KTM 125 Duke First Ride Review
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Is KTM's new 125 Duke just an overpriced 125cc motorcycle, or does it actually make sense as the new entry-level Duke?
KTM’s introduction in India brought about a new wave of performance motorcycling without one needing to spend exorbitant amounts of money for their two-wheeled thrills. The 200 Duke was just the tip of the iceberg as they followed it up with the 390 Duke and the RC twins. The 250 Duke also brought in some much-needed middle ground between the two nakeds. However, for some, the manic nature was a bit much to handle. More importantly, parents were hesitant to buy something like the 200 for their college-going ward. Plus, the cheapest KTM, now with ABS, costs Rs 1.60 lakh (ex-showroom Delhi) and thus is pushing towards the two lakh rupee mark on-road. KTM needed something cheaper. It needed something in the Rs 1.1 lakh - Rs 1.2 lakh mark, a price point the 200 Duke was originally sold for. Luckily, it had the 125 Duke in its kitty. It fits the bill perfectly. But just how good is the new baby Duke?
For international markets, the 125 Duke gets the same styling as the 2017 390 Duke. But considering that KTM wanted this baby Duke to be the gateway into the brand and not be priced at an extreme premium, they have opted to stick with the Duke’s previous-generation (MY16) styling. That means it would be hard for anybody to distinguish the 125 Duke from the 200. Apart from the graphics on the tank, there is nothing that one can pinpoint on either to separate the two.
The design in itself doesn’t feel too dated. I am still very much awed by the cuts and streaks. Given that the main customer for the 125 is meant to be of college-going age, there’s a good chance that he or she would find this bike attractive, and it still stands out amongst standard commuters and scooters which litter college campuses. It has the same orange-black combinations that KTM loves to play around with. I love the orange rims which come as standard.
Once you climb aboard the 125 Duke, it is familiar territory. The wide flat bars, the 818mm tall seat height, and the rear-set footpegs are exactly at the same position as the 200 Duke. You do have to reach forwards to get to the bars but it is not as much as the new 390.
The seat foam is still a bit stiff and I could do with soft cushioning on the 125 given that its primary focus will be riding through the city. Even though I am largely built, I found enough area to move around on the rider seat.
Engine and performance
This is the new bit on offer as the bike is propelled by a 124.7cc single-cylinder liquid-cooled engine. In fact, the 200’s motor is a bored out unit from this very same engine with minute changes in the mechanicals. It may feel that the 14.5PS and 12Nm on tap might feel a bit low for a KTM. But you have got to remember that this is still a 125cc motorcycle. And at least the power figures match 150cc motorcycles, even if the torque output falls short. The power delivery is by no means manic. It is smooth and linear with good drive all through the rev range. While the new gen 125 gets ride-by-wire, the Indian version misses out on this tech. This is obvious as KTM has to be cost-conscious with the 125 Duke.
It does get a slick 6-speed gearbox, no cost-cutting there. But the motor’s natural and friendly nature of not being too free revving along with the slightly conservative gear ratios mean you do not have to work the transmission furiously on the 125. Slot her in sixth and you can ride the bike around town at 40-45kmph, stress-free. Surprising, isn’t it? In fact, you enjoy a healthy power surge until the 10,000rpm mark post which the limiter kicks in just a couple of hundred revolutions later. If it is speeds that you crave, I did see 116kmph on the speedo. But that was with a little bit of help from gravity heading into the big bowl at the Bajaj’s test track. Down the main straight, it did a speedo indicated 105kmph, but again strong headwinds hampered any further progression. We will have to find out how much she will exactly do once we get our hands on the bike in the city and our lighter and aero-efficient testers get a crack at the motorcycle.
There is a small niggle here. When riding hard, you will feel a significant loss of momentum as you shift into sixth as the final cog is significantly tall. The sixth gear is there to aid fuel efficiency and as a whole it does take away from the gutsy performance it puts up so far. Even for that matter, the clutch operation forces you to slip the clutch and not dump it like other KTMs to get moving swiftly. Its orientation is not to pull off crazy wheelies right from the word go.
It does have a sweet exhaust note, though. There is the traditional KTM sound in there but it feels a lot more refined compared to any of its larger siblings. Even the motor as a whole has very few vibrations, and the buzz that one experiences from a KTM is virtually absent.
Ride and handling
We have experienced the basic foundations of the 200 Duke and what it offers is more than enough to keep us grinning from ear to ear around twisting hill roads. Thankfully, there is no cost-cutting here either and KTM offers the same capable trellis chassis which is sprung by means of a 43mm USD fork and preload adjustable monoshock unit at the rear, both designed by WP.
And surprisingly, there is as much, if not more, of that grinning experience here as the calm motor allows you to exploit the chassis’ capabilities further. While tipped over, there are no nervous moments on the 125 caused by hamfistedness with the throttle, which could arise on the 200. The 125 Duke does allow you to learn your trade better than the 200 and hone your skills as a rider. I am refraining from commenting on the ride quality as the test ride took place at the smooth-as-silk Bajaj test track.
One does have to commend the MRF Revz radials for allowing us to keep faith in them when finding that extra degree of lean angle. Although we rode on a super grippy track surface, I am sure that they will hold their own out in the real world.
Even the braking setup remains the same. A twin-piston radially mounted caliper chomps down on a 300mm rotor at the front while you have to make do with a single piston caliper operating on a 230mm disc at the rear. Braking units are provided by Bybre. You do get single channel ABS which is not highly intrusive but once again since we were riding on a track, it would be best to reserve our judgement on the same for when we get the bike in the real world.
The 125 Duke has been one of the best learner bikes in the international markets and we can clearly see why. The engine does have performance in its DNA but it is delivered in a tamer manner. Couple that with a competent chassis setup, the 125 Duke will be great for those who want to start sport riding. And it does fairly well in the looks department. So that is great for college-goers. But what about their parents? They will take solace in the fact that even though it is a KTM, their ward will not hurt himself or herself by riding something that he or she is not yet skilled to ride. KTM India claims that the 125 Duke will return about 42-45kmpl. Another factor that the parents will be happy to hear.
That is not to say that this bike is only for the teenaged rider. Experienced riders who want the KTM package but find the 200 to be a bit too freaky for their tastes will appreciate this motorcycle tremendously. However, at the end of the day, this bike is clearly shouting its learner intentions and with it, the KTM spirit is somewhat subdued.
At Rs 1.18 lakh (ex-showroom Delhi), the 125 Duke makes a good case for itself as KTM has once again managed to occupy the space that the 200 once used to. With this pricing, KTM India hopes that the sales of the 125 Duke will help it eclipse that of the 200 and it has the right makings of it doing so too.