OPINION: Want to ride the KTM 200 Duke? Er . . . I have very fond memories of my first encounter with the original Duke, back in the mid-1990s.
It was a midsize supermotard that spun off KTM's dirt expertise, and used off-road riding geometry but with fat and grippy road rubber wrapped round smaller wheels.
It was a hooligan with a taste for bendy roads and snappy acceleration, but a 200? Without the oomph to match the dynamics, what's the point - especially when the recent LAMs legislation lets learners ride bigger machines.
Still, it's my job (sigh) to ride what I'm given. Which is lucky because, by golly, does this Dukelet punch above its weight.
Partly that's the after-market Akrapovic pipe the KTM distributor fitted to the standard cutoff under-frame item, for it imparts a fruitier note to the soundtrack. But that's not all of it.
For a start, the bike looks like its bigger siblings, every millimetre a purposeful back-road and urban hooligan splashed with in-your-face graphics, complete with hi-tech digital instruments up front.
And it oozes the brand's pedigree. KTM was born from Kraftfahrzeuge Trunkenpolz Mattighofen, a metal-working shop opened in Mattighofen in Austria by engineer Hans Trunkenpolz in 1934. He wasn't busy enough, clearly, and a new direction resulted in the company's first motorcycle, the R100, rolling off the line in 1951. Two years later the company changed its name to Kronreif, Trunkenpolz, Mattighofen (KTM), with 20 staff building three bikes a day - and it was then it first entered motorsport events.
Just a year later, it won the Austrian 125 national title and, in 1956, took a gold at the International Six Days cross-country race.
By 1973, KTM was producing 250 motocross and enduro bikes, and snared its first world championship and GP wins. Scanning the files, the brand looks busy - it implemented Pro Lever rear suspension to its motocrossers, made radiators and sold them to competitors such as Suzuki and built parts. But, when scooter and moped demand dropped, sales plummeted and the firm was declared insolvent in 1991. Banking management split the brand into four arms, manufacturing radiators, bicycles, tooling - and motorbikes.
The first Duke appeared in 1994, and arrived in New Zealand at a time when the brand was associated almost entirely with off-road machines, but it proved a bike with a race-bred history, dirty dynamics and small road wheels could make a bit of a riding weapon.
So it wasn't KTM's history I was thinking about as I short-shifted up the six-speed gearbox, discovering a tall first gear and a stronger-than-expected pull at round-town speeds to ease my passage through traffic.
On to the highway - the bike proving remarkably comfortable thanks to a well- designed seat - and into the hills, where this Duke really came into its own.
Short-shifting up the gearbox you'll hit sixth gear long before 100 arrives - though there's still some speed in reserve.
The trick is to keep the bike in its sweet spot - the modest 19Nm torque and 19kW power figures peaking at 8100 and 10,100rpm, figures at which it's vibrating like a happy bandsaw, though you'll barely notice as you brake and snick down a gear, then tip those bars into the next bend, the bike specialising at carving corners too tight for most machines.
You won't find explosive acceleration here - there's not enough oomph from the willing little single, but it's brisk enough to surprise, and combine that and the clever gearing with such effortless dynamics and you'll find a bike tailor-built to our gnarliest back roads.
This Akrapovic pipe sure honed the appeal - as it should at $1300.
KTM is bargaining on owners spending more than the $7999 purchase price with a wide range of accessories to hone your hooligan. This test example included hand guards ($305), a more attenuated number plate carrier ($460), tank pad ($50), brake fluid reservoir ($100), chain guard ($94), a different front light mask ($420) and lighting kit that, for $245, fits neon light strips around the tank cover, operated by a pull-push knob mounted just under the front-right indicator, and best appreciated after dark.
The single nod to common sense is the set of "crash pads", rubber buffers fitted to the hubs to protect your investment should you drop it.
Perhaps it's fortunate the bike doesn't cost much to run; despite all my revving and throttle-blipping the instruments revealed a 3.2l/100km average, in part a result of the bike's extremely frugal thirst on my highway leg back to KTM headwaters. With an 11-litre tank you won't be stopping at the pump too often.
And that's not just good for your wallet, but your tonsils. Whenever I stopped, I was asked when I was taking the Duke off road. So closely does it resemble a hard-core dirt bike, despite its modest seat height and cast road wheels, that no-one would believe it wasn't one I'd just fiddled with. I wasted a lot of energy explaining the motard concept.
Buyers might want to await the likely 390 Duke, or hang out for their full licence and the harder-core 690 Duke. But smaller folk shouldn't ignore this 200 variant, or the incoming 2013 ABS-equipped model that's otherwise identical and will sell for the same price. Either will unlock city gridlock, deliver Sunday fun on the Woodville Saddle Rd and massive attitude outside your favourite cafe, all while running on the smell of an oily rag.
AT A GLANCE
KTM 200 Duke
How much? $7999 Engine, transmission: 200cc single-cylinder four-stroke with six-speed transmission Power and torque: 19kW at 10,100rpm, 19Nm at 8100rpm
How big? Length/width/height unavailable, 800mm seat height, 1367+-15mm wheelbase, 129.5kg without fuel, 11-litre tank
Suspension and brakes: Upside-down fork with radially mounted callipers front, rear monoshock, front 300mm disc brakes with two-pot calliper, 230mm rear disc with one- pot floating calliper
Wheels: 17-inch cast wheels front and rear with 110/70-R17 and 150/60-R17 tyres
For: Nimble back-road and city bike with hard-core heritage, great looks, and dimensions to suit a smaller rider.
Against: When new LAMs legislation means you can access bigger machines why choose a 200?
- © Fairfax NZ News