Does the lightweight Pulsar have the right mix of spices to tingle the commuter’s taste buds? Or will they still prefer the Japanese offerings?
Words: Sarmad Kadiri Photography: Sanjay Raikar
By now most BIKE India readers would have a fair knowledge about Bajaj’s latest artillery to hit the Indian circuit. Our first issue of this decade featured a detailed report on the Pulsar 135 Light Sport, which promises to deliver class defying performance and fuel efficiency with snazzy styling. And all that, at a very, very competitive price. But the proof of the pudding is the eating. We decided to bring the new challenger from Bajaj’s stable face-to-face with the best bikes from a segment above and below it. Incidentally, both the flag bearers are from the Honda lineup – the Unicorn 150cc and its younger sibling, the CBF Stunner 125 (non fuel injected). In other words, Bajaj’s puny performer intends to gatecrash the Japanese giant’s party. So, let’s find out if it succeeds.
HONDA CBF STUNNER
BAJAJ PULSAR 135 LS
The Pulsar 135 LS has evolved from the XCD Sprint concept first showcased during the 2008 Auto Expo. The naked streetbike inspired headlamps nestled between the razor sharp panels and the floating fairing sitting above reflect the concept’s design cues. The side scoops on the curvy tank, the clip-on handlebar and step seats accentuate the sporty theme of the bike. The dual coloured front mudguard with ridges appears aggressive. At a glance, it looks distinct from its siblings and yet snazzy enough to hold your attention.
Shifting our focus to a segment below, the CBF Stunner 125 has just gone through a quick facelift and now comes with new colour schemes and body graphics. The addition of an engine cowl, sharper rear view mirrors and a black paint job for the engine, exhaust cover and handlebar make it look even more ‘stunning’ than before. The 2010 Stunner gets the much awaited tachometer in a new look console. Giving it competition is the Pulsar 135 LS’s neat instrument console which holds the digital speedometer, odometer, fuel gauge and trip meter as well as the analogue tachometer.
Okay, I’m midway through talking about the appearance of the bikes, but I haven’t even mentioned a thing about the Unicorn. This is simply because there is nothing new to talk about the bike’s design. Honda has been giving minor cosmetic tweaks to their reliable 150cc bike, but the Unicorn desperately needs to visit an A-list stylist real soon. It remains the most understated bike in this shootout and probably in its segment as well. The all-black Unicorn badged with the chrome Honda wing looks neat but dated. Honda did display a concept Unicorn during the Auto Expo 2010, but it didn’t manage to make eyeballs pop and looked more like an oversized CB Twister 110. Hmmm… That’s about it for the Unicorn in this department leaving the fight between the Pulsar 135 LS and the CBF Stunner 125.
The rear panels of the LS keep the Pulsar style DNA intact and the icing on the cake is the superbike type rear without a mudguard. But here’s the anti-climax, the full tyre shroud looks plasticy and rather odd. The designers should have incorporated sleeker shrouds similar to the ones used on the bigger Pulsars. Apart from looking ugly, it will be a pain to clean dirt from under it. The Stunner has a nice looking tiny hugger at the rear that guards the 17-inch tubeless tyres. The same tyres also perform their duty on the Pulsar 135 LS. The radical theme of the LS is also reflected in the sliced exhaust chamber. Personally, a slightly meatier exhaust would have enhanced its looks further. Bajaj has tagged the Pulsar 135 as LS, meaning Light Sport, but a complete metal chain cover is neither light nor does it look sporty. The Stunner, on the other hand, has a plastic half chain cover which does its duty well and looks great too. The LS and the Stunner sport step seats which look great. A minor flaw that our Editor, Aspi pointed out to the Bajaj boffins is that the side stand of the Pulsar 135 LS is located way too close to the gear lever. Even a light impact to the left side of the bike could disrupt the gearshift. Both the Hondas have their side stand perfectly located. The LS manages to balance the sporty theme well without going over the top, which means mass appeal. But the Stunner will still be a hit with the younger lot.
I have a lot to talk about the Unicorn in this section and only good things. It is the only bike equipped with a monoshock and yes, it does make a difference. I feel this 150 has the best ride quality across segments and this is no easy task to achieve. If you enjoy taking your friend or girlfriend (ahem) along for rides on the highway or even through the unruly city lanes, the Unicorn with its superb suspension and 150cc engine is a joy to ride. Shifting to a segment below, the Pulsar 135 LS has conventional shock absorbers with a combination of hydraulic, gas and coil springs. This combination works well when riding alone, but is strictly okay with a pillion rider especially if he weighs even marginally close to our photographer, Sanjay. Though the LS’s suspension is not as soft as the Unicorn, it is subtle and athletic even with two heavyweights onboard. The LS has a new swingarm and a long wheelbase of 1325mm which is even longer than its big brother, the Pulsar 150 although the steep steering angle assures reasonable handling agility. It is roughly based on the XCD’s square section chassis and handling is not the strongest point of the LS.
Its seating position is inclined more towards a sports bike stance with the clip-on handlebars and the low seating position making it fun to zip through traffic but the bike feels comparatively unsettling while taking on long curves. The Stunner with its 1271mm wheelbase and well sorted suspension scores over the LS in this section. It feels more composed and the new MRF rubber boosts confidence as I experienced while negotiating the corners of ghat sections. But the overall winner in the handing and ride quality department has to be Honda’s old legend, the Unicorn. The monoshock combined with the longest wheelbase among the three (1340mm) and the trusted MRF zappers make it nimble, agile and supremely comfortable.
Astride 2010’s new look Stunner for the first time, I kept praying in my heart, “God please, please make this ride like the Stunner Fi. Please, please!” But it didn’t. Let me break this up for those who haven’t used both the Stunner versions. The 125cc has a great Honda engine which is smooth and peppy, but the carburetted version is extremely under geared (for reasons best known to the company) which causes the bike to vibrate way too much as it reaches the 60-70km/h mark. Surprisingly, the fuel injected variant of the Stunner is free of this shortcoming thanks to the taller overall gearing. The Stunner Fi feels extremely refined even at high speeds. Unfortunately, the Stunner that qualified for this particular test was the carburetted version. While riding it in the top gear, my mind kept yelling “Shift the gear! Shift the gear!” but my left foot responded, “There are none here! There are none here!” It manages to touch the 100km/h mark which isn’t bad for a 125cc bike. But the Stunner gets outshined by the light Pulsar as it has minimal vibrations even at high speeds. The LS, as the name suggests, is quite light at just 122kg which is a good 7kg lower than the smaller Stunner, let alone the 146kg weight of the Unicorn. This is a great trend which is also the topic of discussion at automobile research and development departments across the globe. But India has a long way to go as international bikes with 600cc mills weigh just around 170kg! The light weight of the Pulsar coupled with its indigenously developed four-valve powertrain can match up to the performance of 150cc bikes. The four-valve technology helps it breathe better and so improves the fuel efficiency and the performance of the machine. Talking about four-valve technology, here’s some trivia for the petrol heads: the first Indian bike to use this technology (though developed overseas) was the now forgotten, Kinetic GF 125 which was launched about a decade ago. Time to return from the flashback to real time. The LS goes from 0-60km/h in just 5.18 seconds and has a genuine top whack of 112km/h! Several 150cc owners will be reading these figures over and over again. In reality, it’s not just about speed. The Unicorn is still content with its old two-valve technology, and it reflects in the bike’s performance figures. The younger Pulsar manages to outrun it by a whisker in the top speed stakes as well as the 0-60km/h sprint. However, the Unicorn leads when it comes to class leading refinement, smooth power delivery and unparalleled durability. Apart from reaching the top speed, what is really important is coming to a halt in urgency. The older and more experienced Honda scores over the other two in the braking department. The Stunner has good low down power and can even pull from low rpms in a higher gear which makes it a good city commuter. It also is the most fuel efficient among the three bikes here with an average of 66kmpl. The LS is not far behind delivering an amazing 63.75kmpl out of the spirited 135cc mill and the bigger Unicorn manages to stretch a liter for 58.92kmpl.
The Pulsar 135 LS shakes up the competition by delivering class defying efficiency and performance, thanks to its light weight. But I have to give it to the Unicorn for its refinement, smooth power delivery and reliability.
In our country, the big question that follows fuel efficiency is the price. And this is the interesting part in this shootout. Honda retails the Unicorn at Rs 64,082, on the road in Pune and the Stunner at Rs 60,580, but the 2010 model will be dearer by another Rs 2,500 thus bringing its sticker price closer to the Unicorn at around Rs 63,000. (Drum roll) Presenting the party spoiler for the Japanese giant, the all-new Pulsar 135 LS comes with a smashing price tag of Rs 56,500 only. (Silence). It can save you Rs 6,500 of your (or your dad’s) hard earned money. Yes, you can spend it on your girlfriend we mentioned above or donate it to a charity.
If you take the price into consideration, the Honda CBF Stunner is overpriced and if price isn’t a problem, then why not buy a superbike? The Stunner is a great looker and can also make your friend’s fiance go weak in the knees. It also has a strong sales and service backup and not to forget Honda’s quality assurance. A great buy for the yuppie generation.
The other bigger, older and perhaps wiser Honda, the Unicorn amazes me every time I ride it because of its overall performance, solid build quality and unmatched refinement. It has proven to be an extremely reliable commuter bike over the years. But there is a problem with this bike. It looks dated and Honda is not doing anything about it. For those who want to take a plain Jane, soft spoken, non-fussy, docile and low maintenance companion home, look no further.
For those who don’t fancy the plain Jane, Bajaj has the answer for you. The Pulsar is a really good 135cc bike that balances the commuter aspect by giving you over 63km per liter of petrol and at the same time, it will make you overtake the city crawlers by its raw power. The price positioning and value for money aspect gives it an edge over its rivals. It is light weight, looks naughty and wears a bikini fairing. Settled then, don’t take the Pulsar 135 LS home. Take it for a ride, a really long one.