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Sep 3, 2014

Sample Magazine Feature: KTM RC 390 Cup Intro

American Pro Melissa Paris aboard a KTM RC 390 Cup racebike at Autodrome Dell’Umbria in Magione, Perugia, Italy. The bike sells for about $8900 in Germany and comes ready to race in ADAC Junior Cup events.

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It used to be that young racers started out on 50cc bikes on kart tracks, moved up to 80cc two strokes or 150cc four-strokes, started riding 125cc Grand Prix racebikes followed by 250cc Grand Prix racebikes and then transitioned to 600cc four-strokes. About 15 years ago it was normal for a 16 or 17-year old to be racing a Honda RS125 or a Yamaha TZ125.

But check out the annual Roadracing World Young Guns feature and it’s obvious that times have changed. Nowadays you’ll find that most kids make their first foray into full-sized road racing via some rendition of a Moto 3 machine (or a 125cc GP racebike if they were born before 1999 or so), usually followed by a big leap to a 600cc Supersport machine. Which is why it’s now common to see 13-year-olds and 14-year-olds racing 360-pound, 600cc production-based racebikes capable of reaching 170 mph on a fast racetrack.

There are several reasons for this. First, tuning and keeping a 125cc two-stroke or 250cc four-stroke GP racebike running right requires some level of technical expertise, and if a parent isn’t a good mechanic, that means paying somebody else to do it.

Second, the smallest bike anybody can race at an AMA Pro National is now a 600. So if a kid has racing aspirations that include reaching the big show when they turn 16 and can get an AMA Pro license, they’ve got to have experience before then, on a 600. And those first two reasons have influenced the third reason, a decline in the popularity and entries in GP classes suitable for young riders on purpose-built 125cc two-stroke or 250cc four-stroke racebikes. With fewer riders competing on those bikes, a kid on a Moriwaki MD250H, for example, has more trouble finding the type of competition that leads to improvement.

As recently as 2010, there was a plan to add a Moriwaki MD250H class for 12-year-olds and a 650cc Twin class for 14-year-olds to AMA Pro events. The plan came apart when 13-year-old Peter Lenz died in a freak crash on the warm-up lap for a USGPRU race held during the MotoGP weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway that year, and the general-interest news media had a field day. Never mind that the kids weren’t actually racing at 165 mph around the famed banked oval as claimed on TV! Track owners freaked out, AMA Pro Racing opted out, and the idea that anybody under the age of 16 should be able to race during an AMA Pro weekend died as well.

What it all means is that there are no opportunities to race any sort of Grand Prix racebike beyond club events in the U.S., and the parents of many racer kids think they’ve got to put them on a 600 as soon as possible—even if the kid can’t put both feet on the ground when sitting on the bike.

It’s different in Europe, and KTM thinks it should be different in the U.S. as well. 

KTM worked closely with officials from the ADAC Junior Cup— which runs as a class in the Superbike IDM International German Championship—to create a new bike to replace the two-stroke machines that the series has used since its inception in 1993. The ADAC Junior Cup is designed for new riders ages 13 to 21 and is where many famous Grand Prix riders started, including Moto3 stars Jack Miller, Sandro Cortese and Phillip Oettl; Moto2 star Thomas Luthi; and 250cc GP pioneer Katja Poensgen.

Enter the KTM RC 390, a new small-displacement sportbike from the Austrian manufacturer, sold in both a street version as well as a racing version.

The racing version is called the RC 390 Cup; it sells for €6,500 (about $8900 U.S.) in Germany and riders can enter the entire eight-race series for €2490 (about $3411 U.S.). The series offers up to €70,000 (about $95,900 U.S.) in prize money and support as well as a guaranteed Red Bull MotoGP Rookie Cup tryout for the top three finishers in the Championship. With this program, KTM and the ADAC Junior Cup have removed nearly every barrier to entry for aspiring road racers.

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