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Common Tread

2020 KTM 200 Duke first ride review

Sep 25, 2020

If you’ve already dismissed this motorcycle because of its displacement, the 2020 KTM 200 Duke probably isn’t the bike for you. 

KTM's decision to import the $3,999 200 Duke to the United States was an unexpected announcement a month ago. In my first look article, I thought up a list of potential riders who might want a baby Duke in the garage, including folks wanting an affordable second bike, mini-hoons who want more than Groms provide, beginner riders looking to start small, and those who simply desire a bike of this unusual class. As a reviewer, it’s refreshing to have something so outside the norm, even if it’s from an alternate reality where the 200 class isn’t just the TW and scooters.

Now that I’ve got one in my hands, does it actually suit those potential riders, or maybe others I missed? Let’s find out.

KTM 200 Duke
I swear those tire marks aren't mine. Photo by Spurgeon Dunbar.

Meeting the Duke

In person, I’d say the 200 Duke passes for a full-sized small motorcycle. That’s largely due to its aggressive bodywork, proper 17-inch wheels, and the 390 Duke-based trellis frame, tying the bike to its bigger brothers while looking awfully grown-up for a 200. It’s also more spacious than you might expect with its tall knee cutouts and the upright riding position. I measured 17 inches from the peg to the middle of the saddle. Seat height is not too intimidating at 31.9 inches, so flat-footing the Duke is no problem at all for me at six feet tall; most riders should find the seat plenty accessible, though stiff.

KTM 200 Duke
Full-size wheels mean you'll have a choice of tires. Photo by Spurgeon Dunbar.

So is the 200 Duke’s sharp appearance writing checks its engine can’t cash? Perhaps. 25 horsepower isn’t much in today's naked lightweight class, especially compared to the twins, and yet the 200 Duke’s specs are right in line with a legendary beginner motorcycle: the Kawasaki Ninja 250R. In fact, it’s 40 pounds lighter than that Ninja was (both wet), and its components are space-age in comparison, even if the Ninja had much better high-speed capability. So who (or what) is KTM targeting with the 200 Duke? I put a couple hundred miles on one, and here’s what I learned.

KTM 200 Duke dash
A basic dash and simple controls pare things down to the essentials. Photo by Spurgeon Dunbar.

Lessons from the road

KTM’s usual “READY TO RACE” text flashes across the LCD screen as the mighty 200 starts up. Brrr. The controls are on the nicer side of budget, with backlit icons and penlike clickiness. One curious feature is the gear counter, which displays a “0” instead of an “N” for neutral. That might intuitively place neutral below 1 for new riders. A separate green neutral light does appear at the top of the dash. There’s also a red shift light front and center. (Note to new owners: the shift light comes on early during the break-in period. The light automatically switches to its normal rpm once the break-in period is over. It’ll be a real slowpoke if you obey the break-in light.) The already-compact Duke feels even more snubnosed once you’re seated because the front wheel isn’t visible beyond the edge of the display. 

The smooth, cable-actuated clutch is near-effortless and easily pulled by smaller hands. I have no issue with KTM’s decision to ship the 200 Duke with a standard clutch instead of the 390’s slipper clutch. A slipper would be overkill for this displacement and price point, though adjustable levers would be nice to see. Shift action is positive with comforting mechanical sounds between the six gears. I couldn’t get the transmission to slip up with a false neutral, either, so top marks to KTM in the shifting department. 

KTM 200 Duke
The clutch and transmission hold no surprises. Photo by Spurgeon Dunbar.

The power delivery promotes good shift discipline, which is a kind way of saying the Duke isn’t very fast. It’s fast enough, sure, for anything short of an extended highway run where speeds exceed 75 miles per hour. Call it a five-exit highway bike. Three-digit county roads, on the other hand, are just the place to wind the Duke’s oversquare engine up to its eager limits. Down-low torque feels pretty thin, but that's a trade you have to make if you want any top end from a 200.

Push it into some curves to feel the excellent pairing of chassis and suspension at play, confident and stable from initial braking to throttle roll. I will note that my demo bike came equipped with Michelin Road 5s,  not the stock Metzeler Sportec M5 Interacts. Should you spoon $350 tires onto your $4,000 motorcycle? Yes, if you have a $350 tire budget. You’re going to want to throw this bike around, because that’s where all the fun is. 

Riding Duke 200
Racing Corollas from stoplights has never been more fun. Photo by Spurgeon Dunbar.

The flat handlebar, de rigueur for nakeds, gives plenty of leverage for the rider. Potential buyers shouldn’t have any trouble getting a good fit with an aftermarket replacement if the standard taper stocker doesn’t fit their needs. Handling is neutral with comically easy turn-in and reasonable stability at its upper speed limits. The ByBre brakes are firm without being sharp in a beginner-friendly way, and speaking of those beginners, ABS is standard for both wheels. That is a huge consideration for many aspiring riders and no small success on KTM’s part at this price point. Is there a cheaper full-size bike with ABS on the market?

The headlight offers an incandescent main bulb with LED DRLs. Yes, it would have been nice to see all LED. Even so, I found the headlight to be excellent in actual use, especially the high beam when looking ahead for Bambi and friends. Turning to the tailight, that monster plate hanger will probably be the first thing to go for most buyers, or at least the floppy mud flap. Turn signals are incandescent and perfectly adequate.

KTM 200 Duke swingarm
The swingarm is pure KTM. Photo by Spurgeon Dunbar.

Fit and finish is a mixed bag. The exhaust is an unsightly blob-box with a small novel written on it. I’d be hitting that with a can of black VHT exhaust paint on Day One to clean up the look, then spending a half hour peeling off all the leftover stickers from production. The frame had some obvious orange-peel near the swingarm pivot, but paintwork was nice otherwise. The WP APEX suspension parts look phenomenal, in contrast. A real standout for me was the exquisite swingarm with KTM’s usual webbed construction. It really classes up the Duke compared to the box-construction units found on other budget bikes, and it accepts spools so you can use a rear stand.

The question on everyone’s mind, of course, is not fit and finish, but real-world power. What can you actually do with a modern 200? The little Duke’s best use is probably as an urban motorcycle, where its light weight and nimble handling will slice up crowded spaces. You can park it anywhere, the suspension soaks up all but the worst bumps, and it doesn’t cost much for a new bike, so you won’t be too heartbroken when somebody inevitably backs into it and doesn’t leave a note.

KTM Duke 200
The Duke comes in orange and white, both Gritty-approved. Photo by Spurgeon Dunbar.

Grab the throttle and the Duke squirts forward with as much gusto as its little mill can muster. Pass the friendly midrange on your way to 6,000 rpm, where the character of the engine takes on a more authoritative tone. Three-quarter throttle past the wiggly road signs is where this motorcycle feels most like a KTM, which is to say a performance-focused motorcycle. I found the bike to be happiest between 35 and 65 miles per hour, with an all-out top speed of 80 miles per hour with a 170-pound rider.

KTM 200 Duke
There's a certain appeal to pinning the throttle without risking your license. Photo by Spurgeon Dunbar.

Expect downshifts for the hills. Keep in mind that my test bike was a zero-mile 200 Duke, so that top-speed number may be slightly higher once the engine is fully broken in. The additional effort needed to crack 80 is significant enough that I’d call this a solid 70 to 75 mph mount, with 80 available in short bursts if you plan ahead. The 200 Duke would have been all the bike you’d need for Nixon-era 55 mph highways. To its credit, the bike would make a terrific local commuter if you aren’t habitually late to work.

KTM 200 Duke
Philly's always under construction. Good thing the suspension can take it. Photo by Spurgeon Dunbar.

In all, this is not the right motorcycle for most riders in the United States, but I think it could be the perfect motorcycle for a lucky few. I call them lucky because the 200 Duke’s oddball size will likely make it an inexpensive, uncommon, one-gen wonder. This is that show you loved that stayed unappreciated, seemingly destined to never go mainstream. Doesn’t make it a bad show to you, does it?

200 Duke, 390 Duke, or something else?

The Duke 390 ($5,499), especially after its last revamp, remains the most persuasive beginner bike in KTM’s lineup. It doesn’t cost much more than the 200, considering it makes nearly double the power, and it’s a better all-rounder than the RC390 ($5,549). Still, that’s a $1,500 delta between the 390 and the 200. The gap between what we’re used to getting from KTM, and the abilities of this latest model, almost certainly stems from the fact that this India-built motorcycle wasn’t designed to be sold in the United States. My cynical side wonders if our 200 Dukes are unsold inventory being offered in new markets to offset declining sales in India and elsewhere. Indian motorcycle news outlet Rushlane reports that 200 Duke sales are down by nearly half over last year, partly due to the popularity of the new 125 Duke. Hmm...

KTM 200 tank
That little "200" is the only thing that gives away the bike's modest power. My riding buddies thought I was on a 390 until they noticed. Photo by Spurgeon Dunbar.

That’s tempered by my tank’s-half-full side, which believes that more options are better, so long as they don’t come at the expense of better options. KTM’s lineup is just as strong as ever. When you see a 200 Duke on the floor at your local KTM dealer, recognize that it represents KTM’s success in other markets, not a misunderstanding of our own. Team Orange is a global player, and to ride the 200 Duke is to realize how different our power- and ego-driven corner of the motorcycling world is from the majority. From KTM’s perspective, there must be a few motorcyclists in the United States who value the same things as riders overseas.

KTM 200 Duke
With so many excellent lightweight bikes available, the 200 Duke will have to find its place. Sure beats the bike I started on. Photo by Spurgeon Dunbar.

Ride your own ride

If you’d scoff at the 200 Duke, but recommend a Ninja 250R or TU250X to a beginner in the same breath, I’d ask you to reconsider. The 200 Duke’s frame, suspension, styling, and standard ABS are remarkable for the price point. The limited power may only be compatible with rookies and the small-bike-fast crowd, and for those riders, this bike’s worth a look. Always buy the motorcycle that suits you, not the motorcycle that suits someone else’s expectations of what you should be riding.

2020 KTM 200 Duke
Price (MSRP)
$3,999
Engine
199.5 cc, liquid-cooled, four-valve, single cylinder
Transmission,
final drive
Six-speed, chain 
Claimed horsepower
25 horsepower
Claimed torque
14 foot-pounds (India model)
Frame
Steel trellis
Front suspension
WP APEX 43 mm inverted fork, 150 mm travel
Rear suspension
WP APEX shock absorber, 150 mm travel
Front brake
Single BYBRE four-piston caliper, 320 mm disc, ABS
Rear brake
Single one-piston caliper, 200 mm disc, ABS
Rake
25 degrees
Wheelbase
53.8 inches
Seat height
31.9 inches
Fuel capacity
3.5 gallons
Tires
Metzeler Sportec M5 Interact, 110/70R17 front, 150/60R17 rear
Claimed weight
331 pounds (dry)
Available
Now
Warranty
24 months
More info