“Who woulda thunk it,” as my dad would say. A KTM adventure bike that costs less and makes more power than a Kawasaki KLR650, has fuel injection, electronic rider aids and weighs nearly 50 fewer pounds to boot? What mythical beast is this? It’s the 2020 KTM 390 Adventure, and it’s no myth. In fact I’ve spent the last few days on one, cruising the urban streets, farm roads and mountain highways near my home (taking a rain check on the hard core off-road stuff in these unusual times — see our “To Ride, or Not to Ride…?” editorial here).
With a base price of just $6,199, the new 390 Adventure is a lot of bike for the money, with an impressive list of standard features that make it a serious threat to value-oriented Japanese competitors like the Honda CB500X and Kawasaki Versys-X 300, as well as BMW’s G 310 GS. Adjustable front and rear WP suspension, a full-color TFT display, lean-angle sensitive traction control and Bosch 2-channel cornering ABS are all standard, with a quickshifter offered as an option.
Powering the 390 Adventure is the same 373cc, 4-valve, DOHC, liquid-cooled single used in the popular RC 390 and 390 Duke sport bikes, which generated 44 horsepower at 8,800 rpm and 27 lb-ft of torque at 7,000 rpm when we last put it on the Jett Tuning dyno — that’s nearly as much as the Honda CB500X’s larger parallel twin. It’s fitted with a gear-driven counterbalancer to tame the worst of the vibes, although we noticed a fair amount in the grips and the cleated footpegs (rubber inserts are included but were removed from our test bike). Passing at freeway speeds, especially on hills, requires either a little patience or a downshift, but the 390 cruises at the SoCal traffic standard of 75 mph without complaint. The feisty single is mated to a 6-speed gearbox fitted with a slipper clutch and, in the case of our test bike, KTM’s excellent up/down Quickshifter+.
Up front is a 43mm WP Apex USD fork with 6.7 inches of travel and adjustable compression and rebound damping; in the back is a WP Apex shock with 7 inches of travel and adjustable spring preload and rebound damping. Brakes are BYBRE, Brembo’s Indian subsidiary, with a 4-piston radial caliper gripping a single 320mm disc up front and a single-piston floating caliper/230mm disc combo in the rear.
Helmet: Arai XD4
Jacket: Klim Artemis
Pants: Klim Altitude
Boots: Sidi Adventure Gore-Tex
Bosch 9.1MP cornering ABS has two settings: on and off-road, which disables it in back (it cannot be completely disabled). Lean-angle sensitive MTC (traction control), on the other hand, is either on or off (there are no special modes) and can be changed on the fly, although you’ll have to hold a button on the left switchgear and release the throttle for several seconds to do so. Off-road enthusiasts take note: the MTC will revert to the on position when you shut the bike off using the ignition key, but as far as we can tell it stays off if you only use the kill switch. Like its larger siblings, the 390 Adventure includes a 12V power socket as standard, located front and center underneath the TFT display, so mounting a phone for use as a GPS or just keeping it charged in a strap-on tank bag atop the plastic fuel tank is easy.
With its 19-inch front/17-inch rear cast wheels, 70/30 Continental TKC 70 tires, plastic skid plate (augmented with metal in front of and below the exhaust pipe), and modest suspension travel and ground clearance (we measured seven inches), straight off the showroom floor the 390 Adventure is best suited to gravel and fire roads. While the WP suspension is stiff enough to perform well on smooth, sporty rides and soaks up gnarly pavement and rough dirt roads, I would want to keep extended rocky encounters to a minimum. On the plus side, bikes for the U.S. market come standard with tipover bars that protect the sides of the engine and radiator. Spoon on some knobbier tires, bolt on KTM’s accessory aluminum skid plate and you’re ready for some hard-core adventure.
For a bike of such modest size, power and entry-level pretensions, we were somewhat surprised by the height of the 390 Adventure’s seat. On paper it’s not so bad, listed at 33.6 inches, but the seat is hard and fairly flat, with sharp edges that make it difficult to get your feet on the ground. It narrows a bit toward the front, but at that point it also slopes up and gets even taller. Even with my 34-inch inseam, if I’m wearing stiff ADV-style boots I’m on my tiptoes at a stop, and forget about backing up even the slightest of inclines while seated on the bike. Fortunately the 390 is a featherweight, tipping the scales at just 387 pounds fully fueled, adding confidence to one-footed stops and making it easy to push around. And there’s another upshot: the long reach from seat to footpegs leads to a relaxed bend in the knees and makes standing up for off-road riding a cinch.
Elemental protection from the short, non-adjustable windscreen isn’t bad, although I definitely experienced some windblast, especially at freeway speeds, on my upper chest, shoulders and helmet. Ergonomics are smaller-frame-friendly (well, apart from that tall seat), with a short reach across the 3.8-gallon tank to the handlebar and its backlit switchgear. At 5 feet, 9 inches, I found the handlebar to be too low for stand-up riding, requiring a pronounced forward lean; a bar riser would be on my must-have list.
Romping through a set of corners is a joy, with the 390 exhibiting a taut, stable character that might surprise those who expect less from a small, “entry level” motorcycle. Brakes are above average for a bike in this price range, with solid bite and good feedback in front, though the back feels a bit wooden initially. Combined with a stiff chassis and firm but compliant suspension, this is a truly fun to ride machine, and those riders who pick up a 390 Adventure with no aspirations of ever touching dirt, perhaps drawn primarily to the upright, commanding “ADV” riding position, can look forward to miles of curvy smiles. The bike responds best to a firm hand, especially off idle; too gentle with the throttle and the fueling cuts out, threatening a stall — possibly the price paid for Euro 5 certification on such a high-strung motor. Once underway it still prefers to be wrung out a bit, and doesn’t respond with much below about 4,000 rpm; keep it north of that and you’ll have a ball. It’s also worth noting that even with a heavy throttle hand, fuel economy averaged 53 mpg, for an estimated range of 202 miles.
KTM already has a laundry list of accessories for its 390 Adventure, including a slip-on Akrapovič silencer that shaves off another 2.2 pounds, Ergo rider and passenger seats, hard and soft side bags and more. A centerstand, unfortunately, is not on the list. Other than that, though, it wouldn’t take much to turn the 390 Adventure into a capable on- or off-road adventurer, and even in stock form it’s a fantastic commuter that’s ready for just about anything.
2020 KTM 390 Adventure Specs
Base Price: $6,199
Price as Tested: $6,559 (Quickshifter+)
Warranty: 2 yrs., 24,000 Miles
Type: Liquid-cooled single
Bore x Stroke: 89.0 x 60.0mm
Compression Ratio: 12.6:1
Valve Train: DOHC, 4 valves per cyl.
Valve Insp. Interval: 9,300 miles
Fuel Delivery: Bosch EFI w/ 46mm throttle body
Lubrication System: Wet sump, 1.8-qt. cap.
Transmission: 6-speed, cable-actuated wet slipper clutch
Final Drive: X-ring chain
Ignition: Bosch EMS
Charging Output: 230 watts max.
Battery: 12V 11.2Ah
Frame: Steel trellis, cast aluminum swingarm
Wheelbase: 56.3 in.
Rake/Trail: 26.5 degrees/3.9 in.
Seat Height: 33.6 in.
Suspension, Front: 43mm USD fork, adj. for compression & rebound damping, 6.7-in. travel
Rear: Single shock, adj. for spring preload & rebound damping, 7.0-in. travel
Brakes, Front: Single 320mm disc w/ 4-piston radial-mount caliper & ABS
Rear: Single 230mm disc w/ 1-piston floating caliper & ABS
Wheels, Front: Cast, 2.50 x 19 in.
Rear: Cast, 3.50 x 17 in.
Tires, Front: 100/90-19
Wet Weight: 387 lbs. (as tested)
Load Capacity: 440 lbs. (as tested)
GVWR: 827 lbs.
Fuel Capacity: 3.8 gals., last 0.4-gal. warning light on
MPG: 91 AKI min. 53 mpg avg.
Estimated Range: 202 miles
Indicated RPM at 60 MPH: 5,200