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Rating 8 8

2017 KTM 250 Duke review, road test

27th Apr 2017 11:50 am

The 250 Duke tries to bridge the gap between the 200 and the 390.

  • Make : KTM
  • Model : Duke

When KTM refreshed the Duke line-up for 2017, the 200 was barely changed at all, while the 390 got an all-out, up-to-down redo that resulted in a far more desirable and better-equipped motorcycle. The catch? A price hike that pushed its tag to Rs 2.25 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi). The 200’s price, meanwhile, remained unchanged at Rs 1.43 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi), creating a large vacuum between the two. Enter the 250 Duke, a bridge between the 200 and the 390, with power, features and pricing sitting squat between the two. That seems logical on paper but does it work well in practice?

Nicknamed the ‘Spawn of the Beast’, the 250 Duke looks like a smaller version of the 1290 Super Duke, the ‘Beast’ in question. Full of sharp lines and angles, the motorcycle looks fresh without sacrificing on the elements that make a Duke, well, a Duke. Up front, you have a single-unit headlamp (unlike the 390 and the 1290’s split units) framed by inverted devil’s horn DRLs. Crowning it is the same digital instrument cluster as seen on the earlier Dukes and RCs. As you move into profile, you have the all-new, 13.5-litre steel tank that is contoured to provide better knee grip to riders. The tank sits on a black, exposed, steel-tube trellis frame that has been modified slightly. Bolted on to this frame is a bright orange subframe which is also all new. KTM claims, this new frame centres the weight better. The seats are also new and the seating geometry has been changed by altering the seating position and the position of  the foot pegs. The 250 Duke sports an underbelly pan different from the 200’s – it is simpler and less conspicuous.

The exhaust pipe is side-mounted on the 250 Duke, unlike on the 200. It moves along the left flank of the bike, dipping groundwards into the first-stage chamber, and finishing off in a side-mounted silencer.

The 250 Duke is a very attractive bike on the whole. At 2,009mm in length, it is compact – which will come in handy when navigating the urban sprawl – but still distinctive enough to catch the attention of bystanders and passersby. The 250 Duke will be available in two paint schemes – electric orange and white. From the panels, only the two side tank ones and the front mudguard receive the different colour treatment.

The 250 Duke gets the same suspension setup as the 200 – upside-down 43mm forks up front and a swingarm-mounted monoshock round the back, both developed by WP. The front forks, though, offer only 142mm of travel, compared with the 200’s 150mm, and feature an open-cartridge setup. Stopping power is provided by a 300mm disc up front, bitted by a four-piston radial fixed caliper developed by Bybre, and a 230mm disc round the back, chomped on by a single-piston floating caliper. The 250 Duke, interestingly, also gets a slipper clutch.

The 250 Duke rides on the same MRF Revz-C1 tyres as the 200 – a 110/70 R17 tyre in the front and a 150/60 R17 tyre at the back.

The 250 Duke is powered by a 249cc, single-cylinder, liquid-cooled engine that produces 30hp at 9,000rpm and 24Nm at 7,500rpm. The engine is capable of producing that much power because of a high compression ratio of 12.5:1. The engine is mated to a six-speed gearbox (one down, five up).

In the lower revs, until about 4,000rpm, the engine is quite dead. The bulk of the power is concentrated in the mid-range, beyond 4,000rpm. From there on, until the rev limiter cuts you off at 10,500rpm, the 250 Duke feels punchy. This requires you to stay in the most appropriate gear at all times – this is not a bike where you can be lazy with your shifts; if your speed drops, downshifting is almost compulsory to avoid the engine bogging in lower revs. The 250 Duke will pull until about 115kph fairly easily; in fact, we despatched the 0-100kph sprint in 9.02sec. Progress after 115kph, however,is very gradual. It is also worth noting that the throttle is not the most responsive one around.

The gearbox is pleasingly crisp and precise. You will, almost always, slot in the right gear as you tip it up and down, with very little play on the pedal. However,  we did occasionally notice the gear slip to a false neutral when shifting between third and fourth. The gearbox experience is further enhanced by the slipper clutch. Wheel hop is considerably – though not completely – eliminated, allowing you to be more confident with downshifts. The first gear is extremely short, which is great for navigating through traffic jams. At the other end of the spectrum, the sixth gear is tall, best for cruising on open roads. In fact, while cruising on the highway, we found it necessary to downshift to the fifth for overtaking.

The exhaust note is still quite tinny, which might become annoying on longer rides. Vibrations are surprisingly well-contained in the handlebar (you will barely feel them in your hands), but they are prominently present in the foot pegs no matter what your engine speed, and less prominently in the tank.

A major problem with the engine, however, is heating. The combination of traffic conditions and the sultry Mumbai heat resulted in the engine heating up quite quickly. The radiator fan would constantly grumble into life when riding around in traffic. The problem is further worsened by the exhaust piping. The exhaust leaves the engine and winds past the left flank of the bike, and this exposed portion produces tremendous amounts of heat, raising the temperature around the engine as well as your left ankle.

The Dukes have always been about handling, and the 250 is no exception. Its chassis gives it impressive dynamic ability, making cornering almost intuitive. The wheelbase has been shortened to 1,357mm as compared to the 200’s 1,367mm, which makes the 250 very ‘flickable’. Changing direction is very easy, whether it is on back-to-back corners or while making your way through a labyrinth of traffic. In fact, this is where the 250 Duke’s handling shone brightest: it was so easy to snake through traffic jams to end up at the front to call dibs on the green signal.

The MRF Revz-C1 tyres provide decent amounts of grip on tar roads after they have heated up a bit, though grip levels are poor when they are cold and when they are being ridden on concrete roads. The rubber compound used, it seems, is still too hard to complement the handling abilities of the 250 Duke.

Stability on high speeds is okay, though we did feel the front becoming light and unsettling over imperfections encountered at high speeds.

Braking is not as effective as we would have liked. The front brake lacks bite, both initial and late, and feels spongy instead. You have to really clamp the lever down hard to pull the bike to a stop. Our braking tests revealed a 80-0kph time of 3.32sec and distance of 39.15m.

What KTM has really nailed with the 250 Duke, though, is the seating position. You are seated completely upright, with no lean-in towards the handlebars whatsoever. The pegs too have been moved behind slightly to make for a less cramped and more comfortable riding position. So, the 250 Duke will do just fine on longer rides, though we strongly suggest the fitment of a windscreen.
Ride quality, on the whole, is well-balanced. The suspension is slightly soft in its setup, which allows the 250 Duke to handle our bad roads fairly well. At low speeds, up to around 20kph, this ability does not shine so bright, but things do improve substantially as you pick up pace.

We rode the 250 Duke in both city and highway conditions, emulating what everyday riders go through as much as possible. For the city ride, we snaked through jam-packed traffic, throttled aggressively for quick overtakes and killed the engine at long signals, resulting in a final fuel-efficiency figure of 24kpl. On the highway – where we maintained a cruising speed of 80-90kph in sixth gear, downshifting for overtakes and passed typical highway situations such as truck traffic and tolls – the 250 Duke returned 41kpl. We attribute this to the sixth gear that is clearly optimised for cruising. 

The 250 Duke is quite the accomplished motorcycle, especially for city riding. First, let's talk about the styling: it looks great, distinctive and unique. Then comes the engine; it boasts a punchy mid-range. The gearbox is precise and crisp, designed to tackle urban traffic at one end of the spectrum and highway cruising at the other. What takes the cake though is the handling. The bike feels completely at home when riding in the city, whether it is zipping through traffic snarls, overtaking slow moving vehicles or just cruising on empty midnight roads. The upright riding position simply makes things better. A great bike then? Yes. A great value proposition? Well, this is where things get tricky. At Rs 1.73 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi), the 250 Duke is a good Rs 30,000 more expensive than the 200. For that extra cash, you do get 5hp more power, 5Nm more torque, slightly better handling characteristics and a slipper clutch, but performance on the road is not extravagantly better. That said, the 250 Duke, when viewed in isolation, is a well-rounded bike, great for the city and not so bad on the highway either. Thus, if you are looking for a sporty but manageable bike to start off with, and are not exactly pinching pennies, the 250 Duke might just be what you're looking for. 

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