KTM's latest offering has a royal pedigree few can match
Howling into the next tight bend, slipping down a gear or two then tipping those wide bars in, hauling out and rapidly up the gears then down and deep into the next tight bend; sitting up and slowing to pass the 50 sign and cruising along the seafront, turning heads, the KTM 200 Duke's radical orange paint and equally sharp lines writing a cheque it has most certainly just delivered.
Talk about a terrier with a doberman's persona; this 200 Duke packs an instant hooligan hit far mightier than its compact size suggests. No matter that the single-cylinder engine boasts only a modest 200cc capacity and equally modest power figures, the bike's light weight and fiendish gearing deliver attitude in spades, helped by a design that feels as purposeful as it looks, while not sacrificing comfort.
KTM is perhaps best known for its dirt bikes, and it's parlayed that rep into supermotards - road bikes with the small wheels and grippy fat tyres of a road-racer but the riding geometry of a dirt machine. The format makes a superlative city and back-roads weapon that had me hooked when I met the first Duke back in the mid-1990s. It's easy to do well when there's a bit of power to play with - but less so with a smaller engine, when performance may not match the looks.
That it feels as if it does here says much for the 200 Duke's gearing - you'll charge off the line on the tall first gear then short-shift up the 'box, finding sixth long before the open road limit. Yet it doesn't run out of puff at 100 for the power peaks at over 10,000rpm, which introduces the only bugbear.
The standard pipe's a sawn-off item that finishes under the frame; this after-market Akrapovic slip-on imparts the soundtrack of a much larger bike, and one running on pure liquid testosterone, an instant invitation to play arpeggios up and down the cogs just to hear the crackle on the overrun. Indeed I was having so much fun frolicking with the soundtrack or charging through the bends of my twisty rural commute I barely noticed how frugal the wee beast remained.
At 11 litres this is hardly a capacious tank, yet you'll go some way between fills, average thirst showing as 3.2l/100km when we returned it. It'd go much lower with more highway thrown in - accessible despite the bike's small size because clever seat design and a purposeful riding attitude helps beat butt burn and keep wind buffet bearable. Mind you, the 200 Duke's at home on tight twisties rather than more open bends, and it's not designed for long-distance cruising.
The new LAMS regs might no longer restrict learners to the smaller bikes, but shorter folk, those wanting to feel like a hooligan without risking their licence too much, or seeking bang for buck, will track down the last few 2012 200s or await the new arrivals, which will sell at the same $7999 including ABS.
Those buyers will use any change for the plentiful cool accessories on offer - our test bike including hand and chain guards, a light mask kit, neon light strips round the tank cover to light up the Friday-night cruise, and quite a bit more.