It is 7.30 in the morning and I find myself in the middle of a lake, half submerged and yet inching closer to land bit by bit as the MTC (Motorcycle Traction Control) on the KTM 390 Adventure does double duty to get me onto safe ground. If it was any other motorcycle bereft of the electronic aids, it would have dug itself into the slushy lake bed and we would have had to call in local rescue. But the 390 Adventure is not your average ride.
Regardless of being termed as a ‘soft-roader’ or the ‘built for light trails’ in all communication by the two-wheeler brand, we went out and put the 390 Adventure to the sort of torture that we love bringing upon ourselves and our motorcycles. And what we discovered is that the 390 Adventure is a potent off-roader - for beginners and intermediate riders. Yes, anything too hardcore and its shortfalls surface. But we shall address them a bit later. What the KTM 390 Adventure brings to the table is a solid all-rounder’s performance that can deliver the kind of prowess you’ll need when you find yourself heading downhill, both literally and figuratively.
Be it cruising along the highway for straight 300km stretches or taking the offroad trail leading up to the campsite, the 390 Adventure is adept at handling both ends of the spectrum. With a top-whack upwards of 160kmph — the 390 can sit at 120 kmph all day without batting an eyelid. And then it will tackle the broken tarmac or unruly potholes with just as much conviction. A lot of this versatility has to be attributed to the suspension tune and the ergonomics on the 390 Adventure.
The non-adjustable WP-branded upside down suspension on the front offers 170mm of travel while the rear monoshock with 10-step preload adjustment offers 177mm of travel. Both units are tuned to take on rough roads yet provide good feel and stability even when riding at high speeds. Of course, after pushing the suspension to the limit on some treacherous offroad sections, we found the front suspension bottoming out on more than one occasion - hinting at the lack of adjustable front forks, which the rest of the world gets. But as long as we kept things limited to hard packed trails and soft soil climbs, the 390 Adventure never buckled.
Complimenting the supple chassis and adept suspension are the ergonomics that make things a lot better for touring and liberal offroad use. The benchmark ‘handlebar-footpeg-saddle’ geometry is bang-on and often it is almost an instinctive move to stand up and ride the 390 Adventure. However, some taller riders would prefer raised bars, and there are enough after-market solutions for that. Just like there are for replacing the plastic-metal hybrid engine bash-plate, which is more or less a single serving component if you plan to introduce the 390 Adventure to the sport of rock climbing.
The ground clearance too isn’t ideal for hardcore offroad abuse and there will be instances where you could find the bike grounded going over boulders. Honestly though, the 200mm ground clearance is not as much of a hindrance as is the 855mm seat height. For short riders going offroading, the seat height is definitely a bummer, and it takes a bit of getting used to when one has to put the foot down urgently.
Ups and downs
While it may deter a few newbies, the seat-height won’t be a deal-breaker for seasoned and committed riders waiting to go offroading with the 390 Adventure. This would be largely because the 390 is significantly lighter (158kgs dry) than other ADVs in its class, and it packs in class-leading electronic aids like cornering ABS, lean-sensitive Traction Control and Off-road ABS. All of these aids make life a lot easier and livable astride the 390 Adventure, especially when riding on dirt. What we did find a bit odd was the lack of engine-tuning to suit the demands of an Adventure motorcycle.
Employing the exact same 373cc single-cylinder motor as on the 390 Duke, has robbed the 390 Adventure of low-end grunt. A trait imperative for offroad riding. On the road, the motor feels extremely eager and enthusiastic letting out the 44 horses upwards of 4,000 rpm — but while off-roading, the lack of low-end power under 3,000 rpm makes it a lot of hard work for the rider. One has to keep working up the clutch to keep power handy in order to tackle the tricky offroad conditions.
Maybe a different engine map or changes to the final gear ratio could have addressed this issue. Something a lot of buyers will eventually do by themselves playing with the sprocket sizes for better low-end power. Also, we would have liked it if there was a water-proof USB charger instead of the factory-fitted 12-volt socket. And it is 2020, where are the hazard lights KTM?
Should you buy one?
That said, the 390 Adventure is an all-rounder that can do touring as well as go off-roading when required. It has the firepower for munching miles without complaining and good suspension components to take on bad roads. To sum it up - the Hero Xpulse and the Royal Enfield Himalayan, both are better equipped with regards to offroad capabilities but lose out on power, lightweight structure and highway-cruising performance.
The KTM 390 Adventure successfully bridges this gap at an alluring price-point of ₹2.99 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi).