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.

Legal-thrills


A combined total of 20,000ccs and 2000bhp. Did this send shivers down your spine and goosebumps across your body? We felt the same while riding with the PRS (Performance Racing Store) Boyz Club

Words Adhish Alawani and Bunny Punia
Photography Sanjay Raikar

The empty and wide back roads of Kharghar on the outskirts of India’s dream city, Mumbai was to play host to a dozen two-wheeled fanatics aboard a perfect combination of exotic, naked and powerful superbikes. The brutal summer sun was already casting a mirage on the road ahead while we waited patiently for the men and the machines to arrive. A few canines lazing under the only tree in the vicinity seemed unruffled by my constant whistling in order to play with them. And then, suddenly they showed signs of restlessness. Their ears stood up and with a faint growl, all of them charged towards a particular direction. Seconds later, we heard the glorious sound of forty-four cylinders firing at their peak, their exhaust notes reverberating through the yet to be occupied newly built societies. A grin appeared on our faces as we saw the line-up of twelve superbikes, all ridden by members of PRS (Performance Racing Store) Boyz Club, heading towards us for this special eight page feature. Before some of you readers start calling up your contacts in the DRI (Department of Revenue Intelligence), let me spoil your party by adding that each of these bikes is a legal machine with clean papers and authenticated
registration. Right then, lets get down to the motorcycles, their details and modifications along with the lucky mortals who own them.

HONDA

2009 HONDA CB1000R

Yezdi K Irani
Age: 46
Occupation: Businessman, Hotelier
When it comes to biking, age is no bar. We often say that motorcycling keeps you young and Yezdi, even at 46 years of age, is the perfect example of the above two lines. He still loves his two wheels more than two legs and a testimony to this fact comes in the form of the long list of modifications done to his CB1000R – from Michelin tyres to Akrapovic’s full titanium exhaust system, this naked street fighter is loaded to the brim. All these modifications show up within the first few hundred meters and Yezdi for sure likes utilizing the new found power to the brim. The bike sounds gorgeous, accelerates like an unleashed greyhound and brakes even better thanks to all those new aftermarket rotors and pads. Almost all the nuts and bolts have been tastefully given a blue treatment and look closely at the side grooves on both the tyres. Beautiful!

2010 HONDA CBR1000RR

Atul Rathod
Age: 33
Occupation: Petroleum engineer
When you own a motorcycle this good, you really don’t need to invest in add-on jobs. Atul, owner of this red CBR, thinks the same way. We have always loved CBRs although the latest iteration’s looks are somewhat subjective. A couple of spins down the long, empty, cordoned off road and then around the roundabouts makes it clear why motorcycle enthusiasts around the world have been hooked onto this bike. This Honda has one of the best power- to-weight ratios ever, evident in the way it pulls once the tachometer needle is close to the 10,000rpm mark. The second thing that was noticeable was the compact nature of the bike that does not make the rider feel uncomfortable – a trait Honda is known for.

1993 HONDA CBR 1000F

Honda CB Twister vs rivals


Five executive entry-level commuter motorcycles fight for supremacy. But which bike offers the best bang for your buck is the question Bunny Punia tries hard to find an answer to

Photography Sanjay Raikar

When Honda launched the 110cc CB Twister in the market recently, quite a few eyebrows were raised about its high sticker price for a commuter bike. However, the CB turned out to be the most involving and fun to ride commuter we had come across in a long time. It looks smashing, has a gem of an engine, is comfortable for the rider and of course, is a Honda. Does that mean it can divert customers away from other manufacturers straight into Honda showrooms? To get the answer, we decided to pit the CB against its rivals – a top of the line commuter bike from each manufacturer. We chose the 100cc Discover from Bajaj, the 100cc Splendor NXG from Hero Honda, TVS’ 109cc Star City and lastly, the 106cc G5 from Yamaha. All the bikes compared here are top end models.

Bajaj Discover 100

Any bike that makes history by selling 5 lakh units within 225 days of its launch ought to be a great performer. The Discover is just that. Aimed as the country’s first small capacity long distance motorcycle, this little Disco has a lot of aces up its sleeve. It looks nice in a sporty way – an angular chopped exhaust, a raised visor, sporty pattern of the tyres, et al. The bike’s trump card is its 94.38cc engine that makes use of both the twin-spark tech gadgetry as well as the swirl induction technology. The power and torque numbers are nothing to rave about, though the riding experience is what brings a smile to your face. The motor feels eager, always willing to propel the bike ahead in traffic, apparent by the roll-on figures. In fact, maneuverability is top notch and the suspension setup too is just right, though overall comfort is hampered due to the hard seat. During this shootout, most of us didn’t want to ride the bike for this one painful grouse. This is also the only bike in its class to feature a five-speed gearbox. Retailing at Rs 46,400 (on-road, Pune), like other Bajaj offerings, the Discover 100 is a good value for money proposition. Its incredible fuel efficiency comes in the form of the icing on the cake. Is this the best bike here?

Hero Honda Splendor NXG

You can never go wrong with a Hero Honda. They are the masters of the commuter segment in India. With six different offerings in the 100cc segment alone, there is a bike for every kind of commuter. We decided to choose the NXG, a sportier, modern and fresh looking avatar of the hugely popular Splendor. Typically Hero Honda, you get to see a lot of sticker work on this bike. The bikini fairing is slightly larger than the company’s other models and along with an all-black colour scheme, it lends the bike a good look. Overall, the proportions are well sorted and the bike makes tall as well as heavy riders feel at home. The NXG turns out to be the lightest bike here and this is evident while encountering rush hour traffic. It is also where the ultra reliable 97.2cc engine comes into its own. It is butter smooth and efficient though the lack of outright punch across the rev range does disappoint, especially when riding with a pillion. However, the gear ratios are tall and the bike even manages the best top speed here at 96.92km/h. For Rs 47,300 (on-road, Pune), the NXG offers a well rounded package with the company’s huge after sales support and best in class resale value. Reasons enough for us to crown it the winner?


TVS Star City

In the July issue, during our 100cc shootout, the Star Sport managed to grab the co-winner’s crown along with the Bajaj Platina. The bigger 110cc Star City shown here only manages to improve on its smaller sibling, proving its credentials strongly. Ergonomics are good, seat comfort is excellent and the bike imparts a solid feel while riding over bad roads. The engine too is strong – 109.7cc belting out 8.3PS of power and 8.1Nm of torque. This is the second most powerful and torquiest bike after the CB and expectedly it is the second quickest of the lot as well. It even manages to be the quickest in the 30-70km/h roll-ons in the fourth gear. The biggest in class fuel tank, a mobile charging point and a five-year warranty for a small amount further gets this bike more brownie points. It also has one of the most comprehensive switchgears among all the bikes here. Rs 45,400 (on-road, Pune) for the top end variant is what it demands, putting itself more or less in the same price bracket as others. Should the competition be worried about this small warrior?

Yamaha Libero G5

If there is a bike here that seems to be perfectly suited for well built riders, it has to be the Libero G5. It feels substantial for a commuter machine and not surprisingly, turns out to be the heaviest of the lot. Everything about the G5 is on the softer side – the well padded seat, the suspension setup and even the way it rides and handles over city roads. In fact, this is a bike that makes you want to go about your daily commuting in a lazy, laid back manner. But this doesn’t mean it lacks outright punch or cruising abilities on the highway. This is the same 106cc engine doing duty on the Crux and the Alba for years now. The G5 also comes with the best switchgear of the lot, offering every possible feature including an engine kill switch. On the looks front, the red and silver colour combination give it a smart look and the bike even sports dummy air scoops under the tank. It won’t be wrong to say that the G5 continues to look good even after five years of launch. Rs 49,000 (on-road Pune) does make the bike dearer by a few grand as compared to the others here. Will this prove to be a
hindrance when it comes to clinching the crown?

Honda CB Twister

A lot has already been discussed about Honda’s first bike for the masses last month. No doubt it is one of the best looking motorcycles in the country, aping its bigger sibling, the CB1000R perfectly. The engine performs brilliantly for a 109cc motor, churning out performance figures that end up shaming quite a few 125cc machines. Like a typical Honda, it doesn’t sacrifice fuel efficiency at all. The motor also feels stress free at highway speeds and unlike the 125cc Hondas, the Twister is pretty smooth and vibe free even at 70-75km/h. The suspension is slightly on the stiffer side, but ride the bike with a pillion and it outshines all the motorcycles here. However, we do miss simple things like a pass switch, an engine kill switch and pilot lamps. Why, Honda why? So, is there a chink in the armour there? Definitely, this is the commuter segment where value for money is the first priority. Consumers want to pay as little as possible and even a difference of a grand can change the final decision. In this case, the CB turns out to be six to nine grand dearer than the other bikes. Agreed, it has a lot of positives as discussed above and also comes with a front disc (absent on the other bikes), but is the price justified?

brothers in arms

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

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

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

BAJAJ PULSAR 150
Hallowed be thy name


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

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

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

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

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


The Pulsar loves being ridden hard and rewards you for it

SECOND OPINION

BUNNY PUNIA
DEPUTY EDITOR

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

 


HERO HONDA HUNK
The Emperor’s new clothes

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

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

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

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

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

The BIKE India slow race formation

SECOND OPINION

SARMAD KADIRI
Senior Correspondent

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

SECOND OPINION

BUNNY PUNIA
DEPUTY EDITOR

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

SUZUKI GS150R
Loaded to the brim


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

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

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

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

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

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


This Suzuki is the biggest bike of the lot

SECOND OPINION

SARMAD KADIRI
Senior Correspondent

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

TVS APACHE RTR 160
Catch me if you can

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SECOND OPINION

BUNNY PUNIA
Deputy Editor

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

VERDICT

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

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