Street Brawl – KTM 125 Duke vs Yamaha MT-15

Street Brawl – KTM 125 Duke vs Yamaha MT-15

The KTM 125 Duke goes up against the recently-launched Yamaha MT-15. Which one deserves the ‘Best teenage performance naked’ title is the question.

Abhishek Wairagade

KTM 125 Duke cornering

KTM 125 Duke cornering

This was a fight in the making since the Yamaha MT-15’s launch in March 2019. Until then, the KTM 125 Duke had it all to itself. And when you take a look at the numbers (specifications to be specific), it seems like a one-sided battle tilting in the favour of the Yamaha. But then you bring SIAM’s sales numbers and suddenly the story turns upside down.

The 125 Duke is the best-selling KTM in the country today, launched with a bang in December 2018. Today, the 125 consistently garners anything between 2000-3000 units every month while the MT has already seen a decline. In fact, a couple of months ago the Duke surpassed the MT despite being the older product. Since then, Yamaha has been trying to lure buyers by offering a free riding jacket and helmet but there seems to be no silver lining, just like the recent state of the weather in this part of the country. Again, the MT is clearly overshadowed by its much popular faired sibling – the R15 V3 which does three to four times its numbers even today. The MT though gets the benefit of the doubt thanks to its siblings in the form of the FZ and FZ25 that often eat into its sales.

The Duke, on the other hand, has always been the more popular KTM. But if numbers could tell the story, the world would’ve been run by mathematicians and not politicians. And thus begins the brawl for the best entry-level performance naked in the country. Mind you, these machines share their characteristics with their mental, big-bore siblings but here the job is to get the teenagers from point A to point B. And that they must do by making a statement. Also, these aren’t ideal for your Ladakh trip but a weekend jaunt around the metropolis is a simple task, for sure.

Let’s find out which one does a better job of letting the juices flow, without making sacrifices on any front.

KTM 125 Duke

Riding a motorcycle without rear view mirrors is absolutely not recommended but this one was borrowed from a dear friend. A teenager, obviously. As aforementioned, he cares more about making the bike look ‘cool’ than anything else. “My parents didn’t allow me to get the 200 Duke, claiming it to be really ‘fast’ but I always wanted a KTM. The 125 Duke came as a blessing,” he says. It looks not too different than the 200 Duke, is draped in even brighter shades of orange and sounds equally pedestrian (to my ears, at least), but demands attention anyway. The features are exactly the same as well, including top-drawer WP pogos, fully-loaded instrument cluster and Bybre brakes. What’s really different, then, is the typical, short-stroke, rev-happy 125cc, liquid-cooled, DOHC single motor. It’s derived from the 200 but has slightly different gear ratios for better tractability, especially the third cog that allows you to hit speeds as low as 15kmph. Like all KTMs, the 125 too struggles below 6,000rpm. However, once you’re in the ‘zone’, she really moves. Maybe not as quick as the MT, but it definitely feels at par with the other air-cooled 150s. The added tractability allows for comfortable riding through the urban jungle without raising any alarms. Honestly, the 125 is not quick but it isn’t meant to be. And that’s why it appeals to teenagers or those just dipping their toes in motorcycling waters. The 125 gets to 100kmph after a lot of struggle and if you are patient enough, it will go all the way to 116kmph. But the lost ground (if ‘power’ is your cup of tea) is made up by the ergos as well as the ride and handling setup.

I have been living with the 200 Duke for the past six years but never found it to be roomy enough until I rode the MT-15. The supermoto-ish riding position is perfect to tackle the traffic and for the canyons too. Aided by the brilliant WP USDs, the KTM comes across as the more sophisticated of the two when it comes to riding dynamics. The handling is absolutely brilliant, be it on track or even around the twisties and the chassis is more communicative as well. It may not be as agile as the MT but the KTM is brilliant as a standalone machine, and obeys your commands respectfully. Mid-corner stability is better than the MT as well and if you’re planning to hit the go-karting track on weekends, the KTM should be your bet.

The brakes are sharper than those on the Yamaha and offer almost the same amount of bite, if not better. Both the bikes come with single-channel ABS but the KTM’s is slightly less intrusive.

The 125 Duke, then, will keep your family happy when it comes to performance but the high asking price will take some more coaxing for the parents to give in. Rest assured, for the KTM comes with enough goodies to keep you as well your folks happy.

Yamaha MT-15

The Yamaha starts off exactly where the KTM ends. The highlight of the package is the brilliant 155cc, liquid-cooled motor that also gets variable valve timing. Yamaha calls it VVA or Variable Valve Actuation, which is no gimmick. The square-motor, unlike the Duke’s short-stroke, makes for linear power delivery. In fact, at times the engine behaves like a bigger, more powerful motor making you wonder if it’s really a 155! The MT, like its elder siblings stands true to its naming convention and is actually the Master of Torque like the box says. You barely need to sift through the gearbox and the sixth cog can go from speeds as low as 30kmph without any hiccups. Does it trump the KTM in the higher range? Absolutely not! The VVA comes into play at 7,000rpm after which the Yamaha not only feels quicker but also sounds raspier. The 10kg weight advantage also allows for faster acceleration. We couldn’t VBox test the bikes due to wet conditions but Yamaha suggests a 0-60kmph time of just 3.78sec which doesn’t seem like a tall claim at all. In fact, the larger sprocket allows for better low-down grunt as compared to even the R15, making the MT-15 an absolute hoot in the city, canyons or even the highway. Yes, unlike the 125 Duke, the MT feels a lot more comfortable at highway speeds and if long distance rides are on the horizon, the MT makes for a far more sensible choice than the KTM for sure. However, it loses massively when it comes to the switchgear, overall build quality and ergos.

Till date, the saddle of my 200 Duke made me feel claustrophobic thanks to its tight proportions. But after having ridden the MT-15 for over 300km, I can surely say that the KTM feels like a plush Delhi bungalow over the MT which feels like a cramped Mumbai flat. I’m almost 6ft tall with a large frame and the MT felt like a coffin to me after a long day’s ride. I have never experienced body ache even after muscling around massive, 300kg ADVs, but the MT has zero space for my knees and if I’m not sitting on the pillion seat, there’s no way I can hold the tank.

And to top it all, the switchgear not only feels tacky to use but even the placement of horn and indicator toggle has been interchanged. You end up putting the indicators on instead of honking when the car in front turns without any indication! The build quality, too, leaves a lot to be desired and this Yamaha doesn’t feel like a Yamaha at all, making the KTM look like a polished product, which isn’t actually the case at all. Last but not the least, the MT is super agile owing to its short wheelbase and that allows you to zip through traffic very easily. But then, it loses on the stability front. Especially after you consider that it’s the same Deltabox frame that underpins the superb R15. The KTM simply does it better.

To sum up, the Yammie lives up to expectations when it comes to the powertrain with the gearbox and engine combo leaving nothing more to be desired. The switchgear, ride and handling and patchy quality, though, cannot really be compared to the KTM. There is no such thing as a perfect motorcycle in this scenario for sure. Sigh.

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