We head out to the beach side on an American legend and an Indian icon to see what the two are like on Indian soil
I always wondered how it would feel to be riding two very different bikes that were built for the same purpose. Well, that wish of mine came true recently when I got the opportunity to take the soon-to-be-launched Fat Bob and the newly launched Royal Enfield Thunderbird 500 on a day long trip to Bordi, a beach town on the western coast. So, let’s find out how it went.
Harely-Davidson Fat Bob
At first, the Harley-Davidson Fat Bob looks quite intimidating however; there was something about it that didn’t let me flinch even for a second. I guess it was the beauty of this motorcycle that was hidden behind the sheer size of this mammoth that had unleashed a strange spell on me. Anyway, our little trip to the beach side on the Fat Bob proved to be quite an entertaining one. We had a lot of people asking us numerous and sometimes even quite weird questions about the bike. And the main reason for that is the intimidating stance of the Fat Bob. It’s a big bike that has the quintessential over dose of chrome, enough to blind you on a bright sunny day. Elements like the twin headlamps, wide triple trees and handle bars, the bulging tank with a protruding chrome plated meter console simply lends the Fat Bob a menacing look. But the main highlight of the whole design package is the tangerine shade that accentuates components like the fenders and the huge fuel tank. Plus the fit finish and attention to detail is simply amazing.
But it’s not just all show and no go. The 1688cc V-Twin motor mated to a six speed gearbox packs quite a punch. It can propel this 305 kilo behemoth from 0-100 km/h in just 5.6 seconds. But performance apart, one thing that impressed me immensely was the truck loads of torque that transforms the dream of effortless cruising on the highway into a reality. I mean, cruising at around 80 – 90 km/h in sixth gear is quite easy and effortless. Plus there is no need to drop a cog in order to overtake the trucks. The torque creeps in at low rpm enabling the Fat Bob to perform such manoeuvres without any hesitation. But it lacks refinement. Vibrations are evident at low and high speeds which become somewhat irritating after riding the bike for a couple of hours. Otherwise, it’s a good engine with a lot of torque and linear power delivery.
The route that we took from Pune to Bordi had a mix of wide open highways, some great twisties, and some rough that eventually led us to the beach. While riding on NH4 I was quite amazed by the comfortable ride quality and handling of the Fat Bob and the stability was simply incredible. By the time we reached Lonavala, we had covered around 65 kilometres and I was still feeling fresh. The wide and comfortable seat offered great support and the smooth ride eliminated any chances of fatigue setting in. But the vibrations did annoy me a bit.
The Khandala ghat section of the old Mumbai Pune road gave me a chance to sample the Fat Bob’s handling on twisty roads. And honestly, I wasn’t expecting it be an agile handler however, it handled quite well in the twisties. Although the huge bulk and the long wheelbase of the bike made itself quite evident while tackling corners. But all I needed was a bit of caution and before I knew it I had crossed the twisties and was now on the common section of the Expressway which gave me chance to enjoy the massive amount of torque on offer. It was simply amazing.
The ride stayed comfortable for most part of the day however, as we neared Bordi we hit a patch of cobbled up road that was more like an off-road trail. But then Harley-Davidson does not manufacture cruisers for off-roading. And it became quite evident as the stiff suspension setup rocked me while negotiating my way to the beach. One thing that I learned from this experience was that Harley-Davidson’s are best suited to smooth highways with less number of curves and it is wise to stay on such roads rather than trying to negotiate a trail.
Overall, the soon-to-be launched Fat Bob is quite an interesting product from Milwaukee. It may lack engine refinement however; it looks great, has a comfortable ride on smooth open roads and features a torquey engine. It is a great companion on the wide open highways and will help you stand out from the crowd quite easily.
Royal Enfield Thunderbird 500
The official cruiser from Royal Enfield was getting too old for the modern day consumer and that was one of the reasons for the company to give it a much needed makeover. So, they revamped the old Thunderbird with modern touches and elements and also gave it a new 500cc heart. The new Thunderbird is equipped with the same 499cc UCE engine that was first seen on the retro styled Classic 500. However, instead of retaining the chromed-out look of the engine Royal Enfield has painted the engine black on the Thunderbird. But there are a few new things that distinguish the new Thunderbird from the older model. Like the new front end which now features new front forks that have lost the offset and now sit right on the axle. The new headlight unit that retains its round shape however, it now features a powerful projector lamp. The metre console goes from analogue to digital and also gets a new design and is still covered in chrome. The bike also gets car-like hazard lights. Other changes include a new step seat with detachable pillion seat and new rear backrest mounting bars. Another major change that is quite evident is the box section swingarm which the company claims provides more stability and also a rear disk brake. These are not really impactful changes but somehow these changes have give the bike a new look compared to the earlier version. But its only available in black now.
The new Thunderbird is equipped with 499cc engine which is in exactly the same state of tune as the Classic 500. It develops 27.5PS of power and 41.3 Nm of torque which propels this 195 kg cruiser from 0-60 km/h in just 4.65 seconds and it takes 13.21 seconds to reach 100 km/h. The power delivery is quite linear and low end power is adequate to move swiftly through city traffic without shifting the gears constantly. But the Unit Construction Engine still lack the refinement. It feels quite rough when you accelerate hard and the vibrations simply become unbearable after riding it for more than an hour. And it is quite a thirsty motor too. On our ride we felt that the fuel efficiency was quite low however, the huge 20 litre tank ensures that you get to your destination without frequent fuel stops.
One thing that really confuses you about the Thunderbird is the weird riding position. I mean it has an upright position which is not a traditional cruiser posture. You do feel comfortable on it for a while but the high handle bars and a seat that has very little support for you lower back, simply makes the ride an uncomfortable one after a couple of hours of riding. I also noticed that my tail bone started to ache after riding it for a good 200 kilometres. Which was surprising as you don’t really feel that on a real cruiser.
Handling wise the Thunderbird performs quite well, be it on smooth roads, bad roads or even corners. And the firm suspension is somewhat responsible for it. However, the handling could have been much better if the engine was placed slightly lower in the frame. Because the current engine is placed slightly higher than where it should have been. This has raised the centre of gravity which hampers the handling a bit. If Royal Enfield takes care of this situation, it will drastically improve the handling capability of the Thunderbird.
Overall, the new Royal Enfield Thunderbird left a mixed impression on my mind. It looks like a cruiser however; the seating position is not anywhere close to that of a cruiser. And even though it handles quite well, the vibrations dampen your hopes for a comfortable ride. Plus a price tag of Rs 1.77 lakh (OTR Pune) is a bit too steep. But if Royal Enfield addresses these issues, especially the engine placement issue, then the Thunderbird would really make for a comfortable and value for money option for long distance touring on Indian roads.