KTM 250 Duke: First Ride Review

Sayantan De
Based on an all-new platform, the 2023 KTM 250 Duke is very different from its predecessor. Do the changes make it a better motorcycle?

Photography: Siddhant Gadekar

When it comes to motorcycles, there can be such a thing as too much power. Don’t get me wrong, the mere thought of straddling a 150PS missile fills my mind with glee, but realistically it is not possible to safely explore even one percent of the potential performance envelope of such a machine on public roads. This is particularly true for younger riders, those who are starting out on their motorcycling journey. Even a 400cc machine with upwards of 40PS can be a handful.

So, for people who are getting their first motorcycle or upgrading from a 150cc machine, the 250cc to 300cc category should be the best stepping stone to more power later down the line. However, pickings are slim in this category, and the updated 2023 KTM 250 Duke is one of the few motorcycles in this segment. Is it able to fulfil the role of a do-it-all bike, which is often the case with first-time buyers or people upgrading from the commuter segment? Let’s find out.

The 250 Duke looks sharp. It also looks quite similar to the 390 Duke, as the two motorcycles share the same platform. This is a good thing for the 250 Duke customers, as they get the edgy premium styling of the 390. The headlamp is nearly identical, save for the lack of vertical LED DRLs present on the 390. The large tank shrouds are visually distinctive and look better in person than in photos. KTM also decided to ditch the rear tyre hugger, which may make monsoons a bit challenging, but offers a clean-looking rear end.

Speaking of the rear section, the rear subframe is this beautifully engineered piece of aluminium, with a single spine and a rib cage-like structure towards the pillion seat. It is a very European piece of industrial design and on our Electric Orange bike came painted in silver, though the Ceramic White bike gets a black one which blends in. The grabrail is bolted to the subframe with exposed bolts, adding to the distinctive design statement. The matte grey finish on the tank and the front fender lend it a very distinctive look as well, underlining that European industrial heritage.

The last-gen 250 Duke had an ADV-rivalling 823mm seat height, which KTM has managed to bring down to a manageable 800mm. Also, as the seat tapers towards the front, even shorter people will find it comfortable to put their feet flat on the ground. The handlebar is wide and reasonably high, which helps with manoeuvrability – more on this later. The distance from the seat to the handlebar initially felt a bit cramped for my nearly 6-foot frame, but soon I got used to it. The seat is firm, which makes it ideal for touring.

The 250 Duke gets a new 5.0-inch white LCD console which suits the industrial identity of the bike better than the TFT display found on its elder sibling. The controls for the display are on the left-hand switchgear which also impresses with its premium quality.

The display has a boatload of information, but what sets it apart is the clarity. Even at high speeds, one glance is enough to glean the required information from the display. I particularly like the geeky temperature display which makes the KTM ‘ready to race’ motto feel authentic. The new 250 Duke comes with the quickshifter lifted straight from the 390 which makes it a joy to go up or down the gears in quick succession. Also, the 250 Duke gets Supermoto ABS, which is essentially the street name for off-road ABS – it allows you to turn off ABS at the rear.

The power is now 31PS and torque 25Nm – both have gone up by one unit. The peak torque comes in at a lower rpm than before, while peak power comes in at a higher rpm. The engine is completely new according to KTM and one of the major changes is the switch from DOHC to SOHC in a bid to reduce cost and complexity, the side effect of which is an improved midrange – a larger airbox may have contributed to it as well. The overall refinement levels have improved as well alongside the tractability. The new motor feels a lot more engaging with power delivery being more accessible in the rev range. More importantly, it now delivers the signature KTM shove that comes in at around 3,500-4,000rpm.

KTM has shortened the first and the third gear ratios and made the second and final drive taller, which has resulted in a better spread of usable power. It also gives the bike a long-legged feel on the highway as fourth to sixth are unchanged – a focus on touring capabilities during development. KTM says the bike is limited to 130kmph though they have seen higher numbers during testing. Special mention to the exhaust sound, which is now a rather pleasing burbly note – miles better than the dull sound generally associated with KTMs.

As I mentioned earlier, the reach to the handlebar is shorter, which coupled with its width bestows upon the Duke an exceptional ability to negotiate u-turns. KTM made the rake angle sharper by half a degree which increased the agility, but thanks to relocating the exhaust under the motorcycle aka the OG 200 Duke, the centre of gravity is down (other contributing factors are better packaging thanks to the new chassis with the offset monoshock) despite the ground clearance going up by 25mm! The result of that is you no longer have to worry about scraping the bottom on tall speed breakers and at the same time being able to turn on a dime.

The suspension is definitely on the firmer side and the factory setting for the 10-step adjustable rear monoshock was at the fifth position, which works out for me as well as other people who were considerably lighter. The damping is well-judged and the 250 Duke filters out most of the undulations. This, despite the motorcycle being rock solid at high speeds. The new front disc is bolted to the spokes instead of the hub of the wheel like the 390 Duke, which in conjunction with the ByBre Radial calipers offer top-notch retardation without losing out on feel.

Even with all these upgrades, KTM has managed to price the new 250 Duke at Rs 2.39 lakh, whereas the last-gen model sold for Rs 2.38 lakh. While it is still pricey, it makes a great option for anyone looking for a sub Rs 2.5 lakh motorcycle and by only incorporating the upgrades that matter most such as the quickshifter and ditching non-necessary ones like a TFT dash KTM has delivered one of the best all-rounders in the sub-300cc motorcycle segment while improving the VFM quotient.

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