There’s something about superbikes that makes them so desirable. It could be the fact that they’re designed with the sole intention of doing one thing very well, which is being stupendously fast. And if it isn’t the thrill of speed that lures you, perhaps it’s the almost sensual visual appeal, which is simply a byproduct of that very quest for speed. In most cases, it’s a combination of these things, and not to forget, the cool factor of it all.
Of course, precious few can own a bike like this, which is why the scaled down, entry-level versions of them have gotten so popular in our market. The YZF-R15 has been the benchmark in that segment for years now, and the fact that it’s one of Yamaha’s highest-selling motorcycles is proof of the fact that India loves affordable sporty machines. However, there’s a new kid on the block – one that comes from a manufacturer that’s been kicking up a storm ever since it entered the country in 2012. The RC 125 is KTM’s most affordable faired motorcycle, with affordable being a relative term. The catch lies in the fact that, while it does come with better hardware than the R15, it has a considerable power deficit and also carries a heavier price tag. Ever since the RC 125 went on sale, there was one glaring question – why would you pay the extra money when you could buy the R15?
Why pick the RC 125?
Perhaps for how great it looks. Don’t get me wrong, the R15 is a pretty motorcycle. It’s well proportioned, has a sharp, clean front end and a tall tail end that flaunts its R1 lineage. In isolation, you’d argue that it’s the best-looking entry-level supersport. And until very recently, you’d have been right because put it next to the RC (that ironically has the much older design) and the R15 looks dated. Having said that, the RC has more than just an alluring demeanour going for it. It’s also better equipped in many aspects – it gets upside-down forks, radially mounted brakes and wider radial rubber. This is a package that, I must admit, is almost overkill for the performance on offer – imagine an iPhone X running iOS 4.
RC's brakes lack bite and feel
That is a bit harsh, but in my above analogy, the iPhone X would handle it with ease and that’s the case with the baby RC as well. It’s a bike that isn’t as fast as its rival but feels more poised, relaxed and confident. On our ride up to Lonavala, I was able to keep pace with Rishaad (who was on the R15) through most corners, and the wider rubber took a load of responsibility in inspiring confidence on the dismally wet surface. Experiencing the suspension on the RC will leave you rather intrigued – the front is hard and it’s something you’ll notice almost immediately. The rear monoshock, however, is pliant and there’s a fair amount of sag when you sit on it. Despite this leeway, it remains wonderfully planted when leaned over.
RC 125's clip-ons are wide and aren't as tapered as the R15's
The RC 125 also has an edge in the way it’s put together. Little things like the triple-clamp handlebar mounts, the mirrors and the finish of the paint give off a noticeably more premium feel.
Why pick the R15?
There’s no question to it. The R15 is a much faster motorcycle and it’s obvious. The V3.0 also uses a Variable Valve Actuation (VVA) system – a valve operation mechanism that utilises low-cam and high-cam intake rocker arms, which results in a meaty performance at either end of the rev band. Hopping onto the R15 after riding the RC is like switching onto a motorcycle from a slight segment above, and it certainly felt like it. Tested back to back with the RC, the R15 was capable of a 0-100kph time of 11.84sec, while the RC 125 was just shy of being a whole 6 seconds slower. Presumably, you’re not going to buy either with the sole purpose of drag-racing them, so you could argue that these numbers are immaterial. Yet, this disparity in performance translates to everyday riding as well.
The R15’s brakes are better than the RC’s
Like I said, the RC’s solid performance in the corners helped it make up almost every inch it lost to the R15 in a straight line. Alas, all corners lead onto a straight and the R15 will comfortably leave the RC behind and, with enough room in front, eventually turn it into a speck in its rear-view mirror. Don’t mistake all this talk of the RC’s handling brilliance to mean that the R15 is a slouch. It’s a brilliant handler itself, but it takes a rather different approach.
The lower-set clip-ons on the YZF-R15 are quite demanding.
Yamaha takes pride in its ‘Deltabox’ perimeter frame, and rightfully so. While the RC feels a bit more anchored, the R15 is that much more agile and direction changes come almost instantly. It’s no surprise that most of our country’s motorcycle racers started, or at some point indulged in what it had to offer. The R15’s lighter weight and shorter wheelbase contribute to a bike that feels much more reactive and ‘alive’. Once you get comfortable with it, you’ll love what it has to offer in the corners. The brakes lack bite but provide better feel and performance than the KTM, which feels quite dull. It also gets a slipper clutch and dual-channel ABS, in comparison to the single-channel unit on the KTM, which is a pretty big deal.
Living with your decision
Imagine a world where you could have the cool factor of looking all racy on your sports bike but without the achy wrists, strained shoulders and stiff lower back. Unfortunately, this is too good to be true, because both these bikes pack riding positions to match the looks. Interestingly enough, it was the RC that was slightly more forgiving. Its clip-ons are wide and aren’t as tapered as the R15’s, which essentially means that your wrists aren’t as low. The RC’s riding position is much more roomy as well, while the R15 scrunches you up into a more committed position that would be kinder on shorter riders. But while the RC has better ergonomics, the seat is painfully firm and offers less room than the R15. Ultimately, the choice in terms of comfort comes down to how tall you are, and which aspect you’d rather deal with.
Another huge aspect of living with your motorcycle is its fuel efficiency and surprisingly both models deliver similar numbers. The R15 returned 36.46kpl and 50.6kpl in the city and highway, respectively, while the RC 125 managed 37.65kpl and 51.9kpl.
You’d think that the premium KTM demands for its 125cc motorcycles would be their undoing, but the 125s have gone on to become the brand’s highest-selling bikes. And that’s pretty much the answer here – for the cost-conscious KTM fan who loves the brand’s signature looks and sound, but doesn’t care about the actual performance, there is no alternative. However, for me (and anyone looking for the better sports bike experience), the R15 simply has a lot more to offer. To them, the answer to the question above lies within the question itself – why would you pay the extra money when you could buy the R15?
|KTM RC 125||Yamaha YZF-R15 V3.0|
|Engine||124.7cc, single-cylinder, liquid cooled, FI||155cc, single-cylinder, liquid-cooled, FI|
|Power||14.5hp at 9250rpm||19.3hp at 10000rpm|
|Torque||12Nm at 8000rpm||14.7Nm at 8500rpm|
|Fuel tank||9.5 litres||11 litres|
|Front suspension||USD fork||Telescopic fork|
|Front brake||300mm disc||282mm disc|
|Rear brake||230mm disc||220mm disc|
|Tyre size (f/r)||110/70 R17 / 150/60 R17||100/80 17 / 140/70 17|
|KTM RC 125||Yamaha YZF-R15 V3.0 |
|20-50kph in 2nd||4.29||3.45|
|30-70kph in 3rd||8.06||6.47|
|50-80kph in 4th||8.86||6.41|
|KTM RC 125||Yamaha YZF-R15 V3.0|
|Price (ex-showroom, Delhi)||Rs 1.47 lakh||Rs 1.40 lakh|