Riding the KTM 125 Duke in Japan

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The KTM 125 Duke sets out to best dominant Japanese rivals at their own game — affordable, appealing, exciting, small-capacity motorcycles. But, unlike traditional little bike competitors, the Duke is built in India by an Austrian company and was designed for markets outside Asia. Does it have what it needs to keep up with heavy traffic outside Tokyo and lap the Sodogaura Forest Raceway?

With only 15bhp and 8.8lb/ft of torque, you are going to abuse the single-cylinder, four-valve, DOHC motor. To keep ahead of traffic, you have to go wide open throttle pretty much everywhere. But I expected the effort, not the speed that resulted. It’s easy to forget that this little boy is seriously light weight — just 282lbs.

I managed to hit 74mph on the track’s short front straight, with plenty left to go. Keeping up with traffic on Japan’s surface streets is easy. Remember, sub-250cc bikes aren’t allowed on highways here.

The inverted WP forks and monoshock, big boy dimensions and strong design make the little Duke ride and feel bigger than any other 125. Yet it still retains their nimbleness, effortlessly flicking through the tight turns on a gymkhana course while maintaining stability through sweepers. I’m typically able to find negatives in every bike I ride, but the little KTM fought off my efforts to belittle it, braking, handling and going like a real motorcycle.

KTM sees the bike being used mostly for urban commuting, with maybe some short weekend trips to the mountains thrown in. The press kit even has a photo of a Tokyo businessman riding the Duke in a suit. It’s supposed to get you around, save you some gas and park anywhere. I am, however, doubtful of KTM’s restrained intentions, with just a bit of throttle and a slip of the hydraulic clutch, the li’l Duke went straight vertical. The Brembo-developed Bybre brakes bight strongly and allow you to slide the tail around turns or lift the rear into an endo.

The only conclusion I can draw is that the 125 Duke is actually an extraction device, intended to bring out the inner hooligan in anyone that rides it. Sure, it’s a great economical commuter, but you’re buying a bike that comes in orange or purple to have the ability to play. This is definitely not a scooter.

We’ve extensively written about the li’l KTM and its future big brothers. Hit the KTM 125 Duke tag page for all that content.

  • noone1569

    Man, I want one just to hoon on.

  • Thom

    I’ll bet more than a few find their way to the customizers shops as well . What a platform to start from !

  • http://www.thisblueheaven.com Mark D

    That is one seriously good looking bike. Can’t wait to see the 250-300cc version they’re planning.

    • http://www.cheapcycleparts.com vigor

      Is this true?

  • kneepuck

    Good god I hope they bring it stateside!

    • Kyle

      Most rumors are they’re prepping a 250 for other markets. I’d buy in a heartbeat

  • http://www.muthalovin.com the_doctor

    I think that the Dukes are the most photogenic bikes out. Goddamn, I need to commute in a suit just to be so rad.

    • noone1569

      I do, daily, on an XB12R with my Icon Variant and A* Protection backpack. I get all sorts of fun looks. Made a poor kid cry Friday on the way home =(

      • http://mdynamic.tumblr.com Mdynamic

        haha nice!

      • http://www.muthalovin.com the_doctor

        Radical. That kid probably had it coming.

    • Taco

      agreed. Can’t wait for the 250. First thing I’d do is hoon around in a suit.

  • http://greatjoballweek.blogspot.com/ Case

    The more I hear about this bike, the more I like it. The factory emissions and plate mount will almost certainly be hideous but that’s easily remedied.

  • Jose

    Dukes are cool but are not the only option.
    I have a Jinan Qingqi Super Motard 200 known as Beta Motard here in Argentina and as QLINK in USA.

    Another little and interesting bike made in Asia by a Chinese Suzuki plant.

    It´s great fun and always remember me that
    “It’s more fun to ride a slow bike fast than a fast bike slow” (My other ride is a Yamaha R1 Crossplane)

    • kneepuck

      And it’s the most fun to ride a fast bike fast.

      • Jose

        Maybe, But an small and “slow” bike can be fun everyday, or more often than a big race bike.

        Without taking into account that only real racers are the only ones that can take fully advantage of reply racers.

  • nymoto

    I NEED THIS BIKE. I will take the 125, be perfect around here.

  • http://www.ClevelandCycleWerks.com scottydigital

    My 250cc is more fun on the street then my 750cc Duc. I can also burn rubber on it, without getting arrested.

  • Miles Prower

    I love the race bike in picture #2. It looks very wasp-like.

    Yesterday, I rode my KTM Duke 690 for the first time this season. Having only ridden my Ducati Multistrada 1100 porker for the past couple months, it took me some time to get used to the Duke’s spazziness. I usually ride in “advanced mode” (throttle response setting “2″), but at one point, I had to stick it in “granny mode” (setting “1″) while finessing my way through a particularly pothole-stricken area. But otherwise, I had an awesome time riding my bike through the suburban (not quite rural) farmlands west of Boston.

    Duke 250 — I’d buy in a heartbeat. I’d much rather ride a small, slow bike to its limit. I’m nowhere near good enough to take advantage of bigger, faster bikes.

    • http://www.thisblueheaven.com Mark D

      Lexington and Concord? There are some awesome back roads around Walden Pond. Not sure Thoreau would approve, though…

      • Miles Prower

        Weston and Wayland. Right off the Pike — it takes 10 min to get there from Cambridge. The Sudbury River wetlands are beautiful throughout all four seasons. Sherman’s Bridge (a low, wooden bridge) is especially picturesque. And even when Water Row floods, it’s a hoot to ride. There are sections where I’ve dragged a peg at 35 MPH, and there are sections where my wife and I just cruise along two-up and enjoy the scenery. That’s my go-to area for a quick ride.

        My other go-to spot is Dover, MA. You can easily lose two hours just riding around farmland that is only 20 minutes outside of Boston.

        If I have more than a couple hours, I head out to Wachusett Reservoir and Wachusett Mountain. An hour out of Boston, but well worth it. It’s kind of like the Bear Mountain, NY of Boston — without the breathtaking cliffs below 202/6. (But also without all the insane biker traffic you get at Bear Mountain.)

  • Patrick

    The whole slow bike ridden fast argument gets repeated every time someone mentions how much fun <250 bikes are, and I get that flogging a slow bike is fun, but there is more to enjoying a powerful bike that just driving it at 10/10ths on a track. I guess I just don't understand when/why it was decided that bikes are only fun when driven at the limits of their handling and acceleration.

    • Miles Prower

      Yeah, maybe I’m overstating my love for riding a slow bike to its limits. I do love taking in the scenery too, and having a nice, smooth engine that’s barely breaking a sweat can make that experience more relaxing. (Does that make me a pansy pirate?) And more importantly, for that kind of riding, it’s necessary to have enough reserve power to take me and my passenger safely past a slower vehicle up a mountain ride. That’s why I have two motorcycles.

  • je

    Anything with an optimus prime looking exhaust cowl is cool in my book.

  • Cheese302

    looking VERY forward to a ktm 250 in the states, even this 125 i would test ride. i wonder how much it’ll cost in the states.