KTM 125 Duke review, test ride
21st Dec 2018 5:00 pm
A more affordable entry point into KTM ownership, does the 125 Duke offer the same kind of thrills?
Fun motorcycles never go down well with parents. Their apprehensions with finding you bruised and battered, or behind bars, hold merit, but don’t you just hate it when they underestimate your riding capabilities? The little hope of them giving in to your dreams diminishes entirely if they’re the ones writing you a cheque. So, what’s the cheat code to this age-old dilemma? KTM seems to have readied an answer in the form of this very familiar-looking motorcycle you see here – the 125 Duke.
KTM’s Indian history started with the firebrand 200 Duke, and the 390 Duke that followed (along with the faired, RC siblings of both models) simply struck every wannabe-performance motorcycle’s ambitions straight in the kneecaps. Over the course of seven years, however, KTM’s Indian motorcycles have steadily become pricier. That has pushed the brand out of the affordable class of motorcycles and the 125 Duke has been launched to provide a lower entry point into the mad, neon orange world of these terrific Austrian pocket rockets.
First, let’s answer the one question you’ve all been itching to ask – why is a 125cc motorcycle so expensive? KTM’s version of the answer is, it’s exactly the same motorcycle as the 200 Duke, just less powerful. In other words, it has the exact same cycle parts, bodywork and features – all of which is pretty premium stuff – as the 200. This means you get those snazzy alloys, a WP upside-down fork, very sharp disc brakes at either end, a proven trellis frame, fuel injection... the list, as you can tell, is a long one.
KTM also decided to stick with the ABS system that was available on the international-spec 125, instead of investing in devising a combined-braking mechanism that is now the norm for sub-125cc bikes in India. What they have done to save costs, is remove the ABS from the rear wheel, making it a single- channel system, as on the 200 Duke.
So, to summarise, what you get with the 125 Duke is a motorcycle that’s more feature-rich than most 200s out there, and, so, the price tag is justified. Having said that, I feel KTM could have been competitive with the pricing, even if not dramatically so because asking your parents to part with Rs 1.18 lakh is still not going to be a conversation littered with laughter and jovial back-slapping.
When I found myself in the 125’s saddle one fine morning, I was keen to not be let down. A quick thumb of the starter brought to life a familiar, but softer exhaust note and the light throttle sent the revs shooting up in an instant, just like all good KTMs. The riding geometry remains commanding but is still a bit cramped for tall or generously proportioned riders (I classify as both). However, the Dukes we’ve been sold so far have offered thrills that make you forgive just about every little imperfection. The 125 Duke is less promising in this regard. With the 124.7cc, liquid-cooled, DOHC unit producing 14.5hp and 12Nm of torque, it’s wasteful to expect a ticking bomb on two wheels. It isn’t one. At 148kg, it weighs exactly the same as the 200 Duke, so there’s no weight deficit bonus tucked away either. So what exactly happens when you’re let loose on a track?
Within the first ten minutes astride it, I’d mentally written it off. "It feels like a 390 Duke on limp-home mode," I told myself, but a couple of laps later – having recalibrated to the relatively lower speeds than I’ve ever experienced on this track and on all other KTMs – I began to have fun. There’s still that characteristic rush of acceleration and crispness to the throttle response, but it felt like I was watching a YouTube video of my manic memories of the 200 Duke, but in slow motion. It accelerates up to nearly 90 kph in an uninterrupted, energetic and linear way, with the gearbox helping with quick shifts; going beyond that takes perseverance though. Down the long straight, I made my way up to 105kph with a strong headwind, although on a shorter straight (now with a tailwind for support) I did catch a glimpse of 115kph on the speedo. A shift to 6th gear brings about a momentary dip in progress and revs, and I preferred to stay in 5th, with the throttle pinned open. This bike definitely needs more room and a lighter rider to extract its best, but the overall performance predominantly belongs to the city.
While you trick your parents into buying you a ‘110kph only’ motorcycle, what you shouldn't tell them is just how fantastic the Duke is on the dynamics front. The chassis does tremendous favours to what could have been an entirely unexciting motorcycle, especially when you consider its lineage. The result is, you can lean the 125 Duke over to its side at even its top speed, and you can brake as late and as hard as you like, assured by the confidence all those premium components lend it. By the end of my stint with the 125, I couldn’t resist asking the friendly KTM guys for just five more minutes of riding time, so that should tell you something about this bike’s character.
However, it’s only reasonable that many of you cannot substitute speed with anything else, and in that context, you can do a lot better with Rs 1.18 lakh. The TVS Apache RTR 200 4V and the Bajaj Pulsar 200NS are cheaper and a little more money can buy you a Yamaha R15 as well. However, none of the above-mentioned motorcycles are as slow as the 125 Duke and, presumably, none of them will be as fuel-efficient either. And that means, we finally have a fun motorcycle your parents won’t mind paying for, but just ensure they never read this review, alright?