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HomeZA BikersBike ReviewsKTM’s 390 Adventure Conquers the Tuli

KTM’s 390 Adventure Conquers the Tuli

Photo credit: Bjorn Moreira / ZA Bikers

Here at the office, there is no denying that our team love smaller capacity motorcycles, tiddler tourers as we call them. Simon and Dave are well versed in lengthy tiddler tours with some of their best rides taking place up North in Botswana, on little machines like the TVS Apache RTR 180 and Harry’s recent 3000 km trip from Gauteng to the Western Cape and back on a Hero X-pulse 200 pays tribute. Agile, versatile and money savers are just a few words commonly used to describe these sub 400cc motorcycles, but one thing we can all agree on is how they can also enhance the adventure aspect—offering more of a challenge.

These lightweight machines are commonly looked at as daily commuters or beginner bikes as they offer great fuel economy, manageable power, easy maintenance and good riding comfort for our less-than-perfect roads. Although perceived as commuters, we have seen almost all the top manufacturers jump on the bandwagon when it comes to playing in this space and recently a massive focus has been shifted towards the lightweight adventure bike segment. When you start to see players like KTM showing up to the party, who is known for building what are widely considered to be the most off-road capable adventure bikes around, then you know this segment is not to be ignored.

Photo credit: Bjorn Moreira / ZA Bikers

KTM roosted their 390 Adventure into the light-weight adventure segment in 2020 and since then it has not only been a class leader, but it has gotten many adventurers onto foot pegs. The word gimmick does not live in KTM’s vocabulary, so this begs the question, can the 390 Adventure withstand a hardcore and open road adventure trip? We took the latest spoked wheeled KTM 390 Adventure on a trip alongside some seriously capable plastics and big adventure bikes to the South of Botswana (Tuli Block) to find out…

To take on the Tuli the latest 390 ADV need not much of an update, but for 2023 we have gotten a warm welcome from tougher aluminium rims, spoked wheels (19” front and 17” rear) and a heritage-like orange and black livery. As for the rest, KTM has stuck with their peppy 373cc single-cylinder motor eking out 44 hp and 37 Nm of torque at 7000 rpm, its class-leading electronics package and highly adjustable WP APEX suspension. On the face of it, the 390 ADV hasn’t changed much but has rather gone through an adventure-emphasized update—enhancing its off-road credibility.

Photo credit: Bjorn Moreira / ZA Bikers

The Tuli Block has always interested my adventure senses and that’s because of its landscapes, wildlife and riding bliss. Where your typical Botswana tends to be rather flat, the Tuli offers stunning Inselberg mountains, large rock formations, sandy single trails, many massive old trees and large game populations on private lands.

The first real taste of Tuli was riding through the very sandy Platjan Border post on the Tuli reserve road towards Pont Drift. I simply put the ABS on off-road, throttle response on off-road mode and traction control off, the 390 did the rest. With only 161 odd kilograms of Austrian engineering under me, the little 390 ran at the front with the plastics whilst the bigger adventure bikes struggled to ride the sandy highway and single track.

Photo credit: Bjorn Moreira / ZA Bikers

I was very surprised to see how easily, I for one could negotiate what the rest were saying was a hectic ride, with road-biased tyres and what most call a commuter bike. My only gripe so far was the traction control having to be switched off every time you started the bike and in Botswana with the amazing wildlife frequently crossing our path, I had to switch it off like a trained chimpanzee every time.

Weighting the rear, keeping the RPMs high and clinching with my knees on the tank around the technical and deep sand was honestly so much fun. The off-road pegs offer great grip, the quick-shifter works lovely on the dirt and the pointy tank allows riders to dig their knees into the tank. For taller riders, the ergonomics are almost perfect, with not much of a rise needed on the bars to make it just right. However, shorter and average riders will find the 855 mm seat height a tip-toe too much, which isn’t exactly confidence inspiring when the going gets technical.

Photo credit: Bjorn Moreira / ZA Bikers

By the time we had arrived at Eagle View Star Deck Lodge in the Tuli Wilderness, where we would be spending a few nights and using it as our base to ride from, the rest were surprised to still see the 390 around. The next day would see more sand, river crossings along the Limpopo River and some seriously rocky terrain.

After beating the sand and river crossings the KTM and its 170 mm of suspension travel up front and 177 mm at the rear met its match. When the going gets rocky and speeds are low the 390 gets the job done with 200 mm of ground clearance and enough torque to pull it out of most situations.

Photo credit: Bjorn Moreira / ZA Bikers

I must be honest and say there were riders on serious kit who ended their day with damaged wheels, punctures and a few rands knocked off their resale values. The 390 is by no means prepped for an Erzberg Rodeo, but nor does it pretend to be. I did end up bottoming out the baseplate a few times resulting in the securing bolts coming loose, but with a reserved right wrist the bike refrained from bottoming out as speeds were more reserved.

At the end of our 3-day Tuli ride, I had just used a single 14.5L tank of fuel, rode everywhere the rest had ridden, spent no time struggling and felt like I accomplished something greater. Little did I know; my adventure was far from over with the bike trailer and support vehicle breaking down before heading back home. This meant I had to strap down my luggage and ride a 550 km route back home to Pretoria through the Platjan border, past Alldays to Polokwane before hitting the long stretch on the N1.

Photo credit: Bjorn Moreira / ZA Bikers

On the ride back, I got to bond with the 390 Adventure on the open road sitting at 135 km/h making for a good travel time. The seat although hard at first touch begins to soften the longer you spend on it and the wind blast was similar to your average adventure bike. The little 390 returned an economy of 4 l/100 km (25 km/L) which could have been closer to the claimed 3.4 l/100 km if ridden at 110 km/h.

All in all, I believe lightweight adventure bikes bring a lot to the table for those who are hungry for a do-it-all motorcycle and the 390 Adventure in my opinion is at the top of the list. In today’s times, motorcycles are getting heavier, loaded with tech and massively expensive. A heavyweight adventure motorcycle will cost you over 350k and a good 250k for a middleweight adventure. I think it’s a waste to use one of these options as a daily ride and if you’re trying to get into adventure riding why not spend around 120k for a do-it-all motorcycle in the form of the KTM 390 Adventure? After living with the 390, I think mindsets in SA should change, why not ride a more user-friendly, less complex, lighter and off-the-charts fun motorcycle?

Photo credit: Bjorn Moreira / ZA Bikers

KTM 390 Adventure SW

For more information on the bike that we tested in this article, click on the link below…

2024

KTM 390 ADVENTURE SW

Pricing From R131,999 (RRP)


Brand: KTM
Bjorn Moreira
Bjorn Moreira
My name is Bjorn Moreira (Senior Editor at ZA Lifestyle) and I always long for the next adventure. Why yes this may be a problem, but I’m what you call a #LIFEAHOLIC which I have been since my very first breath. My passion leads me to enjoy capturing memories on camera, riding motorcycles, cycling and spending as much time as possible in the great outdoors.
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