Bajaj's Pulsar needs little introduction, being the model that sealed the company’s position on the bike manufacturer map. And the KTM 200 Duke is a seriously sporty streetbike we've already rated highly and can’t stop gushing over, thanks to Bajaj and KTM's generous, no-compromise specifications for this bike. So this is a duel between two top-class, seemingly similar streetbikes, using related engines and born of comparable ideals.
The Bajaj Pulsar 200NS and KTM 200 Duke make handsome naked streetbikes. The Pulsar sports smoother lines than the funky, more sharply styled Duke. In keeping with their diverse roles, the NS comes with a substantial front mudguard, while the KTM’s dinky unit betrays its out-and-out sporty nature. The Pulsar provides better instrumentation that is much easier to read, as we found ourselves struggling to see the data on the compact 200 Duke readout.
Comprehensive, crisp and illuminated switches are standard issue on both bikes, as are nice control levers and mirrors. Both naked bikes expose much of their frame sections, the Pulsar displaying twin steel spars where the Duke shows off trellis tubing. There’s a generous sprinkling of alloy on both motorcycles. Both motorcycles provide split seats, and the Pulsar’s go a notch up for feeling plusher. Both motorcycles come with high, smart-looking tail sections, the Pulsar showing off an alloy number plate mount.
One heart, double roles
The Pulsar 200NS and 200 Duke have similar liquid-cooled, four-stroke, short-stroke 199.5cc engine platforms, with common bore and stroke dimensions, albeit with a raft of well thought out changes. The major difference is the Pulsar combustion chamber lighting up on every power stroke via a trio of spark plugs, but losing out for using a carburettor where fuel-injection is standard on the Duke. Additionally, the NS drives its four valves via a single overhead camshaft, where the 200 Duke provides its quartet a dual overhead camshaft. Peak power outputs are 23.2bhp at 9500rpm from the Pulsar, and 25bhp at 10000rpm on the KTM.
Both engines are smooth and rev-happy, always goading their riders to pull them high into their powerbands. Both bikes enjoy well weighted, progressive clutches, and six- speed, one-down, five-up gearboxes that shift smoothly via toe shift levers. The Pulsar uses taller gear ratios where the 200 Duke goes with short gearing, giving it an ‘I’m high on steroids’ feel.
The KTM is a faster motorcycle, its shorter gearing helping it eclipse the Pulsar with nippy traffic-signal getaways. It’s a quicker accelerating bike and likewise, true top speeds have the Pulsar coming in runner up.
Comfort Vs handling
The 200NS goes the Yamaha YZF-R15 route with a twin-spar-type steel frame, while the 200 Duke uses a tubular trellis. The Pulsar uses more conventional telescopic front forks, where the Duke deploys top-drawer, fat upside-downs. At the rear, both motorcycles ride on linkage-free monoshocks, the KTM being one of few Indian manufactured bikes to use a lightweight, cast-alloy swingarm. The 200NS is clearly more comfortable. Both bikes come with firm ride quality. The Duke is decidedly sportier. Sharper handling is its forte, the wide bars helping the front end impart an effortless, lighter and more confident feel. Both bikes love to corner, and do so on rails, although the KTM holds the advantage. Helping it is way more grip offered by softer-compound MRF radial tyres. Both motorcycles provide good brakes. Fuel economy is likewise adequate for the performance on tap, the triple plug equipped Pulsar 200NS managing a slightly better overall 38.5kpl to the 200 Duke’s 37kpl.
Two bikes, a unanimous verdict
This has been a hotly contested match, with plenty of give and take, but in the end, neither bike’s able to leave the other any significant margin behind. True to its Pulsar heritage, few streetbikes are as sporty, still comfortable and practical enough to commute on as the value-for-money 200NS. Likewise, the 200 Duke is a more focussed sportsbike, its superior specifications justifying the price premium it commands.
Read the full story and far more detail in the Autocar India August 2012 issue.