April 2018

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Development and Improvement

THE INDIAN TWO-WHEELER MANUFACTURERS IN THE PAST DID not have an R&D department or, if they had one, it was more like a resting and dreaming department. Most of them thought that they did not need one as it amounted to a waste of money or they were not allowed to have one by their partners. The two local manufacturers that have a good R&D facility are Bajaj and TVS, and now Hero MotoCorp have set up a massive R&D centre on the outskirts of Jaipur in Rajasthan.

In this modern age just having a good R&D department is not enough; taking part in motor sport is also very important for the product. Besides, this gives the R&D engineers exposure to improve their capability. Motor sport also helps the R&D with riders who can push the bikes to their limits and give a feedback to the engineers as to what changes are required to further improve those bikes.

If a manufacturer wants to make adventure sport bikes, then they need to take part in rallying and motocross events. If, on the other hand, they decide to focus on street and sport motorcycles, then they need to compete in road racing (circuit racing). Today TVS have a big advantage over the rest of the manufacturers because they have been taking part in racing for the past 35 years and it gets reflected in their products such as the Apache RTR160, 200 and the RR 310.

Aspi Bhathena

March 2018

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Ducal Supremacy

THE LAST MONTH WAS VERY HECTIC FOR ALL OF US AT BIKE INDIA with the Auto Expo and the Bike India Awards being held in quick succession. A number of motorcycle manufacturers seemed to have decided to give the Auto Expo a miss, two of the biggest of them being Bajaj Auto and Royal Enfield.

Although quite a few motorcycles and scooters were unveiled at this year’s event, very few of them were actually launched. The press conferences scheduled back to back make it more or less impossible to attend most of them and even if you make it to the press conference, it proves pointless, for all that you get to see are the backs of the photographers. No wonder a number of manufacturers are having second thoughts about whether it is worth their while to be present at the Auto Expo.

This year there were many strong contenders for the Bike India Two-wheeler of the Year Award. Most of the 22 contenders were premium bikes from Triumph, Ducati, Suzuki, Avantura Choppers, Honda, and the latest entrant, BMW Motorrad. Since affordability is very important for the Indian market, the KTM 390 Duke walked away with the Two-wheeler of the Year Award.

Last month I rode the first production V4 Ducati motorcycle at the Valencia circuit in Spain. I have ridden most of the litre-class superbikes on racetracks and they all feel like 1,000-cc superbikes, but the Panigale V4 has set a new benchmark in the segment.

Aspi Bhathena

February 2018

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Truly a Sight to Behold

LAST MONTH I WAS IN LIMA, PERU, FOR THE DAKAR RALLY. This was my first visit to South America and the perception I had about South America being a backward Third World country ruled by drug barons and goons turned out to be totally wrong. In fact, I was in for a pleasant surprise. The roads over there are far better than what we have over here and the most important thing is that people obey traffic rules.

The first motorcycle I saw at two o’clock in the morning was a Bajaj Pulsar 135. Bajaj is the most popular brand of motorcycles in Peru. They also have Bajaj auto-rickshaws with fibreglass body and doors. Our guide said that law and order in South America had improved over the last 10 to 15 years.

Two Indian manufacturers, TVS and Hero MotoCorp, are taking part in Dakar, the toughest motorcycle rally in the world. I spoke to Aravind KP and CS Santosh after the first special stage and both of them looked confident and in excellent physical shape. The bikes, at the speeds they were getting up to on the flat parts of the desert, were a sight to behold as they raced across the desert. Riding a motorcycle off road for anything between 300 and 500 kilometres a day requires a lot of fitness and both the India boys looked extremely fit..

Aspi Bhathena

January 2018

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In the Company of a Living Legend

THE FIFTH INDIA BIKE WEEK (IBW) WAS HELD IN GOA ON 24 AND 25 November and it was heartening to see how the biggest bike festival has grown over the years from a turnout of 3,000 to nearly 20,000.

Some people asked me why I brought the living legend, ‘Fast Freddie’ Spencer, to the IBW and the answer is simple: because of my racing achievements and as the editor of Bike India I get to meet these legends. Our readers and fellow bikers don’t get this opportunity, so I thought why not bring him to IBW so that all of you can meet the legend in person? After spending three days with him I can say he is a humble, down to earth human being after all his achievements in life. I had to pinch myself that it was not a dream but I was really driving with Freddie Spencer and for this I would like to thank the folk at TVS Racing, CEA T Tyres and Arai Helmets for making it possible to bring Freddie Spencer to India for IBW. On his part, Freddie really enjoyed the festival, the interactions and was impressed by the turnout, saying he would love to come back to the IBW festival.

I would like to congratulate the team at 70 EMG for the fifth and India’s biggest bike festival and I hope the next one is even bigger.

The new TVS Apache RR 310 is an all-round motorcycle with fantastic handling; you can read our first ride report in this issue.

We would also like to congratulate KTM for having won the Indian Motorcycle of the Year (IMOTY) 2018 award for the 390 Duke.

Aspi Bhathena

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December 2017

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Ushering in a New Era

LAST MONTH I VISITED THE NEW ROYAL ENFIELD TECHNICAL centre in Leicestershire at the Buntingthorpe proving ground. First and foremost, I would like to congratulate Siddhartha Lal for setting up this state-of-the-art research and development facility.

When I was talking to Siddhartha he reminded me about the discussion we had had at Jaisalmer in 2010 when we had discussed the R&D capability of Royal Enfield or the lack thereof. He said that that talk between the two of us was one of the reasons that prompted him to set up the Buntingthorpe R&D facility. The first fruit of this new technical centre is the all-new 650-cc twin.

The two new 650 twins created quite a stir at the recent EICMA . There was a massive representation of journalists at the Royal Enfield stand for the press conference and the unveiling of the 650 Interceptor and the GT650. The new 650s usher in a new era for Royal Enfield; not only because they are the first twin-cylinder motorcycles from the company, but also because of the quality of components, build quality and top-class fit-and-finish. The bikes are nice and compact and have the perfect retro look. Now I am looking forward to swinging my leg over these bikes to take them for a long ride.

The second bike that caught my eye was the new V4 Ducati. It was also voted as the best-looking motorcycle at EICMA . The new V4 motor looks like a work of art and even with V4 configuration the bike is really compact. The trend these days is to make the bike as small and compact as possible.

Aspi Bhathena

November 2017

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Softail Surprise

LAST MONTH I WAS INVITED BY HARLEY-DAVIDSON TO Barcelona, Spain, to ride the 2018 Softail range. The new range has been completely revamped from the chassis to the engine. The new chassis is much lighter and stiffer than its predecessor. Similarly, the new engine has been reworked and is now fitted with dual balancer shafts to reduce vibrations, for the new powerplant is no longer rubber-mounted. H-D have done away with rubber mounting to reduce flex and make the frame more rigid.

The roads north of Barcelona in the Catalan mountains selected by Harley were full of twists and turns more suited to sports motorcycles. To my surprise, however, the Softails did not disappoint. In fact, I was in for a pleasant surprise as I swung my leg over the Fat Bob. Even though the foot-rests are much higher, they still ground. The lead rider was setting a brisk pace and the ride was anything but a cruise; in fact, we were flat-out from one corner into another. I could not imagine that you could have so much fun on a Harley.

Normally, one associates Harley-Davidson with ‘driving’ a bike rather than riding it, but the new models have changed all that. Now you can go scratching with a Harley. Even after spending the whole day riding flat-out, there was neither fatigue nor were
my hands tingling with vibrations, and that says a lot about the 2018 range.

After Spain I was in Hinckley in the UK for the launch of the Triumph Bonneville Bobber Black, Bonneville Speedmaster and the opening of the visitors’ centre. A week later I was in Munich to meet the officials of BMW Motorrad and a day later it was Berlin calling for a visit to the BMW Motorrad plant. Incidentally, the pricing of the BMW motorcycles is going to be on the high side because they intend to be a premium brand.

Aspi Bhathena

October 2017

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Electric Two-wheelers: How Feasible?

THIS MONTH WE COMPARE THE NEW BAJAJ PULSAR NS160 WITH the Honda CB Hornet 160. These two motorcycles are more or less identical in the amount of power and torque they deliver, but different in their character: while the Pulsar is on the sporty side, the Hornet is a typical Honda all-rounder. You can read the comprehensive comparison in this issue.

The big news in the MotoGP world was Valentino Rossi breaking his leg during training on a dirt track. Many people say that MotoGP riders should not ride off-road bikes during the season and risk getting injured. I don’t think anybody is qualified enough to give advice to a nine-time world champion.

The honourable transport minister says that he wants to push electric two-wheelers. However, since most of the electric power plants are coal-fired, it means that you are only moving the pollution from the cities to where the power is generated. In fact, there was a power shortage in Maharashtra recently and the reason given for this was shortage of coal. Most of the electric scooters in India use Chinese motors and their performance and range are very limited.

There was news that the Eicher Group was bidding for Ducati, but, according to a German news agency, the labour union was not willing to give the go-ahead to the VW Board to sell Ducati. If Eicher were to buy Ducati, I am sure Siddhartha Lal would do a good job of taking Ducati forward. Incidentally, last year I had asked Claudio Domenicali if they were working on a V4 engine for their superbike, to which he had replied in the negative. However, one year down the line they have launched a V4 engine to power the new Panigale.

Aspi Bhathena

September 2017

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A Momentous Tie-up

Triumph. Going by the information available as of now, this is a technical tie-up whereby Triumph will supply technology for big motorcycles and Bajaj will help Triumph break into the sub-400-cc market to take on the European manufacturers.

The Triumph line-up of products suits the Indian market, for it does not concentrate on out and out sport motorcycles. Bikes like the Bonneville are easy to ride on the open highways as well as congested city roads. On the other hand, Bajaj’s expertise in lowcost manufacturing will help Triumph make an advent in the 250-cc market which they are trying to enter after having aborted the previous project. This looks like a win-win for both as Bajaj will be able to make big-capacity cruisers and Triumph affordable entry-level bikes.

There is big news in the motor sport arena for motorcycle riders who want to make it big in road racing. Even today the young talent in India does not get to ride thoroughbred racing bikes for them to be able to compete against the best in Asia. All that is set to change as Honda are going to withdraw the CBR 250R from the one-make championship and replace it with the over-the-counter Moto3 racer, the NS F250R. The NS F250R is a proper racing motorcycle and this will give our boys an equal opportunity along with the other Asian countries.

We, as journalists, are supposed to educate our readers and give them our expert opinion. The big problem today is that anybody who can ride a bike becomes an expert thanks to the internet. You not only need to have the riding capability to take the bike to its limit to see how it performs, but also the knowledge and capability to understand how the bike is performing. The easiest thing to do is criticise, but when you find fault, you should also be able to offer a solution to the problem if you are an expert.

Aspi Bhathena