In the congested city streets of most developing Asian countries, there isn’t any room for performance-oriented motorcycles to stretch their legs. With stop lights in the dozens, potholes in the hundreds, and fellow motorists in the thousands, small motorcycles and scooters reign supreme. So, what happens when you want a dash of performance in a package that’s lightweight and practical? Well, you get what’s called a sport-underbone motorcycle.
In countries like Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines, a whole subculture exists surrounding underbone motorcycles. Similar to the custom chopper shops and cafe racer builders in the U.S. and Europe, underbone aficionados go to great lengths in eking out every last ounce of style and performance from these tiny machines. In fact, major manufacturers such as Yamaha and Suzuki have embraced the underbone subculture with highly customizable bikes like the Yamaha Exciter and Suzuki Raider dominating the Southeast Asian market.
All that being said, the sport-underbone segment continues to be an extremely lucrative market, especially given the fact that these machines make for the perfect delivery bikes. While Benelli is known for its line of bigger bikes which are also available in the American and European markets, the company wants to make a name for itself in the entry-level market in Asia, as well, with the launch of the R18i. At first glance, this bike looks like a perfect fit in the crop of underbones in the market. However, closer inspection reveals that Benelli has fitted it with some components which would more commonly be found on more premium machines.
For starters, the Benelli R18i comes with a set of inverted front forks. While it can be argued that inverted forks provide a more rigid-feeling front end, as well as lower overall unsprung weight, it’s safe to say that for the Benelli R18i, they’re more of an aesthetic piece. To add to this commuter’s performance-oriented nature, Benelli has fitted it with a slightly larger engine than that of the competition. The R18i’s 174cc single-cylinder engine pumps out a healthy 18 horsepower—more than enough to transform a mundane daily commute in to an exciting urban excursion.
To top it all off, the R18i gets a nifty all-digital instrument panel, projector-style LED headlights, and aggressively styled bodywork. The Benelli R18i has been launched initially in Malaysia, with the bike expected to roll out in other Asian markets fairly soon. It retails for RM 8,299, or the equivalent of $2,000 USD. Do you think small-displacement commuter-focused bikes like the Benelli R18i have a place in the U.S. market?