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Bajaj has brought in the smallest Pulsar yet, at 125cc. Though it promises competent performance, will it make a dent in a rapidly saturating market?
At the very outset, the Indian motorcycling landscape is incomplete without the Pulsars. Starting with the 150 and 180 duo, the family then branched out to 220, then 200 (which was later reincarnated with a detuned 200 Duke engine in the NS, AS and RS avatars), and finally the NS 160 joining the fray. A notable exception was the 135 LS, which, despite being a competent product, didn’t do well enough, forcing the manufacturer to pull the plug. So will Bajaj’s second attempt at a smaller-capacity Pulsar with a 125cc heart pan out? Read on.
At first glance, the Pulsar 125 is, save for the 125 moniker on the rear panel, completely identical to its neon-accented 150cc sibling. Bajaj, it seems, has decoded the formula of selling bikes, and it has to do with visual cues. Ask any KTM 125 Duke owner and they’ll tell you how. But while the smaller capacity Dukes started out as the 125 (which wasn’t initially introduced in the Indian market), the Pulsar 125 is actually a new (well, new-ish) engine, created from reducing the stroke on the existing 150cc Pulsar mill. Now, this will, no doubt, bring about some worries on the performance front. Or will it?
The Pulsar 125 is positioned as a ‘sporty’ 125cc offering aimed at college goers and beginner riders that still keeps with the Pulsar ethos, with Bajaj adamant that the ‘thrill factor’ was sacrosanct in the conception of the Pulsar 125, chiefly to distinguish it from the Discover 125. It also gets a few segment-first features, such as the clip-on handlebars. The stepped mono-seat, too, is shaped well and leads to a rider triangle that’s a bit sportier than the competition. This is reflected in the specs as well, with the Pulsar’s 124.4 bhp motor making 12bhp at 8500rpm; the highest in the 125cc class. Like always, Bajaj hasn’t divulged all the details about the motor, including the compression ratio, and all we now know that it is one of the motors with the shortest stroke in this class. It’s only after a road test that will we be able to tell you whether the Pulsar 125 truly has an overall sportier dynamic, as the 140kg kerb weight (a good 15-20 kilos heavier than its competition) does seem to play spoilsport.
Off the line, the combination of the high kerb weight, short-stroke construction and closely-spaced first and second gear ratios means low-down response is sluggish and jerky. It’s only once you’re out of second gear (and away from the trademark Pulsar false neutrals), do you realise that the gearbox has a precise feel, something that will surely help beginner riders modulate speeds better and allow experienced riders to extract the full performance from the 125cc mill. Additionally, once you’re in the third cog, things start falling into place, the short-stroke motor chugging away till the 10,000rpm limiter, which means you won’t usually need to drop a gear when overtaking on the highway. Lastly, the inclusion of a fifth gear (seen only on the Discover 125 and Honda CB Shine SP) means that the small-hearted Pulsar 125 can still hit a top whack of 114kmph (speedo indicated) before the engine gods deny you any further progress.
That said, there were a quite a few chinks in the armour. Drop below an indicated 30kmph in anything above second and you’ll need to keep dialling in the revs to stop the motor from stalling. Next, the front brake seemed imprecise when executing sudden stops and the CBS system, which Bajaj says has a 60:40 front to rear split, was ineffective on our test bike after about 70kmph unless given a good stamping, defeating the intended purpose of effective braking distribution. This, coupled with the absence of usable knee recesses on the tank, means that panic braking situations may end up with the rider being easily unsettled. Lastly, the Pulsar 125 comes with a choice of MRF and Eurogrip tyres (80/100-17 front, 100/90-17 rear). The Eurogrips on our test bike weren’t the best when it came to gripping on wet roads, and were just about adequate for cornering.
I can’t really disagree. Bajaj tweaking the 150’s mill has given us a product that has both the advantages and disadvantages of its elder sibling. Also, it does raise one question: why didn’t the brand go the NS200 and Dominar way, and simply plonk a slightly detuned KTM mill? The answer is simple – price. Bajaj has now conceded that their KTM sub-brand is (thankfully) more than enough for people to satiate their adrenaline fix. Additionally, though the Pulsar 125, starting at Rs 64,000 (ex-showroom) is a scant Rs 6000 less than its 150cc sibling, the trade-off with regards to power is made up for with respect to fuel efficiency, not to mention the advantage that much of the parts are shared. And all said and done, there’s no discounting the aspirational value of the Pulsar brand, all of which makes the Pulsar 125 a suitable choice for new entrants to the Bajaj family.