Oriental scalpel - The QJ Motor SRK 400
As you roll on the gas, you're greeted by a loud, almost superbike- like sound, refined but throaty and one that will definitely keep you holding the throttle open for just a little longer than usual. It has a very Benelli-esque quality to the sound and maybe that is because QJ Motor is the parent company of Benelli and it is in India courtesy the folks at Adishwar Auto. The SRK 400 is the company’s flagship motorcycle and all the specifications suggest that its rival, if any, is the KTM 390 Duke. So, does this 400cc parallel-twin hold a candle to the current benchmark in the sub-500cc naked performance bike segment?
In terms of styling the SRK 400 has all the correct design cues expected of a sporty naked. Sharp lines, angular creases, this ticks all the right boxes. The front headlight unit is made up of an LED unit flanked by LED turn signals. From more angles than one this headlight setup resembles the Kawasaki Z650 or even the bigger Z1000. Behind the headlight is an LCD screen, not a TFT one. This is a bit disappointing considering that even most smaller bikes come with colour-TFT displays these days. The underwhelming instrument cluster is nestled over a fairly wide handlebar with span adjustable clutch and brake levers. Then there is the 13.5-litre fuel tank which along with the seat, handlebar and the footpeg placement make for a rather nice riding position. Committed but comfortable is the best way to describe it. I’m around five-foot-ten and I was pretty comfortable throughout the roughly 400km day I had. Although it is worth noting that anyone for whom the air is slightly thinner, say six-foot-two or taller will find the riding position a bit cramped. The body panels are all sharp in their design language and the rear end continues to display the same theme, almost taking inspiration from the evergreen Triumph Daytona. Now while the SRK 400 does look stunning, the same adjectives can’t be used for the fit and finish. Sharp, unevenly finished body panels, clutch lever with a lot of play and just an overall sense of not feeling as polished as it should feel for a bike that costs `3.59 lakh ex-showroom.
There’s only so long you’re going to look at the bike for, so what is the riding experience like? Thumb the starter and two cylinders in a parallel configuration roar to life with a much higher decibel level than you would expect from a 400cc parallel twin. The exhaust is loud and sounds refined through the rev range. The same refinement is felt even when riding the bike, for the most part. When you hold the bike near the redline for a long time you can feel some vibrations creep in at the ’bars and ’pegs, but nothing to complain about. The twin is good for 40.3bhp of power and 37Nm of torque. That propels a kerb weight of 186kg, so naturally it doesn’t feel as fast as the KTM 390 Duke but it still feels plenty fast in traffic and can comfortably sit at 120kmph on highways. The engine is mated to a six-speed gearbox which is precise for the most part. There are a few false neutrals every now and then and it isn’t the most tractile setup but it gets the job done. The engine feels tractable and delivers power linearly. You can ride it as low as 40kmph in top gear and pull cleanly until the redline without any drama.
To be able to put down its Austrian rival, the SRK 400 would have to be an exceptional handler. Is it that? Well, not really. The engine is nestled in a steel trellis frame which is suspended on USD forks at the front and a monoshock at the rear. The suspension is set up on the sporty side and is a little firm. At speeds above 80kmph it does an adequate job of going over rumble strips and small speed breakers. Come across any regular speed breakers and some of the taller bumps in the road and you definitely have to slow down and baby the bike over to avoid unsettling it. When it comes to ‘sporty’ riding applications, the suspension is begging for a better state of tune to put what is a rather grippy pair of Maxxis tyres to better use. But the setup just doesn’t inspire enough confidence. The turn-in is quick but the bike doesn’t feel nearly as surefooted through the corners as the 390 Duke does. That along with the way it deals with our roads makes for a pretty big chink in its armour.
Braking comes courtesy of a twin rotor setup at the front and a single disc at the rear. The brakes have more than enough stopping power but the braking experience is tainted by the really hard-to-pull lever. Which makes it feel more like an on/off switch than something that can modulate brake pressure linearly.
To answer the question I posed at the start of this review, in my eyes, the KTM 390 Duke is still the champion of this segment. The QJ Motor SRK 400 is a solid motorcycle with some really likeable traits such as sharp styling, parallel-twin soundtrack and that creamy motor. But the suspension setup, braking and build quality leave a lot to be desired. All of this would be easier to deal with but when you take into account that this bike costs nearly `70,000 more than the 390 Duke, it becomes a bit difficult to recommend it to anyone looking for a sporty, no-nonsense naked motorcycle