KTM RC390: The PERFECT First Track Bike?

In the summer of 2019 I did my first track day on a motorcycle, and I was INSTANTLY hooked. The first bike I ever rode on the track was my 2019 Yamaha Tracer 900. I quickly sold that for a 2019 Yamaha MT-09 (I wanted something a bit smaller). Eventually I realized that I wanted a dedicated track bike in the garage, so I started shopping.

The purchase

There were a few bikes on my radar when I did my initial shopping for a track bike. Namely the Yamaha R3, KTM RC390, and Ninja 400. Finding any of these models used proved to be nearly impossible during covid, so I started shopping around at dealers. I ultimately picked up the RC390 simply because it was available locally and fell within my budget. I also loved the look. I’m a die hard Philadelphia Flyers fan, and the RC390 comes in Flyers colors from the factory! Easy choice!

First day out

With just a handful of miles on the odometer, I brought the RC390 to the IMI Motorsports (our local karting track) for its first track day. And it immediately overheated. I knew going into this that the RC390 is known to run hot. It wasn’t much of a surprise, but definitely a disappointment. I was able to remedy the overheating problem pretty easily by installing a more powerful SPAL fan on the radiator, along with changing the radiator cap. As much as I’d like to use Engine Ice to keep the bike cool, many trackday organizations prohibit using glycol based coolants. Therefore, I’m forced to run distilled water and wetter. Besides the cooling system (and removing some parts like the mirrors, lights, and rear fender), I’ve been running the RC390 in mostly stock form.

Power (or lack of power)

The RC390 is not fast. But it allows an amateur like me to ride it fast. The single cylinder 373cc engine makes just 44-horsepower. Sure, its not a true supersport with over 100, or even close to 200 horse. But it has plenty enough power to put a smile on my face. As I’m trying to develop my skills as a track rider, having a machine that allows me to make small mistakes and still have time to correct them is unbeatable. On a much larger, heavier, more powerful bike, I’d be able to run down the straightaways much faster. But the RC390 forces me to keep up momentum and carry as much corner speed as possible. It’s a great tool to work on body positioning, braking, and just about everything else.

Throttle control

Especially on big tracks (Utah Motorsports Complex, for example), I end up riding full pin in 6th gear more than I’d like to. I also end up closing the throttle at times to corner, and then pull out on a straight, and immediately crack the throttle wide open. Because the bike doesn’t make a ton of power, it makes it hard to work on throttle control. I often feel like I’m only using 2 positions on the throttle, 0% or 100%. When it comes time to move to a bigger bike, I’m going to have to pay very close attention to my throttle hand to make sure I don’t get myself into too much trouble.

Other components

The RC390’s brakes are good enough for me. Many people racing these bikes swap out for a bigger rotor, better master cylinder up front, etc. In 2017, KTM switched from a 300mm front rotor to a 320mm. For the amount of power, I think the brakes are just fine. The RC390 does have ABS at the front and rear wheels, which supposedly (according to KTM’s website) is switchable by the rider. However I have not been able to find any documentation on disabling the ABS in the owners, or service manuals. Even following video tutorials from India, I have not successfully disabled ABS. That was a big bummer in my book since the switchable ABS was one of my purchasing decisions.

As far as suspension goes, the RC390 uses a 43mm WP inverted fork, and a mono-shock in the rear. The suspension is not very adjustable (only for preload in the rear). That’s one of the downfalls of this bike. KTM says the RC390 is “Ready to Race”, but with non adjustable front forks, I’d argue otherwise. As far as tires go, the stock Metzeler Sportec M5 tires were just okay. The rear definitely liked to slide out with aggressive cornering. This season I switched to the Michelin Power Cup Evo tire, which is a 95% track-focused, DOT approved tire. Man are these tires amazing. I’ve been keeping them warm with Chicken Hawk Racing warmers. They seem to last a long time and provide excellent grip. I would definitely pull the trigger on a set of these tires again if I had to.

Seating position

Another factor that drew me to the KTM over the equivalent Yamaha or Kawasaki was the seating position. The KTM had by far the most race-like position, which was exactly what I wanted for a dedicated track bike. Even still, I wish the seat and footpegs were a bit higher. I definitely scraped the heck out of my footpegs with every track day I did. If I were keeping this bike long term, rearsets would probably be my next upgrade.

Maintenance

As far as maintenance goes, I really haven’t done a whole lot. I change my oil every trackday or two (depending on the temps), regularly flush my coolant, and thats about it. After over 1,000 miles on the track, I’m still on the stock brake pads, chain, sprockets, etc. The RC390 was a great choice for me because of the low cost to run, and the low cost of a 150 width rear tire. Many people complain about head gasket issues with these KTM 390 motors. I have nothing to report on that front. Every time I do an oil change I do see some metal shavings, but with a full-coverage 3 year warranty that I purchased from the dealership, I haven’t been to concerned about that.

Conclusion

Overall, I’ve been extremely happy with the KTM RC390. I’ve been able to improve my racing skills dramatically in just one year on this small bike (much faster than my friends have on 600s and liter-bikes). I would 100% purchase the RC390 again if I were doing this all over again. It was a fantastic platform to learn on, and really introduced me to the sport of road-racing. I do now feel like I’m ready to move up to something a bit faster to improve my throttle control (and also just prove to my buddies that I’m faster than them). So the hunt is on for a race-prepped 600! I’ll keep you all posted with what gets added next to the garage.