The Congestion Challenge.

Saeed Akhtar pits the Mahindra Rodeo in a race against Mumbai’s famous local trains and BEST buses.
Photography by Sawan S Hembram


One of the nicer things about living in a metro is the plethora of options at your disposal in every aspect of life. From consumer products to dining and entertainment, you are literally flooded with options. And this has fringe benefits too. Like being able to take various modes of transport to work. And when we are talking about a city like Mumbai, the array of choices becomes truly bewildering. On the one hand, you have the usual taxi-cabs, auto-rickshaws and buses and, on the other, you have Mumbai’s famous local trains, the city’s ‘lifeline’. And then there is the slightly better-off class who prefer to commute on their own two and four-wheelers. But which mode of transport really is the best? To settle the matter once and for all, we decided to have an only-one-of-its-kind shootout wherein we will pit the three most popular modes of Mumbai transport against each other in a purely scientific test.

The plan was straightforward. Starting from the same place, three commuters (including myself) would take three different modes of transport – a scooter, a bus and a local train – to reach our destination, an office complex in Nariman Point. The winner? Ah, that’s easy…..whoever takes the shortest time to reach Nariman Point wins. And since commuting is also about convenience and saving money, we factored in those parameters too. After much deliberation it was decided that Ravi would take the train, Minocher would take the bus while I would take the Mahindra Rodeo and document the experiment.

The three musketeers all ready and primed for the race ON FOUR WHEELS:Minocher prepares to board a bus

With the intention of proving each of their chosen means of transport the best, the three of us started from Samatanagar, Kandivali, at exactly 8:30am on a weekday. As expected, I was off to a flying start even though it took me some time to don all the protective gear. A word of advice to our dear readers here. Please don’t underestimate the importance of donning protective gear at all times, no matter whether you are popping down to the shot round the corner or revving your bike’s nuts off on a racetrack.


ON MANY WHEELS:Heading towards Railway Station

A disaster waiting to happen. But this is what drives
the legendary spirit of Mumbai.

SUNNY SIDE UP – Traffic lights in Mumbai double up
as race grids and commercial venues for hawaker’s

As I pulled away on the Rodeo, Ravi and Minocher also took off in their own ways. While Minocher headed straight for the nearest bus stand, Ravi was not so lucky, because the Kandivali railway station was located approximately three kilometres from where he was and, therefore, he had to take an auto-rickshaw to the station. Here he discovered the first flaw of travelling by train the hard way. The train doesn’t come to your doorstep, you have to go to it, just as the thirsty one has to go to the well, not vice-versa. In Ravi’s case, it meant taking an auto-rickshaw to the station and then waiting patiently. And when it arrived, it was so crowded that travelling in a can of sardines would have sounded a better prospect for him. For the uninitiated, just the simple matter of getting onto a train can transform an atheist into believing in the concepts of afterlife and righteous retribution. Also, the number of thefts and pickpockets might make one start believing in vigilante justice. Shudder.
Meanwhile, Minocher was left waiting for the bus that would take him to our common destination. Now, the buses in Mumbai seldom display the route and stops in English, preferring instead to display them in Marathi or Hindi, so the people who don’t know these aforementioned languages have to be especially careful. One also has to be choosy in selecting the right bus stop as buses don’t stop at every stop, choosing instead to stop at their discretion or simply when they see a large crowd. In theory, buses marked with their numbers painted in black commonly stop at all routes while those marked in red stop at specially designated bus stops only. It is also a good idea to have small change in your pocket before boarding one.
As for me and my trusted steed, it was pretty smooth sailing from the word ‘go’. Of the trio, the two-wheeler is the only option here that will take you right from your doorstep to your office parking bay and back. That alone scores enough brownies to make the other two commuting options seem downright pointless. If you are riding something like the Mahindra Rodeo, you can stow away your bag and rain gear under the seat. Heck, the Rodeo will even accommodate a laptop or a full-face helmet.
Call it the superiority of two-wheeled locomotion or sheer luck, I was the first to arrive at our designated meeting point outside the office building at Nariman Point, Mumbai’s premier business hub. In the course of this run, I had travelled past some of Mumbai’s most iconic landmarks like the P D Hinduja National Hospital at Mahim, the Siddhivinayak Temple at Prabhadevi, the Haji Ali durgah and Kemp’s Corner. Having completed the 37-kilometre stretch in one hour and 25 minutes approximately, in rush-hour traffic, it was time to sit back and prepare some scathing epithets for the other two competitors who dared to question the superiority of the two-wheeler. And so, cold drink in hand, I waited. And waited. And waited some more.
At 10.05 am Ravi, our train chap, finally pulled in. In a taxi-cab. Turns out that his preferred mode of transport could get him to only a couple of kilometres from Nariman Point, its route ending at Churchgate. I couldn’t help sniggering a bit, noticing that he could do with a much-needed bath and some sleep, the inevitable effects of a train journey. By the time Minocher turned up it was 10.20 am and we were all left in no doubt as to which one was the winner. In meticulous detail, he proceeded to explain how he had to change routes and buses in order to reach Nariman Point.
After noting down all the pros and cons we encountered during this run, there was only one conclusion. The Mahindra Rodeo beats the local train and the bus fairly and squarely on almost every parameter. Be it speed, comfort or sheer convenience, there is no beating it. While Minocher took an hour and 50 minutes to complete the run, Ravi did the same distance in an hour and thirtyfive minutes. While the Rodeo with me on board did the same run in a mere one hour and 25 minutes. In monetary terms too, the Rodeo made the most sense here. Minocher had to fork out Rs.85 for his bus adventures while the train journey left Ravi poorer by Rs.65. Whereas it took me less than the price of a liter of fuel ( Rs. 55) to accomplish this trip. Even setting aside the price difference, the benefits of commuting two-wheels outweighs being ferried around in a train or bus. Besides, you can’t put a price tag on freedom of mobility, can you?

SlingShot vs Flame vs Shine vs Super Splendour

Commuter Choice Commuter Choice
Ravi Chandnani pits the Suzuki SlingShot, the latest entrant, against its potential rivals to find out which of them has the edge Photography: Sanjay Raikar

The ordinary Indian, who leads his daily life with strict reference to a budget, prefers to own a bike that is inexpensive, easy to maintain and one that has adequate power and good fuel-efficiency as well as decent looks. His search for his first or next bike is guided by these factors. Given these, a 100-cc commuter bike would be the obvious choice. However, the trend is changing rapidly. Today such people want a motorcycle with the power and torque of a 125-cc bike coupled with the fuel-efficiency of a 100-cc one. And to fulfil this yearning to break away from the crowd, a new segment is increasingly becoming popular – the 125-cc segment.

Commuter Choice The 125-cc market has witnessed considerable excitement in the recent past and, realising the potential of this segment, Suzuki decided to re-enter it with a bike called the ‘SlingShot’. The previous 125-cc bikes from Suzuki were good, but were lacking in one important factor – styling. With the SlingShot Suzuki have proved that small can be beautiful. Therefore, to satisfy my everlasting thirst for knowledge, I decided to pit it against three other bikes – the Honda Shine, Hero Honda Super Splendor and TVS Flame. Please read on.

The Honda Shine
The Humble Man’s Steed

The Shine might not appeal to the youngster on account of its subtle design. However, this very subtlety may attract customers like the average Indian family man running his life on a budget as also people who believe in practicality. The Shine clearly states that it is a no-nonsense bike. Almost every aspect of this motorcycle is enough to satisfy the needs of the aforesaid class of customers. Take power, fuel-efficiency, inexpensive pricing or decent styling, the Shine has them all.

Heavy city traffic is where the Shine would spend its life and so the engine had to be efficient and smooth enough to take one in and out of the hugger-mugger with ease. Appreciating this fact, Honda equipped the Shine with a 124.7-cc engine that has proved its reliability and efficiency over the past four years. Its handling is also class-leading, making the bike one of the best 125-cc commuters. It does not feel nervous on any surface, be it uneven roads, pothole-ridden roads, manhole covers, speed-breakers or any other obstacle that a city can throw at it. The Shine tackles them all with commendable ease.

Fuel-efficiency is one factor that plays a crucial role while buying a commuter and I have to agree that the Shine really outshines others by being the most fuel-efficient of this bunch. It delivers an overall fuel-efficiency of 79 kilometres to a litre of petrol and the tank capacity of 10.5 litres ensures that visits to the petrol pump will far and few between, depending, of course, upon the distances covered every day.

The Shine’s price starts at Rs 51,000 (OTR, Pune) for the base version and goes up to Rs 59,000 (OTR, Pune) for the high-end one with disc brakes. Its price range and the availability of three variants gives the buyers a reasonable variety to choose from. It certainly makes for an attractive purchase.

The TVS Flame
Fighter Jet-inspired?
The TVS Flame made its début in 2009 after TVS took care of all the controversies surrounding the motorcycle. The Flame was a decent product right from inception. Its bold fighter jet-inspired bodywork and sporty stance were enough to attract youngsters as well as those still young at heart. The first thing about the Flame to catch one’s attention has to be the radical design that shows TVS’ ambition to deliver a sporty commuter. At the same time, there are a few factors that have proved negative for the Flame. To start with, the inclusion of a storage box right at the centre of the fuel tank resulted in a smaller tank, which ultimately meant that the bike had a poor range. The engine might have three valves and swirl and tumble tech packed in it. However, it is the least refined unit here. The 124.8-cc motor is powered decently with 10.5 PS and 10 Nm of torque, which is enough to tackle city traffic, but the bike’s vibrations can drive one crazy, especially if one is a stickler for refinement. The Flame’s handling is quite all right, nothing to elaborate upon. It allows you to throttle out of city traffic and bad road conditions without much effort, that is, if you don’t mind the vibrations. Its gearbox and suspension are also quite satisfactory.

Performance-wise, the Flame does not disappoint at all as it accelerates from 0-60 km/h in just 6.77 seconds, making it the quickest sprinter among the bunch. The 30-70 km/h roll-on figures also make the Flame a winner performance-wise. All of this with an impressive fuel-efficiency figure of 69 km per litre overall and a price tag beginning at Rs 50,500 (OTR, Pune, for the base version) make the Flame a strong contender, keeping aside the refinement part.

The Hero Honda Super Splendor
The Trusted Workhorse!
The Hero Honda Splendor was the one that started it all and today its bigger brother, the Super Splendor, is marching on the highway of success. The reason for this lies in the same genes that made the Splendor such a great favourite. Praiseworthy practicality combined with a trustworthy and refined engine make the Super Splendor worth every paisa spent on it.

The bike’s appearance might not be something to please the most demanding, but its subtle design is more than adequate to attract the ordinary man. However, design is not the main feature that makes the Super Splendor one of the hottest selling products. The beauty of this bike lies in its engine, which might look like a throwback on the 1960s, but does the job without a hitch. This 124.7-cc motor is highly fuel-efficient and one of the most refined of the bunch. It delivers an overall fuel-efficiency of 73 km to a litre. The refinement is typically Hero Honda, thanks to the Honda technology.

However, there are places where the Super Splendor sees red compared to its rivals. For instance, the 30-70 km/h roll-on figures in the third gear indicate that the Super Splendor takes 11.18 seconds to reach 70 km/h, whereas the Flame and the Shine do this in lesser time. There are other factors like the 0-60 km/h sprint and top speed where the Super Splendor scores well. It takes only 6.99 seconds to reach 60 km/h from standstill and does a top speed of 100.83 km/h, which makes it the fastest amongst the four bikes compared here. The Super Splendor impresses the crowd with its handling, which, I must admit, is in the same league as the Honda Shine. It is one of the easiest bikes to ride in the country and one of the most reliable too. With a price tag of Rs 52,900 (OTR, Pune) the Super Splendor makes a lot of sense for an a-to-b commute.


BLURB THE BEAUTY OF THIS BIKE LIES IN ITS ENGINE, WHICH MIGHT LOOK LIKE A THROWBACK ON THE 1960S, BUT DOES THE JOB WITHOUT A HITCH
The Suzuki SlingShot
The New Kid on the Block!
Suzuki’s maiden innings in the 125-cc segment were not impressive with two of their offerings not doing well, but the Japanese giant did not lose hope and recently re-entered the segment with a snazzy machine bearing a remarkable name, the SlingShot. The design of this motorcycle is somewhat indicative of its bigger sibling, the GS150R. The funky stance of the SlingShot looks more like an entry-level 150-cc bike rather than what it actually is. However, somehow the bike appears a bit loud to me (no offence to Suzuki).
The SlingShot’s 12-litre fuel tank looks like a scaled down version of the GS150R’s and the headlight looks like a stripped down version of the GSX series bikes. The side panels with SlingShot graphics appear dominating and the rear panel again reminds you of the GSX series.
One feature that I loved most was the comfort that the seat offered. The saddle on the SlingShot is the most comfortable of the bunch under consideration here and one does not feel tired at all zipping through heavy traffic and its snarls.


At first the wide handlebar might create the illusion of a bigger bike, but the tiny console brings one back to the reality of a 125-cc commuter. Overall, the design is good and impressive, but it also has the love-me-or-hate-me strand woven into it.
Once astride the bike, one forgets about the design part as one is soon taken up with the smoothness of the engine. This new Suzuki is equipped with a 124-cc engine that made its first appearance on the Zeus and the Heat. Suzuki engineers have re-worked that engine in order to make it suitable for the SlingShot and apparently it is eight kilograms heavier than that on the aforementioned two bikes. It develops about 8.62 PS and 10 Nm of torque, which is transferred to the rear wheel via a five-speed gearbox. You are right, the rest of the bunch have four-speed gearboxes! The gearshift is also as smooth as the engine and doesn’t let any unwanted feedback come through. The SlingShot’s acceleration within the city is quite good, though it takes a longer time to reach 60 km/h from standstill, because this Suzuki is the least powerful of the bunch.
However, the handling of the SlingShot is quite impressive as the bike is utterly easy to ride and is capable of tackling city traffic with utmost ease. Bad roads, uneven surfaces, potholes or protruding manhole covers, the bike’s suspension takes them in stride without bothering the rider much. As of now, the SlingShot is equipped with drum brakes at both the ends, but it may come with a disc brake option in the near future. The SlingShot disappoints when it comes to fuel-efficiency. It returned 68 kilometres to a litre on the highway and 56 km within the city, which, compared to the rivals, does not warm the cockles of one’s heart. We are sure Suzuki will look into it and try to improve it in the future. Its price, though, is spot-on with the competition. The base spoke wheel SlingShot carries a tag of Rs 49,443 (OTR, Pune) and the alloy wheel version that of Rs 51,434 (OTR, Pune), which make it an interesting proposition.

VERDICT
In my opinion, the Shine scores very well when it comes to refinement and handling, but it does vibrate after crossing 60 km/h. But then one seldom sees that reading on the speedo in the city. The Super Splendor has not many vibrations at high speed and is equally good in handling and refinement, but the ride becomes boring after a while, lacking in the crucial fun factor. The SlingShot, on the other hand, is one machine that is much more fun to ride as compared with the Shine and the Super Splendor. It also has the potential to attract youngsters more than the other three. The Flame is equally sporty looking and has better performance figures than the rest. But this performance comes at the price of refinement, for the Flame is nowhere near the other bikes in respect of refinement.
Each of these four has its pros and cons and it depends entirely on the individual preferences of a person, on what one is looking for in particular. Once clear about that, the final decision is not difficult to arrive at.

Executive bling

Bunny Punia plays judge as Honda’s new Dazzler proves its point in front of the TVS Apache RTR RD and the Yamaha FZ16
Photography Sawan S Hembram

After years of criticizing the Japanese giant for its ignorance towards churning out an upgrade for the 150cc Unicorn, it seems Honda heard us, finally! The Unicorn was always a great product. In fact, it surpassed the expectations of the folks at Honda by doing great numbers on a continuous basis every month. But at the same time, it seemed to lack in a few essential areas, which kept most youngsters away from their showrooms. Better late than never as Honda seems to have taken feedback from prospective buyers as well as the automotive media in a positive manner in the form of the new CB Unicorn Dazzler. It’s sleeker, punchier, loaded with more features and seems all set to snip a major chunk of the market share in the premium 150cc segment. We decided to pit it against the TVS Apache RTR RD (rear disc) and the Yamaha FZ16, two of its direct rivals to see if this new Honda is dazzling enough to challenge and probably beat its competition. Let the sparks fly then…

DESIGN AND LOOKS

I hate to start a segmented review by picking out a winner instantly, but the FZ is so far ahead of its peers here that there is simply no doubt about the Yamaha’s fashionable good looks. Its naked street bike design inspired from its international 1000cc sibling, the FZ1, makes it one of most attractive deals on two wheels in India currently. The minimal front along with a beefy tank spells aggression while the 140mm section rear tyre along with the short and stubby exhaust add heavy doses of sportiness to the FZ’s design. Speak to any owner on the road and eight out of ten will acknowledge its looks as the main factor behind their purchase decision.

The RTR 160, on the other hand, is a pure track inspired tool in the way it looks. Running racing stripes, dual petal discs and rear set footpegs are some of the highlights of the bike’s design angles. We also particularly love the red stripe on the circumference of the alloy wheel, the sharp tank scoops and the small engine fairing. The RTR looks smashing in a quite a few colours including yellow.

The Dazzler doesn’t really set your heart racing when you see it for the first time. However, typical to lot of international Hondas like the Fireblade and the VFR1200, this one too takes time getting used to. Spend a few days with the bike and you will start loving the way it looks. No doubt it is aesthetically better than the Unicorn with changes like wider tyres, a rear disc, a semi digital console, huge floating tank scoops, et al. Worthy of a mention here is the rear half portion of the bike. It looks elevated and adds a touch of sportiness.

COMFORT AND ERGONOMICS
The Unicorn has already won many hearts with its superior monoshock rear suspension. There is simply no denying the fact that even the Dazzler scores supremely high here when it comes to comfort level. Though we would have preferred slightly rear set footpegs, the bike’s riding posture is spot on for the city. This combined with a perfectly well set-up suspension means that the bike soaks up undulations unlike the other two bikes. Honda is known for its smooth engines and this one too goes about performing its duties ably and without any vibrations or harshness. That said, above 5000rpm, there is a pronounced vibration from the knee recesses of the tank. While coming back from our shoot location, a good 65km from Pune, Ramnath and I also felt the Dazzler to be slightly uncomfortable for long stints.

We found ourselves fighting to get hold of the FZ’s keys. The Yamaha might have an upright seating posture, but the soft seat and a wide almost flat handlebar give you a comfortable riding stance even during long stints. The FZ also feels at home in city traffic, being super nimble and easy to manoeuvre through traffic. In fact, the riding posture pesters you into riding the bike in a spirited manner. However, the FZ’s monoshock rear cannot match up to the Dazzler’s, especially when the roads are anything less than smooth. The engine surprisingly remains quite smooth even at high revs while the vibrations are well damped and are hardly noticeable through the bars or the pegs.

This gets us to the third bike, the RTR. Sadly, its racetrack genes mean it is the least comfortable of the lot. In the city, the sporty riding posture puts a lot of weight onto your arms which can be a bother on a daily basis. Further, with a pillion, the RTR becomes quite a handful in congested start-stop traffic conditions. The suspension too is a huge departure from the monos of the other two bikes. Take the bike for a highway ride and the moment you cross 8000 revs, the presence of vibrations from the pegs is alarming.


 

 SUSPENSION AND HANDLING
Pune is blessed with some amazing set of roads with enough curves and short straights to push a new bike to its limits. While we knew the Dazzler would fare very well due to its suspension set-up and a shortened wheelbase as compared to the Unicorn, the FZ wasn’t far behind. Its flat handlebar, upright posture with an amazing grip from the MRFs meant it easily kept up with the Dazzler and even surpassed it on a few occasions. However, as soon as we encountered a few mid-corner bumps, the Dazzler showed its prowess – this is the still the bike to have if you want to scrape the pegs around bends no matter how smooth or undulated they are. The monoshock suspension easily swallows small bumps and potholes even with the bike leaned into a corner at extreme angles.

Meanwhile the FZ’s suspension feels great on smooth roads, but on anything other than that, its feels a little harsh and stiff. The RTR, with its suspension on the stiffer side, is a fantastic bike around the hills too but the competition is simply miles ahead. The RTR’s forward seating stance also means that within a few kilometres, your forearms start aching. However, with its extra punch and a fantastic midrange, you can outdo the Dazzler and the FZ around the bends easily – more on this later.

PERFORMANCE AND EFFICIENCY
If the Yamaha FZ16 is all about looks and the Honda CB Unicorn Dazzler is about engine refinement and a superior suspension, it’s the TVS Apache RTR that redefines performance in this segment. The way TVS boffins have managed to extract that extra power and punch from the 159.7cc engine is impressive. At 15.4PS of power, the RTR manages to smoke the other two bikes in all areas: a 5.04 second 0-60km/h dash, a 118.69km/h top speed and class beating roll-on figures.

It isn’t the torquiest of the lot but at 136kg, it has the best power-to-weight ratio. Ride this bike back-to-back with the other two and you can’t help but get a grin on your face each time. The RTR’s shortcoming in terms of handling is easily made up for by its extra performance. The icing on the cake comes in the form of its incredible fuel economy. What more can you expect from a bike that boasts of smoking performance?

Next up is the Dazzler. With more power and less weight than the Unicorn, we did expect an increase in performance. It manages to shed the 0-60km/h acceleration timing by over half a second, but most importantly registers an impressive top whack of 118km/h. The Dazzler’s engine is also tuned for a better top end as compared to the Unicorn. This is apparent by an extended redline and power and torque figures that are now generated at higher revs. While the Dazzler takes 5.45 seconds to 60km/h, just 0.06 seconds less than the FZ, the gap builds up as speeds increase. For instance, the Dazzler dismisses the quarter mile mark in 19.72 seconds, 0.68 seconds quicker than the FZ. What impresses further is the efficient nature of the engine. Even with this kind of incredible performance on tap, the Dazzler still manages to outdo the RTR by a huge margin when it comes to fuel economy.

The FZ sadly has to be content with the third spot here but just about. Even with a wide 140mm section rear tyre, it still manages to churn out some impressive numbers. However, at highway speeds, you easily feel the lack of power. Cruising at a 100 kays, the other two bikes have enough in reserve for overtaking fast moving vehicles, but the FZ struggles. A gush of opposite wind and a slight incline is all it takes to bog down the bike. That said, its roll-on figures are just a second or two off the RTR’s mark. However, the engine is not particularly efficient with an overall fuel economy of just 43.5kmpl. 

Verdict
So far, it seems that both the FZ and the Dazzler are neck and neck with the RTR following close behind. However, these bikes are mostly targeted towards the youth and enthusiasts in the 22-30 age bracket. Hence it goes without saying that pricing plays an important role. The RTR RD at Rs 69,782 is the least expensive of the lot. If you are looking for cheap thrills and performance is what you seek, read no further and head to the nearest TVS showroom. But it has its own little flaws. For instance, it isn’t very comfortable for long rides and with the engine spinning hard, vibrations can be bothersome. It is also overshadowed by the other two contenders when it comes to ease of riding in city traffic.

The FZ has secured itself a soft corner in our hearts for the way it looks and the way it rides. How we wish it had some extra punch (Yamaha, are you going to make us happy soon?) and a more efficient engine. What also goes in favour of the FZ are the additional variants on avail, the FZ-S and the Fazer, but of course for some extra dough. The FZ would have been as recommended a bike as the Dazzler if it had an equally appealing sticker price. At Rs 72,649, it is almost three grand more than the RTR RD and Rs 1500 more than the Dazzler. Add to it, the extra running cost over the years due to its lower fuel efficiency and suddenly our focus shifts to the new kid in town, the Dazzler.

For an additional Rs 4000 over the Unicorn, the extra goodies, features and performance you get in the Dazzler are simply put, worthwhile. It looks snazzier, comes with wider tyres, a rear disc and a semi-digital speedometer console. All this without losing out on the essential fuel economy part. It might not be the best looking or the one with the best performance, but like its sibling, the Unicorn, the Dazzler proves to be a perfect all-rounder, capable of playing various roles depending on a customer’s preference. Not really dazzling, but versatile and appealing enough to win this shootout by a whisker.

Who dares wins

They look smashing, perform brilliantly and make up the Indian performance biking segment. Bunny Punia rides the four bikes – the Bajaj Pulsar 220 DTS-i, the Hero Honda ZMR, the TVS Apache RTR 180 and the Yamaha YZF-R15 back-to-back and picks the one that justifies the performance tag completely
Photography Sanjay Raikar

The morning seemed unusual for this time of the year. The air was quite nippy and there was a layer of dew on the grass around the roads we were traversing. As we came up a crest, the view of the fog filled the valley in front of us and took our breath away. We stopped to soak in the scenery and switched off our bikes. Suddenly, there was complete silence around us. There was no traffic on the road and the rising sun was still hiding behind layers of clouds. It almost seemed eerie there and hence we decided to do what we do best – ride on!

Our machines for this morning included four of the quickest and most powerful locally manufactured motorcycles on sale in India. These bikes not only look good, they all perform (almost) equally well too. Needless to say, these models are on the wish list of every youngster today. Of the four, in the recent past, we have pitted three bikes against each other – the Bajaj Pulsar 220 DTS-I, the TVS Apache RTR 180 and the Yamaha YZF-R15. The newest (and the fourth) contender here comes in the form of the fuel injected 223cc Hero Honda ZMR. Are we in for a fierce battle for a performance champion then? Definitely.

The first and the most important feature that matters a lot for customers going in for any Indian performance bike today are its looks. Without a doubt, the little supersport offering from Yamaha easily walks away with the crown for being the best looking bike here. With design lines inspired from its bigger sibling the YZF-R1, the R15 looks gracefully sexy and utterly beautiful, no matter which angle you look at it from. The twin cat eyes type headlamps with in-built parking lamps dominates the front. The full fairing flows in nicely, exposing the engine a bit on either side. The black finished exhaust with a silver cap adds a sporty touch, though I personally think, the tail lamp could have been executed in a better way. On the move or while parked on the side stand, the R15 has the ability to turn heads like no other bike in its class. Some probable customers, however, wish the rear tyre was wider which brings me to the bike with the fattest rear here. The Pulsar 220 comes loaded with good bits and pieces to make it look like a muscular and mean bike. Wide tyres up front and at the rear, wide forks, a beefy looking exhaust, a half fairing with projector lamps, an all-black paint scheme to name a few are some of the visual features that Bajaj has incorporated on the biggest bike in the Pulsar stable. This does work wonders and the bike commands a good road presence. The TVS offering, on the other hand, can fool you into believing it is the smaller 160cc variant due to its similar design. However, changes like wider tyres, a stylish RTR font on the tank scoops and a superbike styled rear fender make it stand apart from its younger sibling. We specially like the model in white with golden finished forks and gas reservoir for the rear shock absorbers. You also can’t help but notice the beautiful looking petal discs – a first in this category of bikes in India. The newest entrant in this segment, the ZMR gets a major visual revamp as compared to the current Karizma. A full body fairing is the talking point here. We got our test bike in white and though the ZMR has massive road presence, not all of us appreciated its new appearance. This is one of those bikes whose looks can take time getting used to. There are exceptionally nice details like the LED rear tail lamp, the faired mounted rear view mirrors, golden finished forks and engine cover, the striking two-piece grab rail and the superb fit and finish levels of body panels. But why couldn’t Hero Honda give us a bike with headlamps inspired from Honda’s numerous twin light higher capacity bikes sold abroad?

The R15 – the place to be in if you love riding hard

The Pulsar 220 – the console looks good at night. So does the backlit switchgear

The RTR – racing strips add a sporty touch

Swinging a leg over the Hero Honda brings back familiar memories. The saddle is an inviting place to be in and the ergonomics are topnotch including the working of the fairing mounted rear view mirrors which serve their purpose very well. This bike does feel substantially big and tall. Heavy riders will prefer the way the ZMR makes you feel comfortable once astride it. What really grabs your attention is the fully digital speedometer console that has a display for various mandatory things including other features like speedometer, tachometer, odometers, two trip meters, fuel gauge, time, tell tale lights as well as a welcome and goodbye message which can be tailored by the rider to include his (or his girl’s) name in it. The bike’s sitting posture is comfortable with a touch of sportiness due to the new clip-on handlebars. In fact, the bike is so accommodating that I for one wouldn’t mind riding it for a cross-country run. The Karizma has always had a good suspension set-up with a bias towards comfort. With GRS equipped shock absorbers finding their way here too, the ride quality has only improved especially over bad roads. Push the bike hard around a set of twisties and the improvements in the suspension show their worth. The front tyre becomes a little wider and both tyres are now of the tubeless variety – thumbs up to Hero Honda for this. The handling of this bike can be best described as neutral. It doesn’t feel nervous when the rider pushes it hard, but at the same time, it cannot be ridden with the knee down in a manner as easy as say the Yamaha through corners. What this bike does best is cruise lazily on the highway, munching away miles at triple digit speeds and taking care of the occasional pothole or bump with utter ease. In city traffic, it is nimble, though the bike’s 159kg kerb weight makes its presence felt easily.

On the other hand the R15, true to its inherited genes, has a sporty riding stance. It begs you into crouching down at high speeds, to make full use of the aerodynamic fairing. And even while doing so, it doesn’t feel uncomfortable unless you are a very tall rider. The ergonomics are very good from a sport biking point of view. The seat is exceptionally comfortable for such a bike, the rear view mirrors give a good view of the traffic behind and the clocks look and perform well. Ride the R15 back-to-back with each of the other three bikes and you can go on and on talking about how different it feels. All the efforts that have been put in behind making this mini Yamaha seem to have paid off. This is the bike to own if you love corners. The R15 will happily teach noobs the art of cornering and at the same time, it will keep the experienced owner happy with its ability to make the rider touch down his knees when the tarmac and road conditions allow. On the highway, the bike excels with the only bother being the windblast hitting your chest until unless you crouch down indefinitely. The monoshock suspension is non-adjustable but surprisingly it works very well through a variety of road conditions. The rear holds well through mid-corner bumps as well as over bad roads while commuting in the city. Speaking of which, of the four, this bike loses out when it comes to negotiating rush hour traffic. Your wrists do take a beating in start-stop traffic, but if a fun city bike is what you desire, it is the RTR 180 that you need to look at.


 

Instant throttle response combined with nimble and agile handling gives the TVS the best characteristics for being a practical yet fun bike for city commuting. Its riding posture might not be to everyone’s liking as it is more on the sportier side. Unlike the ZMR and the R15, you also feel as if you are perched higher on the bike. The speedometer console looks terrific after the sun sets, although the seat feels like it is on the firmer side. This is also a bike that can handle a lot of high speed highway riding. Some of us appreciated the TVS for its ability to be a hoot around corners. It may not be as encouraging to push as the R15 but spend some time with the bike and you soon learn the art of leaning it around curves. You may also be surprised by its abilities to bring grinning from ear to ear moments from time to time. The suspension, however, could have been better we feel.

Jump onto the fourth bike here, the Bajaj Pulsar 220 and you will be surprised. Like the RTR, on this bike too you feel as if you are sitting too high. The seat feels firm and the ergonomics are biased towards sportiness. The console looks great and small features like the back light for the switchgear makes the rider feel that his money has been well spent. This bike too faces issues with the suspension. Lean in hard into a corner with bumps and you can easily feel the rear of the bike giving way. Ride the bike hard over bad roads and again the harsh suspension makes itself felt. This isn’t the best bike here for corners but hit the highways at high speeds and its reassuring solid feel is hard to match in this class. Credit for this goes to the bike’s wide forks and wide tyres as well as its long wheelbase. Inside the city, the 220 feels at home but the wide turning radius can be an issue in tight situations.

The engines on all these bikes are as different as chalk and cheese. The smallest of the four here is the R15 but size doesn’t always matter. It might sport a tiny 149.8cc mill but this one gets liquid cooling, four valves and a host of other technologies that make sure it performs like a much bigger engine. The maximum power output of 17PS might not be tyre shredding but when you have a bike that weighs just 136kg with a nicely worked six-speed gearbox, outright performance does turn out to be nice. A 0-60km/h timing of 4.95seconds and a 0-100km/h timing of 13.85seconds is praiseworthy for a 150cc bike. The beauty of the engine, however, comes alive once you get past the 6000rpm mark. It must be noted that the R15’s engine is imported into India and the level of engineering that has gone into the motor is tremendous. It begs to be revved hard – keep the rpm needle near the red zone and the R15 is hard to catch. The six-speed gearbox also helps when it comes to extracting a good top end. Given the road, the bike achieves a true whack of 130.2km/h. The only downside I see here is the lack of low end punch. This is reflected in the roll-on timings too with the bike being the slowest in the 30-70km/h run in the third and fourth cogs.

The next biggest engine comes fitted on the RTR. The 177.4cc mill is derived from the younger RTR 160 and traces its roots back to the days of the old Apache 150. In this form, it develops 17.3PS of power along with 15.5Nm of torque – almost identical to what the R15 manages. However true to the saying ‘there is no replacement for displacement’, the RTR performs very well managing to fly past the 60km/h mark in under 4.7seconds and taking just 13.2seconds for the 0-100km/h sprint. This bike also boasts a strong midrange that is reflected in its best in class roll-on timings. The only grouse I have with this TVS is the level of vibrations that creep in via the handlebars and the footpegs when you give it the stick. The five-speed gearbox could also do with a better (smoother) gearshift.

The Pulsar 220 has always been the performance king of small capacity bikes in India. With the new carb variant, its power went up to a claimed 21.04PS with 19.12Nm of torque. It does weigh more than the previous two bikes discussed above, but nevertheless, performs impressively when the right wrist is wringed. With a 0-100km/h timing of 13.1seconds, this bike remains the quickest accelerating motorcycle in India. It also registers a good top whack of a genuine 132.5km/h or 140+ on its digital speedometer. The punchy low and midrange reflect in the roll-on figures which are second only to the RTR. This is due to its maximum torque coming at 7000rpm – the highest here. Vibrations and harshness are well controlled on this bike, being significantly noticeable only when you cross the 6500-7000rpm mark.

The ZMR has the same 223cc motor like the original Karizma. It now gets Honda’s well known PGM-Fi unit and along with other minor changes, the maximum power jumps slightly to 17.84PS at a low 7000rpm. The torque, however, remains the same at 18.35Nm. This engine has always been appreciated for its fuss-free nature as well as punchy midrange and this version only betters it. The throttle response is very good without being jerky and the motor feels eager to build up speeds. The speedometer is the most accurate here with no error whatsoever. So while your friends on the other three bikes might end up flaunting videos of themselves doing 130km/h or more on the speedometer, the ZMR will top out at a true 127km/h with a similar display on the console too. The bike’s acceleration has improved but only marginally. This was expected as the kerb weight has been pushed to a porky 159kg. Hero Honda isn’t boasting about any figures in their promotions either. For the record, we managed a 4.7second 0-60km/h dash and a 13.8second 0-100km/h sprint. But this bike has never been about out and out performance. The Karizma has earned a reputation for being a tourer’s delight and this one takes this appreciation to a new level. The bike will happily do Delhi to Mumbai or Chennai to Vizag high speed runs with ease. One thing I noticed was the bike’s increased vibrations at high revs – we reckon this is probably due to improper tightening of engine mountings.

All bikes here fare decently in fuel efficiency runs and there isn’t much of a difference. Yes, the R15 is made for a purpose and hence you do lose out a bit on the efficiency front. The ZMR with added benefits of the FI and a softly tuned engine turns out to be most efficient here.

Downtown Sprinters

We find out which is the best alternative to make light work of your daily commute
Story: Mihir Gadre
Photography: Sanjay Raikar

 

An ideal commuter vehicle is the one that will get you to work and more importantly, back from work fresh as a daisy and that too in a couple of minutes, tops. So that makes a helicopter the most ideal commuter. But most of us are either not rich enough to buy one or not important enough for the government to give us one. Sadly, we have to look at other alternatives that can tackle the ever growing congestion, somehow avoid the smashing (as in actually smashing into other vehicles) public transport system and the grossly expensive taxis/rickshaws. Now it’s a proven fact that apart from things that can fly, two-wheelers are the fastest and the most convenient mode of transport for city commutes. But it’s not that simple. You see, there are around a hundred different two-wheelers available in the market belonging to two distinct categories, namely automatic scooters and manual motorcycles. In a bid to find out the most commutable commuter, we pit the most commuter focused machines from the two categories against each another.

We chose the Zeus and the Access for this shootout because both of them are made by the same manufacturer, i.e. Suzuki. Their pricing too is similar, with the Access retailing at Rs 48,295 while the Zeus, slightly expensive at Rs 51,698 (both prices, OTR-Pune). Both the Suzukis are conservatively styled, extremely well built, have nice comfy perches for the pillion and are slightly more utilitarian compared to their competitors. We even insisted on a drum brake equipped Zeus so that the equipment levels on the two remained similar. Both their engines have a similar cubic capacity and are nicely refined motors with lack of any vibrations even at the top of their rev range. The Zeus’ engine develops its peak torque at just 3500rpm which makes it absolutely effortless to pilot around town. Yours truly was even able to roll off from standstill easily in fifth gear! However, the bike does run out of breath in the upper reaches of the rev band. The Access’ mill feels even more refined than the Zeus’. It has great shove off the line and unlike the Zeus doesn’t lose its gusto even as the revs climb, in spite of the fact that on paper, the scooter is down on power as well as torque compared to the bike.

The pillion gets a wide, comfy seat and doesn’t have to bear the hassle of carrying the shopping bags, thanks to the scoot’s huge underseat storage

The Zeus gets one of the slickest five-speed ‘boxes in the market with the engine in the middle freeing up space for bigger tyres and suspension

That brings us to the first major difference between these two, i.e. the transmission. The Access’ variomatic transmission is able to harness the engine’s power much better than the Zeus’ manual ‘box, however slick and precise the latter may be. The Access is quick off the line and able to poke its nose into the smallest of gaps in traffic. The Zeus’s gearbox employs very tall ratios, especially for the higher cogs, which means that you end up doing most of the commuting in the third and fourth cogs and hardly ever get a chance to shift up to fifth in the city. This hurts the Zeus in the fuel efficiency stakes. A hyper miler, who likes to chug along everywhere at 40km/h in fifth with hardly ever letting the rev needle cross the 4000rpm mark, might be able to extract 65kmpl from the Zeus. But if you ride smoothly and just fast enough to not let the daily commute get boring (like I do), the Zeus’ efficiency does drop sharply to just 50-52kmpl. However, if you try the same hyper miling technique on the Access, going easy on the throttle right from standstill, you will be spending most of your time below the economy band which is usually above 30km/h and the fuel efficiency will actually drop. The variomatic transmissions are better suited to real world riding where you wring the throttle until you reach the speed you want to travel at and then ease it off a little to maintain your speed, i. e. travel like normal people. I used the Access as my long termer for over a month and it returned a fantastic 46.4kmpl, no kidding.

The second big difference between the two is their respective body shape. The Access, being a scooter, gets a big front apron that will protect you from the sprays during the rainy season, a nice flat floorboard that can hold a variety of things like an LPG cylinder that your mom needs immediately, a 15kg pile of newspapers that needs to be taken to the recycler’s or your dog who needs to be taken to the vet. Now try doing that on the Zeus. The scoot even gets a hook to, er, hook your shopping bags. The lockable under-seat storage of the Access is big enough to fit a small helmet or sun coats, scarves and what not in case of the fairer sex. In fact, the scooter is nothing but an iteration of two wheeled transportation that was made just for these specific reasons. The Access appeals to the whole family and everyone can ride it including you, your wife, your mom or even the 16-year-old teenager in the house who is allowed by the weird laws of our land, to ride a 125cc scooter that is easily capable of 90km/h but not a less powerful 100cc motorcycle.

But along with these advantages, the scooter’s shape also has its set of disadvantages. Due to smaller wheels and forks, a scooter like the Access can never be able to match the dynamics of the Zeus. The bike gets bigger wheels, longer suspension and better weight distribution. So even though the bike loses ground to the scooter in the practicality department, it is able to claw its way back into contention in the others.

The Access is a big improvement over the previous generation scooters as it gets telescopic front forks and 3.0 section tyres at both the ends. In terms of ride quality, it is a definite improvement over the Activa, against which it was benchmarked. The Zeus, on the other hand, has completely average road manners. It has an upright stance, with a short wheelbase and is softly sprung which makes it extremely easy to maneuver around town. It soaks up all the bumps but is not good at corner carving compared to most of its rivals like the Yamaha Gladiator. Even with all those commuter oriented traits of the Zeus, the scooter doesn’t even come close to the bike in terms of dynamics. The Access has a tendency to lock up its tyres vey easily under braking and safety in the rains is a big concern for the scooter compared to the bike. All this also makes the Zeus a better bet for weekend getaways.

There is ample space for shopping bags on the flat floor board and the underseat storage compartment

The scoot is a perfect companion for weekly trips to the market

Verdict
The Zeus is perhaps the easiest bike for negotiating heavy traffic conditions and one of the most effortless commuters in the country. But get aboard the Access and even the Zeus seems like a hassle to ride. A lot of research and development has taken place in automatic transmissions. They no longer impose a heavy penalty in the fuel efficiency stakes. In fact, there isn’t much of a difference in real world fuel efficiency of the two vehicles. The difference of 5kmpl, in this case, translates to a difference of just over a thousand bucks over 10,000km which means that the scooter will actually be cheaper till the 30,000km mark owing to the price difference of around Rs 3000. No wonder then that the gearless scooter segment which had dwindled down to almost extinction has resurrected itself and continues to grow in spite of the recession. The Access has become very popular. It has a waiting period of three to four weeks in spite of Suzuki churning out 9000 units every month. The Zeus, in contrast, hasn’t been able to garner any popularity – evident from its paltry 3 percent market share in the 125cc segment. The verdict is clear, within the city, the scooter wins against the motorcycle.

World Exclusive -rsv4-v-the-rest!

Aprilia’s WSB bike with a tax disc takes on all 2009 test winners to find the UK’s ultimate sports machine By Adam Child

 

Our UK introduction to the RSV4 Factory is typically British: rain, wind and cold. With 320km up the A1 and M62 to Heysham for the ferry ahead of us, I’m chomping at the bit to get on the new Aprilia despite having already ridden 90 miles to the office on my R1.

The immediate impression is of its supermodel looks, closely followed by its physical dimensions – the RSV4 Factory is tiny, almost 600-like. Even for me, at 5’7”, it feels small.

On board, the pegs are high, the seat firm and there’s very little suspension travel; however, after 130km of the A1 I’m not complaining – it’s not that bad.

Yeah, the screen is low and taller riders may have a problem but it is, after all, a sports bike and not a Goldwing. Even the mirrors are just about acceptable, while the multi-functional clocks are the best in their class – like most Aprilias there’s a mode button on the left-hand bar which lets you scroll through them.

In fact, nobody really complains about its comfort – the small tank range of just over 160km being the only real criticism. That said, over long distance all the others are better, even the 675.

By comparison the RC8R is a sofa – its pegs are low, the screen is acceptable, its mirrors are good and even the seat is plush for a sports bike; as fellow tester Kev Smith put it: ‘I could ride this all day’. Shame the clocks are poor and it’s a little vibey compared to the rest.

By the M62, with the Steam Packet ferry not too far away, I’m back on the R1. Having done 4800km in the last month, I know how good it is for covering distance. The fairing is wide at the front and offers good wind protection, the mirrors are fine and the engine is hardly working at 160km/h and 7000rpm.

KTM is the cool, comfort king

To my surprise I’m wishing I was on the 675. During MCN’s 600 group test earlier this year it was the bike everyone fought to ride for long journeys, and even in this company it excels – only the RC8R gets more comfort votes.

OK, so the 675’s motor is revving higher, but there is little or no vibration – unlike the RC8R. Later on I do a 320km stint on the Triumph two-up with a tankbag fitted and it’s fine. The 675 could well be the dark horse here.

Despite the cold weather, we’re like excitable children hopped up on Ribena as we ride onto the famous ferry, and even more excitable riding off. This is it: the toughest road test environment in the world – and it doesn’t start well for the KTM.


 

We head up to the top of Bray Hill for a gentle lap to let the Isle of Man virgins savour their first Mountain experience and the RC8R stalls twice at the lights at the top near the petrol station. The fuelling at low revs is far from perfect – it’s really snatchy, and every one of us stalls it at some stage. As such, Ramsey Hairpin and Parliament Square is a pain on the RC8 in the busy traffic.

RC8R is best on smoother sections

Respect to the King of the Mountain

For all you TT visitors, be warned – speed camera and CCTV live here

Yet again it’s the Triumph which surprises – I’d forgotten just what a great bike it is. Perfect fuelling, easy and light around town and simple to ride, yet with such proven sporting potential. The next day our brave pillion Frankie – who had never ridden anything bigger than a 400 – takes the Triumph for a spin and can’t believe how smooth and easy it is to ride.

Though she draws the line at trying the R1, she would have had no problem. Considering how much bhp there is available to your right wrist, it’s a pussycat around town. At low speeds the riding position forces a lot of weight on your wrists and when the ambient air temperatute is high the frame and engine give off tremendous heat. But those are our only real complaints.

RSV4 lacks the R1’s reactions
In previous tests we’ve had fuelling issues with RSV4 Factorys at low speeds, but this bike was fine. The fuelling isn’t as slick as the Triumph’s or R1’s but it feels far better than the KTM.

However, when we take it over the Mountain part of the circuit later on we discover there’s a noticeable glitch in the power curve higher up in the rev range. At 6500rpm it seems hesitant, then it takes off and at 10,000rpm it goes beserk – it makes the Aprilia feel aggressive and hard to ride compared to the others. There also appears to be a slight hesitation when you wind on full throttle, as if the fly-by-wire system takes too long to react to the throttle position (Aprilia is investigating). But once you unleash the V4, boy does it want to party.

ISLE OF MAN
Every motorcyclist should do the Isle of Man at least once

If you’ve never been to the Isle of Man you are missing one of the greatest motorcycling experiences anywhere on the planet.

The island is a motorcycling paradise, both on and off road, at any time of year with the only unrestricted roads in the UK. But during TT fortnight it’s much more. Not only do the road racing gods take over, there’s also masses of activity and entertainment – from stunt shows to classic jamborees – to suit every taste. There’s nothing else like it for any motorcycle racing fan and there’s even still time to get there to make your pilgrimage this year… Go to www.iomtt.com

 

Flying over the Mountain, tucked into the bike like I’m on a 250, it gives me one of those moments I’ll remember forever – the V4 singing its intoxicating tune, 240km/h on the clocks, fenceposts passing sideways in a blur and the TT course unwinding ahead of me.

The R1 and KTM aren’t far behind – in fact in terms of outright speed there’s very little in it – but the Aprilia feels the quickest. Its aggression, tiny dimensions and firm set-up give it a phenomenal sensation of speed. The Ohlins multi-adjustable steering damper controlling the odd shake from the bars over bumps just adds to the pure racing feel. As we found out later the RSV4 Factory is actually significantly quicker than its rivals, clocking a mind-bending 303km/h – 10km/h faster than the R1 and nearly 50km/h more than the 675!

This is where the 675 suffers
When the going gets this fast, the Triumph obviously suffers. It’s quick, but on the run up to Hailwoods Rise after the tram lines the poor 675 just can’t keep up with the brutally fast litre bikes. I thrash it mercilessly, and its blue change-up gear indicator lights seem to flash constantly, but there’s no hope: the others just pull away up the hill.

But it’s not all about outright speed. On the fast run down from Kate’s Cottage to Creg-Ny-Baa you need some serious brakes and a quality suspension set-up to get around the lovely right-hander quickly. The Triumph’s lightness is its advantage here, easily matching the bigger bikes for cornering speed.


 

All the bikes here are good on the brakes, but the Brembo radial set-up on the Aprilia is simply outstanding. These are race bike quality brakes. The KTM’s Brembos are powerful too, but the combination of grippy Diablo Supercorsa tyres and

factory-feeling Ohlins forks mean the Aprilia gives the most confidence under hard braking.

 

TT RACER’S ROAD VERDICT
Up-and-coming road racer Connor Cummins is among the hot favourites for a podium at this year’s TT. The 23-year-old from Ramsey is the fastest Manxman around the island and this year is racing for the McAdoo Kawasaki team who’ve had great success on the roads previously. Here are his impressions of the four bikes:

TRIUMPH 675 DAYTONA
“I’m really impressed. It’s not like any other 600 I’ve ridden; it’s really soft at the bottom, not sharp and aggressive, then just loves to rev, you can play with the over-rev. It handles well, too; I’m really surprised how good it is. For a small bike it’s not uncomfortable either, it’s actually good even for someone as big as me.”

YAMAHA R1
“It’s just awesome isn’t it? I race one in British Superstock so I know how good they are. The engine is amazing, – so smooth – it makes its power so precisely and it really uses the tyres well – we’ve noticed how much tyre is left even after a long Superstock race. The brakes are great, so is the handling. The standard settings are a bit soft, but that can be sorted and I know it’s not the best looking, but who cares when it’s this good?”

APRILIA RSV4 FACTORY
“Wow! That’s awesome. I didn’t think it would be that good. It’s the first time I’ve ridden a V4 and boy it has some grunt – it just wants to take off! The mid-range has a nice feel to it, it’s really impressive. When I first looked at it I thought it would be way too small for me at 6’4” but it’s not that bad. It’s aggressive, handles like a race bike and looks gorgeous. But how much did you say it was again?”

KTM RC8R
“It feels like a comfortable sofa compared to the others – the bars are high and the pegs are low. You get going and you’re easily above a ton and above – it really feels quick. The V-twin engine has some real kick, too; I didn’t think it would be that quick. It’s easy to ride and would be perfect for someone who isn’t that quick or skilled but wants to ride fast. I’d have one. It’s fun, quick and easy-going.”

CONNOR’S VERDICT – IF HE HAD TO RACE ONE AT THE TT:

1ST Yamaha R1

2nd Aprilia RSV4 Factory

3rd Triumph 675 Daytona
4th KTM RC8R

“The Yamaha is easier to ride than the Aprilia, a little quicker, stable and would save its tyres. The Triumph would be so much fun around the TT course however. The KTM is still a great bike, it’s just that the others are that bit more fun.”

CONNOR’S VERDICT – IF HE HAD TO BUY ONE:

1st Yamaha

2nd Triumph

3rd Aprilia

4th KTM

“I’d still fork out that little extra and buy the Yamaha, but not the Aprilia. It’s too expensive, even though it is really good. The Triumph is a bargain.”

The RSV4 Factory also scores highly on the turn-in to corners. Again, it’s like a race bike in the way it flicks aggressively onto its side. The testers who haven’t raced lately take a while to get used to it, and the Aprilia makes the 675’s steering feel beautifully natural – it also makes the KTM feel long and lazy. The Yamaha turns fast, but after the twitchy Italian it feels planted.

As our confidence rises and speeds pick up, limits are approached – mostly ours, but also those of the Yamaha’s tyres. Why did Yamaha choose only average rubber for its flagship sports bike? The standard Dunlops aren’t as good as the Pirelli Supercorsas fitted to the other three bikes and if you push hard it’s noticeable – both Kev and I have front- end slides at the Gooseneck. The Dunlops are fine once warm – and 95% of the time you won’t have a problem – but such an amazing bike deserves equally amazing tyres. Grumble over.

Yamaha’s ideal road-focus
The R1 is set-up slightly softer than the Aprilia out of the dealership and this is a good thing – it was far more comfortable and easier to ride most of the time, and fine in the wet. But when we really pushed, the rear would squat under power and would give a little wallow. With time you can tweak this out to make the R1 a formidable track tool, but out of the crate the R1 is significantly more road-focused than the Aprilia.

At the end of the day there’s excited chatter about the outrageous performance of the litre-bikes. On the Isle of Man’s unrestricted roads they are truly astonishing, and it’s humbling to think how hard TT racers ride them. We went fast, but still felt as though we had only scraped the surface of the bikes’ potential.

The surprise is that instead of feeling short-changed by the Triumph because of its lower power and more ‘ordinary’ performance, we all end up raving about it. Its ease of use and screaming engine make it a joy to thrash, and it’s far less intimidating than the others. Howling across the mountain I feel like I’m really riding the 675, bouncing the gutsy triple off the rev limiter in fourth and fifth. The others are all so ‘oh-my-god’ quick that, frankly, I’m slightly scared by them.

When we get to the ferry for the return trip, the arguments are still raging. By this stage no-one is fighting the RC8’s corner – in isolation it’s a great bike, but it’s out-gunned in this company. The RSV4 Factory has won over our hearts and minds with its race-focussed aggression, and the R1 is possibly the most phenomenally-competent sports bike yet devised, but to everyone’s surprise the 675 is still there – a middleweight slugging it out with heavyweights.

We roll off the ferry and head home still undecided. Plenty of motorway time to ponder this one…

PILLION VIEW
Frankie Lister, 26, is the proud owner of a Honda NC30 and MCN’s brave pillion for this test.

TRIUMPH DAYTONA 675
“The Triumph is the best by some way. As a pillion on a sports bike, comfort is nice but a secure seated position is an essential – the Triumph has both. The peg position and the height of the pillion pad relative to the rider and the tank combine to give a safe feeling through fast corners and comfort for the motorway.”

YAMAHA R1
“The peg position and the pillion pad are fine, the problem is the exhausts which push your legs right out leaving the pillion with sore knees and an insecure seating position. A change of exhausts does alleviate this problem, making it a reasonable albeit not particularly comfortable ride.”

KTM RC8R
“The pillion seat is very high on the RC8R, making you feel very insecure under hard braking and fast cornering. The KTM is also the only bike that had peg vibration.”

APRILIA RSV4 FACTORY
“The RSV4 has a quintessential sports bike position with your knees tucked and a fairly high seat. It is, however, not a terrible pillion option if you are used to sports bikes, just don’t swap from a Goldwing to one!”

AND TESTER SAYS…
“Considering the Triumph’s racing potential it’s not bad two-up, but its lack of power when compared to the competition is really noticeable when two-up and riding hard over the Mountain course.

“The Aprilia wasn’t half bad, but its vicious power delivery makes it very flighty. It might be painful for the pillion but a light pillion doesn’t really affect the R1. It’s a similar situation with the KTM, but that is a nightmare for the pillion, bordering on dangerous at high speeds.

 


IT’S THE RSV4 WE WANT MOST, YET IT DOESN’T WIN THE DAY…’
This is difficult, so let’s start with the easiest bit. The KTM is outclassed here, despite having the most powerful V-twin engine ever bolted into a road-going bike and being absurdly comfy for something so competent on track.

 

Yes, it’s dripping with quality components from the likes of Brembo, WP, and Marchesini but at Rs 11.7 lakh it’s seriously pricey, too. So if you want a V-twin that’s comfortable, easy to ride (apart from that fuelling glitch) and live with, but can still cut it on track, you’re not going to be disappointed with the RC8. If you want the best sports bike full stop, read on.

In many ways the Aprilia is the one we want most. For me, it’s head and shoulders above the others on looks, and the multi-adjustable chassis and engine just add to its exotic allure. If you were lucky enough to have one of these in your shed there’s a good chance you’d spend more time in there than in the house.

Then there’s the distinctive, howling V4 engine itself which goes berserk at 10,000rpm. If the looks fail to get your heart racing, that certainly will. The fact that it handles like a race bike on the road is a less clear advantage. It adds excitement, but does become wearing. And how much?! At Rs 11.7 lakh you have to look at it as a cheap Ducati Desmosedici rather than a competitor to standard sports bikes.

When pushed, none of our testers could say they’d actually spend their own money on an RSV4 Factory.

And so to the R1. Its standard tyres and looks are a disappointment, but those are the only negatives. Though nowhere near as exotic as the Aprilia, its mixture of astonishing performance and ability as everyday transport makes it incredibly appealing to those of us who can only justify owning one bike. The R1 came so, so close to winning this test.

But it didn’t. While the litre bikes were bludgeoning our brains out with their ludicrous amounts of power, the Triumph Daytona 675 charmed us with its mix of real-world ability, brilliant chassis, characterful engine and slick looks. It’s reasonably comfortable – you can tour with luggage two-up if needed – and it’s easy to ride. Yet at the same time it’s fun, exciting and can easily cut it on track. It only lagged behind the others when speeds passed the 210 km/h mark, but in reality how many times does this happen in your average month?

You could argue there’s not the pride of ownership you’d get from the KTM or Aprilia, and you certainly won’t have flocks of people around it like seagulls on spilled chips. But the Triumph is just over half the price of the RSV4 Factory, and was the bike that our testers would actually buy. In that regard it’s a deserving victor and so takes the title of MCN sports bike of the year.

 

One-fine-day

In a bid to find the best 100cc commuter bike in the market, BIKE India takes these puny performers on a 350km trip
Words Bunny Punia
Photography Sanjay Raikar

 

When was the last time we had a discussion about 100cc motorcycles? The fact is that these puny little machines are mass segment bikes and make up for more than half the two-wheelers sold in India today. While bigger capacity machines and Indian performance bikes are generally the talk of automotive forums and the letters that we get from our readers, it struck us that we seem to have forgotten this interesting segment of two-wheelers. Flipping through older issues, the last time we pitted 100cc bikes against each other was way back in 2006! A weekend was coming up and what better (and adventurous) way to spend it than on commuter bikes that are at times used to ferry a whole family from one village to another in a hundred milliliters of petrol! This was also the first time we were heading for an overnight road trip on small capacity machines. This could be fun. Was it? Read on…

Our aim was to take a 100cc bike each from every motorcycle manufacturer. Honda, Royal Enfield and Suzuki don’t have a 100cc yet and hence it all boiled down to the Platina from Bajaj, the CD Dawn from Hero Honda, the Star Sport from TVS and lastly the Crux from Yamaha. The Platina and the Star Sport have a bikini fairing while the other two make do with simple road headlamps. The plan was pretty straight forward: ride to Diveagar (a small town on the west coast) through the Tahmini ghats and back to Pune. A round trip of around 350km would not only give us ample time to judge the bikes, but also prove to be a good break from our usual daily grind. The numerous hill sections along this route meant that we would have to rev these small engines hard till the valves popped out and then upshift to make progress. The riders, apart from yours truly, were Ramnath, Varun and Sawan. Monica took over behind the wheel of our backup car while Sanjay was busy with his lens. We finished work early and left the BI office by 4 pm. About 20km
from the office at our first meeting point, Chandni Chowk, each of the riders seemed to have apprehensions about continuing with the journey. Yes, it seemed we have been spoiled lately by the slew of larger capacity Indian bikes. Nonetheless, there was a task at hand and we decided to continue towards Mulshi lake. The traffic had eased up and we decided to stick to 55-60km/h as all the bikes were relatively brand new.

I had chosen to ride the Platina first and it surprised me its comfortable setup. The wide seat is well padded providing a comfy place to pile on the miles. However, being a tad too soft, the padding can give in quickly if you are a heavy rider (like me) making your bum sore within half an hour. The Platina has always been a great value buy and won our 100cc shootout way back in 2006. It also feels the classiest of the lot. The bike’s fairing, a good use of stickers with the silver colour, the alloy wheels, an all-black exhaust, etc., add up to the Platina’s overall good looks. The engine is quite smooth though it has the characteristic metallic sound that is now quite common on most Bajaj bikes. Being the most powerful and torquiest of the lot here, the Platina is always eager to jump ahead in traffic and its throttle response is good for a bike in this class. Leading the group, I decided to increase the cruising speeds to 70-75km/h and surprisingly the Platina didn’t feel strained at all.

We took a small break once the hill section began. Trading in the Platina for the CD Dawn came as a huge surprise. While the former feels substantial, the Hero Honda is certainly diminutive. Sitting upright with the helmet on, I couldn’t even see the handle bars or the speedometer console. The saddle is harder and so is the suspension with respect to the Bajaj. However, we were riding on bad roads and it didn’t take long for me to realize why the CD Dawn does so well in rural markets. Even with a family of four on board, this 100cc workhorse takes all the battering that owners subject it to without a complaint. The CD Dawn is probably as basic as it gets when it comes to looks, but from practicality point of view, it scores very high. The bike feels very spirited courtesy the short initial three gears and is a boon in rush hour traffic. Since we were riding on deserted twisty roads and going beyond 65-70km/h, the Dawn felt a tad underpowered.

Who gets to drive in the luxury of our back up car?

Holy ‘Moo’ly! Sanjay finds some cow comfort

Platina: How could Bunny resist sliding the little Bajaj?

Cd dawn: Sawan takes the most reliable bike here a little too close to the water

Throughout our trip, we were lucky enough to not have the rains spoil our fun. Stopping for another photo-op near the lake, surprisingly different viewpoints regarding our steeds were discussed among the riders. I was eager to get onto the third bike, the TVS Star Sport. Oh boy, was I blown away! This bike is spot-on whether it is the seating posture, the firm yet comfortable suspension or the quality of the parts. In my opinion, the Star Sport matches the Platina when it comes to appearance. The TVS is a smart looker without being overly flashy. It also handled beautifully over broken tarmac with the only grouse being the bike’s thin and hard compound rear tyre that played spoilsport. The Star Sport might not be the fastest of the lot, but over bad roads and around twisties, it was probably the best performer amongst the quartet.

We exited the ghats and headed towards Mangaon on the Mumbai-Goa highway to halt for the night. However, once we discovered that we were getting good and reasonably priced accommodation at Diveagar beach, we decided to go ahead with a night ride approximately another 50odd km to our new destination. The Crux would be my companion now. The roads from here on were very nice and smooth even over the several ghat sections. The Yamaha is the lightest of the lot but it doesn’t impart this feeling while riding. In fact, it feels quite substantial for a 100cc bike. The engine is soft although the gearbox is clunky. The Crux gave me a tough time locating the neutral (between the first and second gears – the only bike here to have a universal shift pattern). It has the largest capacity motor (106cc) and the tall ratios meant that I could stick around the 75km/h mark with ease on straights. Around corners, the Crux does feel a little nervous and not as assuring as say the TVS. We reached Diveagar by 9 pm and headed to MTDC’s resort that is located right on the beach. Two cottages for 3500 bucks seemed like an excellent deal but the ordeal of the air-con in the room not working after 2 am and a million insects was a different story all together. Add to that, the discourteous behavior of the staff and we would not recommend this resort to our readers. Serious discussions over vodka and whisky lasted late into the night and I was looking forward to another day of riding to decide the winner of this shootout.

Blame it on tiredness or sleeping at dawn, but it was only by 10 am that we dragged ourselves out of bed. The beach was just a hundred meters away and we decided to head to the coastline before searching for a good place to have breakfast. Lightweight and thin tyres translated to us having pure fun playing with the bikes on the sand. Small wheelies, long slides or simply riding in the water saw us spending almost two hours on the beach. It was almost noon when we stopped for brunch. I kept switching between the four bikes from time to time on the return journey in order to clear out a few confusions. The harsh sun was nearly killing us and we wanted to reach home ASAP. The four bikes were now given the stick in contrast to the so far restricted 80km/h mark. At a newly discovered kilometer long tarmac stretch closed to regular traffic, the Yamaha Crux even went on to kiss the magical 100km/h reading on the speedometer with featherweight Varun on board. All of us rode in a convoy back to Pune where we regrouped for the last time at Chandni Chowk. Before announcing the winner of our 100cc comparo, let’s recap a bit:

VERDICT
The aim of this shootout cum adventurous travelogue was to see which 100cc bike offers the best bang for your buck. The difference between the cheapest and the most expensive motorcycle here is Rs 2,000. The CD Dawn offers the best value deal. It’s surprising to see a Hero Honda selling for the least amount of money. The Crux seems to chug along well for Yamaha as the next cheapest bike from the Japanese stable retails for an additional Rs 6,500. However, the 100cc Yam is like a jack of all trades but the master of none. It all boils down to the Bajaj Platina and the TVS Star Sport. Way back in 2006, the Platina was Rs 641 cheaper than the TVS. Today however, the difference is just a few bucks. The Platina’s only serious grouse remains its light front end whereas the TVS’ sole disadvantage is its inefficiency to run on the highways for long. The Bajaj has a fuel gauge whereas the TVS has the longest tank range here. Anyway you look at it, buyers will be more than happy with either of the two bikes. This shootout turned out to be tougher than expected and we have a rare case of having a joint winner.

 

Tour de force

Rohit Paradkar leads the R15, Pulsar 220 and the Karizma into a battle for sport touring supremacy
Photography: Eshan Shetty

For every genuine biker, it’s the journey that counts more than the destination. Spice the journey up with a race against time, a whole lot of sport riding, higher average speeds, hundreds of kilometers and voila! you have a new riding philosophy of sport touring. After a busy work week, everyone is looking for a reason to break free on the weekend.

For bikers, this freedom comes in the form of riding for various motives – the road, the destination, work, leisure or just a plain craving to ride with buddies! For us though, it was our longing for some authentic sea food and we were eagerly waiting for an opportunity to raid the Konkan strip. The opportunity came in the form of continued queries from our readers asking us if the R15 was a potent sport touring machine. It gave us a reason to convince our Editors for this shootout and at the same time, achieve our ulterior ‘foodie’ motive.

Five of us chose to ride on the trip – our new entrant, Mihir, BI website workaholics Gauri and Pradeb, me and our young friend and guest photographer, Eshan Shetty. Our first challenge for the trip came while choosing the right kind of bags for our sport touring. The saddle bags were reluctant to go onto either of the bikes as the exhausts were burning the cordura material in no time. Tank bags hence became the obvious choice. But since we had only one of them with us, Pradeb had to continue with the saddle bag while Gauri and Mihir opted for backpacks. Since I was to start off with the Karizma first, the tank bag joined me. The large metal tank had absolutely no problems mounting it on. Pradeb took a while getting the saddle bag onto the Pulsar 220 since it hardly had any hooks, notches, slits or conventional grab rails to use the bag’s tie-downs. He somehow managed to get it saddled onto the rear seat after more than half an hour of struggling around. With the bags in place, we finally set off at 5.30 am.

Our itinerary was simple, take the Tamhini ghat route to reach NH17, eat, enter Roha, proceed to Kashid, eat, relax on the beach, eat some more, go to Pen, proceed to NH4, reach Lonavla, eat, reach Chandni Chowk, sip on a couple of cold coffee mugs and then disperse. Following the same, we started riding towards Tamhini. By the time we reached the foothills of the ghats, Pradeb, who was sweeping, had disappeared. On calling him up he told that us that it wasn’t only him who was ‘sweeping’; his saddle bag had already come off and was sweeping the road surface. He was fortunate that it didn’t get entangled in the rear wheel. After about 20 minutes he joined us again, this time with the saddle bag affixed more firmly.

The radiator may need some protection since pebbles may hit the unit and lead to leaks. Liquid cooling, however, is a boon against overheating

The rear footpegs are high and can be uncomfortable. However, the peg frame can come in handy while attaching saddle bag

The 35W bulbs are insufficient inspite of the two headlight units. The mirror mounts are long and offer good visibility even with a pillion

By now the sun had risen and that meant we had a clearer view of the ghat section. Being a sport rider at heart, I immediately whacked the throttle when the ghats began. But the excitement was cut short. The Karizma’s suspension by default was set to the softest and the bike was carrying the load to two hefty people and generous amount of luggage – making the rear end bottom out every time I threw it into a corner. However, the torquey engine ensured that I could effortlessly climb the ghats with minimal gear shifts. The 220 and R15 were on my tail all along, watching the Karizma’s rear end bounce around like a rapper’s hand gestures. After a couple of kilometers into the ghats, we pulled over near the lake for a brief photography session. While Eshan was busy with the shutter, Pradeb and I firmed up the suspension of the Karizma and 220 to negotiate the twisties better. Once the photos were in the bag, we continued towards the peak of Tamhini, where we planned to have breakfast. With the suspension firmed up, the Karizma felt much better and stable through the twisties, but I would still blame laden weight for making the suspension work too hard. Nonetheless, blaming my weight didn’t stop me from relishing our breakfast consisting of authentic missal-pav (legume curry and bread) and potato pakoras along with chai. After which, it was time to proceed, and we decided to swap bikes. Selfish as you may call it, I took the keys of the R15 for the downhill ghat section. Gauri decided to ride the Karizma now and Pradeb became the pillion on the R15, while Mihir and Eshan got onto the Pulsar 220.


 

The whole idea of sport touring was getting clearer now and the bikes were highlighting their vices and virtues with respect to handling. There is a world of difference between the riding dynamics of the R15 and the Karizma. Even with a pillion, the R15’s suspension showed no hints of bottoming out and the bike held its line without any nervousness, thanks to the rising rate linked monoshock which stiffens the damping as the load increases. The tyres were holding onto all sorts of surfaces, however, I would have liked them to be slightly wider to negotiate the loose gravel better. The 150cc mill was in a tune of its own above 6,000rpm and translated into freakishly fast corner speeds as compared to the others. Even with a stuffed tank bag strapped on, it wasn’t difficult to lean the bike into the corners, thanks to the wonderful riding posture. With the right suspension setup, Gauri was enjoying every bit of the ghat riding she was doing aboard the Karizma. She even agreed that the speeds she was able to carry through the corners even with all those bags, was way higher than what she could imagine on her Thunderbird. The 220, however, couldn’t keep up with her – the gas damped shocks weren’t exactly bottoming out, but the main stand kept digging into the road every time Mihir leaned the bike even a few degrees. While the engine offered enough grunt for the twisties, the main stand kept playing spoilsport. This became really unnerving especially on the downhill and slowed him down significantly. In the meantime, Pradeb was having a hard time on the R15’s pillion seat. Though the cushioning was comfortable, the stiffening suspension was making him feel the rough road as the bike negotiated the downhill ghats. Eshan on the other hand was irritated with the hard cushioning of the 220’s pillion seat. This was a good time to evaluate the pillion comfort of the Karizma then. Pradeb hopped onto the Karizma and the soft, wide pillion seat immediately proved its supremacy over the other two. The Karizma offers an incomparable rider comfort too, thanks to its upright seating and tall handlebars. The 220 has similar rider poise and hence Mihir found the 220 more relaxed than the R15 he was riding before. He especially liked the positioning of the handlebars, which inspite of being clip-ons, are not placed as low as the Yamaha. However, comparing the R15 with the 220 and the Karizma in terms of rider comfort, I strongly believe that it’s just a matter of time getting used to the R15’s riding posture. You can manage to sit upright on the bike once in a while without disturbing the riding dynamics, to prevent pain creeping into your wrists, shoulders and back. Once you get used to it, it can be comparable to the 220 or Karizma, if not better.

The bright console looks great during the day as well as the night. Inclusion of a digital clock is a boon for touring. The fuel guage is accurate

The headlight beam is inadequate. The windscreen offers good wind protection. The mirrors are properly placed

The love it or loathe it red springs do their duty to the fullest and provide great comfort for the pillion as well as the rider

Once the ghats were over, we hit NH17 to enter Roha. While reconfirming the route to Kashid with villagers on the way, we got weird stares from people, especially for the alienish riding boots and for the big girl riding the shiny red Karizma. Instead of basking in the attention she got, Gauri chose to be pillion now on the R15 with Pradeb taking over the Yamaha’s reins. I swapped seats for the 220 and Mihir and Eshan got onto the Karizma. The route to Kashid from Roha was pretty much straight but with a lot of broken patches in between. The Karizma instantly went back to its CRF230 roots and blasted past the rest of us like a true blue off-roader, absorbing each and every bump, pothole and undulation that came its way. The 220 too absorbed the shocks very well, but with a clanking sound of the main stand over every pothole. The R15 broke a sweat on these patches with all the sporty paraphernalia around it, thin tyres and with Gauri’s continuous complaining about the discomfort, Pradeb had to ride significantly slower than the rest of us. After the pothole turmoil was over, a brief section of the ghats commenced again. A few tens of curves and a long left hander hairpin welcomed us with the sight of the vast beach visible through the silhouette of the tall trees. We had reached Kashid.

Mihir and I pulled over into an empty spot next to a shack. After about ten minutes, our Bengali babu arrived with a wide smile inside his helmet. All the pain he and his pillion went through on the rough patch was negated with the exciting roller coaster ride in the twisties that followed. This time it was not only the villagers but also the tourists who were attracted to the sight of the flashy bikes and the armored riders. All these bikes has a distinctive design element that guarantees a second look – be it the big bike stance of the Karizma, the projector headlamp and futuristic design of the 220 or the miniature superbike styling of the R15.


Before long, Eshan engaged himself in shooting some statics while Gauri and I decided to hunt for a good eatery. Since the food in most restaurants in Kashid is made fresh, it takes almost an hour to be served. So with the order placed and the advance paid, we went back to the beach for some more photos.

With over an hour spent in the whole exercise and burning a few calories pushing the bikes in and out of the sand, we went back for the food! The five of us filled into the seats next to the dining table like water fills up empty potholes during heavy rains (a few of us flowing out owing to our massive overtures). The food was served onto the table; the sight and the scent were truly amazing. The succulent slices of surmai fry, the spicy yet tangy authentic flavor of Konkani prawn curry and steamed rice and the solkadhi (chilled drink made from kokam and coconut milk) made every kilometer of the long ride worthwhile. We enjoyed the food so much that we didn’t care for the extra time we spent at the restaurant stuffing our faces. Once done, we realised that we had been devouring the food for over two hours! It was time to devour some miles now. We had to ride back to Pune.

The bags went back onto the bikes and the gear went back onto the riders. The immediate itinerary was to reach Pen and proceed towards the NH4. The way to Pen had fast straights but the bikes had some unexpected behavior in store for us. The Karizma’s smooth engine is a revelation even at speeds in excess of 120km/h but the bike started wavering as head wind hit us. The tyres felt slightly skittish. Astonishingly though, the 220 did not face the same issue in spite of a similar quarter fairing design. The R15 tackled headwind quite well, but the moment we changed the direction a bit and the wind flowed side on, the R15 too started wavering, making us want a wider contact patch again. Once the windy part of the ride was over, we needed to go through a couple of narrow Konkan village roads which also happen to be the only route for State Transport buses thus making overtaking a nightmare. This was where the Karizma and the 220 highlighted their displacement advantage. While the R15’s 150cc motor needed a bit more effort and downshifts to gather speed and overtake, the 220 and the Karizma rolled on in a jiffy even in higher gears. Slowly darkness set in and things got even worse for the R15. In spite of the two R1-inspired headlights, the rider on the bike isn’t able to see far enough. It was a similar case with the Karizma. Pradeb who had moved back to the 220 now, raced ahead of both the bikes with the brilliant illumination provided by the projector headlamp on the Bajaj. Unfortunately, he went ahead so much that he left us far behind and ended up taking a completely different entry onto the NH4. The R15 and the Karizma stuck together for combined illumination till Khopoli. I had left my tank bag on the R15 so I took it back from Mihir since I needed the water bottle. This move came in as a boon since the lowered handlebars of the R15 make it difficult for the rider to see the console when the tank bag is strapped on. The puny range of the fuel tank had already hit reserve and Mihir didn’t notice it because of the tank bag. Fortunately for us, a fuel station was close by. After a refill, we got onto the NH4 and caught up with Pradeb on the expressway. After the reunion, we decided to stop at Lonavla for dinner, where we discussed the good and bad aspects of all the bikes, our experiences as a rider as well as a pillion and other factors that matter for a sport tourer.

The headlights are the best in class but the mirrors fail to reflect anything except the rider’s biceps. Unbreakable blinker mounts a positive feature

The gas damped suspension aids handling and absorbs potholes, but is not too good for pillion comfort even at the softest setting

Fuel injection ensures optimum engine performance even at higher altitudes where the air density is thinner than normal

Sport touring needs you to maintain a high average speed, you enjoy corner carving at a fast pace, blast through straight open highways, and make it to your destination with enough time in hand to indulge in activities you relish. That we were doing it as a group of rider buddies came as an icing on the cake. Fortunately for me, I have owned all the three bikes we rode for a long tenure at some point in time. They have their own strengths and weaknesses due to which each bike tends to gain or lose time. The 220 is a potent tourer. The equipment levels are up to mark and the fuel injection comes in handy while riding at high altitudes. The engine, though noisy, packs in a good punch. This characteristic should attract the riders who take the noise from the engine and the vibes as a communication channel with the machine for feedback. The 220’s headlights are the best in class and make sure you don’t lose time at night. Lose the main stand and the bike is a great handler – capable enough to scrape the exhaust while cornering. The 220 may not be able to house saddle bags well and the pillion seat is too hard for two people to ride but its real strength lies in riding with only a single person onboard for whom a tank bag is enough. All you have to live with is the harshness of the engine and the suspect reliability of the electronics. The R15, on the other hand, hasn’t failed me on the reliability yet. The bike made us all open our mouths in awe with its limitless capabilities. In spite of being an outright sports machine and just 150cc, it tackles highways as well as corners with ease. Liquid cooling and fuel injection help maintain optimum engine performance irrespective of the temperature and altitude. Of course, it doesn;t match the mid-range torque of the bigger capacity singles that let you just whack the throttle open in any gear to pass annoying traffic, but it still manages fairly well on that count. The headlights are a big disappointment though and will make you lose a lot of time during night rides. But with its unrivalled handling and significantly higher top speed, the R15 saves a lot of time during the day. For sport touring though, this Yamaha will ask for good roads, will come at a high price and will still not impress your pillion much – again making you ride solo like the 220.

Verdict
That leaves us with the Karizma. The six-year old workhorse is still the best in the touring business. It can carry out each and every chore of sport riding with utter ease. The bike can house a tank bag without hiding the console and can even accommodate saddle bags – the smaller variety that is. Pillion comfort is the best in class and the engine will not cough even with the weight of two people and a weekend’s worth of luggage, thus making sure you don’t need to leave your better half behind (which may act like a double edged sword for obvious reasons). The relaxed ride along with the silent and smooth Honda engine may seem boring to many, but induces the least amount of fatigue while on the comeback run – and that really matters a lot. When the Karizma was introduced six years ago, its body design was compared to that of the Honda VFR800 by some. Thankfully, that’s not where the similarity ends. In almost all respects, the Karizma can easily pass as a miniature single cylinder version of the Veefer which is undoubtedly one of the best sport touring bikes in the world. The Karizma still remains our choice, not only for touring, but for sport touring as well!

Jiving-with-the-scooters

 

Adhish Alawani finds out if the new clutchless Jive is ready to take on the highly practical scooters in the Indian market
Photography: Sanjay Raikar

Last month, when I was road testing the Jive (the new clutchless commuter from TVS), I was mighty impressed with the concept and practicality of this machine. Not only does it stand as testimony of a good piece of engineering, but also goes ahead of every other motorcycle in the current market by setting higher standards for modern commuters. The low capacity bikes and scooters have ruled the Indian market. And I personally believe that the Jive is going to create an altogether new segment of practical and easy machines at extremely affordable price tags.

While I was thinking about its novel transmission and ease of use in the traffic, it struck me that this bike is going to take the fight to the automatic scooters which are by far the best option for daily commutes in the chaotic, stop and go Indian traffic. Discussion on this topic with Aspi led me into a comparison test of the Jive against a scooter. We picked the most popular scooter available in the market today, the Honda Activa and decided to pitch it against the Jive to gauge both on various factors like ease of use, utility, cost, efficiency, suspension and last but not the least, styling. Let me take you through my findings on each aspect as I compared the commuters and rated each one of them on a scale of ten points.

Ease of use:
We all know that the Activa with its variomatic gearbox is the easiest thing to ride in traffic. With a twist of your right wrist, you set the scooter in motion and don’t have to worry about gear changes. The clutchless transmission on the Jive is not as convenient as the Activa where there is nothing that you need to do apart from throttle operation. However, the Jive is not as cumbersome to ride as any other motorcycle either as there is no clutch lever and all you have to do is roll back the accelerator and shift it to the next gear. In short, you can use the Jive as a manual or as an automatic bike. While coming to a halt at a traffic signal, you can simply come and stop in whichever gear you are running in and start off in that same gear. The centrifugal clutch keeps slipping until you attain the appropriate engine rpm and prevents the bike from stalling in higher gears at lower speeds. However, while doing so, you are going to end up burning the plates and get moving so slowly that even a kid on a bicycle will overtake you before you attain considerable speeds. Thus, though the centrifugal clutch can manage to keep your bike running in a higher gear at low speeds, it becomes inevitable to shift down the gears before taking off from a standstill. The manual shifts on the Jive come to your help on steep uphill climbs where you can go down to the first gear and keep rolling even with two people on board, which is not possible in case of the variomatic scooter.
Scores: Activa- 9/10 Jive- 7/10

 

Utility:
Utility is extremely important when considering a commuter and it comes in the form of carrying luggage and a passenger. The Activa, with a footboard and underseat space, can house a lot of stuff and carry a couple of loaded shopping bags. The Jive is probably the only motorcycle available in the country that comes with underseat space. However, as the company demonstrates, this space can only be used for an umbrella and a bottle of water or at the most, a wallet. The Activa’s wider and shorter seat means that it is also a better companion carrier than the Jive. So who wins the competition here? The Activa without a doubt makes a clean sweep when it comes to utility.
Scores: Activa- 9/10 Jive- 6/10

Cost:
The Honda Activa and the TVS Jive are priced competitively against each other. With both the machines costing close to Rs 46,000 (OTR, Pune), there is hardly a contest among them considering the tags. However, while discussing cost, it is not just the initial price that should be taken into consideration. The cost of ownership, i.e., maintenance, spares and service should also be given a thought. And in that case too, I believe that the earlier products from both companies have proved to be extremely reliable and cheap to maintain over the period of years they have spent in the market. I don’t think that we can zero in on either one of them while considering the cost factor.
Scores: Activa- 9/10 Jive- 9/10

Efficiency:
Commuter motorcycles are mostly bought by consumers because of the high fuel efficiency figures returned by these machines. TVS pounces back on Honda in this regard. With an amazing fuel efficiency of 62kmpl, the Jive beats the Activa, which settles at 53.5 kmpl, by a huge margin. Also the 6 litre fuel tank on the Activa means a lot less range as compared to Jive which comes with a more than double capacity 15 litre fuel tank.
Scores: Activa- 5/10 Jive- 9/10

Styling:
Styling doesn’t play a major deciding factor when it comes to commuters. They are designed for utility and practicality more than style and fashion. Nonetheless, I believe that the Activa, with its new broad rear styling and typical scooter design is not as popular amongst the consumers as much as a motorcycle. At the same time, I would also like to mention that the younger generation would prefer the scooter over the typical commuter motorcycle looks of the Jive. Thus, the styling factor ultimately boils down to personal opinions. Hence, no scores here.

Suspension and ride:
The telescopic forks upfront and the hydraulic suspension with coil springs on the TVS Jive ensure a comfortable and soft ride. Not only that, the bike’s sleek design and upright, tall seating gives good flickability to the Jive in congested traffic. As against that, the trailing link front suspension of the Activa is not the best on bumpy roads. Even the bigger wheels on the Jive call for a better ride quality than the small ones on the scooter. However, the Activa shod by the MRF tyres provides a far superior grip than the Jive that comes with the TVS tyres.
Scores: Activa- 7/10 Jive- 8/10

Verdict:
Tallying up the points, I was expecting to come up with a clear winner which is not the case here as both, the Activa and the Jive have scored equally. I believe that it is probably going to go down to consumer preference in the end. Someone might want luggage space while another may desire better fuel efficiency. Or maybe, someone like me might just want some fun from my commuter (refer to the opening page of the story)!
Total Scores: Activa- 39 Jive- 39

 

 


An-indian-at-a-sushi-party

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
The trendy 125cc city commuter gets a snazzy facelift and looks more ‘stunning’ than ever before

BAJAJ PULSAR 135 LS
This new kid on the block is tagged as LS (Light Sport) which could well have been ‘Lethally Styled

HONDA UNICORN
The most well-sorted 150cc in India that has set the benchmark for refinement across segments

THE LOOK

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.

THE RIDE
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.

THE HEART
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.

THE MOOLAH
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.

THE VERDICT
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.

THE WINNER
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.