It’s going to be an interesting few months as motorcycle manufacturers scramble to make model year changes to remain in compliance with Euro IV norms that are set to kick in this April. Hero seems to have got a jump start on everyone with their last couple of launches and now KTM gets in on the act too. For now we are being introduced to the pair of RCs that are on sale in the country, the 390 and the 200. You no longer need to try and find the numbers on the fairing to tell them apart as the 390 employs a side-slung exhaust to clearly set it apart from its smaller sibling. And that is not the only change with the 390 for the new model year, although it is the most visually notable difference. The other bit that catches you eye are the new decals on both motorcycles -there is a better mix of black, white and orange as compared to the earlier scheme that was available. However, in case you are wondering, yes, both motorcycles get the same treatment.
Both, the 390 and the 200 also get new mirrors, although that is easy to miss, unless you have a keen eye or use one regularly. This is where the list of changes for the RC 200 runs out as KTM have chosen not to include ABS or the slipper clutch even for the new model year. So, on with the RC 390 then. Thumbing the starter button on the new RC 390 is slightly different now as a single touch of the button sets the starter in motion and you are no longer required to hold on to it. As it settles into idle, you notice that it is a fair bit quieter than before, this becomes especially clear with the RC 200 around, which still uses an under-belly exhaust.
The other big difference is the fact that the 390 now uses a ride-by-wire set up as opposed to a physical cable. Tweaks to the motor has also resulted in a 1Nm increase in torque, now at 35Nm, but it is highly unlikely that anyone would feel that bit of difference. Out on the test track at the Bajaj facility in Chakan, the RC feels just as good and incredibly composed as before. Negotiating the tight first half of the track feels just as easy from lap one.
There is little hesitation as you lean into each corner. The suspension set up and the Metzeler tyres have been carried over from the 2016 version and feel just as good. Throttle in puts with the new ride-by-wire set up is smooth and easy to modulate. Although the shift light comes on fairly early, the rev happy engine is more than willing to take you all the way past 10,000rpm before bouncing off the limiter. It is only at the absolute top-end that you feel the vibrations become quite prominent. Mid-range refinement is pretty good though, but a slight twist of your right hand will see you sail toward the rev limiter in no time.
Flat out on the track, the RC feels delightful. You can lean into corners harder thanks to a narrower belly pan, which keeps the plastics from scraping, and smooth throttle in puts. The six-speed transmission remains pretty slick and in case you do overcook a corner and need to shift down quickly, the slipper clutch and ABS will lend you a helping hand. However, with the larger 320mm front disc and a new master cylinder, there is enough stopping power to keep hairy moments in check. Get on the brakes hard and the 390 scrubs off speed rapidly, even before the ABS has a chance to come on.
The difference becomes a lot more apparent when you switch to the RG 200, which still uses a 300mm front disc and feels rather inadequate now. Bottom-end grunt remains weak, but you never really notice it as it is so easy to pile on the revs. You can, however, still manage do go from 30kph to over a 100kph without any trouble, in case you do have an exceptionally stressful ride routine.
I will leave you to judge how good or bad the side slung exhaust looks, or how you like the way it sounds. For now, as emission norms get a strangle hold on engines, there isn’t any escaping tweaks of this sort. However, we are happy about the fact that there has been no drop in power, although the RG 390 is roughly seven kilograms heavier now. Performance remains entertaining for a motorcycle of this size and the ride-by-wire, although good still feels twitchy when you try to hold lower speeds, not something many people would do while riding the RC. The bigger front disc makes a big difference and generally will make riding hard around a closed circuit easier.