Showroom Showdown: Euro beginner bikes

Not long ago, beginner bikes were strictly Japanese territory; if you wanted an entry-level machine, you went with a Ninja 300 or Rebel 250, or further back into history, something like a KZ440 LTD. The Big Four had tough, affordable bikes at the right price point, and the Euro manufacturers like KTM, BMW and Ducati were aspirational brands, something you bought when you’d ridden for a few years and saved your money.

Not anymore. With this generation’s upheaval in the world’s finances, we’re getting a new outlook, one that includes beginner bikes with Asian manufacturing origins but sold under Euro marques. Today, we’re looking at four of them: the made-in-India Husqvarna Vitpilen, the BMW G310R, the KTM 390 Duke and the made-in-Thailand Ducati Scrambler Sixty2.

Engine

Two of these bikes – the Duke 390 and Vitpilen – use the exact same engine, a liquid-cooled made-in-India 373 cc thumper. That’s because KTM actually owns Husqvarna, so there’s a lot of technology crossover. That engine makes 43 hp, which is pretty decent for a small-bore single-cylinder powerplant, and the most powerful engine in this comparo. It has four valves and a double overhead cam.

The G310R engine is also made in India and has a single-cylinder motor. It’s a liquid-cooled 313 cc DOHC four-valve setup, making 34 hp.

The Sixty2 has a weird engine; it’s basically the same air-cooled desmo-valve L-twin as the larger 803 cc Scrambler models, but with bore and stroke both reduced, bringing it to 399 cc. That’s supposedly good for 40 hp.

The KTM/Husqvarna engine makes 25.8 lb-ft of torque, marginally more than the Ducati (25.5 lb-ft). The Beemer engine is rated for 20.7 lb-ft of torque.

None of these bikes are torque monsters or high-horsepower screamers, but they all should be suitable for beginners, with sensible power curves. The KTM is most likely the most desirable engine, not just because it makes the most torque and horsepower, but because it’s been raced in the US and other series for a while and if there were serious issues with it, we’d have heard plenty about it by now.

The Vitpilen is the lightest bike here, and looking at it, you can see why: there’s no wasted weight bolted on that machine.
Weight

No surprise here; the KTM and Husqvarna are close in weight, with the Duke rated at 149 kg (dry weight) and the Vitpilen at 148 kg (dry weight). The G310R’s dry weight is a mystery, but it’s rated at 158 kg wet, so it likely isn’t too far off the Vitpilen and 390 Duke (supposedly about 10 kg difference, noticeable but not a game-changer). The Ducati Scrambler Sixty2 is a porky 167 kg, as it’s basically the same platform as the larger-engined Scramblers.

Although it doesn’t have name-brand suspension like the other machines, test riders seem to like the G310R’s forks and shock. Suspension is something BMW does well.
Suspension
None of these machines come with fancy top-shelf fully adjustable suspension, but the inverted forks on the Husqvarna and KTM are from WP.
The BMW also has a USD front end, but without any fancy stickers implying aftermarket performance. The Ducati has a set of standard Showa forks; its rear shock is a Kayaba unit. The rear shocks for the Vitpilen and Duke 390 are from WP, and the BMW shock is once again an in-house creation.
For all these bikes, you’d be silly to expect any sort of high-performance suspension capability. They’re all in the same 140-150 mm range of suspension travel, except for the BMW’s rear shock, which has 131 mm of travel.
Although the Sixty2 is down on power and high on weight, it is a comfortable-looking machine, with familiar ergonomics.
Ergonomics/Comfort

All these bikes have an upright seating stance. Individual comfort is a personal preference, but it’s likely the Sixty2 has more room, as it’s based around a full-sized motorcycle chassis.

Seat height is 835 mm for the Vitpilen and 800 mm for the Duke 390. The BMW has a 785 mm seat height, and the Scrambler has a 770 mm seat height, meaning it’s probably the least intimidating for many new riders. Aside from that, you’d have to ride the machines for yourself to determine ergonomic suitability. None of them come with much wind protection, so if you wanted to put on serious miles, that would be something to address.

The KTM’s switchable ABS will suit the urban hoon well, which is likely the target market to start with.
Brakes

All bikes come standard with single-disc brakes front and rear, with front discs in the 300-320 mm range. ABS is standard on all these models as well, but the rider can turn it off on the Vitpilen and 390 Duke if they want to hoon about, and those bikes have a four-piston caliper up front. The others sport two-piston calipers in front. All have a one-piston caliper in the rear except the BMW.

It’s impressive to see ABS included on these entry-level models, but that’s where the market is headed, especially in Europe, where it will soon be mandatory on all models.

ABS is the only electronic safety system on these bikes — traction control comes from your throttle hand, and there’s no launch control or other high tech system. However, expect to see that sort of thing coming to this segment. It’s already made its way to the middleweight class, and as IMU (Inertial Measurement Unit) sensors are starting to make their way to entry-level bikes, advanced anti-crash systems won’t be far behind.

Which bike is the winner? The BMW G310R has the lowest MSRP, but not that much less than the KTM 390 Duke, which offers a lot more performance for little money.
Pricing/Conclusion

MSRP for the BMW G310R is $5,250. For the Ducati Scrambler Sixty2, it’s $ 9,195. The KTM 390 Duke is $ 5,899 and the Husqvarna Vitpilen is $ 6,999.

So, what should you buy?

The loser here is, by far, the Sixty-Two. It’s barely any cheaper than the rest of the Scrambler lineup, and offers a lot less performance but still the same weight. It’s a lot more expensive than any of the other Euro beginner bikes, while offering less performance.

The Vitpilen is a lot less money than the Sixty-Two, but it is still a bit of a stretch to figure how Husqvarna managed to jack the price up $1,100 over what’s a very similar machine from KTM. Sure, Husky is an upscale brand, and they’re trying to make these machines aspirational, but that’s still the same made-in-India engine as the 390.

As for the winner on price, it’s hard to pick between the KTM and the Beemer, and it’s likely that much of the deciding difference would come down to personal choice over things like ergonomics and aesthetics. The G310R definitely doesn’t carry as much of a performance attitude as the KTM, although there would be plenty of riders who would be okay with that. If the G310R holds up BMW’s long-established rep for building reliable bikes, it’s going to be a great deal at that price.

However, if BMW is known for building reliable machines, KTM is known for building exciting motorcycles. At only $650 more than the G310, the 390 Duke’s horsepower edge is probably enough to make the price difference worth it.

2 thoughts on “Showroom Showdown: Euro beginner bikes”

  1. A month ago I got to sit on — and pore over — the Husky and KTM side-by-side in a dealership overseas. The finishes and artistry in the Vitpilen is likely to make it worth that extra $1,100 for most buyers. It’s sensational to behold.

  2. Beginner bikes or urban shredders? The Husky is the coolest but will it have the head gasket issues the KTM RC 390 and Duke 390 has? It shares the same engine that’s made in India so…

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