1. The RC390’s appearance is the most distinctive in the group. With its shovel-shaped
nose, twin projector beam headlights, beefy
inverted forks and dramatic paint and graphics, it looks like a much more expensive
machine than its competitors.
2. The RC390’s seating is a study in contrasts. The rider’s seat is an absolute rock.
It had us squirming in no more than 50
miles, so it rates as one of the cruelest in
memory. The rear portion, however, which
looks like a hard cowl for a monoposto, is
actually a decently padded sculpture that
provides the passenger with better than
average seating comfort.
3. This view of the rear wheel and suspension show off the RC’s beautiful one-piece
cast aluminum swingarm. The detailing
of its footpeg brackets and foot levers are
also a cut above its competition. Note how
tucked-in its silencer is, completely out of
the way of the rider’s or passenger’s legs.
4. The RC’s instrument cluster is the same
one fitted to the 390 Duke. Full of information,
like a digital bar-graph tachometer, gear
indicator, digital speedo, clock, fuel level
and temperature gauges in addition to the
usual odometer and tripmeters it is nonetheless too small and hard to read to be superior
in this comparison. Too much information is
crammed into a small area and the contrast
of the gray fonts on the green background
make it difficult to read at a glance.
5. As the only bike fitted with radial tires
in this comparison, the RC390’s Pirelli
Diablo II rubber would seem to give it an
edge on the IRC tires fitted to the Ninja and
CBR300R. But in fact the Michelins fitted
to the R3 are the most impressive, with a
compliant ride plus noticeably better grip
for handling and braking.
The 390 KTM is, in reality, 373.2cc, but it’s still 63cc larger than
the R3. Yet even with the extra displacement, it doesn’t stomp on
the Yamaha as one might expect. Among this group, the KTM is
the most tightly focused—more of a race bike (albeit a small one),
with a more aggressive riding position and firmer suspension than
the others: great for the track, tiring when used as a commuter.
In the canyons, the KTM is a blast, with responsive brakes and
good handling, and the most stable feel mid-corner. That said, its
seat is hard, and when combined with the leaned forward position,
you will experience arm fatigue and a sore bum in relatively short
order, making it the least attractive for any lengthy commutes.
As you might expect, the extra displacement of the KTM grants
it the most forgiving motor, with decent torque to get off the line
and out of corners (though you’ll still be trying to conserve momentum whenever possible). The build quality and value of the KTM
are also impressive, and it has by far the most dynamic looks.
Personally, I’d rank it 2nd. —Jeff Buchanan
As a big fan of the 390 Duke, I had to imagine the RC390
would be an easy winner in this comparison, but it has a very different focus from its naked cousin. Apparently designed to be a
street-legal version of the KTM RC390 Cup racebike, its steering
geometry is steeper, its suspension much firmer, its seat is even
harder than the plank on the Duke and its riding position more
jockey-like. While all of these factors may make perfect sense on
a track, they make the RC390 far too committed for everyday
use in my book.
On bumpy canyon roads, the bike’s short wheelbase and tall
seating position make its handling feel overly sensitive, so that
it isn’t as easy to toss into turns as the Yamaha R3. Plus, its
high-performance thumper doesn’t have the smooth drive or refined character of the R3’s twin. And when you count the R3’s
much more comfortable seating, ergonomics and suspension,
it’s hard not to regard the RC390’s personality as a little too
one-dimensional. —Dave Searle