2019 KTM 125 Duke ABS first ride review: Sporty, responsive and easy to drive

KTM 125 Duke's gearbox shifts neatly and there are no surprises on any count.

This could be the simplest story of the year! The KTM 125 Duke is now on sale. And done! Okay, there is a little more to it than that. The KTM 125 Duke, the global picture is a very important KTM. It has always been manufactured by Bajaj Auto at their Chakan plant near Pune. It's the model that carried the lion's chunk of the workload in carrying KTM to its position as the top European bikemaker, knocking BMW Motorrad off its traditional pedestal, as it were. In India, the 125 Duke has been absent  it was always simply too expensive to introduce to the market. But not anymore.

The prices of the 200, 250 and 390 Dukes have crept steadily upwards over the years. The 200 Duke, KTM India's top seller today is Rs 1.50 lakh ex-showroom. Which, if you think about, is a high entry point for a brand in an extremely price-sensitive market. That is one of the key reasons why KTM started to explore the idea of the 125 Duke for India.

KMT 125 Duke

In India, the 125 Duke has been absent  it was always simply too expensive to introduce to the market. But not anymore. Image: KTM

But there's a problem. The Indian 200 Duke still wears the old Kiska design while the world  and the Indian 250 and 390  gets the new design. This is also true of the engines - the global 125 Duke wears the new clothes. How to resolve this? You cannot have the new skin 125 sitting below the old-style 200, right?

KTM India's solution is simple and deft. They simply restarted the production of the old 125 Duke. And that is the bike you're getting to buy. The only change is the addition of ABS, but only for the front wheel. The justification for that is a price. Dual channel ABS would have pushed up the price for the 125 from Rs 1.18 lakh ex-showroom that it is today.

KMT 125 Duke

When you ride the KTM 125 Duke, though, you realise why the Europeans loved it so much. Image: KTM

But the price wasn't the only factor. KTM also says that there is also a groundswell of demand for a sporty 125. Youngsters who want the street cred of the KTM, but cannot afford the 200, or do not get the parental approval for a fast, frantic 25PS machine. For them, this 14.5PS 125 makes complete sense.

Obviously, there are commuter 125s that sit far, far below this price. And there are commuter 250s that sit just above it too. So how the market takes to the 125 Duke will be very interesting to watch indeed. Also in the same price bracket — about Rs 15,000 more  is the Yamaha YZF-R15 v3 which is extremely close in price, a lot more focused and quite a bit more powerful.

KMT 125 Duke

The gearbox shifts neatly and there are no surprises on any count. Image: KTM

When you ride the KTM 125 Duke, though, you realise why the Europeans loved it so much. Because it's easy to ride. It gets to about 107kmph on the familiar little dash and performance is easy but, as expected, not urgent. The gearbox shifts neatly and there are no surprises on any count. Which, to me, means that the youngsters will get on with this bike easily. It has neither the frantic nature of the 200 nor the urgent madness of the 390, traits that we love. But these very traits also make the KTMs more challenging to ride than more mild-mannered, friendly machines like, say, the Yamaha FZ25.

But the frame is more or less exactly the same as the KTM 200 Duke, down to the sticky and trustworthy MRF Revz series tyres. Which means that you get a proper, sporty, responsive chassis setup that can handle a lot more power and speed than the 125cc engine can produce.

KMT 125 Duke

To me, this is a good thing for new riders because they can explore and develop their riding skills. Image: KTM

To me, this is a good thing for new riders because they can explore and develop their riding skills without overstepping the bounds of grip or scaring themselves. Exactly the sort of rung that the very bottom of the motorcycle enthusiasts' ladder requires.

I've firmly believed that India is a market that is missing a hardcore, sporty 125cc motorcycle that will be used to commute but can dance to a much quicker beat if required. A motorcycle that excites its rider but has a job to do. I can't wait to see how KTM does with the 125 Duke in the market!

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