC tires in terms of grip, like we found on the KTM 390
Duke, the 390 doesn’t have great braking power. Although the
front lever has good feel, the brake pads lack bite and require high
effort. Plus its ABS intervenes early, with noticeable pulsing.
The RC also has the shortest wheelbase, highest seat and most
forward weight bias, which don’t tend to help stopping distances.
The Yamaha R3 wears the same size 2.75 x 17" and 4.00 x 17"
wheels as its Japanese counterparts and its discs are the same sizes
as the Honda’s, 296mm front and 220mm rear. But, unlike the rest,
the R3 uses a semi-floating disc for better feel. The calipers come
from Akebono, a Yamaha subsidiary. However, the R3’s Michelin
Pilot Street tires immediately feel much grippier than its competitors’
rubber, adding greatly to its braking feel. Unfortunately for first-time
riders, the added security of ABS is not available on the R3, which
we regard as an unfortunate oversight.
While all these bikes have satisfactory braking equipment, it
should be noted that all require a strong squeeze at the lever to
stop rapidly and none gave the sort of powerful and super-tactile
stopping control you might expect from state-of-the-art, dual, radially mounted, four-piston calipers. This impression was inescapable
due to the fact that the new BMW R1200 Roadster was ridden on
rotation with the small-bore sportbikes, and the difference in its
braking power was astounding. If you’ve fallen in love with topnotch braking equipment, you may find it hard to adapt to this group.
Don’t forget that tires play a big part in handling feel, so the
Yamaha’s Michelins provide it with an edge in this department,
too, and the R3 feels so glued to the road that you immediately feel
comfortable exploring its cornering clearance.
In addition, chassis stiffness, geometry and suspension must be
complimentary in order for a bike to have excellent handling.
The Honda uses a 54.3" wheelbase, 25. 1° of rake and 3. 9" of
trail on a 37mm fork, all fairly typical dimensions for a lightweight
sporty bike. Its handling is competent, if not inspiring, but we did
hear a few complaints that it felt a little loose when pushed harder.
The combination of its IRC tires and more flexible chassis require a
very smooth approach to avoid unsettling its composure, but ridden
with less aggression, we had nothing to complain about.
Kawasaki’s Ninja is a bit different, with a 55.3" wheelbase (actu-
ally, the longest of the lot), a more relaxed 27.0° of rake, 3. 7" of trail
and a 37mm fork, the Ninja’s setup favors stability over pure agility.
It was most recently updated in 2013 when the fuel-injected 296cc
engine was introduced, at which time its chassis was also revised.
The frame’s main tubes were made 150% stiffer than before, its
paired top tubes were spread wider apart (reducing fuel capacity
slightly) and additional gusseting was added under the tank and
above the swingarm pivot. These changes were meant to compensate
for new rubber front engine mounts designed to quell vibration from
the larger motor, but which also prevent the engine from acting as a
fully stressed member of the frame, reducing overall stiffness. While
we can attest to the lack of engine vibration, the current set-up leaves
much to be desired, as frame flex was quite noticeable when riding
rapidly over less-than-smooth pavement, hurting steering precision
The KTM RC390, under its supersport bodywork, is essentially
identical to the 390 Duke that wowed us back in May of this year.
It has the shortest wheelbase in the group, 53.8", but with a stout
trellis chassis that features oval-section main tubing, an ultra-stiff
reinforced cast-aluminum swingarm, massive (for the class) 43mm
male-slider forks, and a motor that’s also rigidly mounted, the KTM
provides a very stable handling platform. The big change is to its rear
ride height, the RC using a longer shock to tip the chassis down, so
its rake and trail are decreased from 25.0°/3.8" to 23. 5°/3.5" while
its seat is 0.8" higher and its handlebars are 4. 9" lower—for the
most attack-oriented riding position.
While we found the 390 Duke to be very stable and neutral han-