Prince of zeal

A crown (the bike’s new visor) not withstanding, Bunny Punia thinks the new FZS is the last word in fun biking in India
Photography: Bunny Punia, Martin Alva, Munish Shekhawat

 

In India, two-wheeler manufacturers have different ways of promoting their products. While some rely solely on their product virtues or advertisements, others make sure the bonding between the owners and their bikes play an important role. For Yamaha, things are a little different. It is not every day that you see senior management personnel of a two-wheeler manufacturer ride with the media guys during a launch or a ride function – be it aboard the YZF-R15 at the Sriperumbudur racetrack or astride the FZ-16 during its launch in Goa.

The road to success for Yamaha in India has been hard but in the last year or so, a strong upward movement in sales charts has shown that the company’s efforts have begun to yield results. In March 2009, Yamaha sold 14,558 units (with the FZ series making up for more than 50 percent of the sales) which was a whopping 45 percent increase over the same month last year. With volumes on the rise each month, Yamaha has become the fastest growing two-wheeler manufacturer in India. Continuing with the success of the R15 and FZ-16, the Japanese firm decided to pimp up the latter with a few cosmetic touches and hence was born the FZS that you see across these four pages.

A first proper look at the FZS combined with experiencing the fun element that this bike comes attached with was the agenda behind Yamaha taking a few select journos for a trip to North India at a small hill station based around a lake, Nainital, some 300 odd km from Delhi. After an awfully slow and grueling twelve hour bus journey (at the end of it, all of us thought biking up would have been a better option), the setting for the open air, overlooking the lake cocktail-cum-presentation dinner helped combat the fatigue (and frustration). Plus we had the new incarnations of the FZ-16 for company with a couple of FZs with aftermarket add-ons. Nainital was chilly and while we sipped liquor and warmed our hands around the burning coal, the presentation by Sanjay Tripathi gave us a fair idea of what lay in store for us the next day.

The morning session saw us riding around the hill station on sticky tarmac, enjoying the amazing flickable nature of the bike. Though we were on roads between 5000-6500 feet above mean sea level, which meant the slightly thinner air robbed the engine of some power, the bike’s fantastic midrange torque made up for it and the 35km odd loop was covered in just half an hour. Most of us wanted a break from our hectic daily routine and loved riding on such roads. How could we restrain ourselves from making the bike dance on one wheel as well?

The afternoon riding session, however, was longer (and faster) with some of us staying right at the tail of the leading bike ridden by a Yamaha rider. The destination was Corbett National Park around 110km away. Yes we were scarily fast, but the adrenaline rush made sure the right wrist was wrung open, making full use of the bike’s capabilities (and the tyres too). Traffic was sparse and the occasional speed breakers were of course negotiated with ease. The day’s ride saw one media guy taking a spill and well, the incident did bring us back to reality and we backed off a little from the throttle. The evening saw us riding onto the dry riverbed for some fantastic photo opportunities with some of us riding on the pegs, jumping over typical, huge white riverbed stones. This was where I kept the FZ-16 and FZS side by side to compare the differences. The cosmetic changes are few – a sharper headlamp, a new visor, new colour schemes and alloy wheel strips, et al – but they help in giving the bike a completely new character which in my opinion easily makes the FZS the best looking bike in India. The changes do make the bike dearer by a couple of grand but the boffins at Yamaha are confident about the positive sales of their product.

Media rides like these are vital. An opportunity for a close interaction with the top guys as well as the factory riders helps to shed light on various aspects of the bike and its development. I have ridden the FZ-16 extensively in Pune but the route chosen by Yamaha riders had a lot of variations including superb sticky twisties, dry riverbeds, small stream crossings etc. Riding the FZ-S over all these terrains enlightened us about a lot more aspects as well. For instance, the next day, while riding deep into the Park, we came across numerous 15-20 feet long shallow humps which were entered at close to triple digit speeds and exiting them saw both wheels at least a foot off the road. Landing back didn’t weave the bike at all. Stability, flickability and a torquey engine – I have always loved the FZ and this small interaction with the new FZS impressed me further. Small capacity bikes can be fun too.

The new visor not only looks cool, but also helps deflect some amount of air from the riders chest. Seen in the background is the Ramganga river

A big thanks to the Yamaha factory riders (with Morita San in the center) for all the hard work they put in to plan this ride

Sanjay Tripathi has been the face of Yamaha India for most of us journos, and we have always found him riding enthusia-stically along with us on all the media rides

Vee4 is back

Roland whacks the throttle on the latest generartion of V4 litre class power available for the street. Behold the Aprilia RSV4!
Photography: Milagro

 

The first session had been horrible, but this was fantastic fun. The rain was coming down quite hard now, and the slippery Misano track had already seen three crashes this morning. But as the RSV4 tipped smoothly into the turns, drove through with a guttural V4 growl, and then catapulted towards the next bend with a stirring howl, the speed and poise of Aprilia’s new challenger was thrilling despite the conditions.

This was the upmarket Factory version of the Italian firm’s new super-sports flagship, and the name was well deserved. The production RSV4 was managing — with its looks, its agility, its suspension control and sheer power — to give a flavour of the works V4 on which Max Biaggi has shaken up the established players in the first weeks of the World Superbike season.

It shouldn’t really have been a surprise to anyone that Aprilia would be so competitive so quickly on the track, or that the 183PS production RSV4 would be mighty good to ride. After all, the Noale firm is part of the Piaggio Group that is Europe’s biggest bike firm. More than three years and 25 million euros have been invested in this project, after starting with a blank sheet of paper.

“Our goal was clear,” Piaggio’s director of motorcycle engineering Romano Albesiano had said last night. “We wanted to build the fastest motorcycle on the racetrack, for use on track and road. There were no limitations; no constraints. We were free to choose the engine layout and the chassis. We wanted to make the most compact super-sports bike ever built, and we did it in a unique way: by combining the work of two teams, the engineers of the R&D department and the race department.”

Aprilia’s history also pointed to the RSV4 making an immediate impact. Back in 1998 the original RSV Mille V-twin, the firm’s first ever superbike, was a fine roadster although it never turned World Superbike race wins into a championship victory. This new bike’s links to the V-twin include its trio of headlights and aluminium beam frame layout. But this all-new V4 is very different; lower and more compact, as well as more stylish.

The dozen RSV4s poking from Misano pit garages had cut through the early morning gloom. Miguel Galluzzi, creator of Ducati’s Monster and now head of Piaggio’s design team, has given the V4 a unique and aggressive look. The sharp lines of the cut-down fairing and sculpted tailpiece are reflected in the upswept black silencer. The aluminium frame spars are smooth and polished. Classy, typical Factory-spec touches include Öhlins suspension, Brembo radial Monoblocs and forged Marchesini wheels.

There’s nothing particularly unusual about the view from the rider’s seat, which is quite low and slim (although luxurious compared to the razor-blade that a pillion gets to sit on). Clip-on bars bolt to 43mm forks whose gold-and-blue tops jut through the cast top yoke. A low screen gives a view of the digital display. But there was definitely something special about the way the motor came to life with a raw, raspy V4 sound through the four-into-one exhaust, revving urgently as I blipped the throttle.

Being tall I was glad to find that despite the bike’s compact dimensions it didn’t feel cramped. But I wasn’t glad about the weather. Aprilia had gambled by holding the launch in north-eastern Italy, and had been rewarded by rain. The standard Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP tyres had been replaced by softer still racing wets, but I still didn’t enjoy relearning the slippery circuit, especially after one guy had crashed on the opening lap.


 

Miguel Galluzzi,
Director of Piaggio Group Style Centre

“I joined Aprilia in September 2006 and in my first week we started talking about this bike. The engine was already on the test bench. To start such an important project with a clean sheet of paper was a once in a lifetime opportunity.

“But this was also a very difficult project because the RSV4 is very small, which gives extra problems for a designer. Size was the priority: the bike is nimble, the form is the function. Next priority was to make it distinctive — to create the face and the tail. When you see it coming it’s an Aprilia; when it’s going away it’s an Aprilia.

“It was a conscious decision to keep the bodywork to a minimum, to let people see the engine and the frame. We thought there would be a lot of heat coming to the rider but when we tested the bike we found the hot air goes away. We spent quite a lot of time in the wind tunnel, but not too much because you can get confused by it.

“The hardest part was the exhaust. Designing something that looks good with the necessary volume is a big problem. We tried maybe 150 different solutions: with one silencer, two, high, low, all over the place. When we got the look we started working on the sound — getting that metallic note when the valve opens up…

“This is a good time at Aprilia. Everyone here has the passion for motorcycling. We have a budget, and the right way of working. This engine will lead to other exciting bikes. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

The bike was not to blame for that. To suit the conditions Aprilia’s technicians had suggested setting the three-way injection map to the S for Sports position, the middle of the three. This is easily done, using the starter button while the motor is running. The T for Track setting gives max power in all gears; S smooths delivery and cuts max output in the lower three ratios; and R for Road flattens the torque curve and limits output to 142PS at all times.

With the Sport setting selected the V4 was fabulously flexible and sweet-revving. The close-ratio box’s first gear is tall, so I was splashing round the tighter bends with the revs dropping below 5000rpm. Yet the Aprilia picked up sweetly as I cautiously opened the ride-by-wire throttle. The engine note was initially gravelly; a touch of vibration briefly came through the footrests… then the sound rose in pitch and the motor smoothed as the bike stormed down the straight, kicking harder at about 8000rpm and hurtling towards the next turn.

On the wet track I was happy to leave the engine in S mode for almost all my three sessions. A brief test of the Road setting was enough to suggest that its gentler delivery might be useful occasionally. There was certainly not enough grip to allow any advantage from the Track setting’s full power in the lower gears, so I left that for another day.

Even in the dry there would have been no room at Misano to get close to the Aprilia’s near-300km/h top speed, but the bike was into fifth in the generally sweet-shifting box, and still pulling hard (no time to glance down at the digital speedo) on the main straight. That’s despite it having to cut through the wind and rain with my unaerodynamic body increasing the bike’s tiny frontal area despite my efforts to hide behind the low screen. The RSV4 certainly felt seriously fast; just how fast it is remains to be seen.

Full analysis of its handling ability will also have to wait, because the track didn’t dry out. It’s ironic that the RSV4 has the most comprehensively adjustable chassis ever seen on a production streetbike — giving the option to change steering geometry, ride height, swing-arm pivot point and even engine position — but the weather meant that I didn’t adjust even its suspension.

Instead I was happy that the front and rear Öhlins units were reasonably soft and very well damped, and gave good feedback in conjunction with the super-soft Pirellis. Misano’s relatively recent change to run anti-clockwise has resulted in a couple of tricky, decreasing-radius right-hand turns that put emphasis on front-end grip. So it was just as well that the RSV4 steered with a light and neutral feel that made direction changes easy.

I hadn’t expected to enjoy splashing round in the wet, even so. But during my second session the bike felt so precise, controllable and sweet-handling that I was having a great time despite the rain. I was cornering faster, leaving my braking later — glad that the Brembo Monoblocs gave plenty of feel, as well as stopping power — and winding on the gas earlier and harder out of the turns.

Then I had a biggish rear-end slide exiting the same second-gear left-hander that had seen a Greek rider high-side in the previous session. Clearly even this most rider-friendly and poised of bikes could easily exceed its limits. By mid-afternoon seven riders had crashed. Our final session was cancelled amid fears that Aprilia would run out of bikes for the following day.

So the RSVR Factory’s debut ended inconclusively, and the V4 still has work to do to show that it can be as competitive a production bike as its works-racer variant has shown it can be in World Superbikes. Perhaps Aprilia will give the Factory traction control, to compete with Ducati’s similarly priced 1198S, after introducing the cheaper RSV4-R model (with Showa springs, cast wheels and probably a simpler, non-adjustable frame) that is expected in about six months’ time.

Despite the weather and the crashes, though, the Factory had done enough to suggest that Aprilia’s second major assault on the open-class superbike market will be even more successful than the first. The competition is hotter than ever this year. But the RSV4 was mighty good in the rain, and will surely be better still in the dry. The superbike world has a very serious new challenger.


 

CHASSIS
The chassis is comprehensively adjustable and allows the rider to change steering geometry, ride height, swingarm pivot point and engine position

ELECTRONICS
The tachometer red lines a notch higher than 14K revs while the large display provides a wealth of information with features like a lap timer, speedo etc. The throttle is mated to a fly-by-wire technology for monstrous performance

ENGINE
The 999.6cc 65° V-four cylinder engine uses a ride-by-wire multimap technology which takes engine management to practically infinite possibilities for further development. A sophisticated electronic injection system with two injectors and adjustable height ducts aid futher performance gain

RSV4 Tech
This bike represents the start of an important new family for Aprilia, who threw huge resources into developing an engine that will eventually power naked and sports-touring models, as well as a base-model R version of the RSV4. The firm’s aim to create the “missing link between track and road” led them to use engineers from both R&D and race teams, and to run sophisticated computer programmes to analyse potential lap times of numerous engine layouts — including V-twin, triple and transverse four — before opting for a dohc V4.

An eight-valve V4 with cylinders at 65 degrees was eventually chosen as the best compromise between engine power — for which a larger angle allows more space for intakes — size and vibration level. “We chose the configuration with optimum performance and mass distribution,” said Piaggio’s bike engineering chief Romano Albesiano. “We wanted to keep the same weight distribution as the RSV V-twin, but make it smaller. The V4 is narrower and produces less vibration than an in-line four, so the higher development and manufacturing costs were worthwhile.”

The 999cc engine’s dimensions of 78 x 52.3mm match those of Yamaha’s latest R1, the most oversquare of Japan’s inline fours. Camshaft drive is by lateral chain to the intake cam, then gear to the exhaust cam, allowing very compact cylinder heads. Titanium is used for the valves; magnesium for the engine covers. A single balancer shaft minimises vibration. The transmission incorporates a six-speed cassette gearbox and wet, mechanical slipper clutch.

Breathing is highly sophisticated, featuring variable length intake ducts and ride-by-wire throttle control. The Weber-Marelli injection system incorporates two injectors per cylinder: one located downstream of the throttle valve for optimum low-rev response; the other in the airbox to boost fuel atomisation for maximum high-rev power. Peak output is a claimed 183PS at 12,500rpm. Pressing the starter button toggles between the maximum output T (Track) mode; S (Sport) which smooths output and limits torque in the first three gears; and R (Road) which gives a 142PS limit in all gears.

Aprilia’s road and race heritage demanded a polished, twin-spar aluminium frame. The RSV4’s is welded from cast and pressed sections, weighs 10.1kg, and is fine-tuned for optimum stiffness, giving 39 per cent more torsional rigidity than the RSV V-twin’s equivalent, but less rigidity elsewhere. The matching aluminium swing-arm weighs 5.1kg and is stiffer than its predecessor in every respect. Most of the 17 litres of fuel lives under the seat, for improved weight distribution.

The RSV4’s key chassis feature is a level of adjustability unprecedented in a production bike. Removable steering head inserts can alter the headstock position and alter rake and trail from the standard settings of 24.5 degrees and 105mm. Rear end height can be adjusted via the swing-arm pivot as well as shock length. Even the engine has alternative mounting points.

This adjustability is largely for the benefit of Aprilia’s Superbike race team, and springs from the race department’s close collaboration in the RSV4’s design. “Some targets such as power, weight and handling were clear to both the R&D department and the racing engineers, but the potential for chassis adjustment was a demand of the racing department,” says veteran RSV engineer Mariano Fioravanzo. “The adjustable frame was more complicated and expensive, and we discussed it a lot. But in the end the racing department got what they wanted.”

The Factory model’s cycle parts match the frame’s quality. The 43mm usd forks, piggy-back shock and steering damper are all by Öhlins. Forged wheels are a kilogramme lighter than those of the Factory V-twin, let alone cast alternatives. Brembo’s radial Monobloc calipers bite purpose-designed 320mm discs. Carbon-fibre mudguards and sidepanels contribute to a claimed weight of 179kg without oil or battery.

 

Just got better

Phenomenally fast, better looking, easier to ride – but that’s simply not enough…

By Michael Neeves

Suzuki’s new GSX-R1000 K9 is a big improvement over the old K7/K8 model, but it’s not the giant leap forward we expected. It’s much more a case of evolution than revolution for the new Gixer, despite it having its most radical overhaul since it was introduced in 2001.

As well as looking similar to the old K7/K8, retaining the two-exhaust design, it’s pretty close in character too. It has the same ‘sit-in’ riding position and the same torrent of power when you twist the throttle. After a day riding it around the twisty Almeria circuit in southern Spain it’s clear it has new- found agility and friendliness the old bike lacked.

Compared to some of its competition, the GSX-R is not as razor-sharp in and out of the corners and it’s still missing that intoxicating mix of grunt and light weight that made the old K5/K6 the sensation it was at the time. With things like extra soundproofing and the ever-bigger catalysts Suzuki have to run nowadays to get through Euro 3 laws, it seems the glory days of the waif-like K5 are gone forever.

Another sign that it’s now 2009 and not 2005, is the price. The new bike is the most expensive GSX-R1000 ever, costing £9800 (Rs. 7 lakh approx) when it hits showrooms at the end of March. Gixxers have always been at the most affordable end of the 1000cc market, but it’s now nearly the dearest, just after the new R1.

Thankfully the new GSX-R1000 motor isn’t as angry as before, thanks to a mass overhaul (see following pages) to smooth out the rough edges. Although power and torque remain the same, a claimed 185bhp isn’t to be sniffed at. It’s still an obscene amount, but it’s easier to use than before.

Power is smoother all the way through the rev range and there’s grunt oozing from every engine bolt, despite having a shorter stroke engine than before. All this gives you the confidence to twist the throttle further. But don’t worry, the GSX-R1000 hasn’t gone all soft. The K9 still retains that spine-tingling, evil bark when you blip the throttle and it wants to wheelie at every opportunity coming out of corners. The K9 isn’t as flabby as the old K7, either. That went a bit ‘90s GSX-R1100’, compared to the lightweight K5 model that went before. With its 5kg reduction in overall weight combined with the smoother power delivery, the K9 is now much easier to muscle around a track.

Last year we did our 1000s group test here at Almeria. The K8 GSX-R1000 finished up
two seconds behind the slightly more powerful ZX-10R and the significantly less powerful FireBlade, the overall winner of our test. It was only a fraction behind the R1, though. The Suzuki’s bulk and lack of agility (you could even feel the weight getting it off the sidestand) compared to the competition was the main reason it lagged behind. This is a technically demanding track dominated by constant throttle, high radius corners and flip-flop chicanes, so you need a bike which is light on its feet. What I do remember is that it flew down the long sixth-gear back straight like a guided missile, as it would with a true 169bhp at the rear wheel.


I’m sure the K9 would make a dent in those two seconds if we were to run the test again. It still has the power and speed and it’s even easier to get that throttle open now, but it still lacks the agility of the Blade and ZX-10R. And of course now it has the grunty new R1 to think about, too.

Except for the straight, the whole of Almeria can be taken in second gear, so you have to ride the big Suzuki like some hyper-speed twist-and-go moped for most of the lap.

For corner after corner, you dive in towards the apex and the K9’s slipper clutch eliminates most of the engine braking, so you get a nice smooth, balanced corner entry as you dial in more and more lean.

Getting settled into a turn, which seems to last forever, at full lean and holding a steady throttle is easy, thanks to the fuel injection’s smooth and predictable response.

As the corner opens up, gently feed on the power, stand the bike up, feel for grip through the rear tyre and squirt it. With the taps open the K9 rockets to the next corner, front wheel skimming the tarmac and bum forced back into the seat hump, leaving you hanging on by your fingernails. This is every inch a mad, bad, howling GSX-R1000, make no mistake.

Despite its shorter stroke engine, it’s still packed with enough grunt to let you take corners a gear taller than you need, and it’ll still fly out the other side pretty sharpish.

The only thing that stops us from really uncorking the full fury of the K9 at Almeria is the standard road-going Bridgestone BT-016 rubber. The engine wants to play, but it’s a lot to ask of an all-purpose sports tyre to be ragged senseless all day, with only a break for lunch. They do a great job of hanging on, they warm up fast, grip well and are predictable, but you really have to be careful with your right wrist with all that oomph to play with.

On stickier Michelin Power One rubber I rode the K9 on the following day at Cartagena, it turns sharper and you can explore more of the chassis and engine. The two big things to happen to the chassis are the new longer swingarm and the Showa Big Piston forks (see following pages), which replace the old
Kayaba units. Let’s start with the Blade-esque short engine/long swingarm combo.

Asked for by Suzuki’s racers around the world the new longer ‘banana’ style swingarm improves rear tyre grip and predictability. Given the power on tap and the relative low grip of the road tyres in track conditions, you’ve got to say the idea has worked, because it’s only when the rear tyre gets very worn that it starts to slide. When it does it’s with warning and gradual.

I say slide, move a bit is probably more accurate, compared to what Sylvan Guintoli was doing when he was out on track with us. Suzuki’s new BSB signing and ex-MotoGP god was laying the most obscene, thick black lines around the track, and in places you’d never think you’d be on the throttle, let alone at full powersliding fury! He’s going to be a star this year.

Just like the FireBlade, which runs a similar long swingarm, you have to watch it when pulling a wheelie, something that’s de rigueur for GSX-R1000 owners. The front wheel comes up gradually as normal, then when it’s at about chest height it suddenly goes ‘whoosh’, and tries to loop. If you’re ready for it fine, if you’re not you might wake up with a crowd around you.

So, job done there with the swingarm, then but the new forks take more getting used to. They offer a lot of resistance when you ease off or brake, and they only really seem to work at their best when you’re really pushing hard.

For the first few riding sessions at Almeria I didn’t like them, they felt too stiff and made the bike feel heavy and slow steering. They also made my wrists sore by the end of the day. But after a while you realise that the harder you push the better they feel and the more you can judge what the front tyre is doing.

First impressions of the K9’s handling weren’t good when I first climbed on, it felt clumsy, slow-steering and slightly unstable on the rear going into corners. A lot of this was down to set-up.

Once I’d got up to speed and used to pushing the front end harder to make the forks work and give me feel, it was better. I also added some more preload (on John Reynold’s advice) to the rear shock to speed up the steering. By the end of the day I finally started to have some serious fun. On sticky tyres the K9 is even better.

Brakes are an improvement but they still have the same GSX-R trait of feeling a bit mushy at the lever and liable to fade on hard use.

There’s no denying the K9 is a superb motorcycle. Suzuki have been fanatical about weight saving and balance and all these tweaks to make it lighter and grippier will no doubt pay dividends for the race teams who use the road bike as the basis of their Superbike or Superstock racers. Die hard GSX-R fans will still go all gooey over its evil exhaust note, searing top-end rush and slider-shredding cornering ability.

But there’s something missing and I can’t put my finger on it. I wasn’t left giggling, or open-mouthed after each riding session, like I should have been. It’s exciting, there’s no doubt about that, it’s still a wild 180mph superbike, after all.

But maybe with all the changes I was expecting a lightweight, snarling GSX-R1000 K5 MkII? Maybe it feels and looks too much like the old K7/K8 despite all its changes? Maybe it’s still too bulky? Maybe it’s just that Honda and Yamaha have moved the game on so much with the Fireblade and R1.

This is the best-ever time to buy a superbike. They might be edging towards £10k (Rs. 7-lakh approx), but they’re at such a high level, have so much power and are so packed full of technology it’s insane. The trick nowadays isn’t to find more power, it’s to harness the incredible bhp on offer.

The Suzuki ticks all these boxes, it’s better than the old K7/K8. But for me, it’s not different enough to really get me salivating.

Expert views

John Reynolds,

Ex-BSB champ and Suzuki test rider

“It’s a totally different chassis on the K9 from the K7. We’ve got a setting now where the bike works really well on the race track, and with a couple of turns of preload off the rear shock and a bit off the front end you’ve got a bike that’s wonderful for the road as well.

“Suzuki have taken all the feedback from the riders in WSB and all the people who’ve been riding the K7 and K8 and worked out what’s needed is more grip on the back end. The way the geometry of the chassis is now, it’s really focused towards racing bikes more than anything else.”

 

Sylvain Guintoli,

Crescent Suzuki BSB Team racer

“It was an interesting experience riding the K9 today because I’ve never tried a road bike before. I was really surprised. I always thought road bikes on the track would be heavy and soft, but the K9 is good fun and fast.

“We tried the K9 in Calafat a few weeks ago, but it didn’t have all the evolution parts on at that point.

“Now we will ride the K9 full-spec superbike in a test this week, so we can find out exactly what it’s like.

“ I’m looking forward to BSB, because we’ve done this test in Calafat and its gone really well and the team are really nice guys to be around and really good fun.”

David Taylor,

Suzuki GB Sales and Marketing Director

“With the K9, we’re trying to maintain Suzuki’s position of producing the top-selling bike over 125cc.

“The racing side of Suzuki has brought the bike to a pinnacle with the front fork design and mass that’s been taken out of the bike.

“We’re critically interested in how this year turns out with all the new stuff that’s going on in WSB and BSB, and all the Japanese manufacturers face an interesting challenge this year. I think we’ve timed it right with what we’ve got.”

 


Under the skin of the GSX-R1000

1. Engine
More compact and lighter than before, this is Suzuki’s first major-league engine redesign in the GSX-R1000’s history. The K9 has a shorter engine, by 59mm front-to-back, which lets the bike run a 33mm longer swingarm to help rear tyre grip. The overall length of the GSX-R1000 is still 2045mm.

The new motor has a bigger bore and a shorter stroke to give more power at high rpm, but it still has the longest stroke of all the Japanese 1000s. A long stroke equals grunt. This more ‘over-square’ engine layout will give race teams more scope for tuning and raising revs safely. The redline is set at 13,750rpm.

There’s more power up top, but Suzuki claims more low and midrange torque, too, thanks to new camshafts, a reshaped combustion chamber and a hike in compression ratio from 12.5:1 to 12.8:1.

A new two-piece crankcase design and a lightweight crank accounts for most of the engine’s 670g weight loss. The crank has a more efficient lubrication system. Titanium inlet valves are up from 30mm to 31mm and exhaust valves up from 24 to 25mm. Double valve springs replace single ones for better control at high revs. By stacking the primary and secondary gears and moving the clutch and crankshaft forward Suzuki has been able to make the engine shorter. The rear sprocket is down one tooth from 43 to 42.

The throttle bodies are now 10mm shorter, with 12-hole fuel injectors providing a finer spray for improved combustion. Inlet trumpets are now different heights to improve midrange and high rpm efficiency.

There’s still a slipper clutch, but it’s now cable instead of hydraulically operated.

The swoopy exhausts have titanium headers and servo-controlled butterfly valves to maximize power through the rev range. The system is 400g lighter than before.

2. Chassis
The new K9 weighs 5kg less than the old bike. The twin-spar aluminium frame is now shorter (from 645.8mm to 615mm) and comes in five welded-together sections. There’s also a cool ‘banana’ swingarm in cast aluminium, which lets the exhausts tuck in closer to the bike and is 500g lighter than before. The wheelbase is 1405mm – 10mm shorter than the K7/K8. Footrests are three-way adjustable, as is the gearlever. The new, removable cast aluminium subframe is lighter, too.

3. Suspension
Showa replaces Kayaba for the new K9. New 43mm Showa Big Piston Forks (BPF) are now fitted to the GSX-R1000 for the first time. They have just one 39.6mm internal piston per fork leg controlling rebound and compression damping instead of two. They run a lower pressure than conventional forks, so there’s less change of oil cavitation. Springs are at the bottom of the forks and are submerged in oil. This simpler set-up is 720g lighter than conventional forks. Both compression and rebound damping screw adjusters are on the top of each fork leg and preload is at the bottom.

The new Kayaba rear shock (500g lighter) is fully adjustable, including high and low speed compression damping, and works through a new suspension linkage (200g lighter). The speed-sensitive steering damper is 45g lighter.

4. Brakes and wheels
New forged aluminium Tokico one-piece radial calipers are more rigid and 250g each lighter than the old two-speed items. These are bolted to new-style carriers. Different sized pistons are used on the leading and trailing ends of the calipers for even pad wear. The radial-pump master cylinder diameter is down from 19 to 17mm for better feel through the lever. Cast aluminium wheels are 420g lighter.

5. Bodywork
The new fairing has a narrower lower section for better aerodynamics and a wider top to improve wind protection. SRAD (Suzuki Ram-Air Direct) intakes, which cut into the new headlight, have new internal louvres and are moved closer to the centre of the bike to take advantage of the higher air pressure there. A new slimline tail section has clear lens indicators and comes with a clip-in single seat unit. The new fuel tank retains its capacity of 17.5 litres.

6. Instruments
New clocks feature a gear position and power mode indicator, a bar graph showing how bright the clocks are and a lap timer, triggered by a button on the right bar.

On the road

Michael Neeves rode the K9 from the launch in Almeria to Cartagena, the venue for our upcoming 1000s group test. The route took in twisty mountain roads and motorway.

“If you’re coming from a K7/K8 GSX-R1000, the riding position will be immediately familiar. The seat is comfortable, you sit low and the bars are relatively high, so it’s OK to do distance on.

“There’s still good grunt at low revs, though you can’t be completely lazy. Purr along in high gear at normal speeds and you need to stir the gearbox to overtake cars.

“The Big Piston Forks still feel stiff through the twisties, but on normal roads they suck up the bumps beautifully giving very good ride quality.

“The K9 is more fun on the road than on track. You can clutch up big power wheelies at a ton. There’s an excess of power to play with, making the K9 the dog’s on the road!”

 

Evolution of the gsx-r1000

K1/K2: 988cc (73 x 59mm)•168kg (dry)

K3/K4: 988cc (73 x 59mm)•168kg (dry)

K5/K6: 998.6cc (73.4 x 59mm)•166kg (dry)

K7/8: 999cc (73.4 x 59mm)•172kg (dry)

K9: 999cc (74.5 x 57.3mm)•203kg (wet)

 

Honda CBR600RR ABS2009

Honda’s next generation ABS system graces its ‘09 CBR600RR not only as a safety aid but as a performance enhancement as well
Words Roland Brown Photography Honda

Three laps into my first ever test of an ABS-equipped super-sports bike, and it’s a weird feeling to be charging down the Losail circuit’s pit straight at over 230km/h, leaving my braking later… later… later… then grabbing the CBR600RR’s lever far harder than normal without a care in the world. Instead of folding its front wheel and spitting me off, the Honda simply sheds speed at a rate every bit as fierce as I managed on a non ABS-equipped CBR half an hour ago.

The bike feels reassuringly normal as it buries its front Bridgestone into the track, too, with none of the pulsing through the lever generated by conventional ABS systems. Perhaps there’s a little less fork dive than I might have expected. And the Honda stays remarkably stable as I brake and tip it into the tight right-hand bend, gently easing my grip on the lever as I approach the apex. That’s because I’m actually releasing both brakes: the ABS is contributing a touch of rear disc without even being asked.

If that scenario sounds almost like science fiction, I’d have said the same thing before riding the latest CBR600RR on its track launch in Qatar. Even braking hard on sand without a twitch of front tyre or heart rate, during yesterday’s test on the circuit’s car-park, didn’t prepare me for how effective — and how normal — Honda’s new anti-lock system would feel at speed on the track.

Honda is billing its Electronic Combined ABS, available as an option on both the 2009-model CBR600RR and Fireblade, as the world’s first anti-lock brake system for super-sports bikes. It’s certainly that, as well as the first “brake-by-wire” system that operates front and rear brakes electronically rather than mechanically. More importantly, it’s the first anti-lock system that is almost undetectable in use, and which has the ability to be a performance aid, even for fast and experienced riders.

The 2009 CBR600RR ABS now gets Tokico callipers from its elder sibling, the CBR Fireblade

New ECU now decides how these conventional callipers behave when you pull the lever

Essentially this production-ready system is a more refined version of the prototype that Honda unveiled on a CBR600RR in August 2008. It works in a totally different way to conventional ABS set-ups, with their linked hydraulics. Instead, it centres on an ECU that monitors pressure in the brake lines, as well as the deceleration of both wheels. The ABS software decides how much pressure to apply to each brake, in order to maximise both stopping power and stability.

Unlike Honda’s previous Combined ABS, this system does not require special calipers. (The only difference is their gold instead of black finish.) It does add weight, though: 10kg for the CBR600RR and 11kg for the Fireblade, the difference explained by the fact that although the components are almost identical, they were harder to package on the larger-engined bike. Equally inevitably it also adds cost: roughly €1000, so more than conventional systems.


 

Some of the system’s benefits quickly became clear in the first day’s test at the Losail car-park, where we got to try both bikes’ stopping abilities on dry tarmac, wet tarmac and a thin coating of sand, in a dummy panic-brake from about 80km/h. Even the dry test was an eye-opener, as the Hondas stopped hard and skid-free, with none of the normal lever-pulsing (the software just doesn’t work that way). Both were stable, too, although the Fireblade’s rear end moved around slightly, without ever threatening to develop into a stoppie.

Grabbing a handful of front brake on a wet or sandy surface was even more impressive. The ABS seemed to slow the CBRs — using both brakes, whether the handlebar lever, foot pedal or both were operated — significantly harder than other ABS-equipped bikes I’ve tested in similar circumstances. The Hondas’ relatively light weight was doubtless part of the reason for that. But so too was the system’s sophistication, including a sensor that reacts in six milliseconds — four times faster than the VFR800F’s equivalent.

That test was very promising but it was next day on the circuit that revealed what a leap Honda has made. I began on the CBR600RR, which has gained a few non braking-related tweaks for 2009, as well as having its front calipers upgraded to Fireblade-style monoblocks. Revised pistons, cylinder head and exhaust silencer contribute to a slight torque increase between 8000 and 12,000rpm. Peak output remains 120bhp at 13,500rpm.

The console now includes an ABS malfunction warning light amongst other instrumentation

The Combined ABS system works upto four times faster than the one that was introduced on the VFR800F

The titanium exhaust also has reshaped downpipes and a new Fireblade-style power valve, and is slightly lighter. Along with the new calipers, that helps reduce kerb weight slightly — to a claimed 184kg for the non-ABS model. The reshaped fairing lower is claimed to smooth air flow and thus aid stability, though the change is possibly more to do with hiding ABS parts. Clear, oval indicators and new graphics also freshen up the look.

Those Tokico monoblock calipers are the most significant addition, and helped ensure that even the non ABS-equipped CBR that I rode first was seriously well braked. It was quick and sweet-handling, too, as was to be expected, screaming to its 15,000rpm redline through the gears, and carving through Losail’s succession of fast right-handers with typical poise and control, aided by the grip of Bridgestone’s race-compound BT003 rubber.

It’s hard to know whether its new brake allowed the CBR to stop notably harder than its predecessor, but it certainly shed speed mightily rapidly at the end of that pit straight, and with plenty of feel at the lever. Honda’s new world Supersport champion Andrew Pitt, who’d just finished back-to-back testing with his old bike, thought the new calipers’ main benefit was improved steering response due to theirreduced weight.

Before riding the CBR I’d expected the difference between standard and ABS-equipped bikes to be much more obvious, so I was amazed to find the new system not just working but doing so in a totally unobtrusive way. I could come flying towards a turn, then squeeze the handlebar lever either as hard as I would normally, or purposely hard enough to lock a typical front wheel. In either case, the bike’s response was identical: hard, smooth, controllable stopping.

Andrew Pitt
2008 World Supersport champion
“I’m really impressed with the ABS. I thought riding round a circuit it would feel very different to a normal bike. But it doesn’t.

The ABS makes the bike much more stable into a turn, thanks to the back brake — I’m getting the benefit of braking without actually using it. You can trail brake quite a bit: if you’re going to just miss the apex of a turn, you can touch the brake lever and it adds bit of rear brake to help you turn in.

Before I tried ABS I’d have said there was no need for it, but now I’m quite convinced it has a future in racing. Especially in the rain. It does take away something from the rider; in that way it’s just like traction control. But it’s a clever system that will stop a lot of crashes.”

Feel through the lever was normal, as was the bike’s response as I eased off the brake into the turn. (Braking too hard into the bend would cause a crash in the normal way.) But the Honda’s advantage was not simply that it prevented the wheels from locking, because the ABS system’s ECU also works to keep the bike as stable as possible by distributing braking force through both front and rear wheels, when either the handlebar lever or foot pedal is operated.

Like many riders (including some professional racers) I never use the rear brake on a racetrack, due its relatively small benefit compared to the front, the risk of locking the rear wheel, and the difficulty of dividing my concentration between front and rear. But when I squeezed the Honda’s handlebar lever, the ABS computer sneakily and efficiently added a small but significant (and lock-free, of course) bit of rear brake that reduced the bike’s fork dive, and helped keep it notably stable on the way into the turns.

Less welcome was the fact that because the CBR didn’t dip at the front as much as normal under braking, it needed a touch more steering input to make it change direction into the turns. Reducing the forks’ compression damping slightly could probably have sorted this, given a bit more time for fine-tuning. The system’s other disadvantage, apart from cost, is the 10kg weight penalty. But the extra kilos are located very centrally, and I couldn’t detect any detrimental effect on the handling.

In case this all sounds too positive, the test did have one flaw: the ABS we all tested in Qatar wasn’t the standard system, but had been modified slightly to allow for the soft-compound Bridgestone BT003 tyres. Like some other sticky tyres, these are slightly wider than the BT015s (or Dunlop Qualifiers) with which the CBRs will come as standard. This effects the way the ABS works.


 

Honda therefore fitted the testbikes with slightly modified ABS ECUs, similar to the programmable ECU that will be available as an accessory. “It is possible to use the standard ECU with race-compound tyres, but the ABS performance is not 100 per cent,” said engineer and test rider Tetsuya Kudoh. “It’s maybe 95 per cent — the ABS might activate slightly earlier.”

Given that most riders serious enough to use these bikes on a racetrack will want to fit sticky rubber, that is surely a distinct disadvantage. After all, someone who has just paid extra for ABS won’t be happy about having to spend more on a kit ECU. Honda doesn’t offer the option of disconnecting the ABS, either, although simply unplugging one of its wires would disable it and leave the standard brake system in place. (Some riders might prefer to do this for track days anyway.)

That is presumably what Honda had done to the Fireblades we rode immediately after lunch, though they wouldn’t confirm this. The format was the same as with the 600RR, so before riding the ABS-equipped Blade we had a session on a bike with the anti-lock deactivated. The Fireblade is unchanged for 2009 apart from new, clear oval-shaped rear indicators and minor bodywork revisions to cover the ABS parts. Predictably enough, the Repsol-liveried bike ripped round the circuit with the blend of smooth power, grunt, agility and stopping power that won so many comparison tests last year.

Back out for the second session with ABS reconnected, the system was every bit as impressive as it had been on the smaller CBR. The Fireblade still braked eye-poppingly hard, and it was an eerie feeling to sit up at the end of the straights and squeeze the lever, knowing that there was no chance of locking up the front wheel. Once again the stability provided by the ECU-triggered rear disc was useful, though the Blade’s rear tyre still waved around slightly under very hard braking. There was a bit more weight transfer with the Fireblade than with the lighter 600RR. Although the ABS-equipped Blade needed slightly more steering input than the normal model, this was less pronounced than with the smaller CBR.

By the end of my second session I was leaving my braking slightly later than I had been on the non-ABS Blade, though this was possibly because I’d had more laps in which to fine-tune my markers as the bike catapulted down the Losail straights. Honda racers Andrew Pitt, Jonathan Rea and Leon Haslam reckoned they were braking at almost exactly the same place as on the standard bike. So did Martin Bauer, who won last year’s German Superbike championship on a Fireblade, and will defend his title on an ABS-equipped model this season if the regulations allow it.

“I think it will be possible to use the ABS, although the other manufacturers will be against it,” says Bauer. “Its performance will be very close to a non ABS bike, maybe half a second per lap slower in ideal conditions. But it would be very good in the wet, and you could find the limit very fast on the first lap. Over a whole race distance it might be faster because you would be less likely to make mistakes.”

Whether it’s a good idea to allow ABS in racing is another matter, and one that rule-makers in Germany and elsewhere will soon be discussing. Like traction control, anti-lock brakes remove a significant element of skill, and are likely to be resisted by many who prefer to see the rider in full control. The reduced opportunity for outbraking, once everyone is using similar ABS systems, could make for dull racing — though riding the ABS-equipped CBRs round Losail certainly wasn’t boring.

There are also those who won’t want ABS on the road, either because they prefer to be in full control, or because they believe the system will be a disadvantage in some circumstances. That was certainly true of previous ABS systems — but not, I think, of this one. Honda admits that a good rider can narrowly outbrake even this system after two or three attempts, on a dry surface. But an average rider’s braking distance is longer, even after several tries. And even the best riders take longer when the road is wet or gritty.

More importantly, on the road you don’t get a second chance. Honda’s technically brilliant invention worked better than I thought possible on the Losail circuit, without detracting from the thrill of caning the firm’s fastest super-sports bikes. But it’s on motorways, high streets and twisty back-roads that the system will show its worth, when it prevents a skid or allows a rider to avoid a hazard they would otherwise have hit. Whether or not you like the idea of anti-lock brakes, the verdict is clear: with the arrival of electronic Combined ABS, superbike safety has taken a significant step forward.

 

Eco-sense

TVS takes an eco-friendly initiative with the new hybrid Scooty
Words Bunny Punia Photography Adhish Alawani

Apart from the usual crop of Indian and imported motorcycles, the recently held Auto Expo in New Delhi also had a range of electric two-wheelers on display from close to a dozen manufacturers. But no matter how green these little wheels may be, there is always that mental block we have with their overall performance and of course, their operating range. However, TVS had something out of the box as an answer to these typical shortcomings – a lineup of sparkling white Scootys on display. They were being used as official bikes and interestingly, they had a unique graphic pattern on the body hinting at something, well, green. Curiosity leads to questions and hence, we decided to get hold of a few officials and check out the latest on offer.

TVS have developed a hybrid variant of their bestselling Scooty scooterette. The body is the same as the new Streak albeit with the new graphics. However, see the scooter from the left and you notice the smart casing of the electric motor that has been configured to run parallely with the same 87.8cc four-stroke engine powering the original model. Once astride the vehicle, you also notice four different operating models clearly marked out on the speedometer console along with the battery indicator. The four modes, namely Engine Only, Electric Only, Hybrid Power and Hybrid Economy can be chosen via a button (which on the regular model serves as the electric starter) on the right handlebar. Here is a brief look at what the different modes stand for:

Electric Only:
For short trips and zero fuel consumption. The scooter runs solely on the electric motor power.

Engine Only:
When the battery level is very low, the scooter runs on this mode.

Hybrid Economy:
Both sources run as per the programmed strategy. Initially, only the electric motor is in operation and once the scooter goes over a programmed speed, say 25km/h, the engine starts functioning as well.

Hybrid Power:
Both engine and electric together for better acceleration from standstill.

Further, to make the most efficient use of the energy, this hybrid system charges the battery when the brakes are applied and utilizes this power whenever required. In addition, this two-wheeler conserves energy when the vehicle is stationary at a traffic signal or at a standstill by stopping the power source. Brilliant! TVS claims to have achieved a 30 percent reduction in CO2 emissions, 25 percent reduction of HC + NOx and most importantly, a jump of around 30 percent in fuel economy.

During our short riding session around Pragati Maidan, we found the system to work perfectly. Although, with my weight (equivalent to two typical lightweight damsels), the electric motor took its own sweet time gathering pace. However, with a single college going female on board, the hybrid Scooty should perform very well. The parallel system is being fine tuned further and though no pricing has been disclosed, we expect a premium of around Rs 10k on the base sticker price. At this price, you get the best of both worlds – low fuel consumption and lesser emissions while retaining the same performance.

Chaos-theory

The Pulsar 220 Streetfighter is Bajaj’s latest offering at the altar of speed. Pure, unadulterated speed
Words : Saeed Akhtar   Photography by Sanjay Raikar

Evolution is a wonderful phenomenon. The fastest and the smartest species outrun their friends and foes alike and survive; the slower ones make their way to the extinction bin. In the end, the winners shed the body parts that weigh them down, are too cumbersome or just plain unnecessary.

For many years, the Pulsar was the ultimate bike in the Indian market if you wanted a fair bit of performance without burning a hole in your pocket. But the relentless advent of newer and faster bikes saw the flagship 220 DTS-Fi going back to the drawing board for a much needed revamp. The Bajaj boffins chucked the fuel injection system and inserted one of the biggest carburetors ever fitted on an Indian bike – an UCAL UCD 32 Venturi unit. Agreed, it was a step back in technology terms, but the benefits of this move were multifold. The bike became cheaper, quicker and faster in one fell swoop. Even before most automotive journalists could lay their hands on this new bike, it had created a sensation with its ‘fastest Indian’ ad campaigns that inundated the media. The bike certainly lived up to its tag with a true top speed of 132.5km/h.

And now, Bajaj have launched a lighter and faster version of the same bike. Speculations about this bike kept rising steadily ever since it came to be known that the stylish ‘F’ logo on the faired 220 stood for, well, faired. The biggest change in the new 220 DTS-i is the absence of the half fairing and the projector lamp. In its place comes the same wolf-eyed bikini fairing headlamp that does duty on the rest of the Pulsar range – the 150, the 180 and the now discontinued 200 DTS-i. This single change has lowered the kerb weight of the bike from 152kg to 148kg and that alone is a significant reason for the new bike to deliver better roll-on times than its faired sibling. Since the metallic parts of the bike are done up in black, it now resembles the 180 and the 200 very closely. Other minor visual differences are the clip-ons from the 220. The new Eurogrip tyres at both ends have a deeper tread pattern that closely resembles dual-purpose tyres, but customers can still opt for the Zappers that have been standard on Pulsars so far.

Clip-on handlebars are now standard across the entire Pulsar range wolf-eyed headlamp shaves off weight, but we still wish for a naked version One of the very few indications that this one belongs right there at the top of the food chain

The instrumentation and build quality of the bike remains the same. One little overlooked feature on the new generation Pulsars is the inclusion of a handy air filter cleaning interval indicator on the LCD dash. The stainless steel brake hose at the front reduces the flex and improves the feel braking. The reduced weight meant that we already expected the Pulsar to accelerate faster than its sibling and test runs would surely have showed a marginal improvement. It was also more manoveurable and felt far easier to tip in corners, due to its decreased weight at the front. Sadly, this might not translate into better lap times or better handling in the corners. The massive front forks still have a tendency to dive under hard braking while the new tyres fail to inspire confidence in the rider. It is not quite grippy enough and you can feel the rear squirming uneasily.

However, what makes the new Pulsar an irresistible buy is the discounted price of Rs 76,370 (OTR, Pune) which makes it one hell of a bargain compared to its peers. The faired Pulsar 220 DTSi already boasted a gobsmacking price tag thanks to the exclusion of the fuel injection unit. And now, with the removal of the fairing and the projector headlamps, the 220 has just shattered the price barrier. Heck, there are quite a number of far smaller and slower motorcycles that cost more. For that price, you get a motorcycle that smokes the competition and plasters a grin on your face every time you take it out. Some prospective buyers might be put off by the all too familiar looks of the bike, but that should not be a deterrent to the true-blue enthusiast who wants nothing more than a bike that can squash the competition on the drag strip.

Globetrotting-triumvirate

Pack your saddlebags and get some sunscreen too. Roland Brown is here to guide you around the world on not one,not two but three German globe tourers
Photography: Paul Bryant and Jason Critchell

BMW R1200GS
It’s a classical GS experience. Half an hour ago I was cruising comfortably along a Spanish motorway; ten minutes ago I was scratching down a twisty, smooth surfaced back road with my boot-toes clipping the Tarmac. And now I’m standing up on the pegs on a gravel covered path through the arid Andalucian countryside, gassing the big boxer motor to send up a satisfying rooster-tail behind me.

This off-road excursion isn’t very ambitious or exciting; just a short dirt detour before it’s time to get back on the road and head back to our hotel. There again, most R1200GS owners’ globe crossing daydreams aren’t matched by reality. And that hasn’t prevented the amazing success of the dual-purpose boxer, which contributes more than half of BMW’s total two-wheeled production and has notched up almost 200,000 sales since being launched six years ago.

Both the GS and its heavy duty Adventure sibling have been updated for 2010 with a new version of the air/oilcooled boxer motor, incorporating twin overhead cams for the first time. The engine, which is developed from that of the HP2 Sport (and is shared with the latest R1200RT) keeps the traditional GS capacity of 1170cc and features four radial valves per cylinder.

Performance is increased to a peak of 110bhp at 7750rpm, 5bhp up on the old unit. The new motor revs 500rpm higher to 8500rpm. It’s stronger by several horsepower almost everywhere from 2500rpm to that limit, especially at 5000rpm and 6500rpm, where it’s about 10bhp more powerful. The exception is a distinct dip between those points, where the old engine (whose own dip is 500rpm earlier) briefly goes ahead.

This GS update is pretty much confined to that new powerplant. The exhaust has a new cable operated valve, plus reworked internals for the single silencer. There are a few other fresh details: restyled instruments plus brake and clutch master cylinders, larger locating screws for the adjustable windscreen and a new fuel gauge sensor.

Styling is unchanged except for four new colour options, and the red bike I chose looked good in its accessory hand protectors. Having always admired the GS’s tall, bird-like profile I was glad about that, but less impressed by the appearance of that new exhaust valve. The valve with its twin cables is fixed to the exhaust pipe low on its left, and the whole thing looks a bit messy and tacked-on.

My negative thoughts were banished as soon as I’d hooked a leg over the BMW’s tall saddle, and fired up the motor to unleash a notably louder exhaust note through the repacked silencer. After the mild mannered old GS, this bike’s harder, thrappier note — still a distinctive flat-twin bark — gave an instantly more aggressive image. The bike’s ability to pass emission tests presumably owes much to that valve, so all credit to it.

The aural accompaniment made me even keener to give the GS some stick as we set off from the launch base near Malaga in southern Spain, with a plan to follow the coast road eastwards to Motril before veering northwards onto the steeper, twistier roads of the Sierra Nevada. Even before we’d got out of town and reached the A7 coast road, it was clear that the new sound was matched by extra straight-line performance.

The improvement is not dramatic and was it not for the exhaust note, you might not even notice it unless you’d just climbed straight off the old model. But I’m sure I wasn’t imagining an extra spring in the boxer’s step as it charged forward in response to a tweak of the throttle. It pulled from 2500rpm without complaint, punched hard through the midrange, and generally felt lively and impressively flexible.

Just occasionally I was conscious of a slightly slow response in the midrange, at about the 5500rpm mark, where that torque dip occurs. But it certainly wasn’t a problem and there was always acceleration at hand even when the Bee-Em was loping along at a lazy 130km/h in top. If anything I was more conscious of the bike pulling with extra enthusiasm as its torque curve headed sharply upwards approaching 6000rpm.

The GS was happy to rev, heading towards that higher 8500rpm redline with only a touch of vibration. But apart from one top-speed blast —it managed 185km/h into a very strong headwind — there was no real incentive to work it that hard. I much preferred to short shift through the six-speed box, which worked very well except on a couple of later occasions when, wearing motocross boots, I struggled to get my foot under the lever.

Fuel economy doesn’t seem to have been hit by the four-valve layout either. The GS was drinking less than 7 litres/100km despite some pretty high cruising speeds (assuming the accessory onboard computer could be believed), giving a range of well over 250km from its 20 litre tank. That computer also shows remaining range, and is a useful accessory. But talking of electrics, I was slightly disappointed to find BMW have retained their old style indicator switches on each handlebar instead of fitting a conventional button on the left as they have with the R1200RT (and S1000RR).

 

Comfort is another aspect of the GS that’s basically unchanged, which is no surprise because it’s outstanding. The one-piece bar (which can be reversed for standing up riding off-road) and thick two-piece seat give plenty of room in conjunction with well-placed and grippy footpegs. And although short riders will struggle slightly with a standard bike whose seat height is adjustable between 850 and 870mm, the accessory lower seat and suspension combine to reduce this to a much more manageable 820mm. Can’t ask more than that, you shorties.

Unfortunately very tall riders aren’t quite so well catered for. The screen is more easily adjustable than ever, thanks to its bigger screws, and at its highest setting gave useful protection. But at 1.93m I had to crouch slightly to get out of the turbulence. BMW don’t recommend using the Adventure’s taller screen, which does fit, because the standard bike’s mounts aren’t as strong. But some riders do fit it and I’d be tempted to do the same.

One adjustment option that I was very glad of was the red bike’s Enduro ESA (Electronic Suspension Adjustment), the GS’s version of the push-button wizardry. Unlike the R1200RT’s new ESA II system, the GS’s can’t change spring rate. But the ability to substantially alter damping rates without even slowing down is arguably even more valuable on a dual-purpose bike, with its extra suspension travel.

If buying a GS, I’d certainly pay the extra for ESA which allowed me to select a Comfort setting that effortlessly soaked up road surface imperfections in town and on the autopista at the start of the ride. Then, when we reached Adra and swung north into the hills, a quick press of the ESA button firmed up both the front Telelever set-up and the Paralever rear end, making the bike tauter and more stable in the bends.

We had to take a diversion to miss some of the best roads due to landslides that made some of the Alpujarras mountain roads impassable even for the GS (let alone the RTs that we had in tow). But there are so many twisty, generally well-surfaced and almost traffic free roads in this part of Spain, that it was easy to be reminded of just what a sound handling bike the GS is.

Six years after the bike’s launch, I can still vividly recall my first few hundred metres on one, riding down the twisty hotel driveway on the launch in South Africa — and being amazed by how agile the 1200 felt, after BMW had shed 30kg from its R1100GS predecessor. There’s no weight loss this time, but that’s because at 203kg the GS is light enough to be very manoeuvrable, at least on the road. That wide handlebar gives enough leverage to allow easy direction changes despite the bike’s dual-purpose geometry and 19-inch diameter front wheel.


Bridgestone’s road-biased Battlewing tyres gripped well enough to make good use of the GS’s ample ground clearance (and later seemed okay off-road too). The BMW also stopped hard, helped by an optional ABS system that links front and rear wheels. Our testbikes were also fitted with ASC traction control. I can’t say I noticed it on the road, but it’s not a bad thing to have in reserve. Like the ABS system, it’s very simply disconnected for off-road riding (or for wheelies, which it prevents), by pressing a button on the bars.

I’d need more time to experiment with the traction control, but at least it’s one of the less expensive accessories our bikes were carrying. The ABS brakes and ESA suspension adjustment add considerably more; the handy heated grips and sweet little LED indicators add further to an already pretty expensive bike. At least its used values are famously high.

Given more time, it would have been great to have pressed the ESA button again to select off-road suspension mode and headed much further along some of the dusty tracks that criss-cross southern Spain. But it’s really the GS’s road going performance that is boosted by the new motor, and we were short of time. So after a brief play in the dirt, I was back onto the hard stuff, heading to the overnight stop at Mojacar.

We’d been riding pretty much all day on a wide variety of surfaces, but the GS had barely been stretched; its remarkable all-round appeal enhanced just a bit by its extra power and that bonus of a character enhancing soundtrack. The R1200GS will be getting a new rival soon, of course, in Ducati’s comprehensively revamped Multistrada. The Italian V-twin looks very promising, but it will have to be mighty good to match the old master.

R1200 ENGINE TECH

 

 

This new 1170cc motor is closely based on the dohc unit from the HP2 Sport, though it contains some differences including using two spark plugs per cylinder, like the previous GS, instead of a single plug like the Sport. Each pot’s camshafts are chain driven and operate four valves that are arranged radially, operated via rocker-arms and semi-hemispherical shims.

The cams sit horizontally, in line with the bike, giving the unusual arrangement of each cam operating one inlet and one exhaust valve. The cams have a slightly conical profile, to suit the radial layout. Valve lift is increased from the old GS engine, and valves are bigger: inlets up from 36 to 39mm; exhausts from 31 to 33mm. Pistons are redesigned to suit the new combustion chambers, but bottom end parts including crankshaft and conrods are retained.

The intake system is uprated with redesigned trumpets and larger manifolds (50mm diameter from 47mm). The new electrically controlled exhaust valve also helps allow the increased peak output of 110bhp at 7750rpm, 5bhp up on the old high-cam GS unit. Maximum torque is also increased, by 5N.m to 120N.m at 6000rpm. The six-speed, shaft drive transmission is unchanged except for a slightly taller final ratio.

R1200GS Adventure
The Adventure is a brilliant bike; no doubt about that. It’s also undeniably, unmistakably huge. At 890mm, its seat is 40mm higher than the standard GS’s, and there’s no option of lowered suspension. At 223kg dry, it weighs 20kg more than the standard model — and that’s before you start filling that enormous, 33 litre gas tank, let alone adding running lights, aluminium panniers and other globe crossing accessories.

Inevitably, this size sometimes leads to problems. One short guy on the launch loved the lowered stock GS but didn’t even want to ride its giant brother. I’m tall and had no trouble getting both feet on the ground, but still had to concentrate hard at a standstill. Once this bike leans more than a certain angle, you ain’t going to pull it upright again.

This latest Adventure gets an identical upgrade to the standard GS. Same new dohc radial-valve engine and same extra torque, which is arguably even more useful with that extra weight to shift. Like the standard model, it retains its existing chassis, complete with extra suspension travel. It comes with the hand protectors and aluminium cylinder head guards that are an accessory for the standard bike. It wears wire-spoked wheels instead of cast, with the option of knobbly rubber.

Given that the standard GS is an exceptionally tall, well-equipped, rugged machine with a very generous fuel range, you have to wonder whether many riders really need a more expensive, heavier and more unwieldy version with even more of the same attributes. Most people would undoubtedly be better off on the standard GS.

But there was undeniably something very special about sitting on that wide, comfortable seat, sheltering behind the more protective, similarly adjustable screen that allowed me near-silent 150km/h cruising (unlike any pure bred touring bike I can recall riding), and glancing down at a digital display that was showing I had more than 500km ahead before needing to stop for gas.

It was also inspiring to know that I could simply have turned off the road onto a dirt track, and kept on going almost no matter what got in the way – at least until I fell off and had to pick up the great brute, anyway. My short off-road excursion was fun, and for once I actually stayed upright, but the BMW’s size and weight were never far from my mind.

I spent my last blast on the Adventure back on the main road, thinking that it was simply the most complete, do-it-all bike I’d ever ridden; and that if I had to own just one bike for ever, this would be it. But I had to conclude that for me, as for so many others, it would be excessive.

Just as with the standard GS, the Adventure’s new engine makes a very good bike better still. But even if you’re fortunate enough to be able to afford a very substantial basic price that is sure to grow considerably with accessories, it’s important to be sure that this is a bike you really need and can use. The Adventure is up to the challenge. The question is: are you?

BMW R1200RT
The bike is new; the BMW touring experience is timeless. At a steady 130km/h on the motorway, I’m sheltered by a broad, adjustable screen. A relaxed riding position and heated seat add to the comfort. The flat-twin motor beats effortlessly down below. I glance at the digital instrument panel to find that the bike is averaging 15.3Kmpl, and will not require a fuel stop for more than 300km. Bring them on…

BMW has introduced so many totally different models of late, from middleweight parallel twins via mad naked fours to the insanely fast S1000RR, that it almost seems strange to be riding a new German bike of the old school: a fully-faired tourer with big fairing, boxer motor, shaft final drive and panniers; even if this RT has been updated for the iPod era with extra performance as well as a new sound system and numerous other tweaks.

It’s the engine that provides the main news. The air/oilcooled, 1170cc flat twin is developed from the HP2 Sport unit, and is identical to that of the latest R1200GS. That means it has twin overhead cams and four radial valves per cylinder and produces 110bhp at 7750rpm. That maximum output is unchanged from the previous RT’s, but the new motor makes more torque through most of the range and its 8500rpm limit is 500rpm higher.

With its broad fairing, standard fit panniers and those sticking out horizontal cylinders, the new bike looks subtly different but still very much an RT. New headlights and reshaped fairing nose give a sharper look, although the modernising effect is limited by the limited paintwork options. There’s a generous four to choose from, but all are variations of grey, with no colour to be seen. Maybe a bit too traditionally BMW.

The view from the rider’s fairly low seat is bang up-to-date, though, especially on the fully accessorised RT on which I spent most time. Between the two main analogue dials is a digital display that can show everything from average speed to the music selected on the MP3 player (or memory stick) that can be kept in a lockable compartment in the right of the fairing.

The right bar has buttons for heated grips and seat but it’s the left handlebar that gets complicated, at least on a fully loaded RT. As well as a conventional single button (at last!) for the self-cancelling indicators, this BMW has buttons for windscreen height, ABS, traction control, cruise control and ESA electronic suspension adjustment. Oh, and a rotating wheel to control the sound system, which also has an array of buttons on the fairing.

It was all a bit confusing at first inspection, but at least the RT itself is relatively simple. Inevitably the broad fairing makes the bike feel quite bulky, but the air/oilcooled twin-pot motor contributes to a dry weight of 229kg. That’s light by touring standards — in fact it’s 35kg lighter than Yamaha’s FJR1300, the lightest of the touring fours, and an incredible 171kg down on the 400kg figure of Harley’s Ultra Classic Electra Glide.

That lack of weight helped the RT feel reassuringly manageable when I climbed aboard on the launch in southern Spain, midway through a two-day trip shared with the R1200GS. At 820-840mm, the standard seat is low enough to allow most riders to get both feet down (and there’s an optional low seat that’s just 750mm). The new motor fired up with a distinctive boxer throb but sounded less throaty than the new GS, despite also gaining an electronically controlled flap on its exhaust.


 

Straight line performance was pretty similar, though. That 110bhp maximum is nothing special by big tourer standards, but it’s backed up by a broad spread of torque that gave effortlessly strong acceleration. The BMW happily pulled from 3000rpm out of the bends, as we headed west on the generally well-surfaced roads near Almeria, and always seeming to have the right gear in its smooth shifting six-speed ‘box.

There’s slightly more torque all through the range, except for at the very top. Such is the midrange performance that I rarely revved it near that new 8500rpm limit, although vibration levels remained low — perhaps a bit lower than the old pushrod engine’s. With a crisp response from the injection system, and plenty of punch at five or six grand, it was simpler and more satisfying to change up early and enjoy the BMW’s long legged character.

The RT’s new found grunt will be useful when it’s heavily loaded, and was welcome when we hit the A92 motorway. The bike was happy sit at a relaxed 120km/h plus in top gear and then delivered a burst of acceleration when its predecessor might have demanded a downchange. Comfort was as important as performance and predictably, the BMW scored highly, starting with a riding position that is unchanged but now incorporates rubber mounted bars and an adjustable gearlever.

The fairing and screen are both wide enough to give plenty of protection, in conjunction with the big, low set mirrors whose view was slightly obscured by my hands. For my money, an adjustable screen as almost essential on a serious tourer, and the RT’s is among the best. Being very tall I found it wasn’t quite high enough even when fully extended, and generated mild turbulence that disappeared if I crouched slightly, but most riders won’t have that problem.

After a couple of hours, I was enjoying the RT’s effortless distance eating ability, slightly annoyed that I couldn’t find anything worth listening to on the radio (which has 24 presets instead of the previous six) and that I didn’t have the necessary adaptor for an iPod. Having set out with my overjacket in one of the big panniers, and with no chance to stop, I was grateful for the bike’s heated grips and seat. Then we turned off the motorway, and the RT had a further chance to shine.

This bike has an updated, ESA II version of BMW’s electronic suspension system. This allows preload and spring rate, as well as damping, to be set with the press of a button, and also has a broader range of damping adjustment. The ability to adjust the spring, which will be useful when adding or removing a pillion or luggage, wasn’t needed on our trip. But when we reached a twisty road it was great to be able to firm up the RT’s handling by changing damping from Comfort to Sport mode, without even slowing down.

Within seconds, a bike whose suspension had been supple enough to absorb motorway imperfections became a much firmer, more responsive machine that was happy carving through the bends. The RT wasn’t as agile as the lighter, wider-barred GS boxer, but it could be hustled along pretty quickly, with the help of excellent Metzeler Roadtec tyres, ample ground clearance and powerful, ABS assisted brakes.

The RT was certainly taut, light and controllable enough to be fun, and to encourage spirited riding, on a twisty road — which is more than can be said of plenty of its heavier and no better equipped rivals. The ESA system is so easy to use that after a bout of back road scratching it was no problem to switch back to Comfort for pobbling through villages, over road repairs or speed humps. The ESA is not cheap, but I’d pay the extra every time.

The test bikes were also fitted with BMW’s accessory ASC traction control system, which was worth having just in case, although I didn’t notice it working. Back on the motorway heading towards Malaga, I put the screen back up, flicked the cruise control on, and got back to searching for a radio station. It’s tempting to dismiss some of these features as gadgets, but they certainly help make life more pleasant on a long trip.

And the important thing about the RT is that its basics are right too. Both panniers are big and easy to use, with space no longer wasted by a CD player, and the tank is designed to take a tank-bag. The 25 litre fuel capacity combines with the boxer’s efficiency — 7 litres/100km when ridden hard, with under 6 litres/100km possible — to give a typical range of 350km.

A pillion gets a broad seat and plenty of legroom, plus a switch to control their half of the accessory heated seat. There are countless other accessories, of course, from top-boxes and inner bags to chromed parts and additional power sockets. Most buyers will doubtless opt for several although the RT is not cheap, either in its basic form or in the more expensive SE model (which, depending on market, includes ESA, heated grips and seat, computer, cruiser control, extra socket and chromed exhaust).

Perhaps this grey BMW sometimes lacks a little excitement, in its performance as well as its paint schemes. But by the time we reached Malaga, the RT had done enough to suggest that it’s a very worthwhile improvement over its predecessor and a bike that makes that timeless BMW touring experience better than ever.

R1200RT TECH



The RT is powered by the same dohc, air/oilcooled flat twin engine as the updated R1200GS. Developed from the HP2 Sport motor, the radial eight-valve boxer is detuned to give a maximum of 110bhp. That’s an identical peak output to the previous RT (and 20bhp down on the Sport), but torque is increased from 2500rpm to the 7750rpm point at which maximum power is delivered.

Like the HP2 Sport motor, the new unit features chain-driven cams that are conically shaped to suit the radial valves, which are operated via rocker-arms. This engine differs by using two spark plugs per cylinder, like the previous GS, instead of a single plug like the Sport. The cams sit horizontally, in line with the bike, with each cam operating one inlet and one exhaust valve.

Changes from the old RT engine include bigger valves (inlets 36 to 39mm; exhausts 31 to 33mm), new pistons and reshaped combustion chambers. Bottom-end parts including the crankshaft and conrods are unchanged. The intake system is uprated with redesigned trumpets and larger manifolds (50mm diameter from 47mm). The exhaust gains an electronically controlled valve.

The RT’s main chassis change is the adoption of ESA II, an updated version of the Electronic Suspension Adjustment system. This allows adjustment of preload and even spring rate for the first time, to one of three positions intended for riding solo, two-up, or two-up with luggage. In each preload position, there is a choice of three damping settings: Comfort, Normal and Sport. (Only damping can be altered with the bike moving.) The differences between the damping settings are significantly greater than with the previous ESA system.

 

Light-pulsations

It Is light, quick and cheap. But is it a step in the right direction?
Words: Bunny Punia
Photography: Sanjay Raikar

I seldom ride a motorcycle on a test track with the transmission resting in the fifth cog. While riding through numerous tight curves where speeds fall below 50km/h, I was still not using my left hand or the left toe for that matter to downshift. Neither did I shift my body weight while taking turns. Instead, I sat upright like a typical commuter trying to experience the traffic negotiating manoeuvers of Bajaj’s all-new traffic buster machine, the Pulsar 135LS. Even with my weight and a few slightly uphill sections, the bike pulled cleanly from low speeds in the highest gear. I have to admit, I was beginning to enjoy riding the LS in this manner on the track before being flagged down by my colleague Ravi who was waiting patiently for his turn to hit the track.

But why was my riding so different in the first place? Apart from its blistering engine (for the capacity) and eye-catching looks, the LS is also about its ability to weave in and out of traffic effortlessly at low to midrange engine speeds. As our test ride session was scheduled at Bajaj’s racetrack, there was no better way to understand their new product than ride it in the manner explained above.

In the recent few months, Bajaj’s dominance in the premium commuter segment has seen a huge positive growth. The Pulsar model line-up comprising of the 150, the 180 and the 220 models has strengthened its presence in the market. But Bajaj wanted to provide something for young enthusiasts that would combine the best of both worlds – a 125cc machine’s efficiency and sticker price with a typical 150cc bike’s performance and looks. Hence, the birth of the Pulsar 135LS.

At first glance, you might mistake it to be the Hero Honda Hunk, at least I did. But once you notice the side and the rear profile, all similarities end. The front seems to use a FZ style headlamp stacked between sharp plastic panels and a smart little visor on the top. The tank looks like a typical Pulsar one but has neat side plastic shrouds with the four valve sticker – more on that later. The step seats are a welcome addition and the rear panels again remind you of the bigger Pulsar models, though they end very sportily with a twin split grabrail and a striking tail lamp. I particularly loved the fender less treatment at the rear, although to comply with government regulations, Bajaj had to use a tyre hugger – the first mod chop most youngsters will do once they get the bike. Another unique design treatment is the tapering exhaust that might not be to everyone’s liking. At 1995mm, the LS’ wheelbase is even longer than its own elder sibling, the Pulsar 150.

This bike, for the first time in the Pulsar range history, makes use of the engine as a stressed member in the box section chassis. An all-new swingarm was engineered for the rear and the bike sports tubeless tyres which are fast becoming a norm on Indian motorcycles. Though the bike has a longish swingarm, the steep steering angle made sure it behaved well around the test track, being over eager and enthusiastic to lean into corners and scrape the pegs without upsetting the entire balance. Even while gunning down the last straight at triple digit speeds, the bike felt reassuringly stable in spite of early morning crosswinds. I really couldn’t judge the behaviour of the suspension for Indian conditions due to the limited testing environment, though our readers should get that report in the next issue.

Now isn’t that a familiar console? Yes, the Discover 135 has the same one
Smooth and punchy – the 135cc mill impressed us

Coming to one of the main aspects of the LS -its engine. On paper, it might feel average for this segment with a 134.6cc motor, but dig deeper into its technicalities and you are bound to be impressed. To start with, this is India’s first indigenously developed four valve powertrain which enhances the engine’s breathing characteristics. This combined with Bajaj’s patented DTS-i tech gadgetry helps in giving the bike not only a punchy low and midrange, but also class demolishing top end performance. 13.5PS of power might not be tyre shredding, however when you factor in the bike’s impressively low kerb weight of just 122 kilos (which in itself is lower than all the other 125cc bikes from the competitors and hence the tag LS or Light Sports), you are bound to be surprised once the performance test data is revealed. A 0-60km/h timing of 5.18 seconds not only makes the 135LS the quickest in its segment, but it also ends up shaming most 150cc bikes out there. However due to it’s relatively lower engine capacity, as speeds climb in excess of 80km/h, the bike starts losing steam, hitting the ton mark at a shade over 19 seconds. Nonetheless, it still remains quicker than some bigger bikes and further goes onto hit a genuine top whack of 112km/h with the over enthusiastic speedometer registering in excess of 120km/h!

As I mentioned in the opening lines, the LS also impresses in the way it gathers speeds at low revs. The 30-70km/h roll on, for example, takes just 7.31 seconds in the third and 9.51 seconds in the fourth. The engine has the ability to pick up speeds from as low as 25km/h, however, compression knock is very evident especially with a pillion while pulling from low engine speeds. The motor, however, remains smooth and vibration free until you rev it close to the red line. The light weight of the bike also endows it with impressive handling capabilities and an experienced rider won’t find it difficult to indulge in peg scraping antics when the environment allows. The brakes perform well too and stunt junkies will appreciate the bike for its ability to roll on the front one easily.

All said and done, no matter how good a bike is, a lot boils down to its sticker price in India. Most top of the line 125cc bikes in the country retail at around Rs 50,000 (ex-showroom). The Pulsar 135LS, with extra grunt and a bigger bike feel at almost the same price, translates into more bang for your buck. Not to forget that in spite of all that segment shattering performance, ridden sanely, the bike still manages 60km to a litre in the city and close to 80km on the highway. Icing on the cake? You bet!

The-return-of-the-classic

Adhish Alawani takes the Royal Enfield Classic 500 on a 900km ride to the Nilgiris and comes back with mixed impressions
Photography: Adhish Alawani & Sanjay Raikar

I have never been a Royal Enfield guy and have always struggled to digest the fact that people can actually be hardcore fans of the Bullet. I have often wondered why some people have always preferred Bullets as compared to the more advanced machines of the era. However, the Royal Enfield Classic shown at the Intermot show in Germany last year, had such an impact on me that I longed to ride it ever since.

The reason for this was simple – the design and styling of the Classic. True to its name, this bike has a classic, mid-twentieth century character to it. The designers at the Royal Enfield house worked hard on the Classic to give it post-WWII looks. The round headlamp, the small tail lamp mounted on the flat plate at the rear, the big fenders, the typical retro fuel tank, the company’s characteristic triangular airbox, the traditional instrumentation console with classic English font for the readout, the green colour and the minimal graphics on it gives this motorcycle the feel of those immortal ‘50s bikes. The company has, in fact, painted the complete frame of the Classic in the body colour. Royal Enfield, in particular, has tried to replicate their own J2 model that had grabbed the fancy of many in its days. The most evident similarity between the J2 and the Classic, noticed at first glance, has to be the single saddle with springs. The company is providing the pillion seat separately with this bike and those who need it can attach it to the motorcycle easily by themselves. The long, straight pipe exhaust comes as a stock fitment with the bike. A more stylish and louder silencer is available as an option at a premium. Royal Enfield has shifted to 18-inch wheels, which in the case of the Classic, comes in the form of spoke wheels further adding a retro feel to the motorcycle. Look at the new Royal Enfield Classic 500 from any angle and it definitely reminds you of the 1950s machines.

But it was not just the styling and looks of the new Classic 500 that made me yearn for a ride on it. The company claims to have taken a huge leap forward with regard to the technology used in their latest machine; the most important of the lot being UCE (Unit Construction Engine) and EFI (Electronic Fuel Injection). Basically, in the UCE, the clutch and the gearbox are integrated in the crankcase itself making it a compact engine. Use of the UCE has also helped in reducing the weight of the engine by 4kg. However to retain the characteristics of the Classic, they have maintained the bike’s overall weight by compensating for the saved kilos elsewhere – for example, the huge fenders. The EFI optimizes the air-fuel mixture and makes sure that the bike is in a perfect state to operate over a wide range of altitudes and temperatures. UCE and EFI are being used by other manufacturers for years now and finally Royal Enfield has adopted these technologies to make their products better.

My wish to ride the Royal Enfield Classic 500 was fulfilled when the company offered the bike to a few journalists, including me, for a ride from Chennai to Bangaluru via Coonoor – a distance of over 900km in two days. The route was chalked out in such a manner that it covered the smooth and straight national highways, the twisty state highways and almost a 100km of uphill/downhill ghat sections in the Nilgiri mountain ranges. The first leg of the ride from Chennai to Krishnagiri took me on the long straights of the NH46. The first few kilometers before getting out of the city were enough to indicate the humongous amount of torque offered by the 500cc single cylinder engine powering the Classic. A gentle nudge at the throttle made sure that the bike surged ahead most willingly. The 41.3Nm of peak torque starts acting up right at 4000rpm, giving the bike a very strong low and midrange kick. As for the top end, I could manage a speedometer indicated 125km/h on the highway. The motorcycle feels amazingly smooth at 80km/h. In fact, the sweet spot to ride at on the highway would be around 90-95km/h when the vibrations from the engine are yet to creep into the handlebar and the footpegs and you are doing a sufficiently high speed to munch miles at a stretch. However, it is not the easiest bike to ride beyond 100km/h. Being retro styled, you cannot expect it to have any kind of aerodynamics and that is where it suffers. A hint of wind is enough for the Classic to get into weaves at three-digit speeds. A point to be noted about the top speed here is that I was riding the bike with the stock exhaust. Later, I got an opportunity to ride the one with the optional exhaust and to my surprise, I could hit the 140km/h mark on the speedometer. A huge difference, isn’t it? Performance runs on the bike with the optional exhaust revealed that it sprints from standstill to 60km/h in a mere 4.57 seconds and does a top whack of 131 km/h (true). Also, the thump and the looks of the optional exhaust are a lot more alluring than that of the stock one.

After almost 500km, we finally hit the mountain ranges. By now, there were a few things crystal clear to me. Firstly, the Classic 500 has a torquey and powerful engine that will let you cruise comfortably at slightly under 100km/h. Secondly, you can go beyond that speed but it is not recommended. Thirdly, the seat is not comfortable at all. I was trying to find the most relaxed spot on the seat to sit on for almost all the while with no success. At the same time, I would like to mention that the handlebar-seat-footpeg geometry has been perfectly optimized thus making sure that you don’t get exhausted even after hundreds of kilometers on the tarmac. Coming back to the mountain twisties that we hit in the last 70-80km of the ride, I wasn’t expecting a lot from the heavyweight, retro architecture motorcycle around the corners. Boy, was I wrong! The Classic is quite planted and stable around the bends. Partial credit for this goes to the MRF Zappers doing their duty on the Classic which do not give even a hint of low grip when leaned over.

I also noticed the weird positioning of the odometer between the needle and scale of speedometer. Minor thing, but when you are traveling at speeds between 60km/h to 100km/h, you cannot read all the digits of the odometer. So either you have to raise the speed or reduce it in order to read all the digits of the odometer. How irritating! Secondly, the brake pedal most often scrapes the ground in the tight right handers when leaned over giving you the jitters and disturbing your concentration. The vibrations in a Royal Enfield are its trademark characteristic. And even if the rider is okay with that, there are practical issues. For example, it is hard for you to make out what is in your rear view mirror because of the vibrations. Though a Royal Enfield is mostly used for touring there is no option of luggage carriers on it yet. However, I believe that the boffins at the factory are working on it. Apart from these few minor issues that can be addressed in the future, the Classic 500 will prove to be a success for the company. Royal Enfield has moved ahead in terms of technology, fit-finish and styling. The last but a very important point about the engine is that it did not leak even a drop of oil from anywhere during the 900+ km trip – worth applauding.

 

 

Legend Vivified


The all-new VFR1200F is coming to India in a few months. Bunny Punia sheds more light on this iconic bike

Even before I thumbed the electric starter, I knew this wouldn’t turn out to be a very long test ride that too on a road that this bike will seldom be seen on. Nevertheless, with a chance to experience one of the most awaited motorcycles in the history of Honda, I wasn’t really complaining. A few minutes later, with my left hand free, the big sweet sounding V4 motor was changing through the gears effortlessly on its own, downshifting quickly without abruptions as I slowed down for the tight curves on Honda’s HSR (Honda Safety Riding) track in Kumamoto. What you see on these pages is the all-new VFR1200F that, hold you breathe, is slated for an Indian launch during the third quarter of the 2010 calendar year.

The VFR series from Honda has a long history. First launched in the 1980s, the bike was available in various engine configurations of 400cc, 700cc and 750cc. The model line-up went on to become one of the most iconic models for Honda, but the company was losing market share rapidly to the competition. Hence, the plan of developing an all-new VFR with a more powerful engine and modern tech gadgetry came up. Apart from the 50 percent increase in cubic capacity, the new VFR comes equipped with something that will set the trend in times to come – a dual clutch transmission.

I got a chance to ride both, the conventional manual as well as the DCT variant of the VFR. Needless to say, the latter is a boon for those who will end up using the bike in its natural environment, long distance touring. The rider has one less thing to worry about – shifting gears – and hence can concentrate more on the biking experience as well as enjoying the vistas around. The engine has been updated from the previous 800cc unit to a new 1237cc motor that belts out 170 ponnies along with 129Nm of torque. This was primarily done to rival the likes of BMW’s K1200 range. However, once seated, you don’t really feel the big engine thanks to a 76 degree layout of the cylinders along with a shift to the SOHC instead of the DOHC set-up. These features have allowed for a more compact engine construction.

Even though HSR’s track didn’t have very long straights, exiting the long sweeping left before the back straight hard saw the digital speedometer register close to 190km/h quickly. The DCT, when left in the automatic mode, changed its shifting frequency depending on the rider’s inputs. However, enthusiasts don’t have a reason to complain as the rider can manually shift up or down with a flick of a button on the left yoke. Even when left in the A/T mode, the rider can choose from the D and the S modes. The D mode offers excellent fuel economy and is suited for daily riding whereas the S mode delivers sportier shifting characteristics for enthusiastic riding. Hard braking saw the VFR shed speed with a reassuring force, and occasionally with a bit of pulsing from the handlebar lever or the foot pedal, as the combined ABS system kicked in. Even though the bike weighs in at a porky 267 kilos, it carries itself pretty well. While following Tohru Ukawa’s (ex-MotoGP and Suzuka 8-hour winner for Honda) lines through the tight bends, it wasn’t really difficult to get the VFR down with the pegs millimeters away from the tarmac.

Though my experience aboard the new VFR lasted for less than an hour, it was more than enough to judge Honda’ flagship sports tourer pretty well. The bike has Honda’s typical rider friendly nature, a sweet throttle response, a great sounding engine and very comfortable ergonomics for serious touring. It might boast of controversial styling (I do like it though), but there is a lot more to this bike than just its looks. The production of the bike is already in full swing though commercial sale begins abroad in a few months. A thumbs-up to Honda for their concrete plans of getting the bike to India around July-August this year. Although we don’t know about the DCT variant as of yet, the manual version due to its lower sticker price will debut here for sure. Watch this space for more!