KTM Duke 125: Not just for kidz

Is the KTM Duke 125 solely for teenagers or is it a suitable for the commuter?





It often takes a completely clean sheet to come up with something different. Surprise, surprise that's exactly what the radical orange people at KTM have done with the 125 Duke.

To make a 125 appealing the first box that must be ticked is affordability. KTM have adopted a David and Goliath approach utilising their manufacturing partnership with the world's fourth largest motorcycle producer, India's Bajaj. Design and development carried out in Austria, machined and bolted together in India. 

First impression? How on earth have KTM made that for £3695, a few hundred pounds more than a Vespa GTS125? For a start the Duke looks incredibly similar to its big brother the Duke 690, with the same WP 42mm upside down forks, a machined aluminium swingarm and a Brembo derived radial front brake. Out on test and two 'proper' bikers gave the nod, they would be mortified to know this was only a ‘learner’ machine. More or less everything looks to be top quality and those prodding around the display model had to remind each other that this was not eight grands worth of Super Duke.

If I could be hyper critical of anything, it would be the rear axle and head stock nuts looking like 1980's BMX parts. But that’s about it.

The engine is a freshly designed DOHC 4-stroke single pumping out a euro regulation friendly 15bhp, with a balance shaft smoothing out any vibes. In fact, with 30db ear plugs in I wasn't sure if it was even running. The narrow roads leading from the test venue gave an illusion of greater speed with the motor happy to rev all the way to the 10,000 redline, the positive and super slick gearbox swapping cogs very efficiently. Ergonomically I was a near perfect fit, at 5'10" my knees tucked into the aggressive and angular tank. Six-plus footers may struggle with the dimensions as the pegs are a touch far back and the seat offers little room for those who have wintered a bit too well. Oh, and the side stand is in a stupid place. It is on the side but the foot peg gets in the way requiring a novice style visual search.  

KTM have made a point of centralising the mass, keeping the under-slung exhaust incredibly compact and hidden away in front of the swing arm. Not only does this create a stripped down and racy aesthetic but coupled with the stiff WP suspension makes for pin sharp handling, the bars seeming to move using thought alone. In the bends the Duke feels well planted and missing your exit off a roundabout becomes premeditated rather than accidental. During an ASBO hunting session at an outdoor kart track the hard compound tyres took abuse well, giving plenty of warning when supplies of either talent or adhesion were running out.

Around town the Duke really excels, with the diminutive overall weight so low in the chassis, balance is superb negating the need for constant foot dabbing. Filtering in first or second gear is aided by the light clutch which retains feel and a well positioned biting point, the lack of left-hand fluid reservoir the only giveaway to cable rather than hydraulic operation. As with most 125s first gear is a little short so a few revs in second should see off other commuters, provided you're already on the move. Should a pedestrian step into the Duke's path, a good two-fingered tug on the front brake lever should see you hauled up sufficiently, more digits will just result in the hoodie’s favourite, an endo. The back brake is more than adequate requiring only the lightest dab to lay black lines across the leisure centre car park, and for post pubescent buyers, just right for negotiating a gridlocked Westway in the rain.

If you are 17 years old you now have no options.  You must go and wash every car in the neighbourhood and spend every night flipping burgers to save the deposit, KTM will do the rest with free insurance and subsidised finance. But that is not where it ends. Having thrashed around London for 5 years, I have noticed a growing trend of grown-ups riding CG125s, YZF125s and the equivalent in a bid to learn on a geared bike, avoid congestion and the haemorrhaging cost of moving around this oversubscribed metropolis.  Once you have mastered the mighty CG and have developed traffic munching clutch control then what, a 600 sports bike? Bit of a leap I reckon, especially with ZXR and VFR400s confined to the history books.

The Duke 125 would make commuting and absolute blast, while costing a pittance to run. If you drop it there are no expensive plastics or dangly bits to ruin and the out-of-the-way exhaust will remain undamaged. Should your route contain roundabouts or corners then get used to a telling off from your boss for tardiness. When the weekend arrives, open roads shouldn't stop you from practicing roadcraft or cornering skills, the Duke will let you know when you are doing the right thing with plenty of confidence inspiring feedback. At just over £500 more than a Vespa GTS125 and £600 less than a Yamaha YZF125 the new KTM is remarkable value and should have great residuals. Newcomers and established commuters need to assess their two-wheeled requirements and spend an hour at their nearest KTM dealership. With just 300 units coming to the UK, don't hang about.