Slotting itself between the street-going 390 Duke and enduro-ready 350 EXC-F, the 2020 KTM 390 Adventure is a fascinating motorcycle that is impressively versatile. In the wake of the successful 790 Adventure, KTM continues to downsize the ADV experience, and the new 390 Adventure is undoubtedly the most attractive of its Adventure line to those new to the genre. However, the experienced rider will also discover that good things come in small packages.
1. Although the 2020 KTM 390 Adventure is off-road capable, its prowess remains road-focused, be it paved or dirt. Keep in mind that this is not an R model. The 390 Adventure has diecast aluminum wheels in a 19-/17-inch pairing, shod with street-oriented Continental TKC 70 tires. Plus, the suspension travel is less than seven inches at each end, and the curb weight is 379 pounds. This is a motorcycle that excels on the street, yet is still capable on the dirt. Yes, it is an ADV motorcycle rather than a dirt bike—no surprise.2. Powering the 390 Adventure is the same muscular single used in the 390 Duke and RC 390. It’s a ride-by-wire short-stroke DOHC mill that loves to rev, with the redline coming at 10,000 rpm. The power comes on extremely smoothly, and without any hits in the powerband. That makes the delivery fully manageable on the dirt, as well as persistent on pavement. The six-speed transmission is matched to an assist-and-slipper clutch, and our test unit had KTM’s optional up/down quickshifter—an essential KTM PowerPart.3. Per KTM custom, the 390 has a steel trellis frame and subframe, along with a lattice swingarm. It all works together to give the 390 Adventure good feel while keeping down the weight. With 26.5 degrees of rake, the motorcycle is stable in all situations, yet the handling is not remotely lethargic. The seat height is a very manageable 33.6 inches, helping the 390 Adventure work well in the dirt, while providing an advantageous view of traffic and scenery on the pavement.4. The ergonomics are pure scaled-down ADV. It’s wider than a dirt bike, but much narrower than larger adventure motorcycles. The seating position works great in all conditions, though the bars feel a tad low when standing—a purely personal preference. Transitions between sitting and standing are occasionally interrupted by the stepped seat hitting the rider in the butt when trying to get back for traction. Other than that, the KTM 390 Adventure does not get in the pilot’s way, and you feel like you dominate the motorcycle, rather than the other way around. Oh, and speaking of standing, the footpegs—with removable rubber inserts—are excellent platforms.5. KTM puts the 2020 390 Adventure in the Travel category, so let’s look at that aspect first. As a lightweight touring motorcycle, the 390 Adventure is impressively competent. Vibration is less than you would expect from a single, and the 390 is fully willing to cruise along at 70 mph with no encumbrances. Should you hit windy areas head-on, or significant grades, the 373cc motor will start to struggle to maintain freeway speeds. Downshifting is the only option, and with it comes noticeable vibration. The 390 Adventure is a compact motorcycle, so it sacrifices full freeway capability. The windshield helps keep the blast off the rider, and it has two positions—but you need a T25 Torx key to move between them.6. Once you find yourself on twisting back roads, the 390 Adventure comes into its own. Continental describes TKC 70 tires as “positioned for light to medium off-road use with extraordinary street performance.” I have no beef with that, as the TKC 70s did everything I asked of them on the pavement, and that included some wet riding. It is a dual-compound tire with more grip on the shoulders, so the 390 holds its own in corners. With light weight, moderate power, traction control, and corner-aware ABS, the demands on the TKC 70s aren’t extraordinary, so the performance is impressive. Handling is intuitive, and whenever a line-change is essential due to debris on the road, the 390 responds without hesitation. Yet, it has no problem holding a line through a corner should that be your desire. This is a low-fatigue travel motorcycle.7. The 3.8-gallon fuel tank isn’t obtrusive, and KTM says the 390 Adventure has a range of 267 miles. That’s a long way, and the predictive range in the dash backs that up. Given the current riding restrictions, we haven’t had a chance to test that yet. Really, the range is going to vary widely, depending on how and where the 390 is ridden.8. When on an adventure motorcycle, the rider’s fancy inevitably turns to dirt. You will probably want to stop when you transition off pavement on the KTM 390 Adventure. Using the no-instructions-needed five-inch TFT display and button array on the left handlebar, you will scroll through the menu to turn off traction control and transition to Offroad ABS (front wheel only). Switching to ABS doesn’t require a stop, but you have to have the throttle off and hold down a button for a seemingly long time to get the traction control to disengage—a light on the dash will remind you. The system will stay in Offroad ABS if you turn the power off, but traction control resets to active when turning the key back to the on position.9. You will quickly be reminded in the dirt that you are on an ADV motorcycle. Those TKC 70s that were so great on the pavement, are just decent in the dirt. Mud and sand don’t do them any favors, though they are perfectly adequate on gravel and recently moisturized dirt. The rear tire is fine, so the front sets the limits of confidence. Also, the wide seat is about ADV riding, not off-road performance. It’s not bad, though you have to be brave to replicate the off-road riding shown in KTM’s promotional material. You will start to notice the weight—light for an ADV motorcycle, certainly, but more substantial than a dual-sport machine. Happiness is knowing your limits, along with the 390’s. In my case, KTM installed the optional engine protection bars, so that was one less thing to worry about.10. The smooth power delivery does help get the 2020 KTM 390 Adventure where you want it to be. Nothing happens quickly on the 390, and that makes it easier to plot and execute moves. I did a bit of smooth single-track riding, and it was fine as long as the smaller-diameter wheels and tires weren’t being tested. With traction control off, you can spin up the rear tire with a hard twist of the throttle, so steering through fire road corners with the back end is front-and-center on the to-do list. The better you get a sense of its limits, the more you can enjoy exploiting them off-road.11. The mostly adjustable WP Apex suspension worked great on the street, but isn’t particularly compliant off-road. The fork has full damping adjustment, but spring-preload is fixed. The shock’s spring-preload can be fine-tuned—most likely if you have a passenger—but it only has rebound-damping adjustability. There is no electronic adjustment, naturally at this price, so any changes between dirt and street are time-consuming. Going with the standard settings that work perfectly well on the street, the suspension does not reward fast off-road riding. G-outs run through the sub-seven-inch travel, and you have to stand up when hitting perpendicular ruts, unless you like to be jarred. As long as it’s not challenged, the suspension action is friendly, so ride within its capabilities.12. The brakes work well in all situations. The radially mounted Bybre caliper and 320mm disc are great for the street, yet not overpowering in the dirt. The Bosch 9.1MP two-channel ABS does a fantastic job of watching over you without being overbearing. I kept waiting for it to annoy me in the dirt in the Offroad ABS mode, but the front wheel never complained—maybe I’m just a smooth braker. On the pavement, it is transparent, as is the traction control, and I was glad to have all those assistants in the rain, even though I never sensed they were active. The rear brake works great, and you get to lock it up in Offroad ABS mode, should the mood direct you. Happily, feel on the rear is great, so it only skids when you want it to.13. A secret weapon in the KTM 390 Adventure’s arsenal is that it is an awesome commuter and urban motorcycle. With the upright seating position and some wind protection, the ergos on the 390 Adventure are perfectly suited to city riding. The 19-inch front wheel and semi-long travel suspension that is just adequate in the dirt, does a great job of minimalizing potholes and dips in the roads. If I’m an urban rider, the 390 Adventure beats the 390 Duke in every category but agility. The Duke excels in the canyons thanks to its shorter suspension, 17-inch wheels, and superior road tires.14. There are plenty of nice touches to the 390 Adventure. In addition to the full-featured TFT display, there’s a 12-volt plug on the dash, and very cool LED lighting. It may be an entry-level ADV motorcycle, but its looks don’t betray that.15. The 2020 KTM 390 Adventure is a versatile motorcycle that rewards owners who are good with boundaries. There are always compromises on ADV motorcycles, and small-displacement motors have their limitations. KTM managed to give the 390 Adventure a strong pavement presence, and enough off-roadability to satisfy most of the buyers. The balance of skills is impressive, and for everyone except the hardcore off-roader, who will have to wait for the 390 Adventure R, the 2020 KTM 390 Adventure satisfies new riders and longtime adventurists alike.Action photography by Kelly CallanRIDING STYLE
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This week, in the first segment Editor Don Williams talks to us about the new Kawasaki Versys 650 LT. It’s the middleweight ADV style machine that uses the same 650 parallel twin motor as the Ninja 650, so it’s an excellent performer in a user-friendly, good looking package.
In the second segment, I chat with one of my dearest industry friends—now retired Honda PR executive, Jon Seidel. Jon’s fascinating career spans some 30 years with Big Red, and gave him some great experiences with some incredible machines. I was fortunate enough to be invited on many of the press launches that he organized. His new project is documenting and saving many of the old archives from years gone by—and incidentally, if you have anything that may be of value to the project, please contact us by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll pass it all on to Jon.
So on that note, from all of us here at Ultimate Motorcycling, we hope you enjoy this episode!