Return-of-the-king

THE  BIKE  INDIA  INTERVIEW
KENNY ROBERTS
Words: Mat Oxley 
Photography: Chippy Wood

From the late 1970s to the early 1990s GP racing was ruled by five riders from the same country. Time to take the ultimate American road trip and visit King Kenny Roberts, Wayne Rainey, Eddie Lawson, Freddie Spencer and Kevin Schwantz. In part I of this special series, is the man who started it all: the King.

For a motorcyclist, this is like driving through the gates of Graceland. There’s no Elvis-commissioned ironwork, but the motorcycle sculpture poised above the gates and the National Rifle Association sticker on the entrance keypad tell you all you need to know: this is the home of the King, the most important motorcycle racer in history.

At the end of the half-mile drive is the house where King Kenny Roberts has lived for the past 25 years and the mini racetrack complex where so many world champions have learned and played – from Roberts to Rainey, from Lawson to Kocinski, from Fogarty to Lorenzo.Indoors Roberts is sheltering from a winter storm and taking phone calls from people working on bringing him back to where he belongs: MotoGP. The scale of Roberts’ latest venture is mind-boggling – a long-term budget of several billion dollars (for MotoGP, NASCAR and F1), factory Ducatis and a team Boeing 707 to shuttle hardware between races and a new HQ at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, where fans will be able watch the bikes being prepped. And the whole deal will be the subject of a TV reality show filmed by Brad Pitt’s production company.

‘Dude, we’ll be on the grid at Doha,’ growls Roberts, whose team last raced MotoGP in 2007. ‘Until then I’ll just play golf or mess around with my motorcycles.’Roberts, who will be 60 next year, has always thought big. It’s what’s allowed him to accomplish a unique number of achievements: twice Grand National dirt champ, knee-down pioneer, three-time 500 king, fighter for riders’ rights, championship-winning team owner and motorcycle manufacturer.

Think on this: when Roberts won the 500 crown at his first attempt in 1978 he started the season contesting the 250, 500 and F750 world championships, which would be like Ben Spies doing Moto2, MotoGP and World Superbike in his rookie international season. He won his second 500 title in 1979 after breaking his back during preseason testing. Oh, and he’s only got one testicle (the legacy of a motocross accident) and he’s got a bullet in his left leg (hunting mishap). We’re talking old school hard man.

Roberts’ success on 500s fronted a wave of American talent that ruled GP racing on and off for more than two decades: Spencer, Lawson, Rainey, Schwantz, John Kocinski and Kenny Roberts Junior all followed in the King’s slipstream.

After Roberts packed up riding in 1983 he created GP racing’s first super team and guided Marlboro Team Roberts rider Rainey to three 500 world championships. And when he tired of racing factory Yamahas he built his own motorcycles from the crankshaft up. His Proton KR3 two-stroke 500 triple was good enough to beat Valentino Rossi to pole position at Phillip Island in 2002, though his Proton V5 MotoGP four-stroke wasn’t so brilliant.

There’s little evidence of Roberts’ stellar successes inside his house. There’s tarnished old racing trophies for doorstops, a V5 crankshaft for a toilet roll holder (‘About all that thing’s good for!’), a couple of guns and a hunting dog that bounds about with excited anticipation whenever Kenny handles his shotgun.

Behind the house it’s a different story. Walk past the hot tub and the wine cellar and you enter the King’s ‘man cave’ – a workshop full of every kind of motorcycle in every stage of disarray – from dirt trackers to motocrossers, from roadracers to road bikes, including an original RD350LC in Yamaha US yellow with no engine. ‘When Yamaha gave me that my manager said “Kenny, that motorcycle must never be used”, but I lent some racer the engine and it never came back.’ There’s also a lathe, a milling machine, some welding kit and faded posters of long-ago glories.

These days Kenny spends a lot of time here, fixing and spannering, welding and hammering. ‘I’m a motorcycle guy who builds motorcycles. Kids keep wrecking them and I keep building them.’

Current project is a bizarre mini-roadracer – a CR450 motocross motor in an aluminium roadrace frame (drawn on Kenny’s drafting board and welded together by the man himself) with minibike wheels. Kenny doesn’t really seem to know what he’s going to do with this one, but that’s not really the point. He’s having fun fiddling and fettling. ‘Next I want to build my own dirt track motor.’

Behind the ‘man cave’ is another building – Kenny’s museum, packed with Grand National and world title winners, at least a dozen homemade Proton and Modenas GP bikes and an Aladdin’s cave of high-end grand prix ‘auto jumble’ – factory YZR engines, racks crammed with all kinds of aluminium chassis, acres of carbon-fibre bodywork, dusty old leathers and piles of dirt trackers’ steel shoes.

Outside there’s dirt track ovals, motocross courses and a mini roadrace track around which Roberts and his disciples would ride, honing their ability to open the throttle faster than anyone in the world. ‘When Wayne was hitting it hard we would ride from sun up to sun down, every day.’ No wonder Rainey went on to emulate his mentor’s 500 title hat-trick.

Just across from the hot tub is what can only be described as a GP racers’ vegetable patch. There’s a chicken wire cage protecting half a dozen old Team Roberts flight cases, with tomatoes growing inside.

Back indoors is another ‘activities’ room. More chaos: old helmets, golf clubs (Roberts is an ace golfer, he made the cut in last year’s Pebble Beach Pro-Am), an artist’s easel, a half-finished oil painting. Who’d have thought this hard-man racer was an artist? ‘When you paint, everything else goes; it’s like taking a ride up into the mountains on your motorcycle. If you’re pent up, it makes it a different day.’

Roberts’ ranch is a two-hour ride from the fleshpots of San Francisco. This isn’t California Girls or Gangster Paradise country, it’s farming land – almond trees and cattle all the way to the Sierra mountains where Roberts buys his wine from micro-wineries. ‘Finding some American wines I like was a big relief, because I was always afraid I was going to run out of the stuff I brought back from Europe.’

The King was born just down the road in Modesto, where his parents and grandparents settled after escaping the Midwest dustbowls of the 1930s depression.

He started riding bikes by chance, aged 12. ‘I was training horses, I was going to be a cowboy. These people I worked for in Modesto bought their kids this minibike with a lawnmower engine. I go to feed the horses one day, they say “Kenny, ride the bike”, I say “no, don’t want to”. They say “you’re a baby, you’re a chicken”. ‘No, I’m not chicken, I just don’t want to ride it.” “You’re a chicken”. Okay, so I rode the minibike. Scared the shit out of me, so I had to have one.’

Doing things the hard way, taking the tough option has always appealed. ‘All through my career I’ve tended to stack more on my plate than I needed. If someone says I can’t do something, then I have to do it.’

It was the same when the rookie roadracer started hanging off, getting his knee down and rear-wheel steering in the early 1970s. His mentor Kel Carruthers told him he was insane. Within years everyone was doing it.

And it was the same when he came to Europe and started agitating for riders’ rights. ‘We were treated like monkeys. The tracks were dangerous and we got ripped off. If we complained, they told us “shut up or we’ll pull your licence and you won’t be able to race”.’ Roberts’ breakaway championship, World Series, never happened but it shocked the racing establishment into treating riders right.

Over the years he has been just as much of a technical maverick. Team Roberts was the first outfit to use carbon brakes and the first to make serious use of datalogging. When Yamaha dragged their feet on development he went and built his own GP bikes.

‘I’ve got this disease which makes me want to do everything myself. I can get stuff done right by someone else but I want to do it myself. Yamaha were giving me a hard time, so I walked.’

He thinks this attitude might have something to do with aggression – he’s always had a big fire in his belly. ‘I was pretty aggressive when I was a kid. I used to get into fights a lot, I was always in trouble.

‘I wasn’t at school much. I have dyslexia, so when I left high school I couldn’t read or write nothing. When I was 19 and Yamaha threw my first contract in front of me, I was, like, what do I do with this?’

He may not be very literate but Roberts has fierce intelligence. He brought a new level of technique and analysis to the sport. ‘If someone went through a corner faster than me I would have to analyse that: why was he faster? There has to be a reason. Putting it all together intrigues me.’

That ability to look at things and understand what needs to be done helped him become GP racing’s first big shot team boss. Back in the 1990s he was running an outfit with a budget of $18 million, not bad for a kid who could hardly read or write.

1969 Starts dirt track aged 13
1970 US national novice champion
1971 US national junior champion
1972 4th US national expert championship (Yamaha)
1973 US Grand National champion (Yamaha)
1974 US Grand National champion (Yamaha)
1975 2nd US Grand National championship (Yamaha)
1976 3rd US Grand National championship (Yamaha)
1977 4th US Grand National championship (Yamaha)
1978 500 world champion (Yamaha)
1979 500 world champion (Yamaha)
1980 500 world champion (Yamaha)
1981 3rd 500 world championship (Yamaha)
1982 4th 500 world championship (Yamaha)
1983 2nd 500 world championship (Yamaha)
1990 Marlboro Team Roberts Yamaha
Wayne Rainey, 500 world champion
John Kocinski, 250 world champion
1991 Marlboro Team Roberts Yamaha
Wayne Rainey, 500 world champion
1992 Marlboro Team Roberts Yamaha
Wayne Rainey, 500 world champion

Roberts has never been able to back down. That’s why he accepted an invitation to ride his infamous TZ750 dirt tracker at the Indy Mile during last year’s Indianapolis MotoGP weekend. The Tee Zee Miler is the bike upon which the King won (in his opinion) his greatest victory, at Indy in 1975. It is arguably the most evil piece of over-powered machinery ever created – 120 horsepower, dirt tyres, no front brake.

‘I hadn’t ridden a bike for at least a year, so I can tell you I had some sleepless nights.’ And yet when he got to Indy he didn’t even practice, ‘because I wanted people to see it full throttle and go “wow!”. I didn’t build my career the way I did to ride around waving to the crowd.’

His WFO ride left the crowd – including Valentino Rossi – dumbfounded. ‘Once I kicked into turn one and got it sideways then I was okay. Obviously I can go sideways till I die…’

You get the feeling that’s exactly what he will do. Aged 58, Roberts is as far as he’s ever been from hanging up his steel shoe and kicking back on the porch. As we get ready to leave and hit the road to Wayne Rainey’s home in Monterey, we push him for more details about this 2010 MotoGP deal. ‘I could tell ya,’ he says, helpfully. ‘But then I’d have to kill ya.’ And judging by the way he handles that shotgun, he may not be joking.

… A DANGEROUS MAN TO KNOW
King Kenny Roberts has always liked a drink, so he can be a dangerous man to know on Sunday nights

‘I got drunk after I’d won the first 500 GP of 1980 in Italy. They were giving me champagne at the track and I rode to the hotel on the luggage rack on top of the car. The guys tried to get me off the roof but they couldn’t. I ended up eating at the hotel, with Randy [Mamola] and some other guys. There were these English journalists, eating at a corner table. They’d really pissed me off because they wrote all the wrong stuff about my World Series thing. I remember telling those guys: “if you ever do that again, I’m not going to get a lawyer, I’m not going to sue you, I’m going to kick your ass”. Boy, were they nervous, they were shitting bricks. So we’re in the hotel dining room and I shout to them: “you guys want some champagne?” “Oh yeah, thanks, Kenny!”. So I throw this bottle, it goes flying across the room and smashes against their table and the wall. All of a sudden they were eating so fast, trying to get out of there. Then I say: “you guys want some more champagne?”. “Oh no, no thanks Kenny!” I never got along with the British press, I wasn’t diplomatic back then.’

Re-electrified


Royal Enfield gives a new lease of life to the Bullet Electra with a modern powerplant
Words: Ravi Chandnani   
Photography: Sawan Hembram

They say evolution is inevitable and Royal Enfield is no exception to this fact. The company has been able to churn out machines that are reminiscent of the past and at the same time are also fitted with contemporary technology. As a testimony to the above quote, the Thunderbird twin spark was followed by the Classic series with a new unit construction engine and fuel injection. However, this evolution was somewhat incomplete as the Electra was the only bike in Royal Enfield’s product line-up with the same old cast iron engine. It was an ageing bike which had a bit of Botox in 2005 when it received an electric starter, a five-speed transmission as well as a disc brake. It was high time for the manufacturer to recognize the winds of change and revive the Electra in the same way that it reanimated the Thunderbird. Realizing this, Royal Enfield has placed a new heart in that old world styled frame of the Electra – better late than never.

The new unit construction engine is able to lend the bike a smoother ride

The Electra has been impressing on the sales charts for a long time now and with the introduction of the new unit construction engine, it ends up becoming better in a lot of ways. Well almost. We received the bike for a short ride experience and needless to say, I quickly headed for the highway. The first thing that drew my attention after starting the bike was the quieter exhaust note which is achieved using a longer muffler providing better sound insulation – blame the government regulations for this. It sounded much more subdued compared to the older model. The handling of the new Electra has changed fairly given the fact that it has a higher centre of gravity compared to the older model. This is due to the design differences in the engines. To an extent, the new Electra feels a bit heavy even though the weight of the new bike is almost the same as the previous version. The ever present vibrations still exist, however, their density has gone down considerably. The new Electra is now wider by 60mm, taller by 40mm and longer by 20mm with the same wheelbase as the older version

The unit construction engine is the same motor that also powers the Classic 350 and it was no surprise that the performance of this powerplant was almost similar to the Classic. The new engine might be smoother, however, it is not as torquey as the Electra 5S, churning out just 28Nm of torque at 4000rpm – a drop of four Nm. The reason for this is the lighter crank. Nonetheless, the power output has been upped by 9.1 percent at 20PS.The styling and aesthetic value of the bike is still very much the same if you overlook the motor. It retains its retro charm just like other models in the Royal Enfield family. Overall the initial impression of the new Electra is pretty impressive, however, the excitement level might have gone for some die-hard ‘thump’ fans. But it goes without saying that even at an on-road (Pune) price of Rs 1.08 lakh, the Electra still remains the best option for the new and the old Enfield fan.

brothers in arms

Saeed Akhtar pits the new Pulsar 150 against its peers to determine which one gives the biggest bang for your buck
Photography by Sanjay Raikar

THE TEST
The 150cc segment is one of the most hotly contested categories in the Indian motorcycle market. It caters to both the youth looking for performance on a budget as well as the middle-aged executive looking for a reasonably fast mode of commuting to work. For long, Bajaj has ruled the roost in this segment with the rest of the manufacturers playing catch up. For this shootout, we have shortlisted these five bikes that not only fall in the same price bracket but are also targeted squarely at each other. Recently, Yamaha stirred up things in this segment by introducing bikes that were so far ahead of the curve (in terms of price as well as technology) that we decided to give them a miss from this comparison as their target customer is pretty different from these five rivals. Let the game begin. . . . . .

HONDA CB UNICORN
Price Rs. 67,008(OTR,Pune)
Top speed 111.3km/h
Power 13.5PS
Maintenance free battery, viscous air filter and BS-III norms compliant now
HERO HONDA HUNK
Price Rs. 65,893 (OTR,Pune)
Top speed 107.12km/h
Power 14.4PS
Honda antecedents, but the Hunk is Hero Honda’s take on what a 150 should be
TVS APACHE RTR160
Price Rs. 67,521 (OTR,Pune)
Top speed 118.69km/h
Power 15.4PS
TVS’ Racing DNA has infused this bike with enviable performance figures 
SUZUKI GS150R
Price Rs. 67,955(OTR,Pune)
Top speed 108.1km/h
Power 14PS
Loaded with gadgets and gives that big bike feel like no other motorcycle here
BAJAJ PULSAR 150
Price Rs.67,500(OTR,Pune)
Top speed 115km/h
Power 15.06PS
Bajaj’s crowd puller gets clip-on ’bars and a wee bit more power. Is it enough?

BAJAJ PULSAR 150
Hallowed be thy name


The Pulsar still remains the brawler it was, being outclassed in the performance stakes by only the Apache RTR, a lighter bike that also happens to possess 10ccs more

Enlightened philosophers everywhere tell us that it is even tougher staying at the top than getting there. The fact that the Bajaj Pulsar did exactly this since its launch nine years ago is testimony enough to its timeless appeal and clout. Now in its fifth iteration, India’s most popular performance bike is getting a bit long in the tooth but is still the most popular of the lot here. Recently, Bajaj seems to have stopped going for radical redesigns and opted for a few nips and tucks along with some cosmetic upgrades. The latest Pulsar continues this tradition with clip-on handlebars that are borrowed from its siblings. These lend the bike a slightly sportier riding position than before with the rider leant over to the front a wee bit more. The rest of the bikes here except the RTR make do with regular handlebars. The new bigger carburetor aids the engine in churning out a wee bit more power but the torque figure has taken an adverse hit. The Pulsar has got the lightest throttle feel here. The seat is a trifle hard for long commutes and the pillion seat is a bit on the thinner side.

Clip-on handlebars now a standard on all Pulsars, from 135cc to 220cc The mechanical bits are now done up in black, lending a touch of class to the new Pulsar

Performance wise, the Pulsar remains the same rev happy hooligan that made it such a hit originally. The whining sound from the air intake just makes you want to twist the throttle a bit more. However, the Pulsar lacks some midrange grunt and you have to keep shifting gears to keep it in the power band. If you are comfortable with that, the bike rewards you with oodles of fun and its handling complements spirited riding very well. The suspension dives a bit under braking but it is more than adequate for the kind of fast riding a typical customer would ever put it through. The bike is also pretty vibey at high rpms although it is quite bearable at low rpms. The gearshift quality has been improved by several notches over its earlier versions, however compared to its Honda peers, the Bajaj still has some way to go. In this test, the Pulsar beat its previous top speed record of 114km/h by approximately two more km/h while also being faster in the sprint to 60km/h. The Pulsar still remains the brawler it was, being outclassed in the performance stakes by only the Apache RTR, a lighter bike that also happened to possess 10ccs more.

The generous side of Bunny – lending his phone to an old stranger who had a son far away One of the few ways to differentiate the Pulsar 150 from its siblings


The Pulsar loves being ridden hard and rewards you for it

SECOND OPINION

BUNNY PUNIA
DEPUTY EDITOR

One more Pulsar 150 upgrade? Yet more power? While you might have to use a magnifying glass to find the changes, the moment you ride the bike, the increase in performance and refinement is noticeable. Clip-ons manage to lend a sportier riding posture as well. However, the hard seat and the bike’s tendency to dive under heavy braking isn’t to my liking.

 


HERO HONDA HUNK
The Emperor’s new clothes

The Hunk is the third bike into which Hero Honda plonked the Unicorn mill. The first bike, Achiever, did not exactly set the sales charts on fire, but it sure paved the way for the CBZ Xtreme which followed shortly. Maybe it had something to do with the iconic CBZ tag but the Xtreme, in spite of some lackluster styling, was a success for Hero Honda. Or maybe it was the performance and handling. Despite featuring a very conventional suspension arrangement, the bike was so well set-up that it tackled corners like a proper sportsbike and not a commuter.

The Hunk is one of the only two bikes here with a completely analogue instrument console Red accents on the Hunk lend a touch of flair to the bike

The Hunk is practically the CBZ Xtreme in a more stylish and muscular costume. The bulging tank scoops shout for attention from every angle. The front as well as the rear suspension is done up in a dull gold colour, however whether one likes it or not, is entirely a matter of personal taste. The rear also features Hero Honda’s first gas-charged shock absorbers, which the company calls GRS. Our test bike came in the new paint scheme – a splash of red graphics and bull logos that accentuated the muscular profile of the Hunk. We still feel that the bike could have done better with a nice name. And why did they have to spell out ‘Hunk’ in chrome? The bike’s build quality is trademark HH – robust and solid. The paintjob on the Hunk was the best on the test. One little grouse with the Hunk is the placement of the side stand. The slightly rear set pegs come in the way when you try to access the side stand lever with your left foot.

Gas-charged shock absorbers – a first for Hero Honda Ludicrous amount of muscle here. Love the red accents though

Coming to the performance, the Hunk immediately impressed with its brimming midrange torque which meant we could power our way out of tight spots with minimal effort. However, the bike’s short gearing, while helping in acceleration, takes its toll on the top speed, topping out at a mere 107.16km/h. It gets up to the 80km/h mark pretty fast but then the engine starts running out of breath and tapers out. The Hunk’s handling is on par with its peers with the ergonomic riding posture aiding considerably. The suspension is set a tad on the hard side which may be a deterrent for commuters looking for a plush ride. It does come with that Hero Honda cachet which means that the bike will prove to be reliable and enjoy a good resale value even years down the line.

The BIKE India slow race formation

SECOND OPINION

SARMAD KADIRI
Senior Correspondent

Although the Hunk and the Unicorn share the same engine, they feel like completely different sets of wheels. The Hunk looks muscular and sporty, has the very reliable and proven Honda engine and comes with the best after sales service network in the country. Despite all these features, it has its downside as it may look a bit over the top to some. That is probably the reason it has not managed to soar on the sales charts. Yet the Hunk remains a great overall package and will continue to sell for years to come

HONDA CB UNICORN
Don’t judge a book by its cover


The chromed wing logo on its tank is the Unicorn’s only redeeming style factor but it would be really nice to see some serious changes. And soon

The most understated bike here, the Unicorn has managed to stay near the top of the sales charts solely on the sheer power of its mechanical bits. It may not be a beauty pageant winner by any stretch but the Unicorn oozes solid engineering brilliance and top notch build quality. Honda has chosen not to tinker much with the bike’s looks, giving it some very minor cosmetic upgrades over the last few years and almost nothing else. This time around, the Unicorn gets a viscous air filter, a maintenance free battery and a CB sticker on its rear side panels. The Unicorn is also BS-III norms compliant. These changes to the engine have not resulted in any noticeable alterations in the bike’s performance though. The chromed wing logo on its tank is the Unicorn’s only redeeming style factor but it would be really nice to see some serious changes. And soon.

The Unicorn loses out on gadgets like a digital instrument console Refinement and reliability are the engine’s hallmarks

It is the only bike here to sport a monoshock suspension and we must say it is a superlatively engineered piece of technology. As Aspi said, the first time he took the Unicorn out onto the not too well surfaced Chennai racetrack, it was as if the bumps had practically disappeared. The Unicorn outclasses all the other bikes here when it comes to ride and handling. Along with the GS150R, the Unicorn has got the most relaxed riding position of this bunch. It is also the most composed with a pillion on board. It might have a narrower seat than the GS but the Unicorn pampers its rider and pillion equally well. Refinement is another strong point with the Unicorn. There is negligible vibration even when the bike is revved all the way to the redline and the butter smooth gearbox complements it beautifully. Performance wise, the Unicorn is no slouch but it is no sprinting cheetah either. The Honda manages to complete the 0-60km/h run in 6.10sec and tops out at 111.3km/h.

Beautifully calibrated monoshock is key to the Unicorn’s ride quality The CB Unicorn still doesn’t have a pilot lamp. How shocking is that?

The Unicorn and the Hunk are the only two bikes here to feature completely analogue instrumentation and that makes them incongruous in this crowd which is rapidly going digital. Older Unicorns had some niggles with build quality but the new lot of bikes feature much improved build quality and paintjobs. At Rs 67,000 (OTR, Pune), the Unicorn is the second cheapest bike in this shootout and that makes it an irresistible buy.


It is the best handler of the lot and by a fair margin

SECOND OPINION

BUNNY PUNIA
DEPUTY EDITOR

Is it Honda’s remarkable technology or the inability of the competition to catch up? Either way, the Unicorn, err the CB Unicorn, even after being in the market for almost five years, still manages to be in a different world all together when it comes to engine refinement, ride and of course handling. Ergonomics are also up there with the best. However, it badly needs a major Botox treatment now.

SUZUKI GS150R
Loaded to the brim


The GS150r is the only bike in this bunch to feature a six-speed transmission, a positive throttle response and a gear indicator on the instrument console

The GS is Suzuki’s first 150cc offering in their second outing here. When the bike’s pictures were first revealed, the Suzuki was criticized for bearing too close a resemblance to the Pulsar. But when you set eyes on the GS for the first time or its spec sheet for that matter, all of that changes. This is a much larger bike, far more muscular and beefier than your average 150cc bike. Take the fuel tank for instance. It rises from the seat in a manner similar to bigger superbikes and there are also the trademark Gixxer stripes on it just to drive the point home. There is a splash of chrome on the side panel covering the air filter/battery that adds some style quotient to its side profile. There are two air vents beneath the bikini fairing that serve no purpose whatsoever but definitely look good. The rear end has its own attraction with snazzy LED taillights and integrated blinkers, making it one of the best in the country. The alloy wheels feature a swirl pattern that differentiates them from the rest with their straight spokes.

The GS’ expansive console features a gear position indicator and a shifter LED light Integrated turn signals and LEDs turn heads everywhere

Did we mention the spec sheet? Ah yes, the kind folks at Suzuki have loaded the GS to the brim with a host of gizmos. It is the only bike in this bunch to feature a six-speed transmission, a positive throttle response (it features dual throttle cables) and a gear indicator on the instrument console. The instrument console incorporates an analogue tachometer (with extra large fonts) while everything else is digital. There is also a LED warning light on the bottom left corner of the console that works in conjunction with the ECU to tell you how exactly you are burning up your hard earned fuel depending on the mode you choose to ride in. There is also a ‘God mode’ which tells the ECU that you are in full control of your riding and switches the warning light off forever.

The sixth gear is meant for cruising duties mostly Swirl type spokes differentiate the GS’ alloys from the competition

The GS features the widest seat of the bunch. Although it appears too sportily contoured, the superior padding and relaxed riding position make the GS one of the most comfortable bikes in this shootout. Performance figures are impressive with a 0-60km/h timing of 5.46sec and a top speed of 108.1km/h. Incidentally the bike attains its top speed in the fifth gear instead of the sixth cog which is basically meant for relaxed cruising.


This Suzuki is the biggest bike of the lot

SECOND OPINION

SARMAD KADIRI
Senior Correspondent

The Suzuki is definitely one of my favourites in this segment and size. The ride can appear to be too soft for some but it is perfect for in-city commuting and probably that’s where it’ll spend most of its life. Moreover, the GS150R is the only bike in this shootout that sports a six-speed gearbox that makes it a breeze to ride on highways too. I know it’s not the fastest but it is supremely comfortable and dependable. I just hope Suzuki does something about the service network.

TVS APACHE RTR 160
Catch me if you can

If performance and only performance is what you seek, look no further, here’s your Holy Grail

The TVS Apache RTR took the term ‘affordable performance’ and made mincemeat of it when it was first unleashed on the unsuspecting public in mid-2007. Adding an extra 10ccs to the already potent Apache mill did wonders for the motorcycle. In this shootout, this is the bike that comes closest to the ‘no-holds barred performance’ tag. The riding position is uncompromising; it throws you over the clip-on ‘bars and pulls your legs quite a good distance backwards so that Mother aerodynamics doesn’t complain. The racing stripes on the panels and the tacho face endow the bike with just the right amount of sportiness. There is even a 0-60km/h timer and a top speed recorder on the LCD display. The short wheelbase makes the bike as flickable and agile as a cat on amphetamines. However, some bigger riders might find the Apache a bit cramped.

A 0-60km/h timer and top speed recorder underlines just how hardcore this bike is Split grab rails and LED lamps – this baby is loaded

If performance and only performance is what you seek, look no further, here’s your Holy Grail. The bike does the quarter mile sprint in just 19.82sec and goes on all the way to a top speed of 118.7km/h. This top speed figure makes the Apache the fastest of the lot by some margin. Because of its short wheelbase, the RTR may initially feel just that bit nervous while entering corners, but once you get used to it, it proves itself a very capable corner carver. The biggest grouse we had with the RTR was the lack of refinement from the engine and transmission.

The five contenders lock horns in a churchyard. Talk about irony Apache has the highest revving (upto 11,000rpm) engine here

There were vibes emanating from the ‘bars as well as the footpegs, spoiling much of the fun provided by the screamer engine. This vibey nature also took its toll on the visibility from the rear view mirrors, rendering them virtually useless at high speeds. All of us loved the throaty exhaust note though. The RTR is the only bike here to sport split grab rails for the pillion and also to feature an open chain, thus underlining its sporty leanings. At Rs 67, 521(OTR, Pune), the Apache RTR is a bargain for a bike that offers oodles of fun and excitement every time you wheel it out for a swift sprint. Just don’t relegate it to the confines of the city.

The short wheelbase of the Apache endows it with the nimblest handling of the lot

SECOND OPINION

BUNNY PUNIA
Deputy Editor

If you are one of those who regularly indulge in traffic light MotoGPs, the RTR should be your choice. If you like heading out to the nearest set of twisties on a Sunday morning, look no further. But (make it BUT), there are a few downfalls. Ergonomics for one. Second, the vibrations will irritate you no end on a long ride. However, the racing stripes and petal disc cannot be ignored, can they?

VERDICT

All the bikes featured here are competent in their own right and it is a tough call to zero in on one particular winner. At one end of the spectrum you have the TVS Apache RTR, a no-compromise performance bike for the enthusiast. If you are looking for outright performance, look no further. It is the fastest, the quickest and the most powerful of the lot here. It may be a bit too sporty for daily city rides, but take it out of the confines once and let the bike do its own talking. The Hero Honda Hunk inherits the UnicornÕs peerless mill but in a more stylish, flashy set of clothes. It is the perfect bike for the Hero Honda fan who desires a modicum of style in a solid and efficient package.

The Pulsar 150 is the oldest bike in here and although it is as competent as ever, it needs a serious upgrade soon. That leaves us with the Unicorn and the GS150R. The Unicorn, despite being dated and bland, manages to stay near the top solely because it scores points in the most crucial parameters – reliability, refinement, handling and ride quality. It manages to give a tough fight to the GS for the top spot and we have no hesitation in saying that with a proper upgrade, it just might clinch the crown. But for now, it is the Suzuki GS150R that claims the title of the best 150cc power commuter. It offers the right mix of efficiency, style, performance and comes loaded with gizmos that enhance the ownership experience – just what most of the 150cc buyers look out for.