The bikes for touring
It began with a question. “Who goes touring on a 390 Duke?” asked Sirish over a usual lunch arguing over motorcycles. Umm… me? Let me confess, I am an avid fan of KTMs and a proud owner of a 200 Duke for the past three years. I have ridden it to Bengaluru, more than 800km away, and back. I know it can do more than hooning around. After much debating he suggests, “Why don’t you take it out for a long ride and find out?” And then suggests, “Take the RR 310 along too.”
The Apache RR 310 had just joined our fleet, the running-in was over, and we’d already been thoroughly impressed by it at the MMRT. It even won the comparison test with its direct rivals. And many had agreed that this had the goods to go touring. But there’s only so much a track test or a road test can tell you about a bike’s touring potential. And then I thought, why not add the Yamaha FZ25 too? I have been using it over eight months and having done more than five Pune-Mumbai roundtrips, I know it’s a good tourer. So the die was cast. We would take these out on to the highways to see if they were any good at touring.
“What is it that you need to go touring? First and foremost a tractable engine that lets you cruise and overtake without having to work too hard”
But first, what is it that you need to go touring? First and foremost a tractable engine that lets you cruise and overtake without having to work too hard. Second a comfortable perch. You don’t want to ride long distances on a rock hard seat with a stiff suspension, clip-ons and rearsets for company, do you? Some wind protection. and finally, place to mount luggage. You do want to change after a long day in the saddle, don’t you?
Power commuter on the highway
Straight up, the Yamaha ticks the first box without hesitation. That quarter-litre single has oodles of grunt at the bottom and the middle of its rev range. The end result is a lovely tractable engine that you don’t have to rev sky high to get to the meat of the matter. Just shift to fifth and the FZ will go from as low as 40kmph, all the way to its top speed of 140kmph on the speedo, before the limiter kicks in. Out on the highway this means two things, one you have a sweet motor that lets you cruise and two, a good range because you’ll end up sipping petrol instead of guzzling it down. With the 14 litres of petrol that you get with the Yamaha, you’re looking at anything between 480 and 550km. Depending on how enthusiastic you are with your throttle hand of course. There is one shortcoming however. The FZ lacks a sixth cog. Which means it doesn’t have the long legs that I know it can grow. It feels stunted after a point, that point being 7000rpm. Beyond this the motor keeps revving but without much incremental increase in either speed or acceleration. Even so, with 100kmph coming up at around 6700rpm, you can still settle into a comfortable cruising speed of 100-110kmph on highways.
Thanks to that engine, its taut diamond frame and a kerb weight of just 148kg, the FZ makes for a friendly highway companion. There’s plenty of space to mount saddle bags and a tail pack for all your stuff. The well-cushioned seat is the one of the most comfortable I’ve experienced. The pillion seat is super comfy too. Ergonomics are relaxed with the riding triangle such that you sit in an upright position with your feet on mildly rear set pegs. The suspension setup is soft and the ride quality supple, which is great over long distances. The only catch is it feels rather wallowy when things start to get twisty. In fact, be it the engine or the suspension setup, you’ll need to keep the Yamaha in its comfort zone between 100 and 110kmph for things to be composed. Push it beyond that and the ride becomes a lot less enjoyable, and a tad unnerving if you ask me. The lack of ABS, even though the brakes are excellent with sharp bite and progression, also preys on the mind. Besides there is no wind protection for this is a naked power commuter. The biggest chink in the Yamaha’s touring armour has to be its headlamp. Although it’s an LED unit, which is great on paper, in the real world the headlamp lacks intensity, spread and reach. We would definitely recommend auxiliary lights before you head off touring.
Orange ain’t always black
An aggressive performance oriented engine and a sharp focus on dynamic abilities endeared the KTM 390 Duke to riders with hooliganism in mind. But it wasn’t very touring friendly. That rough and vibey engine that only wanted to be ridden hard and that upright posture with legs thrown back on to the rearsets felt a little too extreme. Add to that a tiny 11-litre petrol tank and you’re looking at more stops at the fuel station than your buddies.
“The 390 Duke is easily the liveliest engine in the sub-500 segment and can take the fight to a 500, or even a 600”
The new generation of the 390 Duke has a lot of those problems sorted out. For starters the fuel tank is larger by a couple of litres, which means an extra 60-odd km in the real world. And that engine? While inherently it hasn’t changed, the addition of ride-by-wire has taken out the snatchiness while other improvements have seen it become far more refined. So in a sense the Duke has grown up a bit, which also means, combined with the extra range, it’s a bit more touring friendly than it used to be. At the same time, it has lost none of the punch that it packed. It is easily the liveliest engine in the sub-500 segment and can take the fight to a 500, or even a 600. Thanks to the revvy nature of the motor you end up with a cruising speed that’s a fair bit higher than what you’d do on the FZ. Aided of course by the fact that there’s a sixth cog that the Yamaha is missing. But it’s still not the most tractable motor you can find with most of its punch being developed late in the rev range. So you can’t just twist and go. You’ll have to shift and twist to go past the slow stuff. Once you’re in the zone however you’ll be blowing past them.
And should you have some twisties along the way, you’ll be carving right through them for the 390 is razor sharp with its steep rake and short wheelbase. Not to mention, the chassis is flex free and that suspension setup stiff. And those Metzelers, they just grip and grip. Unfortunately, the price you pay is by way of ride quality, which is very uncomfortable. Things get better if you speed up to allow the suspension to compress and absorb but then again you’ve got zero protection against wind blast. And since the KTM can get up to serious speeds, there can be some serious wind blast to cope with. Slowing down to give yourself a chance to relax a bit isn’t a problem at all ever since KTM upgraded the front brake to a 320mm dia disc along with new pads and master cylinder. There are some other great bits too. That five-inch full colour TFT screen for instance that lets you hook you phone up via Bluetooth and then manage calls and music. There’s plenty of space for luggage too.
Beyond the race track
The Apache RR 310 has two distinct advantages. One, wind protection. TVS’s design team has spent hours and hours in the wind tunnel to ensure that the RR’s fairing doesn’t just make it look like a much larger bike but also does the job it’s meant to do. Sure, you won’t be in a race crouch all the way from Pune to Goa but the fairing does provide some amount of refuge from a triple digit wind blast. The ergonomics of the motorcycle are on the sporty side of life given the race track was its birthplace but is still not uncomfortable for touring.
Two, that 310cc liquid-cooled single is one of the most tractable units you can find. There is no part of the rev range where you don’t get grunt. Get cruising in sixth and you can stay there pretty much the whole day. Just twist the throttle to overtake. This makes it efficient too, something you’ll need given that the TVS has the smallest tank here at 11 litres. The suspension setup offers a beautiful balance between a plush ride and confident handling.
But it isn’t all good either. Vibes from the engine creep in from everywhere as you keep riding, something you can’t figure out on track or in the city. There is no space for hooking up luggage unless you opt for the optional grab rail that TVS dealers offer and the pillion seat is tiny. And you want more grip and feedback from the Michelin tyres. To its credit though the bi-LED headlamps do a superb job of lighting the way up.
The final word
We started with a hypothesis. Many thought the 390 Duke, our reigning Bike of the Year, was no good at touring. A bunch of people thought the Apache RR 310 could be good at touring. And I was the only one rooting for the FZ 25, which I got in as a wild card entry. Having ridden them back to back out on the highways, here’s what I think. All three can do the job of touring but with caveats. The FZ is nice, comfortable and calm, as long as it is just under triple digit speeds.
The 390 Duke is certainly more than just a hooligan and provided you’re willing to bear with some amount of discomfort it can do everything. And the Apache RR 310? It’s exactly the kind of motorcycle that you can ride to a distant race track and then bang in the laps.