Sunday, 12 October 2014

At last a 400cc road racer

Anyone thinking a motorcycle aimed at 20 year olds isn't going to appeal to geezers (geysers) like me, overlooks the fact that some boys never grow up (or grow old).

It was back in 1986 I last owned a 400cc sports motorcycle - a Suzuki GSXR-400 that I bought new in that year. Ever since parting with it in the mid nineties I have been waiting for a state of the art 400cc cafe racer bike to appear, so when it did suddenly appear in the UK a week or so ago in the form of the KTM RC390, I leapt at it and bought it from the Bristol showroom without even riding it. Well, I wasn't given much choice as KTM do not have a demo bike.

2014 KTM RC390 - one of the first in the UK

my 1986 limited edition Suzuki GSXR-400

The rave reviews on YouTube and in the motorcycle media made the decision to buy the KTM road racer easy and I haven't had as much excitement waiting for the machine to be prepared as when I was sixteen and owned my very first motorcycle. That was a 1944 James 125cc bike with hand gears and a top speed of about 40mph. I rode that bike from Wiltshire to my uncle's home near Loch Lomond, north of Glasgow, in the famous winter of 1962 and I literally froze on the way up - my legs had to be thawed out at a petrol station as my bike fell over on top of me into the deep snow when I tried to put my feet down.

My first bike - a 1944 James 125cc motorcycle with hand gears

So anybody claiming this new KTM road racer is uncomfortable or hard on the bum or wrists is a wimp in my book. Go buy a Harley or a BMW with heated handlebars, stereo and GSM to tell you where the tarmac is. Just don't even consider a bike that is clearly designed for the track! I don't even know what ABS is (which apparantly the RC390 has). I thought it stood for Acrynitrile Butadienne Styrene which in plain language is a common plastic! And plastic there is plenty of in the RC390 as the composite petrol tank cover won't take my magnetic tank bag! But when you buy for sheer looks you expect to make some compromises, but I reckon this bike will be so successful it won't be long before an aftermarket stylish tank bag appears.

Okay so the stunning looks of this half-Italian-and-half-Japanese-looking Austrian-bike-made-in-India grabbed me and I soon found it ticked the boxes concerning performance and economy. The bike can do over 105mph and return a fuel economy of 70mpg if ridden sensibly. Well sensibly to me is having a lot of fun on A roads at around 60mph and then using the power to overtake quickly. As I'm running the bike in and as I write have only clocked up 200 miles I am keeping the revs below 7,000 which takes me to a cruising speed of over 60mph. I haven't tested the power band yet but it promises to be really good for a single and I suspect KTM know their singles well. Certainly this one is hot running as the fan cuts in rather unexpectedly in low speed traffic so I would imagine the engine is running at full efficiency. Its not a new engine but similar to the established Duke 390 street bike.

373cc single cylinder engine. 12.6:1 compression ratio. 44bhp

Well here is my initial YouTube review going on very first impressions as I drove it the first twenty miles:

My first ride YouTube video

Isn't it funny how after the very first few "honeymoon" rides you begin to notice things that you thought you had already looked for and hear sounds that maybe were there all along! It drizzled the morning I filmed the bike so I cleaned it and wiped it down with a soft cloth only to discover minor scratches on the digital dash a few days later. The sun catches the scratches on what I expected to be a glass but what is a plastic instrument cover. Okay I can live wit that but one thing I don't know is how durable these KTMs are. The build quality seems really good on close inspection and I am told that the bikes are quality checked by KTM guys in the Indian Bajaj factory. But do they last?

The digital dashboard of the KTM RC390 I'm still trying to figure out how to configure it

The bike is fantastic to ride and is so agile that you almost want to drop it right down on a corner even when running it in at low speed! I do notice (not just with this bike) how I have to lift my right foot onto the brake pedal rather than just pivot my boot on the footrest. Is it just me? I'm five foot ten and interestingly fairly short riders will struggle with this bike as in the showroom a girl of about five four couldn't reach the floor. My mate's girlfriend is five foot six and when we went on a trip with two bikes yesterday and she sat astride my bike she could just touch down with both feet on the tarmac. I told her high heels aren't ideal and I always leave mine at home.

There are one or two really nice touches to this bike - the short side exhaust which I first saw on a Suzuki GSXR-600 a few years ago - I just love it. The front headlight design is like looking in your rear mirror and catching a glimpse of Alien. The fairing is minimal and purposeful. There is no spare fat on this bike and I read somewhere else that the airflow is excellent at high speed.

The wing mirrors are just about my only grip because they relate to safety

It really is 'form follows function' with this bike and this is echoed in the narrow section mirror arms except the mirrors don't work very well - your forearms are in the way. After 200 miles I have now learned how to flex my arms so I can see behind by looking under my arms and then quickly tucking my arms in to check the blindspot - but then who is going to overtake you? Just a much bigger bike! This bike will probably take on a lot of six hundreds.

The KTM RC390 race version with Akrapovic exhaust and race seat

KTM use the same frame for a 125 and 200cc version of this bike. The rear tyre is a chunky 150mm wide giving it a big bike look. Well, its a small bike really that looks bigger.

11 October 2014 - one of the first bikes in the UK 

I almost forgot; the KTM RC390 comes out of the box with a pair of superior grip Metzeler tyres. Unlike buying a new guitar you usually have to bin the strings supplied and buy a decent set. I normally get a good two thousand miles out of my tyres so it will be interesting to see how long these sticky tyres last once the bike is run in.

I feel a very lucky guy to be an early adopter of this exciting new bike and I'm not joking when I say it makes me feel like I am sixteen again! I watched a TV documentary about Guy martin helping re-build a Spitfire that he got to fly. What a great and engaging guy he is - I would love to know what he thinks of this little bike!

Well, please look out for my second more in-depth review when the bike is fully run in and I can test that power band and get a better feel of the economy. Suffice to say, after a 60 mile country ride yesterday, the bike was fantastic, a little wrist ache that practice will deal with and great for stopping to stretch legs every twenty miles - after all you have to pull into a layby frequently to get off and admire the look of this bike. I reckon Wiltshire to Scotland no problem for me - but summer only!

Sorry to those woodworkers who expected me to be reviewing secret mitred dovetails! All dovetails makes Jack a dull boy. Well, okay which of my furniture designs can I dig up to relate this road racing motorcycle to? Probably my Kangaroo rocker:

The Kangaroo Rocker designed by Jeremy Broun in 2010

This chair is minimal in structure with no spare fat, relying on four main components and made largely with the router. Its made of ash (so treasure this wood as it is currently hit by a species threatening disease) and the main joints are massive halving joints, familiar in carpentry but unusual in chair making. Like the KTM RC390 it is great on the bends especially for not-so-young rockers like me. But unlike the Austrian KTM made in india it is designed and made in Britain and by one mind and a pair of hands. 

No comments:

Post a Comment