A detailed impression from behind the handlebars of India’s most eagerly anticipated sportsbike for 2014.
What is it?
Unless you happen to have been trapped under a rock for all last year, you will know this as RC390. Test mules, race versions for the junior ADAC series (German racing series) and lots of spy snaps have whetted our appetite for this Austrian racing thoroughbred. A ridiculously fast engine in a supremely capable chassis and wrapped in a stylish full fairing, then likely to be offered at a sub-Rs. 2.2 lakh price tag sounds incredible! So, here it is then, the most anticipated motorcycle of 2014.
I can see why. It looks so good!
Yes it does. As with all KTMs, even the baby RCs look quite distinctive. Actually, this one’s a touch towards sinister, especially because of the projector lamps sitting recessed within the fairing scoop. The RC panels feature neat and stylish floating layers. The upper and lower sections of the engine fairing overlap smartly. There are plenty of neat details like daytime-running lights in the chin under the headlamps and turn signals mounted on well-sculpted rear view mirrors.
The RC also gets a new angular design fuel-tank, with smaller, 9.5 litre capacity. While it looks like there is only a rider's seat, the pillion seat has been disguised to give the RC a proper sportsbike look. There is a neat groove cut under the seat for the pillion to hold on to. At the rear, the tail-lamp is smeared onto the underside of the tail with just the turn signals mounted on the short plastic number plate hangers.
The new tyre hugger is more industrious as it rises from the swingarm’s top edge for better spray protection for the rider’s feet. Handsome new Y-shaped hangers for the pillion footpegs are finished in black.
Not just a 390 Duke with a fairing then
Sure, the it is built on the same platform as the 390 Duke and as such, shares a lot with the Duke, but it does create an altogether different character in the end. For instance, while the chassis is shared, a steering angle of 66.5 degrees is sharper than a Duke. This has resulted in a shorter wheelbase and increased ground clearance by 8.5mm. Seat height has gone up 20mm to 820mm. The travel on the front forks is reduced to 125mm to sharpen the steering. All of which make the RC a lot more agile and race ready than the Duke. On the downside, the RC’s dry weight is 8kg higher.
The 373.2cc engine has been carried over virtually unchanged. The RC boasts the same horsepower and torque as the Duke and shares gearing too. This means, in India, the new bike boasts 43.5bhp at 9000rpm and 3.57kgm of torque at 7000rpm.
Changes have been made to the dynamo, due to extra power required for the projector lamps and LED DRLs. Also, the intake tract to the airbox is revised on the RC.
Get a handle on it
It carries over the 10-spoke alloy wheels and superb Metzeler M5 Interact rubber from the 390 Duke. From the second you hit the road, you can feel the changes. The RC feels lighter and even more agile on the move than a Duke. It suggests a nimbleness that would make it really at home on a tight and winding road. On our ride on the hills around Modena, the RC clearly felt like the sportsbike it is meant to be. Switching direction is light work and even through long sweepers, the motorcycle always felt stable and confident. There is a surprising calmness in the way the RC goes about its duties, which boosts rider confidence. For that, you will have to put up with a more aggressive seating position as there is a distinct lean-in towards the clip-on handlebars. Apart from the fairing, this posture raises weight bias at the front. The footpegs have also been raised a bit but with the taller seat height, you don’t feel cramped.
The engine, as expected, is familiar, brandishing a strong midrange and a healthy top-end to have you charging out of corners and blasting down every available straight. Even though it is mechanically identical, the RC felt a touch smoother on our ride than the Duke.
Gearshifts from the six-speed gearbox are smooth. The company says the fairing helps reduce aerodynamic drag sufficiently to help the RC hit a higher top-speed and improve acceleration as well. We will verify after our extensive testing back home in India.
Ready to road?
As a commuter, the RC’s extra ground clearance despite the fairing, is probably its only advantage over a 390 Duke. More than a 100km around the streets of Modena and highways that loop through the Emilia Romagna region proved this engine is as flexible as ever. There’s oodles of torque and easy delivery makes the power all so accessible too.
However, the aggressive seating position is a bit tiring. The front suspension though proves less aggressive than anticipated, soaking up lightly broken roads and bumps without feeling harsh. However, the set-up is firm and will require you to ride with care on India’s monsoon-ravaged roads. It has a slightly softer suspension set-up for some markets, which is expected to make its way to the India spec RC.
What about the RC200?
Right, the RC200 shares all the chassis changes with the RC390. Which means it too, is 8kg heavier than the 200 Duke. Its suspension set-up is shared with the RC390 as well. But, the MRF tyres and that it is lighter than the RC390 by nearly 10kg makes it feel even more delightful to steer. Quicker to turn yet very planted, the RC200 carved corners with a maturity, finesse and youthfulness that actually threatens to overshadow its elder sibling.
The RC200’s engine too is unchanged from the 200 Duke, but that is nothing to be disappointed about. Winding around the mountains, the RC200 felt even more enjoyable as its linear power delivery and rev-happy nature make it very apt for a sports bike. However, to get the best out of the RC, you have to get your gears right, else it can feel a bit tame coming out of corners. So, its rev-happy engine and sharp dynamics make it one of the best saddles to hop onto for new sports bike riders. What increases its appeal further is that it feels a lot more easygoing even at low speeds dawdling around the city.
Let it be understood that the RC200 is no less aggressive in its ergonomics and suspension setup than its elder brother, so commuting duties will require some sacrifice on the comfort front. Sadly, there is still no ABS on offer in India although we did ride an ABS-equipped motorcycle on the test ride in Modena. And as for the colour, the RC200 gets the black treatment, and in my books, it is the more attractive colour combination. The RC200 maybe the less powerful and less expensive RC, but that, by any stretch of the imagination, doesn’t make it the lesser bike.
So, should I buy one?
The RC’s appeal is huge whether you are looking for the right look or a proper sportsbike. For the serious riders, the RC’s scything on-track manners and gritty performance make it a winner. However, the RC390 is even less of a generalist than the Duke, and needs a different focus and clarity of purpose from its rider.
Firstly, because of its sporty stance and suspension set-up, the RC is bound to be a bit tiresome as a commuter, as only to be expected from such a purpose-built motorcycle. Secondly, it needs to be treated with respect, because 43.5bhp might not sound like much when compared to a superbike, but the RC390 is seriously quick for Indian roads, with super quick performance through corners and in a straight line.
Now the pricing
This remains to be announced, but thanks to Bajaj and their ever sensible approach to value for Indian riders, we’re pretty certain a sub-Rs 2.2 lakh price tag will be about what the RC390 is going to be launched at for us on September 9.
Those yearning for a sportsbike will find the RC390 is a focussed machine with the dynamic ability to deliver all you expect from far more expensive motorcycles, at a fraction of the price.