Fastest Sub-400cc Bike
A still from the first ride review of the updated KTM RC 390

Fastest Sub-400cc Bike

Recently on a Sunday ride, a fellow rider on the new Royal Enfield Interceptor 650 indulged in a friendly drag race with another rider on the new RC390 on a closed road in a private property. The 390 rider obliged and was ready to lose as he was riding a KTM RC 390, which had a 300cc deficit as compared to the new 650. To my surprise (and everyone else’s), the RC 390 pulled ahead from the very beginning and kept on gaining on the RE and that made us wonder whether the fastest sub-400cc bike is the RC 390.

A few acceleration runs later, it became pretty evident that the RC was much faster than the Interceptor. This got my head spinning, and I thought to myself, “Is the RC390 the fastest motorcycle in its price range?” Thanks to a lot of free time in my hands, I dug deeper to get an answer to this question.

When the RC390 was first introduced in 2014, in its rawest form, it took the market by storm. It had the best design (debatable), the most powerful engine in the segment, ABS, WP suspension, and what not. Heck, the most Indian population wasn’t even aware that some of these features even existed in motorcycles.

Fastest Sub-400cc Bike
The first-gen RC 390 which changed the face of the small sports bike category

The KTM RC 390 was the most technologically advanced motorcycle in its segment when it was first unveiled

With sales numbers off the roof, it became apparent that KTM had brought an M416 to a pan fight. Thanks to the tie-up with Bajaj, KTM manufactured the RC locally in Pune. The consequences? It cost a little over Rs. 2,00,000/-. There were drawbacks, mainly quality issues, but we’re not focusing on that right now.

The delightful news is that over the years, KTM has refined the product and made it better overall while meeting the new norms. The unpleasant news, however, is that the KTM RC390 is now more than a full second slower to a ton and the top-speed is down to roughly 170 km/hr from 179 km/hr. Don’t get me wrong here, the RC 390 is still a very fast motorcycle. It will still beat anything in its price segment, even though the price has gone up to over Rs. 2.50 lakhs.

The only bikes that come close to beating the RC 390 in a straight fight are the Kawasaki Ninja 300 and Yamaha R3. The former being roughly Rs. 50,000/- dearer (even after being locally assembled) still isn’t as fast as the RC whereas the latter is on the verge of being discontinued. Although the older Ninja 300 will probably beat the current-gen RC 390 in a top-speed run, the RC will still edge it till 140-150 km/hr.

But with the BS6 era upon us, the Ninja will also fall prey to the norms, and it will also end up becoming slower. Other options in this price bracket are the RE 650s and the Apache RR 310. The Apache lacks significantly in the performance department and the RC will undoubtedly beat it.

KTM RC 390 vs Kawasaki Ninja 300 Test Ride
This sight will probably remain the same even if we put the BS6 variants against each other

Coming to the 650s, Royal Enfield never made them for straight-line performance. They shout refinement and comfort from every angle. And, as I mentioned earlier, the RC will beat them in a straight-line. So, what do you get to beat the RC 390? The answer is simple. The older RC 390.

The older RC 390 is far from refined and will probably make you use cuss words at times but, it’s faster. It’s much faster than the current-gen RC 390. Thanks to the BS4 norms, the BS4 RC390 sported a new exhaust system which made the bike heavier and calmer. The BS6 norms are stricter than the BS4 ones, thus making the engine even more choked.

On a personal anecdote, I’ve ridden the first-gen RC 390 and the BS4 RC 390 back to back. Out of curiosity, I even did a drag race between the two. The results were as I expected and the 2014 RC 390 just felt much raw and free-breathing. Although the BS4 RC stays close to the older 390 initially, after the 130-140 km/hr mark, the 2014 version just disappears ahead.

Coming to the key question, is the RC 390 the fastest motorcycle in its price segment? It is. But, the 2014 RC 390 is much faster than the current-gen RC. And, if you happen to own the first-gen RC 390, you’ll be happy to know that the 2014 RC 390 is probably the fastest sub-400cc bike yet.

KTM RC 390 vs Yamaha R3 vs Kawasaki Ninja 300
We would love to compare these again but sadly, the R3 is on the verge of getting discontinued