There were few real surprises at the Milan show, but we reckon KTM get the team award for innovation – for the simple reason that their new contenders combine real world relevance with design flair.
Whatever the engineering merits of the Panigale, Ducati’s new sportsbike is aimed at a tiny sector of the global market, one which has been diminishing in recent years. A strategy which might reverse that decline in the long term is the introduction of affordable and desirable entry machines. A small bore, utility super mono for the masses would be more helpful to the boys from Bologna than a replacement for the 1198, because such a machine would address a key global demographic – one which KTM has clearly targeted.
KTM get the importance of small capacity machines in an increasingly urbanised, international context, and manage to address the requirement without sacrificing the fun factor – something which other manufacturers have struggled with (that’s if they’ve got to grips with the concept in the first place). A smaller, utility two wheeler does not have to take the form of an obese scooter, as KTM’s Duke 125 demonstrated. The Austrian firm’s 2011 Eicma introductions tell you a lot about the company, most notably that they are tuned into the prevailing zeitgeist in a way their competitors are not.
We suspected that the baby Duke would serve as the basis for a more powerful incarnation, which turns out to be the new 200 variant. It will address the needs of learners a step up the scale in age and experience from the 125’s teen orientated market, and thus fill a significant gap. It will also find a niche in the urban commuter market. We expect to see at least one more addition to the range using the same 125 template, possibly with upgraded running gear.
The Freeride range caters for those who want an introduction to off piste fun and games without feeling overwhelmed by a full on dirt bike. This is more of a conceptual risk than the Duke 200, but the new 350 Freeride (above) serves the same purpose as the 200: turning inexperienced riders onto biking without the prospect bankruptcy or boredom. The simple addition of lights paves the way for the 350 to become a hit urban conveyance, well equipped for dealing with the poor road surfaces increasingly evident in cities all over Europe and further afield, as well as being aesthetically in tune with the current penchant for ‘adventure’ bikes. We could see a learner legal version adding to Freeride sales, precisely the same market the Duke 125 is cultivating… Ironically, the 350 shapes up as potentially a more significant machine than the other Freeride introduced in Milan: the zero emission, electrically powered Freeride E (featured in the first clip, above). The jury is still out on which green vehicle technology will prevail: any conveyance which has to be indirectly plugged into a coal fired power station is not strictly emission free, but we’ll let that pass. At least KTM have a workable alternative to internal combustion, and don’t appear to have sacrificed traditional strengths of a decent power to weight ratio and nimble handling. We await testing reports with interest, but have a hunch that of all the new KTMs, the traditionally powered Freeride could be the most significant. Urban is the new off road….
Other Austrian debutants included the 690 Duke – the roadster incarnation of the most powerful single cylinder lump currently in production. But unlike the 200 and the Freerides, the 690 will be up against serious competition in terms of pricing and functionality, from a wide range of machines. The Street Triple being one such spectre: I know from my time on the Striple website that some buyers considered the original 690 as an alternative purchase – and in Duke guise the KTM becomes an out an out road bike. As such it will be trading punches with the expanding middle weight naked division.
However any of the newcomers fair individually, it’s clear that KTM understand emerging markets and trends, and have not compromised their identity on the way. The Bajaj co-operation deal and their 39% stake in KTM seem to be paying dividends across the board…