Here in South Africa we seem to be obsessed with large capacity and very expensive motorcycles. Nothing else seems desirable in our two-wheeled world, regarding smaller capacity machines that is. The general opinion is that they’re all just for the daily and tedious commute to work and back, or to deliver tasty convenient foods (read lazy bast’), to your doorstep. Well to all you ‘disbelievers’ you’re looking up the wrong showroom if you think a quarter-mill’-Rand motorcycle is the only answer to two-wheeled entertainment, and then some.
Hidden lunar dwellings aside lets get back to the real world, which are these eight very attractive motorcycles. I’ll tell you right now before you all scoff that all of them are well-built and immense fun to ride, especially when you have a group of ‘childish’ riders of all age groups to ride them with you. The bikes we acquired here are all worthy of a good ol’ ‘thumbs-up’ depending on what style tickles your torso. And during this mega test many torsos were ‘tickled’, believe me!
So what do we have you ask? Good question and I’m sorry for taking so long to announce them in no particular order. So here we go – KTM 390 Duke, KTM RC 390, BMW G310R, Yamaha R3, Bajaj 400 Dominar, Kawasaki Ninja 400, Zontes R 310 and last but not least the Husqvarna Vitpilen 401. Predictably this was a slight logistical nightmare to get them all from Jo’burg to Fouriesburg in the Free State close to Clarens and thankfully nowhere near my house on the Moon. But the lads from Superbike, and other fine establishments, rose to the occasion. And as you can see we made it and had more fun than if we had eight vibrant ladies in a large vat full of slippery oils, well nearly!
So we enjoyed a 70km ride to Clarens and back, where we kept swapping bikes between our vigorous riders to try to come to some sort of conclusion of which one is best. This soon turned into a Moto 3 type ‘race’ as we all ran the bikes to their limits of top speed and handling abilities and, everyone was surprised how good all of these bikes were, seeing as they’re all relatively small capacity motorcycles. I can now understand why this IS the fastest growing market around the world, but not here in South Africa just yet…Capacity Attack indeed!
KTM 390 Duke.
This bike is now enjoying its second generation of development and it’s certainly better than the previous model in many ways. The power and torque has been increased by a few figures and the styling has received some engineering attention to make it look even better. The most noticeable change though is the superb TFT clock console, which is the best found on all the bikes we have here and, the rest of the riders agreed.
The 390 Duke is such as easy bike to live with on a daily basis and we all liked the KTM factory colours in white/orange. On the monster 1290 Duke I preferred the black scheme but on the 390 this paint suits it perfectly and, it’ll surely appeal to the younger riders because of this.
We have run the bike on the dyno before and it makes 41hp at the wheel, which is enough to see an indicated 168kmh on those cool clocks. It will certainly go further if the gearing is made taller but this is primarily a bike for tearing around town on. Still I would change it if I bought one.
The riding position and wide seat is comfortable, as you tend to sit in the bike and not on it. This helps with handling, where suspension giants WP provide the components and Metzeler tyres are fitted as standard equipment, which also instills cornering confidence. The 390 Duke already enjoys decent sales figures and I can see why.
KTM RC 390.
This is KTM’s sportbike offering using basically the same chassis and engine as the Duke, nothing wrong with that. The RC is the most aggressive looking of the three sportbikes we had with it’s exposed lattice frame and KTM also use it in adverts along side their Moto GP beast. So if you’re a fan of that mental race bike then a few well placed Red Bull stickers will mimic that nicely.Indeed there’s not only a World race series for this bike but there’s a class for them here in South Africa as well. Yes you can rent one for the weekend and enjoy some serious knee down action at a budget price, so find out more and get racing on someone else’s bike right now.
Don’t forget this is a proper sportsbike so the riding position isn’t for all, especially at my age and it is the more aggressive of the two others. The fairing does a good job though when you’re in full race mode and the RC showed an indicated 173kmh on the clock as it hit the rev-limiter. So again you could change the gearing if you would like it to go faster at the top end.
The RC 390 has been around for while now and it is KTM’s largest capacity sports bike after the demise on the RC8. So if you’re after track-like fun on a KTM it’s the only choice you have, but a good choice.
Husqvarna Vitpilen 401.
This funky looking Husqvarna is one of the newest bikes into the 300/400 stable for 2018 and, they state it’s a bike for someone who likes something different from the rest. I have to agree here but it’s sort of a ‘marmite’ bike, if you know what I mean? You’ll either love it or hate it and there seems to be no ground in-between. It will certainly start some sort of cult following around the world with ‘trendy’ clubs and customizers rising from the streets, I’d imagine.
Not that it isn’t already customzized to café racer spec and the build quality and finish is exemplary, but it’s not a bike for big people. So make sure you try before you buy because of its small dimensions. No 200kg rugby players allowed should be on the tank.
It has the same frame and engine as the KTM 390 Duke and RC but it’s built in Austria instead of India and unfortunately the price reflects that, as it is the most expensive bike here.
To ride the Vitpilen is certainly an experience as it’s quite a wild little thing. Same performance as the KTMs with an indicated 165kmh on the round ‘kitchen’ clock but the shortened chassis dimensions makes the front a bit twitchy. Some riders liked that because the bike feels more ‘alive’, some didn’t. Like I mentioned earlier you’ll either love it or hate it but you’ll most certainly stand out from the masses, which is the Vitpilen’s advantage here.
Bajaj 400 Dominar.
This bike was included at the last minute as its just arrived in SA but we’re glad it did. We all know, or should; that the giant Indian Bajaj Empire owns 50% of KTM/Husqvarna, hence the 390/401 engine is made there. So why not have a bike using the same engine that they make, well sort of.
It does have the same capacity 373cc engine but has three, yes three, spark plugs to probably let it run on inferior fuel and clear emissions for over polluted cities. The 400 Dominar is the biggest and heaviest bike here with a real ‘big bike’ feel and the build quality is equal to anything we have. Not to mention it’s the cheapest bike here by a long way!
Riding the Dominar is a very pleasant experience because it has the highest level of comfort of the group. Huge soft seat for both rider and pillion helps and it has two sets of clocks, one in the normal place between the ‘bars and another with more information on the tank.
We had an indicated 160kmh as it hit the rev limiter, which isn’t bad seeing as the Bajaj engine has eight horsepower less that the KTM/Husqvarna engines. One thing is for sure it will have the best fuel consumption figures because Bajaj are the masters of that for sure.
Everyone that tried this bike came away impressed and so did I and, wait until you see how much you can own one for?www.puzey.co.za
Released last year and quite a success around the world seeing as it’s BMW’s first delve into the small capacity stage. It does have the BMW badge proudly displayed on the side of the petrol tank but predictably it’s not made in Germany. Somewhere again in the Far East seeing as Loncin in China makes their single-cylinder engine.
Again that’s not an issue anymore and off course it has to meet BMW’s very high quality standards before it’s released to the public. There’s no doubt the G310R is a well-made compact motorcycle to fulfill anyone’s needs around town. It’s also very easy to ride and get to grips with instantly for new virgin riders, which isn’t any of us.
However, and surprisingly, it is a little bit ‘cheap’ around the edges compared to some of the others, especially the dated clock pod. Still a lot of fun though when riding it in anger with the rest of the bikes we had.
Top speed indicated was again just over 160kmh at 162 and it didn’t hit the rev limiter on this bike showing the gearing choice is probably spot on. While this speed is being torn from its bowls one thing did stick in my mind and it’s the stability of the chassis. Planted to the road at all times with no thrills or fuss, which is how BMW would demand their little baby bike to be, to tempt new riders towards the famous blue/white propeller badge.
This ‘transformer’ styled motorbike is the pure Chinese offering in this test. It’s so new that we were the first to ride this pre-production model that has many exclusive features including key-less ignition. If you had all of these bikes lined up and asked the ‘youth’ of South Africa to choose one I’d guarantee they’d all leap for this.
Can’t blame them really because the ‘wacky’ styling is unique with it’s attractive matt blue/silver paint, twin pipes and the jaw dropping wheel design. Made me think of similarly styled bikes but much more expensive in the name of MV Agusta.
The switchgear is also on the ‘look at that’ page of strange parts. I’ve never seen so many buttons and I’m still not sure what they all do, very cool and conversational though.
Zontes have blatantly said they’re after the BMW G310 market and their engine is one cc less at 312. That actually makes this the smallest engine here by a thimble measure but it’s definitely as quick anything else. I saw an indicted 168kmh on the digital display and at that speed the Zontes was nice and stable with no problems from the suspension. Around corners it was firm and the brakes were as good as the ride. Quite impressive for a bike I thought might have been a bit of a gimmick, for once I was wrong on that count folks. All in all a very pleasant surprise is the Zontes.
One of two twin-cylinders bikes in this test, both from Japan, or made close by. The Yamaha R3 is a sweet little sports bike that still has racing success in the SSP 300/400 class that runs in conjunction with the very boring World Superbike series. To be honest the 300/400 series is more exciting than that premier class and it’s about time someone in South Africa did the same thing?
Anyway, the R3 suffers a bit over the Kawa’ because it’s only 321cc so maybe it’s about time Yamaha threw in some bigger pistons for 2019. Saying that the R3 is an excellent item in its own right. Yes it has to be revved hard to extract the most and an indicated top speed of 186kmh shows how efficient the fairing is but that’s not the whole story.
It’s super smooth throughout all of its vast rev range with most of its power coming in high up. But I found it to have the most relaxed riding position of the three supersport bikes. While you’re in a relaxed mode the R1 derived instruments are nice to the eyes as you pretend to be in a Moto GP. I say that because the R3 comes with this fetching graphics kit to resemble Rossi’s GP M1, which I think looks the part.
To be honest it’s hard to fault the R3 if you’re after this sort of small capacity image because its build quality is pure Yamaha and not some vile replica made in a sweatshop.
Kawasaki Ninja 400.
The new vibrant green kid on the block for 2018. It’s the only bike here that I can think of that’s gone through three stages of development and changes. First it was a Ninja 250 then Ninja 300 and now it’s up to 399cc and called the Ninja 400, surprise.
But it’s not just some oversized pistons that have been thrown in the pot, oh no. The most distinctive change is the gorgeous new fairing to resemble the evil supercharged H2’s face and redesigned bodywork to match. The clocks are more refined and 195kmh was seen on them on a long downhill section. I did run it on the dyno though and the rev counter was exaggerating by 10% (showing 13,200 when it was actually 12,200), so the speedo is probably the same, or maybe not?
But who cares it was the fastest on the test, but it is the biggest motor. Kawasaki has certainly played with the chassis and suspension too because it’s so much better than the previous two small Ninjas. One thing I didn’t gel with were the ‘bars position though, preferring the R3. They just seemed to be a bit too pulled in, but maybe that’s just me with old wrists for various reasons.
There’s no doubt though that Kawasaki has turned over a new page with the Ninja 400 and for the better. This new 400 is a very polished version of previous models and feels it. Simple to use and exciting to ride, a proper Ninja.
And the winner is….
Well you all might as well get writing to my Lunar address again because you’ll be disappointed to know that there isn’t really one winner here. You see, these eight bikes are so diverse across the board that all of our seven riders had different opinions and choices at the end of the thrash, err, I mean test. Don’t forget these are all pure road bike offerings, so if you’re wondering about the similar large range of 300-400cc adventure type bikes, we’ll get to those in the future. So calm down and have Grandpa or 12?
This did give me a bit of a headache though trying to come to some sort of conclusion, so I’m just going to relay what our ‘tribe’ passed on at the close of play. Personally I’d opt and, a few others, for KTM’s 390 Duke. It is, in my mind, the best all-round option here offering performance looks and it’s beautifully built with those top class clocks.
However this wasn’t the case for others who sat in the saddles. Clinton preferred the Ninja 400 because it’s the fastest and for no other reason, which is typical. Danyull, his son, adored the KTM RC390/Vitpilen and Ryan chose the Husqvarana as well. Danyull’s mate Cole liked the 390 Duke, as did Louis - Ryan’s pal. But Glen who already owns an RC390 race bike fell in love with the Yamaha R3. But this doesn’t mean the ones left out from these choices are losers by any means, let me explain.
The Zontes has wacky styling and will surely appeal to future riders who enjoy Marvel comic videos. Then there’s the BMW that left me a bit cold I’m afraid. Sure it’s a BMW and will therefore attract owners because of that but the engine just felt a bit lame and took a while to wind up to get the most from it.
Then finally there’s the Bajaj…wtf! We all thought this bike being the cheapest would feel that way and we were all wrong and very surprised and impressed. If this were a price related test the Bajaj would win by a mile. It’s the most comfortable and has blue-lit switchgear at night, which I liked a lot. It makes eight horsepower less that the KTM/Vitpilen motors and only revs to 8,200 compared to 10,200 from the big brand name variants. This means it’ll be better on fuel though and well worth a test ride if you’re after a brilliant daily commuter, enough said. Also coming from India it can carry a family of eight and 25 chickens in style.
Which one would you have? I’m sure this is going to be a debate that carries on for weeks or months but either one will not disappoint the new owner. We’re glad this class is growing now in SA to get new, or old, riders back into the saddle and save lots of fuel and money, but still keeping the two-wheeled fun factor up high.
Leave you horrid car at home and get onto these and enjoy as much fun as we had. And more manufacturers and now producing these types of motorcycles as we speak, so believe me when I say the Capacity Attack has only just begun.