Love them or loathe them, underbone category motorcycles, or kapchais as they are popularly known, are pretty much a part of the local transport landscape. Priced to sell, and popular with both young and old riders, kapchais are ubiquitous, and will not be disappearing anytime soon.

With the exception of Suzuki, who ceased assembly operations of small-displacement bikes earlier this year, every major manufacturer has a 125 cc category underbone bike. The market demand for kapchais cannot be denied, as many use them for short trips in and around urban areas and kampungs.

To that end, SYM Malaysia brought in to the market the Sport Rider 125i. Now, it should be noted that kapchais are really, immensely popular amongst a certain segment of the riding public, due to its low buy-in point and ease of use.

This basically means the younger rider, with fire in his veins, who wants a sporty looking machine because he’s just got his bike license, or can’t afford a car yet. Which is what makes the underbone 125 cc market such a hotly contested segment in Malaysia.

For SYM Malaysia, carrying the Taiwanese brand, making inroads into the Malaysian market has been hard work, but this has resulted in the 2017 SYM Sport Rider 125i. Find out what we thought about this 125 cc underbone motorcycle.

After having recently reviewed two 150 cc supercubs back-to-back, the Yamaha Y15ZR and Honda RS150R, we were kind of taken with the small-engine, nimble-handling characteristics of kapchais. In the case of the SYM Sport Rider 125i, with its 125 cc single-cylinder engine, a different riding style was required.

But first things first. The SYM Sport Rider 125i is very much a first for SYM Malaysia, an entry into the “sporting” side of the market, if you will.

SYM Malaysia is proud the fact that the design for the Sport Rider was developed from the Malaysian side, to be fleshed out by SYM’s Taiwanese engineers. What has emerged is a kapchai that somewhat resembles the offerings from other manufacturers, but is designed to a specific price point for a specific market.

Approaching the SYM Sport Rider, it does certainly look sporty, much like the Honda Future 125 Fi. Powered by a single-cylinder, air-cooled 123 cc two-valve SOHC engine, the 125i pumps out 9.5 PS at 8,000 rpm and 10.8 Nm torque at 5,500 rpm.

Fuelled by EFI – another first for SYM in this category – the engine is rated as Euro 3 compliant. According to SYM, this allows for the 125i to provide adequate power on the road, while maintaining fuel economy.

These are certainly numbers that fit in well with its class, and we didn’t find much to complain about with regards to the 125i’s performance. Getting on the bike, the low seat height of approximately 760 mm allows any rider to throw a leg over with no issues.

Starting off with a push of the electric start button, the Sport Rider 125i behaved like any other kapchai we’ve tested. Taking off was quick, and the engine certainly felt sprightly, bringing it close in low-end power to the Yamaha Y15ZR we tested.

Zipping through the four-speed auto ‘box revealed no surprises. Gear shifting was quick and precise, with no false neutrals, despite our efforts to induce such a situation with half-hearted shifting and deliberately missing shifts.

Gear engagement was crisp, and we found the 125i’s gearbox ratios much to our liking, letting the bike accelerate smoothly and with no drama. Reaching the top of the Sport Rider’s performance envelope, however, showed a distinct vibration that began in the seat, and transferred to the handlebars the longer the throttle was held open.

Now, we accept that at this price point of the motorcycle market, the engineering may not be as refined or as sophisticated – this is not a track-ready superbike, after all. But, the buzz was there, and it was annoying.

While not reaching hand-numbing levels, it was enough, on an hour-long journey down the Federal Highway bike lane, to cause the author’s butt to go to sleep. This meant for the rest of the time the Sport Rider spent in our hands, it was confined to short trips around town and the daily commute.

This isn’t that much of a negative, given the intended market segment of the 125i. Its forte, as we came to appreciate, is pretty much as an urban, do-anything machine.

What did make us sit up and take notice was the handling of the Sport Rider. Coming with cast wheels as standard, and shod with tubeless tyres, the 125i’s handling was quick, sure and confident.

Throwing it into sharp, debris-strewn corners on the nightmare they call a bike lane on the Federal Highway, the 125i didn’t put a foot wrong, giving adequate feedback and remaining planted. There were one or two occasions when we wished for a touch more ground clearance, but during normal riding, everything was fine.

Braking was adequate, and called for the rear brake to be used more than the front. This is, of course, typical for any kapchai, and the 125i is no different in that regard.

A hydraulic disc does duties up front, while the rear is a drum affair. Again, no surprises here, given the 125i’s market segment. While having disc front and rear would have been nice, we understand that given the bike retail price, corners have to be cut somewhere.

We didn’t get the chance to test the 125i’s brakes in the wet though, but during our test period with it, we had no issues with the braking. We did try some hard and heavy handed braking on the front disc, and it did start to fade after a period, with the associated squealing noises.

As we got used to the Sport Rider, we found a few things to like about it. The seating position was reasonably wide, and allowed for a fair amount of fore-and-aft movement, limited somewhat by the stepped seat, which also conceals a storage space underneath.

Rider accommodations on the Sport Rider were similarly well thought out, with the handlebars falling easily to hand. We did want for a slightly wider distance between the grips, but lived with the compromise, seeing the ease with which the 125i sliced through traffic.

Inside the cockpit, a simple analogue tachometer and LCD meter combination displayed all the necessary information. On the LCD panel, legible numbers showed speed, gear and odometer reading with a bar gauge for fuel.

The tachometer is a nice touch, showing the engine speed, which really didn’t do much at the end, since the Sport Rider topped out at somewhere just above the national speed limit. Let’s just say you won’t be dicing it on the highway with the express buses on this one.

On the road, suspension on the 107 kg Sport Rider was fine, if somewhat choppy at low speed. The front is suspended on telescopic forks, while the rear comes with twin shock absorbers that feature remote reservoirs and pre-load adjustment.

Fuel consumption wasn’t something we really checked on the Sport Rider while we had it, since all our riding was in town, and we didn’t think about where the next petrol station would be. However, based on the time we had the bike, the 4.2-litre fuel tank took us through to about 130 km, which is about right for this category of engine.

LED lighting features prominently on the Sport Rider, with LED headlights and tail light. We didn’t have many remarks to make on the headlights, save the throw and brightness of the beam at night was adequate for the purpose.

Coming in three colours – Red, Yellow and Blue – the SYM Sport Rider 125i retails for RM5,450 including GST. At this price point, the Sport Rider falls below many of its market rivals, such as the Honda Future Fi at RM6,072, including GST.

So, who needs the SYM Sport Rider 125i? Definitely, the target market for this sports-styled kapchai is the young lad just out of school, or in his first job. There is a definite masculine stance to the styling, which says speed, even if there isn’t a lot of it.

Certainly, with the advent of the 125i, a close eye needs to paid to SYM in the future, as it was indicated to us during a visit to Penang some months ago that SYM Malaysia was looking to increase its market footprint in Malaysia, and come out with more products that are relevant to Malaysian riders needs.