Getting out into the first section of the Chakan test track inside Bajaj Auto's facility, the KTM 125 Duke is intuitively quick to dip into the first set of quick left and right hand corners. And as the next immediate set of tight left and right handers appear, the bike is taut and planted, and the MRF Revz tyres do a commendable job of gripping the track surface, leaned over or under hard braking, and then I realise how much I had underestimated the baby Duke before setting off from Delhi earlier that morning. Preconceived notions like, "how much performance will a 125 have", "Oh, it's a street bike after all," and "a 125 cc Duke at the end of the day," made me hurriedly pack my riding kit with full street gear - a pair of riding denims, an armoured mesh jacket, and leather touring boots. "After all, Pune is going to be warm during the day," I had thought, while packing.
Even before completing a first full lap, I started missing my full track riding gear, safely tucked away in a cupboard back home. One thing was immediately apparent - the KTM 125 Duke may be the baby in the Duke family, but it sure loves a set of corners and will tempt you, cajole you, and make you take liberties you will never ever dream of on any other 125 cc motorcycle, or even a segment above. Of course, at ₹ 1.18 lakh (ex-showroom Delhi), the KTM 125 Duke isn't exactly any 125 cc commuter motorcycle, or close to commuter motorcycle pricing. But, if you're thinking only in engine displacement terms, maybe it's not even fair to judge the the125 Duke by what it offers, for the price it commands. It's much, much more than just any 125 cc motorcycle.
How does it perform then?
The KTM 125 Duke has a 124.7 cc, single-cylinder, liquid-cooled DOHC engine which puts out 14.3 bhp of maximum power at 9,250 rpm. That power output is comparable to several 150-160 cc sporty, premium commuter motorcycles. Not exactly backslapping performance, and what the baby Duke lacks is also sheer pulling power - with just 12 Nm of torque peaking at over 8,000 rpm, so you need to keep the motor spinning fast to nudge it into urgency. But it loves being revved, and even when the rev limiter kicks in at 10,000 rpm, you will be rewarded with a welcome sense of refinement and smoothness in acceleration and engine feel, if not outright performance like its bigger siblings.
Accelerating through the slick six-speed gearbox after the bowl at the far end of the track and on the long-ish back straight, the digital speedometer quickly climbed up to the high 90s, but took some time to climb upwards of 100 kmph. We saw 116 kmph on just one high speed test run before it was time to slow down. But hey, you wouldn't want to be doing those speeds on the 125 Duke, and it will take some real estate to reach those speeds. Practically speaking, the KTM 125 Duke will settle in at a stress-free 90-92 kmph, at a nice 7,500 rpm, for a steady cruise on a highway if you ever want to stretch its legs on a longish ride. But for the most part, it's built to tackle in-city duties; like the daily dash to college and back, and catching up to share some pre-exam notes with your classmates, or the occasional coffee date. Sixty to around 80 kmph is where its sweet spot is, and you will delight in how smooth, and how refined the engine feels.
If you look at the engine, the KTM 125 Duke's motor doesn't look as small as a conventional 125 cc single-cylinder engine. Yes, it's liquid-cooled, and it actually forms the base to be bored out to the bigger 200 cc singe-cylinder engine of the KTM 200 Duke. Apart from the bore and stroke, everything else, from the gearbox, clutch, brakes and suspension are shared with the KTM 20 Duke, even the steel trellis frame. And it's a chassis which is designed to support engines with more than double the firepower. So, the 125 Duke will tempt you to grab a handful of gas every single time a corner comes up. It's planted, stable, and taut enough to make new riders hone their riding skills quickly to upgrade to more powerful motorcycles.
And then, this is the first 125 cc motorcycle to have 43 mm upside down forks, preload-adjustable monoshock, both from WP, and disc rotors on both wheels, gripped by Brembo's Indian-made brand, ByBre (By Brembo), and standard single-channel ABS. That's a level of kit even the very best 155-160 cc premium commuter motorcycles cannot boast of. So, if it's top-notch components, and premium bits you're looking for in a 125 cc, the baby Duke has got it all. But while performance may not be droolworthy, the KTM 125 Duke begins to grow on you. The bike's excellent dynamics will make you want to get some more saddle time over a few more series of corners; at least it did to me!
What about the design?
Up close, the KTM 125 Duke looks anything like a 125 cc motorcycle you are used to seeing on the streets. It's a proper sized naked which has the exact same dimensions as its bigger brother, the KTM 200 Duke. The KTM 125 Duke looks almost exactly like its elder brother, the KTM 200 Duke. That's because more than 95 per cent of the components are the same. So, the 125 Duke shares its chassis, suspension, wheels, instrumentation and even body panels with the 200 Duke. And while in international markets, the 125 Duke gets more contemporary styling, including full-LED headlight and design-inspired by the new 390 Duke, in India, we get the old model, presumably to keep economies of scale with the 200 Duke, and to keep costs in check.
But the KTM Duke family has always had sporty and sharp design, and even though its design may be slightly dated, in the international market, in pure road presence alone, there's nothing that even comes close to the 125 Duke in that department in the 125 cc motorcycle segment in India. The only differentiator is the subtle '125' decals on the fuel tank which leave no doubt that this is the baby Duke. Fit and finish is quite good, and if there's anything not to be mistaken, it's the 'premium feel' the bike has, right from the switchgear, to the handlebar, and the finish and material of the seat. And by the way, the rider's perch is wide enough to be comfortable, and has plenty of room to move around when you're hustling the bike around a set of corners.
The last word
The KTM 125 Duke is a near-perfect bike to have some fun on, if you're a young rider who's just got your driver's licence, or if you're looking for a sporty and stylish motorcycle which is accessible, yet has unintimidating performance to get to college and back. And this is the target audience KTM India seems to have in mind; young adults who will be getting their first set of wheels, but may have a hard time convincing their parents to let them go berserk on a 43 bhp motorcycle capable of very quick and very dangerous speeds.
The 125 Duke offers similar road presence, fantastic road manners and a suitably entertaining personality for young riders to hone their skills to graduate to bigger and more performance oriented bikes. And being a 125 cc, it may well be passed off as a relatively 'safe' option, at least while convincing the parent. The only problem is the price; at ₹ 1.18 lakh (ex-showroom Delhi), the KTM 125 Duke is not exactly affordable, but considering the KTM 200 Duke is at least ₹ 30,000 more expensive, the 125 Duke certainly offers a relatively affordable and accessible entry into the KTM family.
But convincing Dad to part with that kind of money, that too, on a 125 cc, when you can get a slightly bigger, and more practical motorcycle in the 150-160 cc class, could be a bit of an issue. But then, not everyone wants to be part of the herd, and there are those who want to be seen differently, even if they are starting out on their first set of two wheels, and that is the niche audience the KTM 125 Duke is likely to attract. How it does commercially will be interesting to see, considering it's still an expensive proposition, but that aside, it certainly is a fun bike, so next time, I get to babysit the 125 Duke, I'll have my riding leathers ready, and maybe even an extra pair of knee pucks!
(Photography: Pawan Dagia)