Shootout: KTM Duke 390 vs Royal Enfield Continental GT vs Honda CBR250R
Price OTR Mumbai: Rs. 2.14 lakhs (Duke 390), Rs. 2.14 lakhs (CGT), 2.14 lakhs (CBR250R ABS)
The KTM Duke 390’s performance simply blows away the other two into the weeds.
Apples, oranges and grapes are three very different fruits but we do have those odd days of deciding between which one we would like to eat. Similarly it might sound ridiculous to compare three bikes which are so different but yet we do it because for the simple fact that in India, our buying decisions are mostly judged by how many green bucks we will be shelling out. And that irony is just mystified when we have three bikes as different as the KTM Duke 390, Royal Enfield Continental GT and Honda CBR250R; a street-fighter naked, a cafe racer and a full faired machine, all costing the same Rs. 2.14 lakhs (on-road, Mumbai). Baffling, you bet but fret not because here at MotorBeam, we had the sole mission of understanding these three bikes and picking up one winner, yes, just one. Grab some salted pop corn and peanuts because this is going to be a cracking shootout.
Motor Quest: All the three bikes here have been developed at similar times but with a vastly different approach which shows immediately when you get onto the saddle. They are so different with only minor similarities.
Styling – Even before I dwell deep into the details about the design of these motorcycles, I would like to go ahead and crown the Royal Enfield Continental GT as the winner in this department. Simply put, there is nothing as stunning as the Continental GT in the motorcycle space today. This achievement hasn’t come easy and the folks at Xenophya have put blood, sweat and everything else needed to make the Continental such a stunning piece of machinery, that be it day or night, every person turns around to have a glimpse of this cafe racer. The design is a beautiful blend of retro with modern manufacturing and the result is a drop dead gorgeous motorcycle which is extremely well finished and an instant eye-ball magnet. Stuff like the spoke wheels (which are made of aluminium, only motorcycle in India to have this), Paioli canisters (pure show off this), bar end mirrors (optional equipment but we expect each and every GT owner to fit them), beautifully sculpted single seat (you would be foolish to opt for the the twin seat) and subtle chrome touches all add to the visual delight. The Continental GT is one bike which can make you a superstar on the road, just because of the way it looks.
With the GT taking away the styling accolades, it isn’t a big battle between the Duke 390 and CBR250R for the second spot as personal preference kicks in here. The Duke’s minimilistic styling might work for some but most people in India love a full faired motorcycle as it gives the appearance of a sports bike, the CBR250R manages to do just that, albeit not in a big way. Honda’s quarter-litre offering feels a bit dated and that’s because Honda has skipped on visual highlights (no LEDs while black wheels were only added recently). However the Honda looks big and purposeful, the Duke simply doesn’t. Sharing aesthetics with the Duke 200 has robbed away from the 390’s exclusivity but look at this motorcycle from the side and you are bound to appreciate the exposed parts like the orange coloured trellis frame, ‘RACING KTM’ engraved on the engine and white coloured WP monoshock.
Instrument Cluster and Switch Gear – – Without doubt, it’s the Duke 390’s console which is the most advanced here showing a rich array of data including kms to service, distance to empty, average speed, mileage, etc. The only sore point about the KTM’s instrument cluster is that it’s a bit small. The fonts aren’t that big specially for the trip meter readings and the tachometer can be almost useless at times. The Continental GT is next up, the console is classy and the use of fonts it just right. The GT’s cluster looks amazing at night with the best backlit we have seen in a long time. The CBR250R’s instrumentation is boring but functional and we like how the large tachometer takes centre stage. However the Honda performs poorly in this department because the build quality on the CBR250R leaves a lot to be desired from. All bikes have the usual switches (the Duke gets browny points for the cool backlit) and the Continental GT has good build quality too, save for the minor irritants which you discover when you observe closely. The Duke 390 isn’t perfect either, parts sharing with the Pulsar robs away from the Austrian feel while untidy wiring under the seat can be a bit disturbing.
Ergonomics – Three different bikes with three different seating positions, without doubt the Honda CBR250R is the most comfortable here. Honda has successfully managed to get the seating position spot on and that means even long rides don’t tire you on the quarter-litre CBR. You sit in a mix of sporty and comfort which works very well. Just like the Honda CBR250R, the Continental GT too uses clip-on handlebars and the seating position is less aggressive than you would expect. What spoils the GT’s ergonomics are the too rear seat foot pegs. The KTM Duke 390 surprising doesn’t score well in the ergonomics departments and that’s because of several reasons. The seating position is upright and long riders hold the straight handlebar in a way which folds their hands, transferring some pressure on their upper back. The seat is super hard while the foot peg position is a bit weird.
Performance and Gearbox – Till now, it has been a mixed bag but without any freaking doubt, the Duke 390 is going to rule this department. They say there is no replacement for displacement but technology is the answer to cubic capacity. While the Continental GT is the highest capacity engine here (535cc), it’s the least advanced using air-cooling and 2-valve technology. The other two are modern engines with 4-valve technology and liquid-cooling. The Duke 390 overshadows the other two in performance and that’s simply because the 373.2cc engine outputs a massive 43.5 PS of power and 35 Nm of torque. Not only does the KTM have more power to punch the other two out of contention, it is also the lightest bike here by a fair margin and that translates into an unbelievable power to weight ratio. But before we go comparing the Duke 390’s hi-tech motor with the other two, let’s understand a little more about what the CBR250R and Continental GT have to offer in the performance department.
First the GT, the bike which finishes third in the performance department, no second thought here. 29.1 HP of power seems nothing for a 535cc engine but torque output is respectable at 44 Nm. What blunts the Continental’s performance is the weight, which at 184 kgs is quite heavy, more so by cafe racer standards. The biggest issue with the GT is of course the way this engine is fuelled. Quite a things are amiss here. The fuelling feels very snatchy pre-2000 RPM while vibrations kick in abundance post 3000 RPM. Yes, there is a definite punch post 2000 RPM with the ample amount of torque pushing you with zest towards the 100 km/hr mark but post the ton (km/hr not mph), the GT simply lacks the grunt to keep going effortlessly. Clearly the Continental GT isn’t meant for the highways while in the city it’s a bit too heavy for easy manoeuvrability. What we do appreciate about the GT is the way it sounds, it’s easily the best sounding machine amongst the trio.
Honda is known for making good engines and the CBR250R is no different. The 249cc mill outputs 26 BHP and 22.9 Nm with refinement levels being excellent throughout the rev band. The CBR feels at home at all RPMs and never heats up in any condition, be it high speed cruising or low speed crawl in traffic. Where the CBR250R loses out massively is the horses on tap, it simply can’t hold a candle to the Duke 390 which offers performance that can shame bikes costing twice the price. The Duke 390 has its fair share of issues too like the gearing is way too tall for ambling around town and the engine heats in stop-go traffic. However the Duke 390 is a very fast bike, taking a mere 5.65 seconds to reach to 100 km/hr while the GT takes 12.21 seconds and the CBR250R takes 9.28 seconds. Even when it comes to top speed numbers, the Duke 390 has the other two embarrassed, reaching a top speed of 169 km/hr, the CBR250R managing 150 km/hr and the Continental GT managing only 130 km/hr (all figures are VBOX tested with a 90 kgs rider).
So while the Duke 390 and CBR250R redline at an identical 10,500 RPM, the Continental GT redlines at a mere 5700 RPM. Although identical redlines, the Duke and CBR’s motors are as different as sea and mountain. The Honda delivers linear performance, no drama, no madness. The Duke 390 is raw but a bit laid back under 5000 RPM. Post 5000 RPM, the world goes upside down, the Duke 390 accelerates with such ferocity it can change your very definition of speed. Acceleration is simply mind bending awesome with 130 km/hr achievable on every open road, taking just 10.7 seconds to accomplish. The 5-speed gearbox on the GT isn’t smooth and the lack of rubber stopper means you can be endlessly shifting gears to no avail. The CBR250R and Duke 390 both have a slick shifting 6-speed transmission, the Honda being slightly better of course. So without doubt, the Duke 390 is the best bike in the performance segment although you need to get used to it for city riding as it isn’t the most comfortable under 3000 RPM. The Honda is the most frugal here, returning 33 km/l in the city while the Continental GT and Duke 390 return around 26-29 km/l in similar conditions. Highway mileage stretches by 6-8 km/l in all these bikes.
Riding Dynamics – These bikes also use very different underpinnings and that plays a vital role in differentiating their performance. Ever imagined doing knee down cornering on a Royal Enfield motorcycle? The Continental GT’s hardware enables you do that. Not only is this British branded motorcycle the best Royal Enfield, it is also quite fun to ride. Underpinned by a double cradle chassis, Paioli twin rear shocks and grippy Pirelli tyres, the GT can carry good speeds through long sweepers and remains glued to the road even when cornered with aggression. It doesn’t feel as nimble as the other two though. The CBR250R is softly set up and that doesn’t bode too well when it comes to handling. The steering is light though but not as light as the Duke 390 which is totally effortless to pilot for any type of rider. For example, the Duke is so light, you can reverse it out of parking with one hand whereas the GT is super heavy at parking speeds.
The KTM takes away the handling merits thanks to its massively sharp steering and amazing grip from its super sticky Metzeler tyres. The Trellis frame is in a world of its own, giving the 390 a splendid feeling of lightness. You can run circles around the other two bikes, that’s how good the Duke 390 is when it comes to dynamics. Where the Duke lacks is the ride quality. The Continental GT is more absorbent, although still stiff while the CBR250R is pliant, absorbing most of the bumps without breaking into a sweat. The Honda rides the best and has excellent high speed manners. The CBR250R’s tyres aren’t as grippy as the other too but the C-ABS system and Nissin callipers enable excellent stopping power (the standard CBR250R variant doesn’t get ABS and is a shade below in stopping performance compared to the other two due to lower spec callipers), matched by the Duke 390’s ABS enabled brakes. The Continental GT even without ABS inspires the confidence of braking hard and is the only bike here which uses Brembo units (not Bybre).
Touring – So you have spent quite a bit to buy either of these bikes so it’s natural you would like to “know the unknown”. That tagline belongs to the Honda CBR250R because it is the best bike for long distance touring. Good ergonomics, low windblast, relaxed engine, best mileage amongst the three and provision for tying luggage and all works well in CBR250R’s favour. However the Duke 390 can’t be written off here. While the engine of the Duke 390 is quite at home for high speed cruising, you would be massively surprised to learn how good the ride quality is when you soften the suspension from stiffest to medium (1 to 3 out of 5). Still the Duke 390 lags a bit in front of the CBR250R whose biggest advantage over the KTM is its tank range. The CBR250R’s tank can hold 13-litres while the Duke’s can hold 11-litres. Factor in the CBR250R returning a good 5 km/l more on sustained cruising and you have an extra range of 120 kms plus which can be quite crucial when you go on really long journeys (say 500 kms plus). The Continental GT is simply not meant for touring, high speed riding isn’t its thing specially with the tremendous vibes filtering through to your hands. This cafe racer is best enjoyed on short distances and leisure riding on weekends.
Verdict – Without doubt these three identically priced motorcycles are vividly different from each other, satisfying the needs of very different kind of buyers. The Royal Enfield Continental GT wins in style quotient while the Honda CBR250R is by far the most comfortable bike of the trio. But when you look at the big picture by gauging these bikes as a whole, it’s the Duke 390 which emerges on top. Not only does this KTM comprehensively out-gun the other two in performance, hardware and handling, it also re-writes the complete definition of value for money. The CBR250R and Continental GT might appeal in a few ways but it’s the Duke 390 which will really make you skip a beat. KTM has left no stones unturned to make the bike for the enthusiasts and we have appreciated the 390 so much that we even called it the successor to the legendary Yamaha RD350. The Duke 390 not only walks away as the winner of this shootout but also makes the other two feel a bit unaccomplished, clearly signifying how stupendously good this orange-wheeled monster is.
Neither of these three bikes are perfect with all offering their own unique proposition. But in the end, the KTM Duke 390 ticks the most boxes by being the best package for riding enthusiasts out there. It is thus, the undoubted winner of this shootout.
Further Reading –