The lows are good, the highs are amazing


6 min read

This is a continuation on my last post about motorcycle. After selling my last bike, I was looking for an upgrade. I had some options such as the Bajaj Dominar400, Honda CB300R, and the Duke390. Here is some details on the test ride and the final decision.

Bajaj Dominar 400

This one was my top item on the wish list, Bajaj did a great job, making the 300-400cc market alive by launching this great bike. I especially love their ads where they mocked Royal Enfield. These ads and the amazing headlights on the Dominar were my main reasons to fall in love with this bike ever before trying it.

But when I test rode it, I was disappointed. The sales and showroom experience is not what you would expect from a company selling a premium product. The bike was decent, but the gear shifts are not smooth, they were jerky. It was vibrating in all the places across the whole RPM range. When I came back to my Fz-S after the test ride, it felt like riding a cycle because of the lack of vibrations.

I asked the sales guy if vibrations would reduce after break-in or is it a problem with this particular bike. His answer was it is what it is, the bike will vibrate like this. I know vibrations are inevitable in a single cylinder vehicle. But Dominar felt like it was not refined at all and was a huge disappointment. In their defense, I don't know if the test ride vehicle was problematic or the model itself is. In the end I decided not to go with a Dominar400.

Yamaha MT-03

When Yamaha said they're bringing this to Indian market, I was excited. I put off my upgrade plan for a while because I seriously considered this. They took their sweet time to launch it.

I called the showroom and asked if there is a test ride available, their answer was there is no test ride vehicle available. I can book one, it will be delivered in a month and then I can ride it.

The pricing of this is so high, and Yamaha shouldn't seriously consider people would be booking a vehicle close to 5 Lakhs INR without even offering a test ride. Get off your high horse and read the market Yamaha. It is not like the dead market a few years ago and you're already late to the party of the 300-400CC segment.

Kawasaki Ninja 300

I wanted to have a twin cylinder for its refined and smooth riding. Ninja was the only one available in the market, except RE's twins. I don't like RE bikes and hate their fan base even more. So Ninja was my only available choice. But it is a fully faired sports bike which needs an aggressive posture. I don't like that posture because it is uncomfortable in long rides. So I removed this from my list.

Honda CB300r

This was one of the best bikes in this segment. Honda did an excellent job and got a lot of things right. This is a criminally underrated motorcycle. I test rode this bike, the power to weight ratio is very close to the Duke390. The bike is very light and had amazing pull even on the lower gears and speeds. There were zero vibrations and the gear shifts are buttery smooth. All other manufacturers should look into how Honda creates gearboxes and reduces vibrations.

But as per usual Honda India behavior they don't understand their target market. The bike is a great for a single rider as a city bike. But we Indians use bikes as main way of commute and a comfortable pillion seat is mandatory. The CB300r has a very small seat that even for a short guy like me was barely enough with a pillion. If I had a backpack, the pillion couldn't sit comfortably.

Another problem is the fuel tank is 9 liters only. The fuel stations in Chennai are crowded most of the time as they're giving away free petrol. So I hate fuel station visits, this tank is not going to help me in long rides either as I have to stop for fuel every 270-300 km.

The headlight is a retro style abomination which is very poor and unusable. Indian roads are bad with full of surprises. A good headlight throw is must even for city rides. We can make do with Auxiliary lights, but those are not legally permitted. The police in some states will be waiting with their ticket books open.

These 3 issues made me not to go for the CB300r. I really regret not being able to choose this as the engine refinement and the smoothness is unmatched, even the 390 failed here. This was great but not practical for my use cases. But if you're in the market, test ride this. In my opinion, The CB300r sets the benchmark on refinement, fuel efficiency, and lack of vibrations.

Duke 390

All of the above lead me to the one I wanted to purchase the least. Only because, I was afraid of its maddening power. It is too much for Indian roads and dangerous in the wrong hands. Also KTM successfully destroyed their brand image in India by selling their 200s in an affordable price to teenagers. They earned the name of Chapri bikes. So anyone who owns a KTM is labelled as chapri by default. Their oddly looking orange color doesn't help with the image either. Their current 2024 Duke390 has a variant that has orange seat. Really KTM?

Despite all that, they make great, powerful machines. I test rode the Duke390 and was blown away. The bike is nimble, powerful, rev happy and has great brakes. The low end torque is good, but the bike has lot of vibrations and noisy on the low end. The sweet spot starts in the 3rd gear and above 5k rpm. For the whole test ride I was feeling like Ken Miles test riding the GT40, and opening the throttle even more.

After that test ride, I instantly fell in love with that bike and decided the little downsides such as city traffic heat, the chapri image are manageable. Luckily, they have a Blue variant that looks much more matured and less flashy on the road. I opted for the blue one in the end.

After almost a month, I got my bike delivered. I enjoy this bike so much that I finished riding the first 1000kms within 6 days and gave the bike for first service. The heat and the vibrations seems to have reduced after the first service. The fuel efficiency is getting better now as well.

In a nutshell, this is the best of what a single cylinder engine could achieve. The bike does heat up a lot in bumper to bumper traffic and lacks the sudden power on the lower RPM range. But once you find a free road and wide open the throttle, it is like nothing else I've experienced before.

The bike is fast and it is very quick reaching that speed. Above 5k RPM, it feels like a beast and encourages us to open the throttle even more. If the calmness of the CB300r is great, this raw rev happiness is something else entirely. I've been emptying my wallet refueling and riding at nights, sacrificing my sleep only because this bike is too good that I want to keep on riding it.

I am equally afraid of this bike as much as I'm enjoying it because it requires constant attention and control. I've had couple of close calls from car drivers cutting me, but I'm not sure if is entirely my fault, I wasn't really that fast on both cases. I'm trying my best not to add to the stereotype of KTM riders and to stay calm and smooth on the busy roads.

Like Uncle Ben said:

With great power, comes great responsibility.