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ADV BikesKTM 390 Adventure: Badass Small ADV or Just Another Budget Bike?

KTM 390 Adventure: Badass Small ADV or Just Another Budget Bike?

 KTM’s small-bore ADV is finally here & now we know if it's all we'd hoped for.

Published on 04.22.2020

They say big things come in small packages and that’s been the hope for the 390 Adventure ever since KTM CEO Stefan Pierer first mentioned it in an interview some 7 years ago. Well after years of rumors, speculation and spy photos, it’s finally here, in the flesh.  

A small-displacement adventure bike that is approachable, versatile, economical and fun isn’t anything new in the market. There have been a number of small ADVs filling out this category for several years now, but they tend to be more adventure “style” than “bike.” So when the ‘Ready to Race’ brand jumped into the game, there were certain expectations, regardless of price. But have they hit their mark?

Starting off with a 373cc single-cylinder motor borrowed from the 390 Duke, the pint-sized powerplant pumps out a respectable 43 horsepower and 27.3 ft-lbs of torque. Plus it comes packed with premium components you typically don’t get standard in this category like a TFT display with Bluetooth integration, a charging port on the dash, tapered aluminum handlebars, crash bars, skid plate, hand guards, adjustable windscreen, ByBre (Indian Brembo) brakes, and WP suspension with damping adjustments front and rear. Rider aids are also impressive like cornering ABS that is Street/Off-Road switchable, lean angle-aware traction control, a slipper clutch, optional quickshifter, and smooth fueling thanks to ride-by-wire throttle.

2020 KTM 390 Adventure review

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That’s a lot of primo componentry for a budget-oriented adventure bike, but the one important area where KTM may have skimped a little is in wheel choice. Whereas its big brothers come with 21” front and 18” rear wire-spoke wheels, the 390 Adventure sports 19”/17” cast aluminum hoops. Also, the suspension travel is much lower than usual for KTM adventure bikes, measuring 6.7 inches up front and 6.9 inches in the back, along with a ground clearance measurement of 7.8 inches. 

Decisions were likely made to hit a specific price point, but it is important to keep in mind the smaller wheels and lower suspension do help get the seat height down to a more reasonable 33.6 inches and also improves maneuverability — important factors for any entry-level machine. However, KTM’s statement that the new 390 Adventure was made for touring and ‘light’ off-roading had me wondering if I should check my ‘Ready to Race’ expectations at the door. 

So is it an adventure bike worthy of the orange brand? Or just another budget lookalike ADV without any true off-road intentions? As a big fan of small bikes, I was thrilled to get some seat time on this long-awaited newest addition to KTM’s family to find out what it’s all about, and how it matches up with other bikes in the category. Read on for the straight scoop!

First Look 

2020 KTM 390 Adventure review

While the 390 Adventure is based on the 390 Duke, it shares a strong family resemblance with the 790 Adventure, with the exception of the low-slung fuel tank. Everything from lighting to the side panels, windscreen, display, seating, and GPS mount are a close match, just shrunk down to a smaller package… But it’s no minibike either. The ergos feel full sized in the seated position, with a comfortable reach to the bars and enough room to move around in the saddle. The distance from the seat to the footpegs is also comfortable for taller riders like myself at 6 foot 2 inches. Although in the standing position, it is slightly cramped with the bars feeling a bit low and too far back for my size, even with the handlebar supports set in the high/forward position.

KTM 390 Adventure 5" Color-TFT Display
The dash is well-appointed with 5” color-TFT display, central mounting point for a GPS (optional accessory), charging port, tapered-aluminum bars and a two-way adjustable windscreen (requires tools).

Turning on the display, the 5” Color TFT looks similar to the 790 and 1290 Adventures’, with  a low glare design that switches colors for night and day. Its interface and control switches are just like the big bikes when configuring ABS and MTC (Motorcycle Traction Control) settings, although there are no rider modes. Instead, there is one standard fuel map and you can either turn traction control On or Off. ABS is also simplified with either Street (front and rear) or Offroad (front only) settings only. You can also set shift warning lights for two different RPMs and custom configure your home screen. About the only thing I didn’t find on the display was outside temperature, which is a nice tool to have for understanding current road conditions.

KTM 390 Adventure suspension settings.
It’s nice not being stuck with the stock suspension settings. Two clickers offer adjustable compression (white) and rebound (red) damping for the fork, while out back there is a rebound adjustment for the shock.
KTM 390 Adventure skidplate

The display is also compatible with the KTM My Ride app that allows you to connect your phone and headset via Bluetooth. Once connected, you can take calls, adjust your music and receive turn-by-turn navigation on the bike’s display, all managed with the left thumb controls. The larger display makes things easier to see what’s going on in your peripheral vision and the thumb controls keep the rider’s hands on the handlebars where they should be. 

KTM 390 Adventure seat
KTM 390 Adventure crashbars
KTM 390 Adventures in the US come with crashbars standard.

Firing up the 390 for the first time, it sounds subdued compared to KTM’s heart-pumping twin-powered machines but it’s not without character. An initial test run revealed a flat powerband that doesn’t ‘wow’ the rider with low-end pop or high RPM surge. It’s just smooth and steady throughout. But you can get the front wheel up in first gear and ride a wheelie, if you clutch it. The suspension feels firm, which is unique for a bike in this class. And when setting up sag for around 230 pounds of rider and gear, I was surprised to find the preload on the shock was not even close to maxed out — a good sign for things to come on the trail. But first, the pavement…

Highway Test

Letting it loose on a freeway onramp, there is no rush of acceleration but the bike is deceptively quick. It easily gets up to speed to merge with traffic, and It’s fast enough to out accelerate most cars on the road. You don’t have to plan your passes like you might on a 250cc and in most situations you don’t need to downshift to make a pass.

Keeping the throttle pinned and staying upright in the saddle, I was surprised to see triple digits on the speedo, without waiting an eternity. It seems faster than the Kawasaki Versys-X 300, Honda CB500X or Kawasaki KLR650, although not on par with say a Suzuki V-Strom 650. Steep grades and wind don’t seem to slow it down either. The bike has the torque to maintain 80+ on hills while still having some room to accelerate.

The 390 Adventure feels steady on the highway and the windscreen is decent in the high position. For my height, the windscreen blocked the wind up to about nose level. That may not be great for a full day of highway riding, but it keeps the majority of wind off of you and it’s way better than not having anything. As mentioned previously, the seating position, along with the distance to the handlebars and pegs, is comfortable for taller riders and I didn’t feel cramped even after hours in the saddle.

KTM 390 Adventure on the freeway

One thing I wasn’t that pleased about after a full day of riding was the seat. It’s fairly boardlike and I became sore after about an hour in the saddle. Another not so great highway feature was the buzz in the handlebars at higher speeds and even more so in the footpegs. Our test bike had the rubber peg covers removed prior to receiving it, so it may be much better with those installed. 

390 Adventure footpegs
The serrated footpegs offer good grip in the dirt but they do have a higher degree of forward slant than average. And without the removable rubber covers installed, they transmit a fair amount of vibration on the highway.

The vibes start to kick in at about 70 mph and you quickly remember this is a single-cylinder motor. What’s interesting though, is the oscillations get better once you get up to about 80 mph. In the 80s, it feels smoother, almost as if the counterbalancer was tuned for a higher speed. But it’s still not as smooth as its twin-cylinder competition like the CB500X or Versys-X 300 at that speed. The sweet spot for this bike seems to be about 68 mph, where the windscreen works great and the vibes are almost non-existent. 

In The Twisties

Pointing the 390 Adventure toward twistier asphalt was a much more enjoyable ride. Here you can really feel some of the street DNA it inherited from the 390 Duke. Turning is effortless on the light maneuverable bike. Plus with the more street-friendly 19”/17” wheel combo, it’s easy to switch lines mid turn, and it doesn’t feel twitchy or sensitive to inputs. 

Riding with the optional Quickshifter is a blast too. Revving the little motor out for all it’s worth and banging through the gears is quite fun. Downshifting is also extremely smooth thanks to the  Quickshifter and slipper clutch, both of which aid in making the bike feel effortless to ride fast. Even so, it’s not a bike that wants to be ridden at a furious pace. Its smooth, practical powerband urges you to take in the sights and enjoy the undulations of the road without anything to prove — that dude in the lowered Honda tuner car can go right by. 

But if you are in a hurry, the lightweight 390, with its stock Continental TKC 70 tires, gives you plenty of cornering speed, and the high pegs mean you have an abundance of lean angle before toes begin to scrape. The suspension’s firmness also keeps the chassis stable without much dive or squat during aggressive sport riding. 

ByBre Brakes on KTM Adventure
ByBre brakes have excellent feel and allow for 1.5-finger emergency stops.

The ByBre brakes are awesome too for a budget bike. The initial grab is soft and you can bring it to a fast halt with 1.5 fingers. There’s a ton of feel for brake modulation and the lean-sensitive ABS is also confidence inspiring to help correct any mistakes or panic stops. Accelerating out of a turn full throttle, the power hit is soft enough to not need traction control. But it’s there if you do hit a patch of sand in the road or for rainy days.

Off-Road Test

As you might expect, that smooth, flat power curve works great in the dirt. Even with Traction Control off, the torquey thumper motor keeps the rear tire glued to the ground in the lower RPMs. You really have to get the revs up, or be riding in sand or mud, to get any wheel spin.  Moreover, the TC system seems to be turned for street and doesn’t have the sensitivity of KTM’s off-road traction control systems found on bikes like the 790 Adventure or 690 Enduro. Keep it on only if you are new to off-road riding and you are sticking to packed dirt roads. 

KTM 390 Adventure power slide

For more experienced off-road riders, the limited wheelspin it generates can make it harder to ride aggressively and power steer through turns. Getting that rear wheel to kick out takes work! But it does hold a clean line and goes where you point it. If you want to go up a hill, the long first gear will climb pretty much anything with a surprising amount of grip from the smooth tires. It won’t skip a beat if you are a big rider like me either. Getting it turned around and heading back down is also a much-less-sketchy maneuver than on any full-sized adventure bike, which gives a new off-road rider or those of smaller stature more confidence to push their limits.

KTM 390 Adventure hillclimb

As far as off-road standing ergos, I found myself bending my knees more than usual to compensate for the cramped bar position. A set of risers would help open up the riding position for taller riders, but it may be about right for average-height riders. The seated position did leave me wishing I could slide forward more up on the tank like the 790 R, but there is a decent amount of room in the saddle to not feel locked in place.

With its reasonable ground clearance and a firm suspension, you can take the 390 Adventure through semi-rocky terrain without a lot of bottoming on the skidplate. It feels plush through the choppy stuff and the well-damped suspension helps ensure you don’t get bounced off the horse. Its small bike agility allows you to snake your way around obstacles rather than power through them. Which is the best approach for this bike, because if you do hit sharp-edged ruts or boulders in the road, the front fork will let you know it doesn’t like it by giving you a loud thunk! Cranking up the compression damping on the fork helped make this occur less often, but 6.7 inches of travel does have its limits if you want to ride it like a dirt bike.

KTM 390 Adventure in the whoops

The rear shock bottomed out only occasionally when pushing hard in big whoops or landing on flat after catching some air. The shock is rebound damping only (no compression) so adjustments won’t help with that. But clearly the bike is up for some abuse, even with a bigger rider on it. Overall, the suspension is very responsive and keeps the tires on the ground with a balanced and composed feel. And with it being a relatively light adventure bike at 379 pounds wet, recovery from any loss of traction is easier.

One type of terrain the bike struggled with was in the sand. Perhaps it’s the smaller 19”/17” wheel combo, the smooth TKC 70 tires, a shorter wheelbase, a steering head angle that is a little steeper than most adventure bikes, or all of the above. But the result is that the front wheel wants to tuck right away in deep sand. Throwing some knobbies on the bike would be helpful if you intend to do anything more than the short patches of sand during your adventures on the 390. Otherwise, pin it to win it!

KTM 390 Adventure wheelie
The tractable motor offers good grip on hill climbs, even with the fairly smooth TKC 70 rear tire.

Another small annoyance was having to repeatedly turn the Traction Control off in the dirt. If the kill switch is turned off with the ignition on, it loses the Off setting. Or even if you just stall the bike and restart it within a few seconds, it sometimes loses the setting. I haven’t noticed traction control being this finicky on other KTM models before.

The Bottom Line

KTM has done a great job of creating a capable, entry-level ADV Bike at a price point that makes it easier for new adventure riders to get started on an orange bike. You don’t get all the premium components and hard-edged performance of their larger machines, but it’s a step ahead of the competition for this category. 

Thanks to ex-Baja Champ Quinn Cody, who helped develop suspension settings for the Americas and Europe, the 390 Adventure has good spring rates, adequate suspension travel and a range of damping settings so you aren’t stuck with whatever comes from the factory. It works well in the dirt for all but the most aggressive riding, and raises the bar in its class with its ability to travel further off the beaten path than the Honda CB500X, Kawasaki Versys-X 300 or the BMW G310GS.

Aether Divide Adventure Suit

After hundreds of miles of testing, the bike averaged 65 mpg on the highway and about 60 mpg in mixed terrain to give it a safe distance between fill ups of about 225 miles. Not only is it economical filling the 3.8 gallon tank, but it’s enough range to hang with larger adventure bikes.

The 390 Adventure has enough power to keep up with bigger bikes too, although I do wish it were smoother on the highway. Comparing it to other single-cylinder models, KTM 690 Enduro R is smoother at 75mph with its dual balancer shafts. Yet without a windscreen, highway stints on the 690 are rough. The 410cc Royal Enfield Himalayan is also a smoother operator, but that’s in part because its limited-performance motor keeps the revs down. The 390 Adventure does feel smoother than either the BMW G310GS or CRF250L Rally though. But perhaps the 390’s vibration woes can be resolved with heavy bar-end weights and vibration damping footpegs.

We’d love to see a set of wire-spoke wheels come standard on the 390 Adventure but cracking a wheel is less of a concern on a bike in this weight class. If you are looking to do more than just light off-roading, then a set of spokes might be your first mod, along with a cushier seat, and it could use a rear rack for carrying a top bag as well… There are a lot of custom mods you might ‘like’ to do, but from a practical sense there aren’t a lot of things it really ‘needs’ because the 390 Adventure is a versatile, well-equipped machine right off the showroom floor.

KTM 390 Adventure ready for traveling.

Those looking to get started in the world of adventure riding, will find this fairly-light, compact, practical machine perfect for the daily grind, with enough turn-key capability to get you out on a bonafide adventure. It would make a great BDR bike with the capability to handle a variety of terrain, enough power to carry you and your gear, fuel capacity to meet range needs, and enough off-road armor to keep the bike protected from adventure-ending damage. 

Looking at all the equipment and electronics you get for an MSRP of $6,199, it’s a good value too. Not only is it an attractive package to draw new riders into the sport, but we can also see older and smaller-statured riders who are looking for a more manageable bike on the trail (i.e. easier to pick up) being enticed. And while some experienced off-road riders may desire more capability in the dirt, it still offers enough performance to be left impressed with what it can do, especially for the price.  

KTM 390 Adventure Specs

ENGINE TYPE:Single Cylinder, 4-Stroke, DOHC
DISPLACEMENT:373.2 cc
BORE/STROKE:89/60 mm
POWER:43 hp ( 32 kW )
TORQUE:27.3 ft-lbs (37 Nm)
STARTER:Electric; 12V 8Ah
TRANSMISSION:6 Gears
FUEL SYSTEM:Bosch EFI, 46 mm Throttle Body
LUBRICATION:Wet Sump
COOLING:Liquid Cooling
CLUTCH:PASC Slipper Clutch, Mechanically Operated
IGNITION:Bosch EMS with Ride-By-Wire
FRAME:Steel Trellis
SUBFRAME:Steel Trellis
HANDLEBAR: Aluminum, Tapered, Ø 26/22 mm
FRONT SUSPENSION:WP APEX USD Ø 43 mm
REAR SUSPENSION:WP APEX Monoshock 
SUSPENSION TRAVEL FR./RR.:6.7 in (170mm) / 6.9 in (177mm)
FRONT/REAR BRAKES:Disc Brake 320 mm/230 mm
FRONT/REAR WHEELS:2.50 x 19”, 3.50 x 17”  
FRONT/REAR TIRES:100/90-19”; 130/80-17” 
STEERING HEAD ANGLE: 63.5 °
WHEELBASE:1,430 mm ± 15.5 mm / 56.3 ± 0.6 in
GROUND CLEARANCE:7.8 in (200mm)
SEAT HEIGHT:33.6 in (855mm)
TANK CAPACITY:3.8 gal (14.5 L)
DRY WEIGHT, APPROX:348.3 lbs (158 kg)
WET WEIGHT:379 lbs (172 kg)
MSRP:$6,199 USD/ $6,799 CAD

Gear We Used

• Helmet: Arai XD-4 Vision
• Jacket: Aether Divide
• Pants: Aether Divide
• Boots: Forma Terra EVO
• Gloves: ARC Battle Born Air

Author: Rob Dabney

Rob Dabney started a lifelong obsession with motorcycles at the age of 15 when he purchased his first bike – a 1982 Honda MB5. Through his 20’s and 30’s he competed in off-road desert races, including the Baja 250, 500 and 1000. Eventually, his proclivity for exploration led him to dual sport and adventure riding. Rob’s never-ending quest to discover what’s around the next bend has taken him on Adventures in Mexico, North Africa, Europe, and throughout the American West. As a moto journalist, he enjoys inspiring others to seek adventure across horizons both near and far.

Author: Rob Dabney
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 19

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19 thoughts on “KTM 390 Adventure: Badass Small ADV or Just Another Budget Bike?

    • Hey Steve. Thanks for the comment. As mentioned in the article, the KTM 390 Adventure has raised the bar in the small-bore ADV class so it is definitely not just another budget adventure bike. It is more versatile and a much better dirt machine than its direct competitors. Is it Badass? I guess that depends on what that means to you. It is great for sure as an entry-level bike that can do a little of everything, with more high-spec components and features than its competitors, while still accessible at a wallet-friendly price point. It also has enough performance for experienced riders to enjoy pushing its limits but it’s not a hard-edged off-road bike. Hopefully in the near future, we’ll see an ‘R’ version of the bike for dirt fans.

    • Rob, great review, just curious of your height/weight? The 390 looks smallish for you. I’m 6’1″ and concerned I may too tall for this bike.

      • Thanks Jim. Last time I checked I was 6’2″ and 215lbs. But that was pre-quarantine. 🙂 It’s a little cramped for me. Raising the bars and moving them forward a tad should make it more comfortable for standing. Sitting already feels pretty good though.

    • Hey Kat. Thanks for sharing that. Although, I think I’ve been having a different issue. I also experienced the problem you mention with turning traction control off when the bike is running. But in that situation, it would immediately turn TC back on as soon as the bike was started and you start to ride off. After realizing that, I would only turn TC off with the bike running. If I turned the kill switch off for a couple of seconds, it would keep TC off setting. But if it was say 5 seconds or so, it would reactivate TC upon starting. I also would have TC get reactivated sometimes when the bike would stall with both ignition and kill still switch on. I’ll continue to play with it though and see if I can identify a specific pattern. Thanks!

  1. Rob, Thanks for the review. Do you think they will have a full blow R with some of the same off road upgrades as the other R bikes … thx

    • Hi Rick. Much appreciated! I think it’s a good chance but haven’t heard anything solid yet about it. The ‘R’ versions of KTM”s bikes seem to outsell the standard versions by a significant margin in North America, so it would make financial sense to do it here at least. Keeping fingers crossed!

  2. Hi Rob,
    Great review. I’ve been curious about the 390. Happy to see small ADV bikes coming to market. My ADV unicorn bike would be a twin cylinder 590 at less than 300 lbs. and 250 mile range with 18/21″ wheels. Not bloody likely 🙂 I’ll keep my 690 for now. How are you? Hope your staying safe and entertained under the circumstances.
    Dave Thum

    • Hi Dave. Good to hear from you. I’m doing well. Hope you are too. Appreciate the kind words. A twin under 300 lbs? That’s a tall order. Even a DRZ400 is over 300#. Maybe that unicorn bike you are looking for already exists though. The 2006-2008 Aprilia RXV 550 was about 285 lbs, twin-cylinder enduro with 21″/18″ wheels. Only a 2.1 gallon tank, but IMS makes a 5.1 gallon tank for it.

  3. How reliable are these baby KTMs? Do you have a long term KTM 390? Oil leak and seeps are quite common, also I read on some motor threads in India that the quick shifter doesnt work. Does the shifter work flawlessly?

    • Hi Chinmaya. We do have a long-term test unit. Quick shifter is working great but not as smooth as some I’ve ridden. You have to be careful not to put any light pressure on the gear shifter while riding, unless you are ready to shift. If you touch it with your foot, it can cut the ignition at a moment when you need power and it tries to throw you over the bars. It’s something you get used to if you own the bike. So far no oil leaks and it’s been running flawlessly, but we’ll keep an eye out.

  4. Motorcyclist/CycleWorld and YouTube vloggers have raised the issue of the 390s reliability (blown head gaskets and seizures were the most common claims). The complaints are many so do you think it is a valid issue or maybe just the result of abuse and lack of maintenance?

    On another note, the 390 is about the same price as Honda’s 250 Rally and only a little heavier. I wonder if Honda has noticed.

  5. Very nice review and a lot of helpful information. I am thinking this bike will hit the right mark for me. I am 5’10 and about 185 pounds. I have never done off-road but would like to give it a shot, as there are miles and miles of fire-roads near me. I am 57 and a smaller bike seems like a sound idea. My other bike is an 18 R1200RT, but that stays on the road 100% for sure.

    • Hey Rick. This would be a nice choice to give off-road adventure riding a try. It’s small enough that you can turn it around easily if you get into some terrain that’s a bit more than you are ready for. It’s also comfortable enough to ride out to your nearby trails, without having to throw it on a truck. It’s also cheap enough that you won’t mind dropping it, and it’s light enough to pick up without assistance. Plus it’s got enough power to load it up with camping gear for a night or two out in the backcountry.