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World Exclusive! KTM Duke 200 review!


Nothing succeeds like success, and KTM’s achievement, in the model’s first six months in the marketplace since its spring 2011 debut, in selling no less than 9,370 examples of its new 125 Duke four-stroke single-cylinder entry-level hotrod manufactured in India by its partner (and 39.30% shareholder), Bajaj Auto, has proved that the shrewd gamble made by KTM president Stefan Pierer and his colleague Rajiv Bajaj in developing such a bike is paying off. Big time.

For the duo’s dare in producing a range of cool, affordable, entry-level bikes which, in showcasing the youthful KTM brand image, will help attract the next generation of European riders to choose motorcycling over other forms of leisure pursuit, from wakeboarding to mountain bikes, digital entertainment to rock-climbing, has so far proved a smart move. “In my opinion, this the biggest single challenge for today’s motorcycle manufacturers - how can we direct our future products towards a younger customer?” says Stefan Pierer. “The main thing is to get young people on motorcycles for the first time – then we can try to get them to keep on riding, preferably with KTM, as they progress through life and up the capacity scale.”

Creating the 125 Duke has successfully addressed that objective in terms of KTM’s most youthful entry-level target group, which has developed as a result of the new EU regulations which allow 16-year olds to ride 125cc bikes with a maximum horsepower of 11kW/15bhp. But it’s interesting that KTM dealer statistics show an even 50/50 split in 125 Duke buyers between 16-18 year-olds, and 18+ customers. This shows the concept works for older riders, too – perhaps including returnees to two wheels, or car drivers who want something cooler and more fun than a scooter to convert to. In any case, the new downsized Duke has been the first fruit in terms of hard product of the link between the second-largest motorcycle manufacturers in both India and Europe, which has been progressively strengthened ever since November 2007 when Bajaj Auto took an initial 14.5% stake in KTM.

But now the time has come to introduce the next model in KTM’s growing family of made-in-India street singles, the 200 Duke which made its debut at the EICMA Show in Milan in November, having been developed in parallel with the 125 version. “From the beginning it was clear that the 200 Duke would be made for the Indian and other developing markets, where the 125 is not so interesting, because there isn’t the low-power legislation that we have in Europe,” says Andreas Wimmer, 37, KTM’s project leader for all street singles, up to and including the 690 model range. “So we developed both models in tandem with each other using a common platform, so that the chassis and almost all the running gear are shared by both bikes, and the engine is essentially the same, except for the cylinder head, valves, piston and crankshaft assembly, and throttle body. But, without the restrictions imposed by the EU regulations, this has allowed us to produce a bike with 73% more engine performance, but weighing exactly the same as the 125. I think this makes it 100% more fun!”

Could be – but there’s only one way to find out, and that was to take the keys of one of the pre-production prototypes, and head off on an exclusive 100km first ride on KTM’s muscled-up mini-mono through the hills and valleys surrounding its Mattighofen factory. Like the 125, this bigger-engined variant was primarily developed in India on the basis of an Austrian design, with input from KTM engineers in Mattighofen. This took place in Bajaj Auto’s own magnificent standalone 165-acre Akurdi R&D setup 20km north of its Pune HQ – a facility fully on a par in terms of size, facilities and technology with, for example, Harley-Davidson’s 217,000ft² Capitol Drive Product Development Center in Milwaukee. At Akurdi, more than 900 staff, including over 600 engineers, work under the direction of Bajaj Auto’s R&D boss Abraham ‘Joe’ Joseph in developing the range of models flowing off the company’s Chakan factory production lines, whose 1,100-strong workforce will produce a record annual 4,000,000-plus vehicles in its financial year ending March 31, 2012.


To produce the 200 Duke’s liquid-cooled twin overhead cam four-valve single-cylinder motor, robustly engineered for durability as well as performance, the Bajaj/KTM R&D team bored and stroked the 125cc version’s 58 x 47.2 mm dimensions to 72 x 49 mm, for a capacity of 199.5cc. As with the smaller engine, KTM took lessons learnt in developing their highly-stressed 250 motocross engine as the basis for producing the Duke motor, whose four-valve cylinder head with larger paired 28.5mm inlet valves (against 27mm on the 125) and smaller 24mm exhausts (25mm on the smaller engine), still set at a 29.5° total included angle, is very similar to that of KTM’s 250EXC-F four-stroke offroader. The crankcase, six-speed transmission, radiator, airbox, and silencer are all unchanged from the 125 Duke, but the exhaust headers are a larger diameter, and the catalyst is bigger, says Wimmer, who admits his Austrian R&D team has successfully run a 250EXC-F engine installed in the 200/125 Duke’s chrome-moly trellis frame, for even more performance! Just to see, you understand….

However, the step up in output from the 125’s Euro-strangled 11kW/15bhp peak output at 9,500rpm to the new 200 Duke’s 19kW/26bhp, delivered at higher peak revs of 10,000 rpm, already produces a significant increase in power that transforms the KTM junior hotrod into a serious piece of riding kit. Nice as the 125 Duke is to carve street corners and tool around town on, it’s more of a city bike compared to the 200, which is a go-anywhere funbike with the vital added dimension of extra performance. However, it’s not so much that 73% hike in horsepower numbers than transforms the 200 motor into something that’s so much more fun, it’s the commensurate 68% lift in torque from the 125’s slightly weedy 11.8Nm at 8000 rpm, to the 200’s considerably more muscular 19.5Nm at the same revs.

OK, this isn’t exactly Harley-Davidson territory, but it does mean that with an unchanged dry weight of 122kg (134.5kg with a full 11-litre tank of fuel, with 50/50% weight distribution) acceleration is now considerably less lethargic than the 125, and may even be termed sprightly. While the six-speed gearbox has the same flawless operation as before, with a progressive-action clutch that feeds out controllably – though you must always use the clutch to change gear, however experienced you are, since clutchless upshifts are hard to perform smoothly – you don’t need to work it nearly as hard as on the smaller-engined bike, and roll-ons in the higher gears are much more responsive, and immediate, without needing to hook down a ratio and rev it hard to get any sense of zest. This’ll be a crucial feature in the Indian market, where riders resist using revs in order to save fuel, and so get used to short-shifting all the time. They’ll be happy with KTM’s provisional fuel consumption figures for the two bikes, which Andreas Wimmer reveals show an already frugal 2.9lt/100km for the 125 – and just 3.3lt/100km for the 200, in spite of the larger 38mm Dell’Orto throttle body with single top-spray injector, compared to the 125’s 33mm unit. So, 12% more fuel consumption for around 70% more power and torque, and the bikes weigh the same. Sounds a good trade-off to me.

And it is, because the extra punch makes the 200 Duke that much more invigorating to ride, with the engine literally pulling off the 1200rpm idle speed mark without excessive use of the clutch. It’s very forgiving as well as torquey, and there’s totally linear acceleration all through the revband, with an extra little kick above 6,000rpm, when revs start to pick up a bit faster. You don’t have to plan overtaking a truck quite so strategically on this bike as you must on the 125, where you need to gather momentum and time everything carefully to deal with traffic. On the 200, the extra torque means you sometimes don’t even need to kick it down a gear as you must always do on the 125, which asks you to row it along on the gear lever to get any sense of performance. Yet on the 200, there’s an even greater sense of flywheel mass than on the 125 to prevent engine revs falling away unduly as you swap gears – the 200 Duke just morphs ever more smoothly into the next ratio, one after another. And the gear selected is shown on the quite comprehensive trademark KTM dash, an important riding aid not just for beginner riders, which every manufacturer ought to offer. You can tell the 10,000rpm limiter is an artificial one, though, by the way the engine wants to keep pulling when you hit it in top gear at an indicated 127km/h. It’s been reined back presumably for reliability - it feels like it wants to rev another 2,000 revs higher, so there must be a family resemblance to KTM’s new Moto3 250cc single-cylinder race engine for next year’s new MotoGP support class!

But this liquid-cooled KTM four-stroke single motor is built in Pune, not Mattighofen, and like its 125 brother carries a forged one-piece plain-bearing crank with ball-bearing mains, with a forged steel conrod carrying a cast three-ring piston delivering an 11.5:1 compression ratio, one point lower than the 125. The chain-driven twin overhead camshafts operate the four valves by finger followers, with a single gear-driven counterbalancer which does a good job of eliminating undue vibration – even revving the willing little engine to that 10,000 rpm revlimiter doesn’t result in any real tingles. The Bosch ECU is well mapped, made in India by a subsidiary of the German firm, and no longer limits top speed to 100kph under the EU’s 11kW legislation, as on the 125. It’s fitted with a slightly larger, heavier exhaust catalyst compared to the 125 to meet Euro 3 requirements, located very cleverly between the engine and the cantilever rear shock, in a way that KTM has patented to minimise its effect on handling by compacting the motorcycle’s mass. That’s permitted by the gearbox shafts being semi-stacked, to help deliver a very compact engine unit weighing just 28kg.

That motor is installed once again as a semi-stressed component in an identical trademark trellis frame to the 125, still with relatively conservative steering geometry. The 43mm upside-down forks developed by WP in Austria, but made in India by their suspension partners Endurance, are set in the frame at a 25º head angle via forged tripleclamps, with 118mm of trail. There’s a 150mm cushion of wheel travel at both ends, to cope with rough road conditions in key target markets, and even though non-adjustable, the full-size front suspension gives added visual substance to the entry-level package, though the rear direct-action shock that’s the product of the same partnership is adjustable for spring preload, to allow for a passenger or luggage. The good-looking black-painted, Chinese-made Jingfi wheels carry a single 300 mm ByBre steel disc up front – up from 280mm on the 125, to reflect the significant extra performance, and gripped by a radially-mounted four-piston caliper, with a single-piston rear gripping the 230mm rear brake. In case you wondered - yes, ByBre is the Indian division of a certain Italian brake manufacturer, as in By Brembo….!

The 200 Duke’s potential customers in India, Brazil, and Southeast Asia who’ll be receiving deliveries first, and for whom street cred will be vital, can rest assured that the KTM will very definitely be the local mass-market king of the road. But when customers in developed markets – first Europe, then elsewhere – get hold of the bike, they’ll find that beneath the iconic Kiska Design styling, it’s a full-size motorcycle, with the substantial 810mm high seat incorporating space for a passenger delivering a pretty natural-seeming riding stance that’s comfortable even for a six-foot rider, with the pulled-back taper-section handlebar covered by orange-and-black KTM rubber grips falling naturally to hand. Really, this is a bike whose controls are light and easy to use, and thus confidence-inspiring - the way your knees tuck tightly into the cutouts in the sculptured fuel tank helps deliver a sense of control, and the upright riding stance gives plenty of confidence. The 17-inch tyres on the test bike were the same 110/70R17 front and 150/60R17 rear radials fitted as standard, specially-developed for the Dukes by MRC, India’s No.1 tyre manufacturer – the front is the first radial front tyre yet to be made in India. In cool Austrian early-winter conditions they gave adequate grip within the context of the style of riding the bike engenders, but I’ve ridden a 125 Duke in India that was shod with them, and they’re even stickier in warmer climes. Finally, that Italo-Indian brake package is excellent – it was quite a surprise how well the single radial front disc worked in spite of being so lonesome, and it showed reasonably good bite in hauling down my 84kg of personal weight from 125kph to rest in a panic stop. Engine braking is quite good, too.

Yet the 1350mm wheelbase and that rangy steering geometry give the 200 Duke substance combined with agility – it’s indeed not a minibike, but a full-size motorcycle now with added zest, that makes it even more worthy of the Duke name. And the distinctive, sonorous, great-sounding exhaust note that you hear when you thumb the electric-start button and the Duke’s twincam engine whirrs instantly into life, is just icing on the cake. Definitely deeper than the 125’s, it makes the cubed-up 200 Duke sound potent and rorty. As it is….

Production of the 200 Duke will commence early in January in Bajaj Auto’s Chakan factory, with deliveries to Indian customers beginning towards the end of that same month. European models (minus any sari-guard, front numberplate, or other Asian-market idiosyncracies) will be available in dealers from April onwards, priced at Euro 4,490 (compared to Euro 3,990 for the 125 Duke). And with KTM and Bajaj already hard at work on the 350 Duke, due to be launched a year from now and to enter production early in 2013, the steps up the staircase to single-cylinder streeetbike sales supremacy are continuously being carved. And once again, the Austro-Indian partners have created a kind of bike that nobody else can offer right now – complete with chameleon cool, but now with added zest.

Is the KTM 200 Duke really 100% more fun than its 125 kid brother? Make that 150% - as in, more than double the 73% added pep from the bigger motor. Like the man said, ain’t no substitute for cubes….