Mega 200cc motorcycle shootout

Mega 200cc motorcycle shootout

The 200cc motorcycle segment is now crowded. The Bajaj Pulsar NS200, KTM Duke 200 and Duke 250, TVS Apache RTR 200 4V, Hero Xtreme 200R and Yamaha FZ25 are all playful at heart, and can give you a weekend headrush dose after hitting those set of twisties, but it will also get you from A to B without fuss. It is therefore the cusp before the real deal. It’s also a kind of milestone that one must cross before entering the larger-displacement segments. So, we help you decide which 200cc motorcycle can be your ride!

Hero Xtreme 200R

The Hero Xtreme 200R is the newest kid on the block and is also the cheapest of the lot. What we like the most about the motorcycle is how comfortable it is once you get astride. The seating posture is upright; along with footrests in the classic commuter position. The rider’s triangle therefore is super comfortable. Not only on the city commute but also on long rides. The soft seat might sag a bit though and make your bum hurt. But there’s no denying the comfort factor on the Hero Xtreme 200R.

The Hero Xtreme 200R is powered by a 198cc air-cooled single cylinder engine that puts out 18bhp at 8,000rpm and a peak torque of 17.1Nm of torque at 6,500rpm. Transmission is via a 5-speed gearbox that is slick to use too. Don’t those specs remind you of machines of the years gone by? When 18bhp sounded like a lot? Times have changed and the power game has moved on, so the Hero is a write off. And if that’s what you’re thinking then you’re so far from the truth that it isn’t even funny.

Despite that power deficit, the bottom and mid-range is strong and the delivery linear and creamy. Rev it past 7k revs and you will only get yourself a bagful of vibes with not much progress. As a result, it’s good to ride around in the city. Even out on the highways, you might not be able to get up to great speeds, but you will be able to cruise comfortably without stressing too much. Keep the speedo needle hovering around 90kmph and the Hero is a peach.

So far so good, but it gets better because all that investment at the R&D centre in Jaipur is starting to pay off. The most surprising part of the Hero Xtreme 200R is how balanced it feels. There are no signs of nervousness around the twisties. Not even in this company. The set-up is pliant, as it should be on a commuter, but the handling is sporty. Certainly, the sportiest of all the commuters out there. Stability is of a high order and the bike takes to sudden changes of direction quite maturely. Braking too is done without drama.

What’s missing then? Involvement. If this bike could engage with the rider as well as some of the others here do, well, Hero would not be talking commuter speak for sure.

Bajaj Pulsar NS200

The Bajaj Pulsar NS200 comes with an updated the engine to meet the BSIV emission norms.  A classy feature that adds to the street-fighter stance is the belly-pan that Bajaj has added to make it look handsome. The sharp and busy lines right from the headlight down to belly-pan to the the tail lamp adds an overall European flair.

This street-fighter has aggression written all over it, hence the pugnacious riding position courtesy the rear-set footpegs and the clip-on handlebars that are nicely raised and don’t require the rider to lean forward much while grasping the knee recesses on the tank. Despite setting the front and the rear monoshock to their stiffest, the Bajaj Pulsar NS200 irons out rough roads easily and makes for a comfortable ride, in the city as well as on the highway. When it comes to high speed, there were a few vibrations on the handlebar and footpegs, but nothing bothersome.

In spite of the few vibes we got, the 199.5cc mill feels more refined and vibe free compared to its previous iteration. What hasn’t changed, thankfully, is its rev happy nature. The Bajaj Pulsar NS200 loves to be revved hard. It has enough grunt to take off from low revs in higher gears too. We tried doing 30kmph in 5th gear and it did not feel bogged down at all. Such is the torque spread. So, you’re definitely looking at an easy and comfortable city ride as well as relaxed cruising abilities. The gearbox on the earlier one was a bit notchy, but this one is vastly improved, with hardly a few false neutral. The power delivery is smooth and that complements the responsive throttle. We did 80kmph at 5500rpm and 100kmph at 7000rpm in top gear, effortlessly hitting the top speed of 135kmph.

In fact, it is very difficult to fault this Pulsar. Arguably this is the best Pulsar that Bajaj has made. Yet there are a few things to iron out. First, that rear brake. Neither much bite nor much progression. And there’s only a single channel ABS for now.

Finally, the fit-and-finish and the quality could have been better. The odometer on the motorcycle that we got had done around 1500km, and already there were rattling noises from the panels and the console. For a bike that still costs more than a lakh of rupees, the Bajaj Pulsar NS200 feels short on the VFM quotient. That said, the bike does look stunning and is great fun to ride too.

KTM 200 Duke

KTM has refreshed the look of the 200 Duke with new graphics and that helps renew its appeal in a space where it has always remained relevant.

Apart from the design, the underbelly exhaust continues to serve the purpose, instead of the side-slung ones on the 250 and all-new 390. What’s common, though, is the new ‘Duke’ badging, wider mirrors, and the inclusion of the new real-time fuel efficiency readout on the otherwise unchanged digital cluster.

The KTM 200 Duke shares the same DNA with its elder siblings when it comes to the aggressive riding posture. The tall handlebars and upright seating position with pulled-back rear sets do not affect the rider’s ability to control the bike at high speeds or be comfortable on the saddle, in spite of the radical rider’s triangle.

Power continues to come from the earlier 199.5cc liquid-cooled single with DOHC and four valves unlike the Bajaj Pulsar NS200’s SOHC with four valves set up. Peak output too remains unchanged at 24.6bhp at a heady 10,000rpm and max torque of 19.3Nm at 8000rpm. And of course, this high-strung motor loves to be revved. All the time. Just like we loved it before. The unit is however BSIV compliant now, and I don’t know if you’ve felt it too, feels smoother than the non-compliant 200 Duke’s engine.

On the downside, BSIV compliance has caused a 5kg weight gain, with kerb weight going up to 148kg in place of the earlier 143. In spite of that weight gain, the bike feels urgent and racy. What complements this sense of urgency coming is the slick shifting 6-speed gearbox. Banging the thing through the ’box as you shoot towards its top speed of more than 130kmph is joyful. Unfortunately, fun stops soon after. And that extra weight begins to show because getting to that top isn’t easy. So, on a long straight you’ll watch that TVS blow past you towards its top speed of more than 150 (speedo says so)!

It gets the same brakes as the old 390. While on the 390 these felt inadequate, for the 200 they feel perfectly matched with sharp bite. All it needs are better feedback and of course dual channel ABS. Just like on the TVS. Shortcomings aside, the biggest draw of the KTM 200 Duke is its willingness to hoon. And that’s why we love it.

TVS Apache RTR 200 4V

What qualifies the TVS Apache RTR 200 4V as a premium offering from TVS is its overall attention to detail and build quality. The precise switchgear positioning and quality is definitely one of best in the segment. The LCD instrument is the same as the earlier version and displays all basic info like speed, fuel, trip meters and gear indicator, quite clearly.

The motorcycle is designed for regular commutes as well as for the occasional run to the hills and the upright position makes for a comfortable city commute and for long rides with a moderate set of breaks. The fact that the height and tilt of the clip-on handlebars is near perfect means that don’t need you to bend your back and reach out for the ’bars. The footpegs are not too rear set either, and are placed such that they complement the upright riding position to make for a comfortable ride. Yet it’s sporty enough to be enjoyable.

The front end of the TVS Apache RTR 200 4V feels light and tips in quicker than you’d expect it to, which comes in handy when filtering through traffic or tackling those switchbacks on a weekend ride. The tyres also play a vital role here. The TVS Remoras are up for the job. Add the short wheelbase to the mix and the Apache RTR 200 4V is all too ready to be laid on its side.

What you will love is the grunt which is a result of that flat torque curve. The engine does give its best right from 3000rpm to 7000rpm. Twist the wrist some more, however, and you’ll feel the level up in sound, vibes (especially at the foot pegs) and a drop in surge.

The dual-channel ABS, with the 270mm petal type disc out front and the 240mm at the rear, is a first in the segment. When both the brakes are used simultaneously under harsh braking, it feels very sensitive, with ABS kicking in earlier than expected (better early than late, though). Although the ABS on the front works well by kicking in without taking the confidence out from the rider, the progressiveness and feedback of the brakes could certainly have been better. In fact, it’s an old TVS Apache grouse that the company will need to iron out in the years to come.

On the plus side there’s that lifesaving dual channel ABS. It’s the only machine here that gets this and that speaks volumes about TVS’ attitude to safety. But why should that surprise us, wasn’t TVS the first to introduce ABS in this segment many moons ago on the old RTR 160? There’s a slipper clutch to boot as well but its functional benefits are difficult to gauge.

Given that you’ll only need to pay Rs 3500 over the regular TVS Apache RTR 200 4V to get to this Race edition with dual-channel ABS, racy looks and slipper clutch makes it a sweet deal for sure.

Yamaha FZ25

Compared to the only other naked 250cc bike in the market today, the Yamaha FZ25 is low on output and doesn’t feel as exciting. You don’t get ABS (!!) either. But you do get the solid build and upmarket fit and finish. Just like you did on the smaller FZ but unlike the 16, the 25 is less expensive to buy. So, some saving grace there.

While it isn’t in the Duke’s league, the Yamaha FZ25 still looks handsome, with its mean looking headlamp and large muscled fuel tank, with extensions that feature real air vents and chunky grooves. The split seats and split grab rails look nice too, the latter being easy to hold on to as well.

The motorcycle feels light on its feet, thanks to a kerb weight of just 148kg, identical to the KTM 200 Duke.
The riding position of the Yamaha FZ25 is relaxed and the least aggressive after the Xtreme 200R. The 795mm seat height suits the average Indian height as well. The suspension comprises conventional 41mm forks and monoshock at the rear. The setup is on the softer side making for a supple ride over all kinds of roads. So, comfort is assured. What comes across as a surprise is that the pliant ride doesn’t come at the cost of handling. It is super stable and its dynamics are extremely confidence inspiring with the diamond type frame working in perfect collaboration with the suspension.

What is missing though is the spark from the motor that will take things to the next level. Sure, it’s super smooth and linear and the torquiest of the lot but it simply doesn’t have the punch in the gut when you want to get on the gas with gusto. In fact, it’s probably the most versatile motorcycle on this test, capable of doing everything with minimum fuss and maximum efficiency. Except, and this is key, it won’t set your heart on fire.

The air-cooled 249cc single puts out a not-too-bad 20.6bhp and has only as much as the smaller KTM 200 Duke’s weight to haul. The motor doesn’t stress itself either at low revs and pulls strongly till 7000rpm, beyond which there isn’t much to be eked out.

So, if you ask us, the Yamaha FZ25 is a bit of a confused proposition notwithstanding the fact that it seems to be selling fairly well. Certainly, more than its direct class rival, the 250 Duke. There is no doubt that it’s a superbly engineered product and is an excellent motorcycle in its own right. It’s just that, it’s very difficult to feel particularly excited about a motorcycle that comes across as just too sober.

KTM 250 Duke

For starters, like the new KTM 390 the KTM 250 Duke has a styling more up to date with the modern Indian motorcyclist’s evolving tastes.  After all, it does share the 390’s cycle parts – split trellis frame, suspension and swingarm. Even the architecture of the 249cc liquid-cooled single is based on the 390’s fire breathing motor. There is one thing in common with its smaller cousin though, that somewhat staid looking instrument cluster. Why no TFT on this KTM? The other things the 250 shares with the 200 are the tyres, brakes and electronics package.

Thankfully, like its bigger cousin, the saddle is wide and your knees don’t need to battle it out for space. A welcome change from the somewhat cramped 200 Duke I had been riding earlier. The handlebar has risen a bit too and overall the 250 is quite a bit more comfortable to be on. No complains there.

As far as the engine goes, the motor is smoother running than you’d expect on a KTM. Not in the same league as the Yamaha or even the Xtreme 200R for that matter. It is however the most powerful in this league with nearly 30 horses – 29.5 to be exact, in its stable. As if you would have expected anything else from the blokes in Austria. So you’re looking at some serious punch when you open the throttle, which sadly isn’t ride-by-wire

The power delivery of the KTM 250 Duke is linear with the grunt spread out quite well but there is a step. The motor comes alive at 5000rpm and keeps pulling all the way up to a heady 10k on the digital rev counter.

Yet, in spite of being the quickest and fastest machine out here, there is an air of maturity. There’s none of the jumpiness of the 200. Which is a great thing if you ask us.

Then there’s the handling. Instinctive and responsive, the bigger Duke falls into turns eagerly. A nudge on the bar is all you need. Set yourself up for the turn, tip in, clip the apex and open the gas as you go charging for the next turn. But where the KTM 200 Duke insists that you push harder, the KTM 250 Duke grows you into it. There, that sign of growing up again.

The other sign of maturity is the increased give in the suspension. The ride on the 250 is certainly less sadistic on your butt than that on the 200. Again, happy news for Katoom buyers. The other happy news, this time for touring enthusiasts, is that the petrol tank, at 13 litres, is nearly 3L larger than the 200’s 10.2-litres.

There are a couple of other things that are out of place. First, that cluster from the 90s. Then for a bike that costs 70k and more than the RTR and sixty more than the Yamaha, where’s the build quality and fit and finish to justify the premium? And suddenly, the KTM 250 Duke doesn’t feel as colourful as you thought it would turn out to be.


So, what’s our verdict then? The Hero Xtreme 200 R is the surprise of this test. The underdog with less performance and commuter aspirations comes out as one impressive package. Unfortunately, it doesn’t tickle the senses enough. It’s fun but you’d sooner be reaching for the keys of the others here. Buy it if you’re more of an A to B guy than one for weekend rides. Although the Hero is perfectly capable of going on a long one.

Strangely, the bike that comes closest to the Xtreme’s character is the Yamaha FZ25. Sure, it has more power and is spunkier but essentially, it’s calm and sober. It’ll do the job and is up for some fun too but it’s not the excitable machine.

But for some quality issues the Bajaj Pulsar NS200 would make it right to the top. Handling, performance, style. It’s all there but it’s still missing finesse and essential kit like that dual channel ABS. That latter, being missing on all but the TVS Apache RTR 200 4V. Most glaringly on the Yamaha FZ25 where you don’t even get single-channel ABS.

The KTM 200 Duke is the happy pup here. Always wagging its tail. Always up to play fetch. Active and excitable it’ll make a hooligan of you if it’s the last thing it does but it won’t commute as happily and that’s where you’ll spend five days a week.

The KTM 250 Duke? This one’s bloody confusing. Should have been sitting right on top wearing the crown and giving orders, but it’s hard to justify this one once you factor in the price and the kit on offer. Especially when for a bit more you’ve got the emperor.

Which, brings us to the TVS Apache RTR 200 4V. Without a doubt the best all-rounder we have today. Goes well, handles even better, second most affordable after the Hero, looks good and packs the most equipment too. Looks like we have a winner.

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