And The Best Adventure Bike Is...?
KTM 390 Adventure Proves That Small Can Be Beautifulby Harry Fisher, on
Despite many riders thinking they need the biggest adventure bike out there, in reality the smaller models offer just as much rideability and always make more sense when tackling really technical off-road sections.
KTM’s 390 Adventure Is The Best Adventure Bike Out There
There are many adventure bikes that lay claim to being the best, with KTM and BMW heading up the list. Their models have become technological marvels, allowing ever more riders to access the incredible ability on offer, despite their leviathan dimensions and stratospheric power outputs.
But there is something a bit wrong in having to have so much technology to make the bikes rideable. I remember being on the launch for the then-latest BMW R1200GS Adventure. At one point I turned off all the rider aids and attempted a technical section with dips, climbs, sand, mud, everything: I got 200 metres and stopped to turn it all back on again. Without the skill of an expert, it was virtually impossible to ride or, at least, ride without imminent disaster being a constant shadow.
You could argue that the electronics have become so good because of the work they have to do but, alternatively, you could argue that these bikes are only capable of doing what they do because of the electronics. It seems a little self-defeating!
When BMW launched the G310GS, I offered the opinion in the rag I was writing for at the time that it was the best adventure bike on the market: it was small and light and, therefore, unintimidating while losing none of the go-anywhere ability of its bigger brothers. If you dropped it, you could pick it up unaided and the lack of technological complexity made it easy to understand and get the best out of. The only place it lost out was in long-distance ability, the 313cc, 34bhp engine simply not offering enough grunt to make long distances bearable.
Fast forward a couple of years to 2020 and KTM responded to this new direction in adventure bikes, as it had to, with the 390 Adventure model. 373cc wasn’t a huge leap over the BMW, but 43.5bhp made all the difference.
The 390 Adventure was the perfect balance between off-road ability - and manageability - and punchy on-road performance. There was more tech than on the BMW as well but the electronics were there to help you, not because they needed to be there.
It might have lacked some of the solidity of the BMW - as all KTMs do - but here was a bike that took the 310GS idea and improved on it in every department. Even better, in an age of ridiculously expensive adventure bikes, here was a bike with tons of ability but with an affordable price tag: it was accessible on every level.
For the 2022 model year, KTM has given the 390 Adventure a mid-life facelift. Two new paint jobs are available, one predominantly black and one orange and blue, matching the bigger models. All the changes are not on the surface, however. The traction control has been tweaked to give Street and Off-road settings, the latter giving more control on damp or loose surfaces and new, stiffer, five-spoke cast alloy wheels replace the six-spoked items found previously.
Elsewhere, the recipe is as before, which is understandable: why change what was a winning formula? The engine is the same, as is the fully adjustable WP APEX suspension. The ABS and traction control are both lean-angle sensitive.
What all that doesn’t tell you is how much fun the 390 Adventure is to ride: it really is like a down-scaled 1290 Super Adventure and not simply a small bike. If I had to choose a bike to ride up through Africa, from Cape Town to Cairo, then this is the bike I would take. In truth, you would need nothing else, and isn’t that the point: just enough and no more?