When the KTM 390 Adventure debuted in fall of 2019, I was immediately intrigued. It looked like a lot of bike for little money. I didn’t get a chance to ride the new model in 2020 (thanks, COVID!), but now I’ve just got back from a 5,400 km trip around Newfoundland on the made-in-India Katoom—one of the longest tests I’ve ever done on a press bike. Here’s what I found out about the machine:
On the street, the KTM 390 Adventure is a nimble as a barrel racer, with a surprisingly powerful single-cylinder engine. It’s funny, because the engine was my biggest concern when I picked up the bike. I was riding pretty carefully during the 1,000 km break-in period, because the 5-inch TFT dash (easily controlled by a four-button array on the left handlebar) would flash menacingly as I approached 6,500 rpm. Heeding the warnings, I backed off on the throttle.
However, once I hit a thousand klicks on the odometer, I set out to find what the 373 cc liquid-cooled thumper was capable of. Answer: Extreme fun.
Thanks to a modern design (four-valve head, DOHC, slipper clutch, fuel injection, throttle-by-wire), the KTM 390 Adventure makes 43-ish horsepower. Wimpy when compared to the 890, sure, but cruising at highway speeds is no problem, and with an optional up/down quickshifter, this bike accelerates far more quickly than a small single should.
On my trip around Newfoundland, my riding partners (a BMW R1100 GS, Suzuki V-Strom 1000, Yamaha Tenere 700) were surprised at just how much speed the 390 Adventure had on tap. The KTM easily cruises over 120 km/h, which is 20 over the limit on many Canadian highways, and that’s with a load of luggage and a Dad-bod rider (I’m 100 kg) on board. Plan your attack, and you can accelerate to expensive-ticket speeds even on uphills—especially on secondary highways. Pull out to pass a semi, bang-bang the 4th-to-5th and 5th-to-6th gear changes with the quickshifter, and you’re gone. My buddies were complaining that I was pushing the pace too hard, rather than slowing them down.
Not that they couldn’t easily keep up if they wanted, of course (they’re just wary of expensive-ticket territory). The 390 only has 27-ish lb-ft of torque, so you’ve got to keep the little single on the boil if you want to maintain speed. On level ground, no problem; on a long highway grade, bucking a strong headwind, then you’ve got a problem, if you haven’t built up a head of steam at the bottom of the hill. Still, the bike will handily do the speed limit and above, and that’s all you really need, isn’t it?
The counterbalanced single has some vibration, but nothing objectionable, and sees reasonable fuel consumption. I averaged 4.2L per 100 km when I rode the bike, although that would fluctuate when I was on the gas hard. On some fill-ups, the Low Fuel light came on around the 175 km mark, if I was flogging the bike hard. KTM reckons the 14.5 L tank would do 400 km, but I think you’d have to be pretty gentle on the throttle to achieve that. I made 250+ km with the bike stripped of its luggage on mild-mannered backroad rides, before the fuel light came on. I think 300 km would be relatively manageable with a skinny rider and light throttle hand.
Along with the surprisingly zippy engine, the 390 Adventure suspension is a cut above the norm in the sub-500 category. Fully-adjustable WP Apex forks and shock come standard, and they’re well-matched to the bike’s weight and power. You have to be going very hard to feel the suspension get loosey-goosey in the corners; the ride is firm, responsive, and mostly gobbles up the road’s imperfections well. As a whole, the chassis is tight, with great mass centralization (claimed dry weight of 158 kg). It’s a confidence-inspiring machine at any speed.
If you’ve got to come to a stop, the single 320 mm disc works nicely, with radial-mount four-piston caliper from ByBre (Brembo’s Indian subsidiary). These brakes are a major cut above the systems on old Japanese 650 thumpers, and frankly, if KTM can sell these systems so cheaply, the Big Four should be ashamed of themselves for not including similar on their small-displacement models.
If you’ve really got to come to a stop, then ABS will help save your butt when things get wild. This machine comes with leaning-sensitive ABS (a two-channel Bosch arrangement). You can switch it into Off-road mode (allowing more rear wheel lockup), but you cannot switch it off.
The 19-17 front-rear wheel combo is an obvious compromise; motorcycles aimed at hardcore off-road use would have a 21-inch front rim. However, the 19-inch steers very nicely, and the cast rims mean you’ve got a wide range of tire choices if you don’t like the stock Continental TK70s. For what it’s worth, I was very happy with the factory-issued rubber. They had more than enough grip for this bike, and seemed very long-lived. The TK70s had thousands of kilometres of life left when I sent the bike back to KTM with 6,000+ km on the clocks. I expect they’d do 10k, while the Tenere 700 I rode with had its rubber basically beat at 7,000 km.
The seat gets the job done. My butt is (I think) a mass of scar tissue from years spent on dodgy dual-sport seats, so I’m incapable of objectively gauging comfort levels. However, I can tell you the 390 seat has the wide-in-back, narrow-in-front design that you need on an adventure bike that’s splitting time between street and off-road.
Speaking of off-road …
Let’s get one thing straight from the start: With 19-17 wheels and low ground clearance, the KTM 390 is not designed to be ridden like an enduro bike. The forks have 6.7-inches of travel, and the rear shock has 7-inches of travel.
That’s not a lot, especially when compared to machines like KTM’s 690 Enduro—but it’s enough. You would be silly to take the 390 Adventure down woodsy single-track, but ATV trails and gravel roads aren’t bad. You just need to learn to be clever at picking your lines, carefully steering around obstacles instead of trying to roll over them.
In fact, if ridden in the lower gears, the 390 is a very non-intimidating off-roader. It has a low seat height, a user-friendly powerband, and tires well-matched to the bike. I know other reviewers have gone on at length at their willingness to “send it’ on the bike Larry Enticer-style. Personally, I mostly avoided that, but did find the 390 was quite capable of getting itself out of the trouble that I got it into.
I did find the handlebars a bit low for my awkwardly-elongated upper body, when I was standing on the pegs. No biggie, a cheap set of bar risers would fix that.
The only other issue I had off-road was—I did not care for the traction control on hill climbs. The 390 requires a vigorous throttle hand to blast up loose hills, and the TC system had a habit of kicking in just when I needed the power most. Thankfully, it’s easy to turn traction control on/off on the fly—go back to analogue clutch lever/throttle traction control, and the problem is solved.
On level gravel roads, I didn’t mind the TC system at all.
At $6,799 when this bike was introduced, it might have been the greatest bargain I’ve ever seen in Canadian moto dealerships in my lifetime. Alas, the price tag has now risen to $7,399—but I still think that it’s well-priced.
Consider that Kawasaki’s Versys-X 300 comes in at $6,799, with only standard ABS, and a generally less-advanced platform (that 300 engine now dates back to 2013). Other than that, the only other competitor in the ballpark is the Honda CRF300 Rally, priced at $7,399 with ABS. Again, that’s an older design (based on the 2011 CBR250 engine). From where I sit, the 390 Adventure looks like a great deal for a rider starting out in the ADV world.
What if you’re a more advanced rider? Personally, I had a lot of fun flogging the little KTM around Newfoundland for 10 days, but I did find the bike less enjoyable without the quickshifter. The little single-cylinder is peppy, but that optional add-on transformed it into a sleeper. At $263.99, I think it’s well worth the price.
Even without the quickshifter, though, the 390 is a non-intimidating and capable bike, with all the latest safety electronics—stuff that wasn’t even available on superbikes a decade ago. For $7.4k, I’d certainly consider buying one if I wanted to travel, maybe explore some unpaved roads, and didn’t mind wringing out the throttle on the highway.