2011 KTM 125 Duke | First Ride

Slumdog millionaire

By Alan Cathcart, Photography by Manfred Wolf

The debut of the entry-level 125 Duke marks an entire new R&D strategy based on adapting KTM's competition-derived technology to the street, with the aim of attracting new converts to the cult of motorcycling. Engineered in Mattighofen, Austria, and built in Pune, India, the downsized Duke also stands as the first collaboration between KTM and its majority shareholder, Bajaj.

The first thing you notice about the Duke is the familial resemblance with its big, bad 690cc and 990cc siblings. You can't get this kind of cool with any other entry-level machine. As its succession of motocross and enduro championships underlines, KTM knows a thing or two about developing single-cylinder motors, and the engineers applied that experience to the Duke's 124.7cc engine. It's liquid-cooled, with a SOHC four-valve head that's almost identical to that of the shrieking DOHC 250 SX-F. The Duke's engine whirrs to life with a touch of the starter, and settles into a slightly high idle with a muffled-but-distinct thumping from the under-engine exhaust. By entry-level standards, this thing sounds like a racebike!

It lives up to that impression on the go. You don't need to rev out the motor in every gear to get a sense of speed. The engine is pretty torquey for a "little 'un," so you have the choice of surfing the torque curve and short-shifting or riding it at the 11,000-rpm limiter like the Red Bull Rookies do on their KTM 125cc Grand Prix two-strokes.

Riding the Duke in the hills and valleys around KTM's headquarters showed that the 125 will be king of the road in the entry-level class. For a start, it's a full-sized motorcycle that delivers a comfortable and relatively upright riding stance.

Handling is worthy of the Duke name, and Bajaj deserves credit for helping KTM source Indian suppliers able to produce parts to European standards. The frame is a steel-trellis assemblage in typical KTM fashion, and the suspension is made by Endurance, the Indian affiliate of WP. The black-painted wheels carry braking components from Bybre-again, the Indian arm of a well-known European company, Brembo. The radial-mount single front disc brake works surprisingly well, quickly hauling down my 180 pounds of non-target-customer weight from the Duke's top speed of 75 mph. Engine braking is quite good, too, presumably thanks to the 12.6:1 compression ratio.

Aside from style, which the Duke has in spades, its most important asset is its ease of use. The transmission is flawless in operation, with a progressive-action clutch that feeds out controllably. The dashboard is likewise communicative and easy to decipher, and features a gear indicator-an important riding aid for beginners and something every manufacturer ought to offer on all streetbikes, irregardless of intended use.

With so much going for the diminutive Duke, it's a shame it isn't slated for sale in the USA. But the 125's chassis was built with bigger motors in mind, and slipping the rest of the 250 SX-F's engine in under that four-valve head would certainly make it more appealing to American newbs. Will it come Stateside in quarter-liter format? We can only hope.

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