Look, this isn’t a comparison test. That would take 200 words to write. It would read like this. The Suzuki is a terrific motorcycle. It handles well but its two greatest attributes are its stunning ride quality and the amazing powertrain refinement. It makes the Suzuki a fantastic motorcycle to ride if you’re the unhurried type. If you’ve been riding Royal Enfields on the highway and love them to bits, do not ride the Suzuki. It offers more performance than them with such profound elegance and lack of effort that it’ll make REs feel a lot worse than they actually are. It’s quite a brilliant motorcycle the Suzuki. What it lacks, really, is a price that makes sense. It costs Rs 3.61 lakh on-road Mumbai.
At that price you can have a KTM 390 Duke and a half. Which makes a direct comparison impossible. But for what it is worth, the KTM is way faster, can cruise in reasonable comfort on the highway at much higher speeds once you adapt to its much harder seat and much smaller tank range. In town, the KTM feels more responsive, more likely to encourage hooliganism and is generally so hyperactive that it demands to be ridden hard without mercy. That kind of riding isn’t everyone’s cup of tea and that’s why despite the stunning value for money, the 390 will not impress everyone. And that, in sum, would be the comparison test.
I rode the KTM 390 Duke right after I sent the Inazuma back to Suzuki after completing the test regimen. And the Suzuki, to my surprise, painted the KTM in a completely different light. A surprisingly unflattering light. If the Inazuma wasn’t so expensive, I’d tell you a whole bunch of reasons why the Suzuki is actually a far better motorcycle and far more suited to our real world riding. The Suzuki would have rocked the boat hard.
Ridden back to back, the KTM feels raw. It isn’t unrefined by any stretch of the imagination, but the Suzuki forces you to notice the minor vibration that’s always coming through the footpegs, in the handlebar and through the seat and the tank. We’ve ridden the 390 enough to know that this vibration is low enough for it to not be noticeable within a day of acclimatization and most certainly not enough to give you tingly, numb hands even on fast, extended rides.
But the Suzuki sets a stunning benchmark. The balancer shaft on the parallel twin does a sterling job of eliminating vibrations. On the other hand, a long-stroke parallel twin 248cc making just 24PS means the engine is almost entirely unstressed. This combination is why the Suzuki can be so quiet, so refined and deliver its torque with this amazing civility. I’ll be back in the KTM’s aggro world within a day or two of riding, for sure. But the memory of the Suzuki will return to haunt the rides whenever I’m less than 100 per cent on the ball. When I want to be able to ride quickly without expending so much energy.
Similarly, the KTM’s ride quality is called out by the Suzuki. My commute suddenly seemed a 110 per cent more bumpy on the KTM. We know the KTM is super sporty. It’s stiffly sprung to keep its short wheelbase platform and higher center of gravity from producing alarming suspension movements under its considerable acceleration and braking. But it also means that on bumpy roads, the KTM’s suspension is unable to keep the wheels firmly in touch with the road. This manifests as spikes in the revs as the rear wheel spins up when it gets light and as a mild twitch in the bars when the front gets light. It makes for an interesting ride. But it means you’re always in, say a video game rather than able to enjoy a quiet, composed ride.
The Suzuki on the other hand, is blazing quick in traffic precisely because of its ride quality. You can use parts of the roads that others are scared to with impunity. You can stay on the gas allowing the suspension to ensure the rear wheel can transfer the torque while the front wheel will respond to steering inputs. This makes going quickly very light on effort and hence far less stressful than the KTM.
The Suzuki is also a vastly more spacious motorcycle. With its 60mm longer wheelbase, the Inazuma has generous proportions which means more space for both the rider and the pillion. It means your wife or friends will be far more willing to sit behind you even for long rides, something the KTM nixes almost by design.
Even in handling terms, the KTM is the king of capability but there’s something to be the said for the Suzuki which is such a tremendously reassuring motorcycle to corner that even newbies will be able to corner it pretty hard with great confidence and speed. The KTM would bite a rookie’s head right off. And if you think about it, we have more newbies than skilled riders, right?
I think the one area where the KTM beats the Suzuki, price aside, is the seat. A flat hard seat doesn’t sound like the right solution, but while it does take a bit of time to get used to it, in the long run, they prove better for comfort. Plush, soft seats, like the ‘Zumas are better for short rides, before the coccyx becomes this painful tingly thing from constant contact with the seat foam. It is the reason why, for instance, even the sport tourers tend to have flatter, harder seats rather than generously spongy-foamy plush seats.
All this put together makes the KTM feel younger, more hyperactive and like it’s had way too much coffee. This kind of energy is fantastic for short durations – you know like playing with your neighbour’s energetic six-year old. But when you have to live with it, you keep finding yourself thinking you need a break from the constant sensory barrage, the unrelenting pace at which things happen. It can drain you. The Suzuki feels vastly better engineered and more mature. It’s not slow, though it certainly isn’t in the KTM ballpark. It’s a quiet, effective motorcycle that would take the sting out of riding in India every day. And this it does so astonishingly well, that if the Suzuki were priced at Rs 1.7-1.9 lakhs, or roughly Rs 20-25,000 more than the 200 Duke and about Rs 15-20,000 less than the 390 Duke, the comparison test would have a very, very interesting conclusion.