Yikes! I wasn’t expecting to see 177 kph on the speedometer of a motorcycle produced in India. Don’t mistake that for a dig at the country — it’s just that we’ve been pushing 130 kph for nearly a decade now, so that extra 47 kph translates to a rather huge leap. Then again, KTM is known to have a violent idea of evolution, so I should have seen this coming. There is a ‘Ready to Race’ tagline to be justified, after all.
KTM’s story in India began in 2012, which is when the first of its Dukes rolled out into an unsuspecting market. With the exception of the truly clued-in enthusiast, KTM was an alien entity. Suspicions were raised about whether it was from across the wrong side of the border — China, in short — while the less geographically inclined decided it was an Australian brand because Austria, to them, was no more than a typo. Australia only ever produces somewhat erratic, rebadged Chevrolets and excellent fast bowlers, so KTM’s too-exotic status wasn’t doing it any favours.
Anyway, as the dust settled, the 200 Duke made it to the streets. The hooligans were quick to switch loyalties from their relatively mediocre machines, and within a fairly short run, KTM’s identity as a maker of manic, fun motorcycles was established. The 200 Duke was soon joined by the 390 Duke, sporting the same minimalistic bodywork and streetfighter stance, but with nearly twice as much power. Things got pretty serious thereafter, to say the least.
Cut to the RC twins, and you’ll see how tactfully evolution has been dealt with within the KTM family. With all that international race-dominance comes a refreshing perspective of what motorcycle enthusiasts around the world really expect and so, KTM didn’t just slap a fairing onto its already-excellent Dukes; it virtually started from scratch. Two versions of the RC have been launched in India — the 200 and the 390 — and to give you a brief description, they’re both in the entry-level supersport category, equipped to (and perhaps better than) similarly-specced international models.
The RC 200 first. Powered by a 199.5 cc four-stroke single-cylinder motor which produces 25 bhp, this is a naturally fast motorcycle, one that’s agile and eager to be pushed. With a full complement of a clip-on style handlebar, rear-set footpegs, a split seat, upside-down forks and meaty MRF tyres — and of course, the aerodynamics, given all that bodywork—the RC 200 is a definitive race bike, albeit on a smaller scale. It also sports an informative instrument cluster, a 10.5-litre fuel tank, a 6-speed gearbox and pretty good illumination, so all that seriousness can also be effectively applied to street riding.
The RC 390 offers pretty much the same things, but the upgrades are subtle at first sight. In reality, however, there is a world of a difference between the 390 and its lesser sibling. Apart from the easily distinguishable bodywork (it’s the same design, but the 200 gets a stealthy matte black, while the 390 gets a more Euro-spec white-over-black) the 390 gets anti-lock brakes (with a disengage function), far stickier Metzelertyres and, most important of all, 44 wholesome bhp contained within that fairing.
I first took the RC 200 out for a spin, and the first thing that cropped up in my head was how different it felt to its naked counterpart. KTM has decreased the rake on either RC, thereby decreasing the wheelbase, which compensates for the heavier weight by adding more agility. In the real world, what this translates to is a very precise motorcycle that goes exactly where you want it to. Unlike most other similarly set-up bikes in the country, nothing is lost in translation on the RC 200. It accelerates from 0 to 100 quickly enough, demanding a lot of gearshifts since it’s short-geared, and gets to its top-speed of around 133 kph before you know it. Fans of point-and-squirt amongst you will love it! It brakes with sharpness, too, and its cornering ability is simply exceptional. There’s really only one other motorcycle that can beat it at this game — the RC 390.
The RC 390, when you ride it right after the 200, feels substantially different. If you want to get a first-hand experience of what evolution can stand for, try riding both back to back. The RC 390 is seriously fast, demands fewer gearshifts thanks to the more evenly spread-out gearing, and in the hands of a good rider, is undoubtedly going to be very difficult to catch, let alone pass. The Metzelertyres offer such outstanding levels of grip that you would never touch a lesser-tyred bike with a barge pole.
It accelerates with fury, with utter disregard for standards set by Indian motorcycles over the years, onto its indicated top speed of 177 kph. Indeed, if the KTM RC 390 was a person residing in India, some right-wing nationalistic outfit would probably want it thrown out, for being so radically irreverent.
On the whole, then, the RC twins are hard to dislike. These aren’t hardcore, lethal weapons but simply perfect for their jobs. With aRs 1.6 lakh price tag, the RC 200 is a very desirable motorcycle for those stuck in the 150 cc segment, but what really spells value-for-money is the RC390, with its Rs 2.1 lakh (ex-showroom, Mumbai) price tag. I apologise if you’ve been saving up heavily for that getaway, but once astride the RC, you won’t regret your decision to divert the funds. It’s that good.