Malaysia’s quarter-litre class motorcycle market today leaves the buyer spoilt for choice. With practically every motorcycle manufacturer having at least one 250 or 300 cc entry-level or higher bike in the local range, there is a quarter-litre bike to fit every need and budget.

Austrian outfit KTM, which is currently 47% owned by Bajaj Auto Limited of India, has leveraged heavily on its partnership, and produced a series of small-displacement bikes that has seen it garner a large market share in the Indian sub-continent, as well as in South-East Asian countries and a large customer base in Europe.

Launched mid-last year in Malaysia, KTM’s pair of 250 cc twins, the Duke 250 and RC 250, have gained a following amongst local riders. For those wanting a brand outside the mainstream of the Japanese ‘Big Four’ (or more accurately, ‘Big Three’ locally since Suzuki doesn’t officially offer a 250 cc motorcycle), KTM offers an alternate image, with a performance oriented focus.

We were given the opportunity to test the 250s back-to-back, and this provided for a good comparison as to how two identical engines and almost identical chassis can behave in very different ways.


Designed for two very different riding styles and images, the Duke 250 and RC 250 take opposite ends of the riding spectrum. The Duke comes as a motard-styled naked, with an up-right riding position and wide, Moto-X style handlebars, while there is no mistaking the RC’s racebike looks, with its full-fairing, and head-down riding position.

Taking the 390 cc single as used in the Duke 390 and RC 390, KTM sleeved down the engine bore, to create a 249 cc single fed by EFI. This was in response to both licensing requirements in many markets, where 250 cc bikes are the most license-friendly, as well as consumer feedback that the 200 cc Duke and RC – based on the 125 cc single in KTM’s stable of engines – were a little short in the performance stakes.

Considering that the Duke and RC are supposed to be entry-level bikes for KTM, the 250 engine was clearly designed with performance in mind, using dual-overhead cams and four-valves. Producing 31 hp and 24 Nm of torque, these are good numbers for a 250 cc single, and provide enough ‘get-up-and-go’ for both city commuting and highway riding.

While the engine is physically identical in both bikes, riding the Duke and RC revealed that the engine mapping for the bikes were very different. While the Duke is responsive in acceleration, and quickly gets into the meat of the powerband for – ahem – entertaining front wheel exercise, the RC has smoother engine response during acceleration, allowing for quick footwork on the shift lever.

This is reflected in the gear ratios for the bikes, where the Duke carries a 15:45 sprocket for sporty acceleration, while the RC gets the drive down using a 14:46 ratio for more speed in the top-end. Both the small KTMs carry a PASC slipper clutch, especially useful considering the small rear tyre contact patch.

Riding the Duke 250 and RC 250 reveals the very different nature of the bikes. Both the machines are physically small, with the Duke having a seat height of 800 mm, while the RC’s arse-up racing position puts the rider 820 mm tall in the seat. Visually the chassis for the bikes looks almost the same, but the RC has a much shorter wheelbase at 1,340 mm, and the Duke coming in longer at 1,367 mm.

Both the Duke 250 and RC 250 were taken, on separate weekends, for a ride up the canyons. Handling on both machines was good, though not especially out-standing. This is a reflection of the entry-level nature of the bikes, and also of budget considerations.

Budget does not mean cheap equipment that does not perform though. Either bike handled the curves and twists of Sempah well, with the Duke showing a slight tendency to wallow in very fast sweepers. The RC, as befitting KTM’s tagline of “Ready to race”, showed a lot of competence in handling both slow and fast corners.

The Duke beat the RC in handling pin-point corner strafing, the upright riding position letting the rider scope out the entry and exit points of the corner. However, the RC allowed for much more corner speed and knee-down heroics, with holding entry and corner speed being the only way to carve through the canyons quickly.


Tyre grip from both bikes was confidence inspiring, leading KTM’s marketing executive to comment when the RC250 was returned, “ok, you really took the RC to the limit, there’s nothing left on the edge of the rear tread.” This was helped by the WP suspension on the RC and Duke. Rear suspension on the bikes was identical, with a touch more pre-load on the RC, while the front had the Duke with 150 mm of travel, and the RC with 125 mm.

The difference in suspension travel was perfectly acceptable, considering the very different riding styles the bikes would be subject to. While the rear shock was only adjustable for pre-load, there was no adjustment available at the front, and it wasn’t really missed. The factory spring and suspension settings were good for almost all types of riding, with the suspension finally giving up at very high-speed riding.

But high-speed isn’t quite what these bikes were designed for. The engines were strong, and delivered the power well, but what was missed was the torque. This meant that riding both the Duke and RC required lots of footwork on the left, rowing through the gearbox to keep the engine in the meat of the powerband.


Riding somewhat aggressively lets the chassis and alloy swingarm come into play on either bike, with flex detected only under very, very hard braking just before chucking the bike into the corner. Hard-hearted downshifts let the slipper clutch do its work, and with no rear wheel hop or chatter heard or felt.

Braking was also handled well by the Bybre brakes – Brembo’s budget brand for small bikes. The braking setups on both the RC and Duke are identical, a 300 mm disc in front grabbed by a four-piston radial caliper, and a 230 mm disc at the rear with a single-piston floating caliper. In any case, the front brake was strong enough not to require any assistance from the rear, except for a slight touch on the RC when coming in hot into a particularly tight corner to settle the rear suspension.

Bosch 9 ABS is standard for the quarter-litre KTMs, front and rear. The ABS was never intrusive on both bikes, and the system can be switched off for race track duties. In any case, the grip afforded by the 110 front and 150 rear tyres never showed signs of giving up, even when pushed hard in hairpins and under braking.

Highway speed cruising was easy on both bikes, with 120 km/h being a natural sweet spot for either machine. While we are not in the habit of revealing top-speed figures, let’s just say either bike will keep up with most highway traffic. However, the single-piston engine and lack of torque means that over-taking manoeuvres will have to be considered and timed carefully.

This isn’t a bad thing, as the key to riding low-powered bikes is precision and timing, both essential skills for any biker. Choosing the line, and executing the move, is easily done on the Duke 250 and RC 250, and the wide-set handlebars on both bikes gave the right amount of feedback and controllability.

Seating position for the Duke 250 would be perfect for the typical rider, without being overly aggressive in the motard fashion. Seated upright and comfortably, the saddle was good enough for a two-hour stretch in the saddle. The RC 250 was a different kettle of fish.


Styled for the racetrack, the seating and handlebar position on the RC 250 is very racer-like, and a fair amount of the rider’s weight is placed on the clip-on handlebars. While not as bad as say, a proper superbike, long stints at city traffic speeds might not be as enjoyable.

This changes once the RC 250 gets into the corners. The head-down riding position immediately feels natural, and the extra ground clearance afforded by the raised seat height and pegs lets any rider take corners without worrying about running out of clearance.

Vibration was kept well under control for both the Duke and RC, with on the Duke showing a light buzz through the bars, while the RC’s pegs had a noticeable vibration on the pegs, especially when wearing race boots. Neither would tire the rider though, and heavy boots and proper gloves will keep this to a minimum. Certainly there was no danger of the hands going numb.


Styling and looks for the RC 250 and Duke 250 are as different as night and day. While the Duke 250 is a naked motard-streetbike, the RC quite obviously shows its racing genes. The Duke gets a nod for its 11-litre fuel tank, compared to the RC 250’s 10-litre container.

Instruments for both bikes is identical, and quite comprehensive and sophisticated. A single square LCD display sits well in the rider’s view, and displays a lot of information. This includes gear position, fuel consumption and range, and service intervals. One negative was the rather thin and small rev-counter bar display, which was sometimes hard to read when things were getting fast and furious.

KTM did think about this and addressed the issue with a red shift-light at top-center of the instrument console, which blinked hard when it was time to change gear. The fuel gauge was accurate, and responsive. The drawback to a bike with a small fuel tank is, of course, frequent fill-ups when the rider uses a heavy hand on the throttle. Range was typically about 200 km between tanks, though no real objective testing was done.

This was simply because as urban bikes, which both the Duke 250 and RC 250 are, the rider is never far from a fuel station anyway. It should be noted that the Duke 250 was a touch thirstier than the RC 250, due to its higher gearing. Weight for the Duke 250 is listed at 139 kg, while the RC250 weighs in at 147 kg, due to the weight of the bodywork.

While the Duke 250 made do with stacked halogen headlights for lighting duties, the RC 250 came with a funky twin projector lap setup, and DRLs. Styling for the RC 250 was definitely different, unlike the naked Duke’s, with strakes on the RC250’s front fairing and a rear seat made of foam, shaped to make it look like a single-seater race tailpiece.

The accessories catalogue from KTM is extensive for both bikes, including items like billet aluminium levers and rear-sets. Pricing for the KTM Duke 250 is RM20,021.28 while the KTM RC 250 goes for RM21,081.28. Both prices include GST.


So, who needs to ride a KTM 250, in either Duke or RC flavours? The obvious target market is of course, the young rider who wants a first bike that is both capable and stylish. Performance for both bikes at this entry-level is appropriate, and easy to handle. However, more experienced riders will find a lot to like about both quarter-litre KTMs as well, especially as a daily ride or weekend run-around, or something to go for coffee with on slack mornings.

As for the author, well, the Duke 250 is first choice, simply because of the more relaxed riding position and general-purpose nature of the motard styling, while the RC 250 would be a nice weekend toy for strafing canyons and perfecting cornering skills.

GALLERY: 2016 KTM Duke 250