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KTM Duke 200 review - San blaster

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The name’s Kraftfahrzeuge Trunkenpolz Mattighofen – commonly known as KTM, thankfully – and they’re good at what they do. Bloody good. When they’re not busy annihilating the competition at the off-roading bits – like winning the Dakar 11 times straight and numerous motocross championships – they focus on their street line-up and that annihilates whatever competition is left on the road. Or more like, they’d eat them raw. They’re edgy, mad, exceptionally capable, thoroughly engineered and fundamentally awesome. Now though, they’re targeting global domination with their new Indian collaborators and part-owners – Bajaj. And their first weapon of choice is here – the KTM Duke 200. Better known as the most potent streetbike to have ever been manufactured in India.

PREPARE INGREDIENTS

Sublime. The word is sublime. The coherence and fluidity with which this KTM goes about its business is something to be experienced in real life. It’s like the first time you tried an iPod way back then – it feels marvellous, elegant and effortless. They’ve filtered the bigger displacement Duke experience down to the 200cc segment and the way they’ve pulled it off is by not sacrificing components and quality. It might sound obvious but it’s easier said than done. If you scale it up a bit and change the stickering, it could well be mistaken for a 500cc single. Kiska Design, the folks behind KTM’s edgy design language, have pulled off another crisp, well-defined and purposeful motorcycle. There’s muscle where you want it – like the tank – but elsewhere it’s almost minimalist in nature, employing crisp, sharply defined elements that look like they were slash cut into form using the famous Austrian Glock field knife. Even when you’re on it, if you look down, you cannot escape this feeling that you’re wedged onto a modern art installation. So, here’s how you start – take one trellis frame, one set of beefy WP forks and one WP monoshock, a 300 mm front and a 230 mm rear disc, put it all together, throw some finely sliced wedgy panels into the mix, add generous amounts of solid engineering know-how and then put all your efforts into the heart of the meal – the motor.

ADD OIL, TURN UP THE HEAT

And what a motor it is. It’s so good in fact, that it’s a bit surprising the first time around. Not only is it a little rev-monster but it’s also deliciously torquey and tractable – and usually, those two are two disjointed sets. If you want to play ball, it will give you all the power you want and then some, but if you calm down, it obliges without the slightest of fuss. I don’t know what to appreciate more – the friendly, streetable nature of it or the mad, frothing-at-the-mouth rev monster! With ultra-short gearing, it darts forward whenever you want it; hitting the limiter so quickly and effortlessly, it takes a while to get used to the rapid-fire shifting. With a low drone at lower revs, its fires off the line with utmost urgency and as the rev bar goes berserk, you frequently hammer against the limiter through the gears with a loud wicked wail for company! Before you know it, the scenery is passing by all too quickly. With delightful responsiveness, it nails 60 kph from standstill in 3.6 seconds, swiftly followed by 100 kph in 8.9 seconds and the Duke powers its way up to the limiter in 6th so quickly, you’re left wanting more at 135 kph! You want more! You’re sitting there, crouching in the strong wind, sniggering away, high on speed and demanding more as the rev needle repeatedly bounces off the 10,500 rpm cut-out. The Duke is itching to go, even at that speed but until the rev nanny goes, this is all you’ve got. But wait, that’s not all the marvels this motor holds – it’s so friendly in nature that you can cleanly pull from as low as 30 kph in 6th gear with minimal fuss. Gem of a motor? Completely.

STEER FRY

A great motor is only as great as the chassis, no? The Duke’s chassis is as good, if not better, than the angry little engine. The ergonomics places you dart-straight on the seat, upright with your feet set back slightly on rear-sets and flat wide handlebars to manoeuvre with. The ride is on the firmer side with road aberrations being only mildly damped before they get to you but it’s a trade-off for the utter poise and agility the Duke displays when the road starts curving, completed by a confidence-inspiring chassis. The MRF rubber does its job well and the ByBre brakes are fantastic, shedding speed with precision and power, with the only niggle being the rear disc lacking in feel. Weighing only 125 kg without fuel, it’s perfectly poised for the urban grind as well, though, do note that this angry motor does have a tendency to lose its cool in heavy traffic. In a combined cycle, even though

I was shamelessly excessive with the throttle, it returned 28 kpl. If you’re careful, 35 kpl isn’t out of question either. Again, impressive. Be it slicing your way through traffic or chucking the 200 through the twisties – the Duke is probably the most fun-to-ride yet affordable motorcycle on sale today. We wouldn’t blame you for Chris Pfeiffer-inspired shenanigans on the Duke either – it forever eggs you on to go have fun! Not a bad thing in our books!

LET IT SIMMER

In your head, that is. Motorcyclists in India have been begging for a motorcycle like this for years on end – quick, crisp handling, great-looking and with brand value to boot. It’s the cohesiveness of the package that brings the whole experience together. The Duke is the motorcycle equivalent of The Problem Child and you can almost spot the mischievous glint in its eyes. It isn’t just the styling that screams ‘streetfighter’, it’s the whole motorcycle. Who would’ve thought? It took the combined efforts of Bajaj and KTM to come up with a world-class motorcycle that raises the bar not just in India but on a global platform.

SERVE WITH GARNISH AND SALT TO TASTE

Salt to rub it in, come to think of it. You’d think that with a motorcycle so good, there’s bound to be a catch. If a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is, right? Wrong.

For all its awesomeness, it’s priced – introductorily at least – at Rs 1.18 lakh, ex-Delhi, undercutting the closest competitor (not a rival in the true sense; both achieve different objectives) by nearly thirty grand! That’s a huge margin and essentially, a milestone in Indian motorcycling history. Sure, some might argue that its focus is narrow but I look at it as a good thing. Like we made films that had to have everything – action, humour, romance, drama, dance and what have you – for too long, we expected our motorcycles to do everything too, even if it meant expecting contradictory things (not that we could tell anyway). Now though, it feels like we’ve grown up, understanding what we want and here’s a motorcycle that reflects just that. That it’s mastered the art of cooking Japanese is just an added advantage, then.