You know those times when it seems you’ve been waiting forever to get what you want? If you’ve been in the market for a small capacity ADV bike from the guys who arguably crafted the modern market, you know what I’m talking about.
It’s been a number of years since we first heard about the KTM 390 Adventure (I recall hearing murmurs of this bike’s existence way back in 2017), and since then the mini-ADV class has seen an influx of models in the Kawasaki Versys 300X, BMW G 310 GS, and a favorite at Cycle News, in the Honda CB500X.
Each of those bikes represents a sector within a sector, and with KTM’s hat thrown in the ring, there’s now a small capacity steed to suit pretty much every type of rider.
2020 KTM 390 Adventure Review—Under the Skin
Built in India alongside KTM’s commercial partner Bajaj, KTM raided the parts bin and fitted the same 373cc single-cylinder four-stroke motor that sits inside the 390 Duke and the sportbike RC 390 for the 2020 KTM 390 Adventure. This is a brilliant little engine, as it’s proved plenty of times in different chassis and applications—we’ve done plenty of racing on the RC 390 and love how flexible the motor is, although in recent years it’s come under pressure from Kawasaki’s Ninja 400 twin-cylinder lump for outright performance.
The 390 thus gets a ride-by-wire throttle and EFI, and, thankfully, no variable riding modes to fiddle with. KTM doesn’t quote horsepower numbers for the Adventure, but given the same motor makes 43 hp in RC 390 and 390 Duke spec, we’re pretty sure you’ll be getting the same from the Adventure version.
What is different, however, is the exhaust. The stainless steel header pipe and pre-muffler (containing two catalytic converters) is the same as the two road cousins but the Adventure gets a much beefier muffler for off-road toughness, if at the expense of some good looks.
You’ll also get a slipper clutch on the 390, making it only the second bike in the category to fit one after the Kawasaki.
The chassis is a trademark tubular steel trellis design with a steel subframe, so if you bin it big-style you can just bash your seat back into shape to at least get you home… The tubular steel design harks back to the original KTM adventure bikes like the 1997 LC4 and has become a mainstay of KTM bikes ever since, right up to the MotoGP RC16 racer of Pol Espargaro.
Suspension duties fall to KTM’s in-house brand at WP, with the 390 getting a fully adjustable 43mm APEX fork—a first for the small ADV class—and a preload and rebound damping adjustable shock.
Brakes are taken straight from the RC 390 in the single ByBre four-piston caliper and 320mm disc, with a single-piston caliper clamping on a 230mm disc on back. As is now law in the European Union, the 390 is graced with un-switchable Cornering ABS as part of an electronic suite that features lean-angle sensitive traction control—although the ABS has an off-road setting (a bit like the Supermoto setting on the Super Duke), whereby ABS on the rear is disengaged and is only active on the front.
Like the bigger brother Adventure models in the 790 and 1090, the 2020 KTM 390 Adventure gets a brilliant little five-inch TFT color dash that’s miles better than many bikes twice its price. This also allows for the rider to use the KTM MY RIDE system that pairs your phone to the bike and lets you use turn-by-turn navigation, take calls, messages, etc.
Aesthetically the 390 is a pretty close replica of the base model 790, just smaller. The LED headlight is the same, with the side panels closely following the contours of the 790. You get a 3.8-gallon tank with the 390, which is about in the middle ground for the class with the Versys offering 4.5 gallons and the BMW giving a rather puny 2.9. KTM claims you should get up to 250 miles on a single tank, which if true, is a remarkable claim. Our test came back with 59 mpg, which results in about 224 miles from a full tank.
The show rolls on 19-inch front and 17-inch rear wheels wrapped in Continental TKC 70 tires, which is a proper 50/50 on-road/off-road tire and a step down from the full knobby TKC 80 that has become the benchmark in the big-bore ADV segment in recent years.
2020 KTM 390 Adventure Review—From the Hotseat
By Jesse Ziegler
KTM is not known for its subtlety. This is the company who brought a Dakar racing/winning motorcycle platform to market as a travel/adventure steed. The classic 950-era of KTM Adventure twins were the trophy trucks of motorcycles—all macho and awesome. When that was the new normal, they stripped it down into the 950 Super Enduro. Then, added more displacement in the 990 Adventure range and this aggressive approach to adventure has continued since: 1190’s and back to 1090s but also 1290s and then 790s…. each being a bit less rational than its closest competition. KTM is always a little rowdy.
Rowdy, the 2020 KTM 390 Adventure is not. But it is spirited in its refusal to back down and it has stood up to everything we’ve thrown at it, so far.
In our first few weeks of testing, the pitter-patter of its non-threatening piston pulse quickly transitioned from cute to tenacious. It doesn’t impress with race-level power, but it certainly tries really hard. It’s sort of old-school Honda XR-like in that sense. And it brings ample tech to the table that will certainly attract new riders.
Power delivery is fun, but not explosive. It really shines when the ride-by-wire binary is buried to the stop and you modulate output with clutch and shift control. Our test bike came with the optional Quickshift + system. The ability to pounce on cog clicks at will—dirt-bike style—is addictive and effective and with limited power, using gear ratios to grunt or scream on demand is wise.
If you stay in the seat, pound through the gears and let the bike work, the KTM 390 Adventure is a responsible rallying machine. It has the chops to back-in and spin out of dirty corners without scaring you to death. Brakes hold up well with just a bit of fade after aggressive corner entries or prolonged squeezing on downhills. Adequate? Certainly.
The only thing that makes the 390 slightly sub-par is its standing ergonomics. It’s the only thing we don’t like, so far. The bike almost shrinks when you stand up on it, requiring a bend in your hips to get into a proper riding position. Unfortunately, the posture isn’t conducive to long stints on the pegs, but for the occasional hop-over or two-track rip, it’s fine. Sitting, the seat-to-peg distance is very comfortable for sitting and the bar reach is spot on for a variety of rider sizes.
KTM’s WP Apex fork and shock provide a predictable ride and the adjustability of the fork is nice to tweak as terrain changes. The shock has been resilient if a little springy—we’re on the rebound/preload clicker game here.
Continental’s TKC70 tires are a good choice for the bike as they let the available horsepower break them loose in dirt road drifts but still offer good hook-up in mellow dirt and paved corners. Also, they’re quieter and smoother than more aggressive tires. The single-cylinder is pulsing at high frequency all the time (because it’s more fun that way), any reduction in vibration is welcome on the road. We felt the most vibes through the footpegs, but we ditched the rubber inserts in the pegs.
Finally, the electronics package is clean, effective and intuitive. It’s easy to select between ABS modes and to manipulate traction control or any of the other systems. The dash is awesome, and the tach bar goes full trance mode as a shift indicator at around 6,500 rpm (it’s adjustable after 600 miles). We suggest letting it dance because that’s where the party is at.
In summary, it’s an exciting time to be interested in adventure. Bikes like the KTM 390 Adventure bring affordability to the market but still try to compete above their weight class with premium features. That’s great news for all of us. And it should make comparing these bikes head-to-head very telling in the near future.CN
|Bore x stroke:
||89 x 60mm
||EFI, 46mm throttle body
||Chromium-Molybdenum-steel trellis frame, powder-coated
||43mm APEX inverted fork, adjustable rebound and compression damping
||WP shock, adjustable rebound and preload
||Bybre 4-piston, radially mounted caliper, 320mm disc, ABS
||ByBre 1-piston, fixed caliper, 240mm disc, ABS
||100/90 x 19 in.
||130/80 x 17 in
|Weight (Full Fuel):