Back in the early 2000s the Indian automobile industry saw a shift similar to what we are observing today. The only difference is that right now manufacturers are on a war footing to launch BSVI-compliant products, though back then the race was on to launch four-stroke products to replace the smelly, smoky two-strokes that had ruled the roost towards the end of the last millennium.
Bajaj Auto had launched the Pulsar 150 and 180 back then, which were no less than a ray of hope for those who thought the end of the two-stroke era meant the end of affordable performance motorcycles. Back then the Pulsars had everything enthusiasts could ask for, like a good balance between sportiness and commuting abilities and an aggressive design language that was new to most enthusiasts.
The rest as we know it is history, given the kind of success the Pulsars have enjoyed for nearly two decades now. In fact, over the years Bajaj has tried different iterations of the Pulsar ranging from the small 135 LS (Light Sports) all the way up to the Pulsar 220 along with different versions such as the NS, RS and the AS. But the company recently launched what is the smallest Pulsar yet, the 125.
In fact, with the 125 Bajaj Auto has positioned the Pulsar in a segment that’s in opposition to what the Pulsars stand for performance and sportiness. The typical 125cc motorcycle in India is rather staid-looking and shouts from the rooftops about its fuel efficient manners rather than wooing buyers with its performance or handling. We put the Pulsar 125 through a full road test to decide if it can offer the best of both worlds.
Given its smaller, 125cc heart, we had little doubts about the Pulsar 125 being efficient. It returned 62.15kmpl on the highway, though fuel efficiency in city was not as impressive with the bike managing only 41.62kmpl in traffic. For the record, that’s just slightly better than what some 150cc motorcycles have managed in our tests.
And this can be attributed to the Pulsar 125’s dynamics and mechanicals, which are straight off the Pulsar 150, known better as an entry-level performance machine rather than one looked at for fuel efficiency. The 125’s dynamics thus feel familiar overall, especially if you’ve ridden any other Pulsar.
And that’s a good thing because it is welcoming towards young buyers as well as experienced ones. The ride quality offered by the telescopic forks and dual gas-charged shock absorbers is firm but likeable and engaging as the motorcycle soaks up bumps and ruts adequately, though sharper ones can transmit jolts to the rider.
While riding to our shoot location, the motorcycle had to tackle the switchbacks leading up to Amby Valley near Lonavala and the bike surprised me pleasantly. And that’s because the Pulsar 125 felt more like a larger, performance-oriented motorcycle given its handling rather than a 125 and allowed me to hunt for apexes and lean into corners with ample confidence.
And that’s also courtesy the Pulsar 125’s twin-down tube cradle chassis. The Pulsar 125 scores well on the braking front too the 240mm rotor upfront and the rear drum brake together offered a confident feel when it came shedding speeds for corners quickly. The CBS or combined braking system the Pulsar 125 is equipped helps matters as well, adding to the bike’s stability under braking.
The bike managed to come to a full halt from 80kmph in 3.75 seconds which is on the higher side, but it only covered 35.76 meters which is reasonably good. All said and done I was left wanting for slightly higher grip levels from the tyres only when pushing hard and riding enthusiastically as the front tends to feel nervous in particular, when braking very hard, very quickly. On another note, I also felt the Pulsar 125’s rear end was quicker to respond to directional changes than the front, which felt slightly confusing around chicanes.
Overall, the handling prowess is easily among the best in the 125cc segment though, as the Pulsar 125 has more oomph on this front than most of its rivals and can even hold a candle to 150cc machines on the handling front. The Pulsar 125’s engine uses the same cylinder block as the 150, which means the 125’s engine’s nature to rev up and build power is similar to its immediate sibling. The 125 clocked a 0-60kmph time of 7.02 seconds in our tests which is fairly quick. The bike is also quick to build speeds through the gears thanks to its close-ratio gearbox, which again is straight off the Pulsar 150.
Now that the riding experience is out of the way let’s talk about build quality and value for money, which are two of the most important aspects for any 125cc buyer in India. At first glance the motorcycle appears to be very well built and panels are put together consistently. Our test bike sported matt-finish grey paint which looked very appealing the first time we rode the Pulsar 125, during the press ride, but this time around I realised that matte paint calls for a lot more attention and care to ensure it remains spotlessly clean, as dust accumulation on matte-finished surfaces is a lot quicker.
Quality of plastics and other materials used overall is quite nice too and the Pulsar 125 thus exudes a premium feel, especially around touch points like the handlebar, switchgear, levers etc. I also like the seating position as the footpegs are mid-set and offer a relaxed feel, not to forget the fact that the seat is long and accommodating and there’s ample space to move around even with a pillion onboard.
The Pulsar 125 retails at Rs 80,632 on-road Mumbai, To its credit, the Pulsar 125 offers higher performance levels in comparison without compromising fuel efficiency too much and is also equipped with higher-specced components like the gas-charged rear shock absorbers and a wider rear tyre which to its premium feel and also help it handle better, than pretty much every 125cc machine in the country with the exception of the KTM 125 Duke.
And all this helps it justify the higher sticker price, while also making a better proposition for someone wanting a sporty 125 that’s not too expensive or is not too focused on the sole purpose of being fuel efficient. Add to that Bajaj Auto’s well-rooted service network in the country and you have a 125cc machine that’s also easy on the wallet to live with.
Photography Gaurav Chandrashekar
KTM 125 Duke 2019 Full Spec
Starts Rs 1,51,000