The Indian Duke of Mattighofen
According to my hazy grasp of history, the Duke of Orange was some Dutch bloke who ended up becoming the King of England and Ireland when the Brits couldn't find another Protestant leader capable of keeping the Papists from claiming the crown.
KTM's orange-hued Duke 200 is something of a super-substitute as well. Made in India by significant KTM stakeholder, Bajaj, its origins are more Asian than Austrian, and it therefore qualifies as a European bike in brand and design only. However, Europe has definitely claimed the little Duke as one of its own. A smaller-capacity version, the Duke 125, was the best-selling motorcycle on the continent during 2011.
It only takes a glance at the Duke 200 to see why its 125cc sib has become so popular with European youth. The graphics look like the sort of graffiti that you see spray-painted on to the concrete ramps and berms of a skateboard park, and the Gerald Kiska-designed bodywork is as edgy and sharp-edged as the brushstrokes of one of Picasso's cubist paintings. The rest of the bike has the appearance of a prop from a Hollywood sci-fi blockbuster with its beefy front suspension tubes, hidden under- engine exhaust, and bridge girder- like rear swingarm. That it bears an Austrian brand seems entirely appropriate given that the same country burped up energy-drink maker and keen extreme-sport sponsor, Red Bull.
New Zealand's KTM distributor waited until the 200 became available before releasing the new learner rider-oriented Duke. They now admit that they probably should have waited a little longer given that the new LAMS regs introduced in October allow fledgling bikers to ride bikes larger than 250cc, and a Duke 350 will soon be made available. However, the 350 is unlikely to cost the $7995 fee needed to secure your seat on the 200, and this is such a compelling little bike even before the additional attractions of a 150cc-larger engine. At the time of testing, there were just six Duke 200s available in the country, all without ABS. The anti-lock function will be included in all future Duke 200 shipments, at no extra retail cost.
Plenty of surprises are in store when you ride the slender single- cylinder 138kg Duke for the first time. A similar digital display to that fitted to KTM's flagship RC8R sportsbike welcomes you with the slogan "ready to race" when you flick on the ignition. Talk about putting you in the mood, obviously the Austrians have yet to discover political correctness.
The next surprise comes when you let out the clutch, and discover that it's the same ratios as the 125 that deliver the 200's twice-as-powerful maximum outputs of 26bhp and 19Nm to the rear wheel. First feels tall enough to climb trees, and you run through the next five upshifts in quick-fire fashion. In town, you're often using fifth just to relax the hyperactive engine.
Out on the highway, sixth is often selected by the time the Duke hits 80kmh, and you begin to wonder whether it will run out of puff by 100. The next big surprise is that it doesn't, for from 8000rpm the engine easily kicks on to the 10,100 crankshaft revolutions where it develops its maximum power. According to my calculator, the little Duke is capable of hitting 135kmh in top before the rev limiter instantly shuts it down at 11,000rpm.
The performance of the sporty little single is definitely capable of paying the cheques that the Duke's looks and over-engineered chassis have written out. In acceleration testing conducted for NZ Autocar magazine, the Duke 200 cut out the 0-100kmh sprint in 8.1 seconds, while the 80-120kmh overtaking sprint took 9.3. Honda's similarly priced yet 50cc larger CBR250R took 9.3 and 10.8 seconds respectively to achieve the same speeds (but then, it is 22kg heavier).
Naturally a rolling chassis built to take a 350cc engine is more than capable of taming the power of a 200, yet there is a further surprise to be encountered with the KTM's steering. It's slower to turn than expected, thanks to some fairly conservative geometry that may be targeted at the extra speed that the 350 version will be capable of. However, don't get the idea that this bike needs huge rider inputs. It's still nimble and agile, and urban manoeuvres are enhanced by a generous helping of steering lock. As for India's contributions, the brakes get a tick while the tyres get a minus. A change in tyres and overall gearing would both be easy improvements to the Duke.
Our Indian-made KTMs all get returned to the factory in Mattighofen, Austria, for a final check. It's a final touch intended to remove any reserve that Kiwi bike buyers may feel about purchasing a substitute.
KTM DUKE 200
Engine: 200cc liquid-cooled dohc 4-valve single with electronic fuel injection; 19.4kW (26bhp) at 10,100rpm and 19Nm at 8100.
Transmission: 6-speed gearbox, chain final drive
Frame: Steel-tube trellis frame with a cast alloy swingarm; unadjustable 43mm telescopic front forks and a preload- adjustable rear monoshock Price: $7995
Hot: Capable of making you feel 17 again thanks to cool youthful looks and willing engine.
Not: Everyone will want the coming 350 instead, uninspiring grip of "India's finest" tyres .