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!

Clever-commuter


TVS introduces the Jive, a clutchless motorcycle. Easy commuting? Finds out Adhish Alawani
Photography: Sanjay Raikar

The two-wheeler market in India is extremely large. There are millions of motorcycles already on the road and lakhs more are sold every month. The number of motorcycle enthusiasts is increasing day by day and the number of consumers for performance machines is on the rise. However, the number of commuter machines contributes the maximum to motorcycle sales in India. This means that there is cutthroat competition between the various manufacturers who sell their products in this segment. While some are banking on the fantastic fuel efficiency and reliability offered over the past many years, others are busy introducing various fancy gizmos in order to grab attention. In this state of close competition, TVS has decided to pitch in their new commuter machine, the Jive to take on the fight as fiercely as possible.

What is so special about the Jive then? It looks like any other plain Jane commuter. In fact, it reminds me of the company’s very own Star. The proportions of the Jive are typically commuter-ish – flat seat, upright posture, high handlebar, moderately sized tank that fits perfectly between the thighs and minimal necessary body panels. The headlamp with a bikini fairing gives a sporty touch and so do the alloy wheels. The broad tailpiece looks quite boxy and is probably the only thing on the Jive that feels dated as compared to the other styling bits. The twin-pod instrumentation console houses the speedometer and the odometer on one side while the fuel gauge, tell-tale lights and most importantly the gear indicator are on the other side. The switchgear is well laid out with the starter button on the right hand side and all the other switches (headlamp, upper/dipper, horn, passing light, indicator switch and choke) on the left hand side.Well, that is all about the looks and styling of the Jive – a factor that a consumer will think of last when he goes out to buy a machine in the commuter segment. So what is it that makes the Jive stand out from the other models available in the market? TVS has introduced the Jive with an 110cc engine. There is nothing novel in that, right? Of course not, but what is exciting and quite interesting about the Jive is the transmission mated with the engine. The clutchless rotary gearbox is seen for the first time on an Indian motorcycle (Hero Honda had introduced the Street, a step-though, with a similar technology). Basically with this T-matic (that is what the engineers at TVS call their new transmission) you can shift gears without an actual lever operated clutch. The company has incorporated an automatic clutch in the Jive that takes care of the gearshifts. Plus the rotary box indicates that after the fourth gear, one more tap on the gear lever and you come back to neutral. For safety reasons, this happens only when the bike is stationary. This is all about the novel automatic clutch geared motorcycle on paper, but on a more practical note, how does it ride on the road? Does it serve its purpose? Is it a sensible machine for the city? All these questions were making me anxious until I got onto one of the Jives that TVS offered us. A couple of kilometers on the motorcycle and the answers to all my questions and doubts were taking shape pretty quickly.

The bikini fairing around the headlamp of the TVS Jive lends the commuter bike a touch of sportiness The wide, boxy tail of the Jive is probably the only thing that works against the modern and sporty feel of the bike. The clear glass indicators and the chic tail light are a welcome feature though

The TVS Jive is a commuter and it does its job in a fairly perfect manner. There is no clutch lever in your left hand so it feels a bit weird to start. Getting used to it takes just a few minutes though. As you ignite the motorcycle and press the shifter lever with your toe, the clutch acts automatically and puts the bike in the first gear. As you release the gear lever, the clutch is released automatically and you feel a slight jerk that indicates you are set to roll. However, you won’t move ahead unless you give the throttle. This happens because there are basically two clutches acting, one is the centrifugal and the other is the normal one. The centrifugal clutch takes care that the bike doesn’t move unless the gas is given. This reduces the hassle of shifting back to neutral or depressing the clutch while waiting at a signal in gear. The bike will start rolling as soon as you give the throttle input, just like any gearless scooter. Once in motion, up shifting through the gears is an easy operation. All you have to do is roll the throttle and shift a gear up. With no clutch, gear shifting becomes damn easy since the throttle-clutch co-ordination is not required. This reduces a lot of stress while riding in city traffic where frequent shifting of gears is necessary. In short, the Jive is a mix of a motorcycle and a gearless scooter – ideal for city commuting.

The 110cc motor pumps out a maximum power of 8.5PS at 7500rpm and a peak torque of 8.3Nm at 5500rpm, both of which are perfect for a commuter motorcycle. The bike sprints from standstill to 60km/h in 8.16 seconds – quite impressive for a 110cc commuter  – and runs out of breath at 94.7km/h (speedometer indicated 102km/h). The Jive’s suspension and chassis are good enough for city riding. Zipping through the traffic is no big deal thanks to the good flickability of the bike.

Hassle free gear shifts, a quick engine and good handling – does that mean there are no downsides to the Jive? No. There are some minor issues with the bike. To start with, let’s have a look at the tyres. The TVS tyres on the Jive lend poor grip. Not that one needs the grip of slicks for city commuting, but the bike fails to instill confidence especially when there is a bit of gravel or wet patch on the road. Plus, while the T-matic is an amazing transmission, there is a slight problem with it when it comes to downshifting gears. While slowing down, one has to let the engine revs fall considerably before shifting to a lower gear. If this is not done, the downshift locks up the wheel momentarily and gives an unwelcome jerk to the rider. Apart from these trifling issues, the Jive is a fantastic commuter bike when ridden sensibly in the traffic. The fuel efficiency of the gearless motorcycle is sufficiently high at 62kmpl (overall). And at Rs 41,000 (ex-showroom), the Jive is quite competitively priced and will surely give its rivals a run for their money.


Who says you need a clutch lever to pop a wheelie on a commuter bike?

Legal-thrills


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

Words Adhish Alawani and Bunny Punia
Photography Sanjay Raikar

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

HONDA

2009 HONDA CB1000R

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

2010 HONDA CBR1000RR

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

1993 HONDA CBR 1000F

Honda CB Twister vs rivals


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

Photography Sanjay Raikar

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

Bajaj Discover 100

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

Hero Honda Splendor NXG

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


TVS Star City

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

Yamaha Libero G5

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

Honda CB Twister

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

The hog way round

Harley-Davidson announced their formal entry into India with the launch of a dozen models at the Auto Expo at Delhi
early this year in January. A couple of months down the line, I finally managed to get hold of almost the entire H-D range for a ride, an experience and much more.

Words Bunny Punia   
Photography Sanjay Raikar

XL 883R Roadster (Sportster family)
The Sportster family is considered as the first step into the world of Harley- Davidson motorcycles. This family in India consists of the XL 883L Sportster, the XL 883R Roadster, the XL 1200N Nightster and the XR 1200X. The 883s without a doubt are the most important bikes for the country due to their relatively low sticker prices. In fact, the 883L with a sub Rs 7 lakh tag has already lured thousand of enthusiasts around the country including me. This is also the reason why I decided to ride this little machine for a longer period of time. We had the 883R variant for the ride which comes with a few more features and goodies as compared to the L model and of course a slightly higher price tag. Nevertheless, its genes are pure Harley and this American icon is a modern motorcycle that proudly boasts of its heritage. The company’s 883 lineup is legendary, having turned the motorcycling world upside down when they were first introduced way back in 1957.

The 883 has a narrow frame and a raw sporty styling which looks classic and timeless. Its ergonomics are spot on for lazy laid back cruising. In fact, even at slow speeds, you don’t feel its 251kg dry weight at all. The 883, like most Harleys, comes with a 45degree V-twin motor displacing 883cc. The company doesn’t like to disclose its maximum rated power, however, international websites claim it to be anywhere between 40-50horses. Even though the 883 is not about performance, it will still do the 0-100km/h sprint in seven seconds. The bike’s true character lies in lazing around on open highways, munching up miles with your arms and legs stretched out a little. The talking point here is its 70Nm of torque. Slotted in fifth with the needle at 100km/h, there is enough juice left for overtaking maneuvers as well as playing around with fast moving cars. 150km/h is what I saw at one point of time with probably another 10-15km/h to come. However, the 883 feels at home at around the 100-110km/h. The tank holds 12.5 litres of fuel, good for around 300km of highway riding. It might be the smallest bike in the company’s portfolio, but the 883 range is unmistakably Harley including the way it rides with the characteristic vibrations and engine noise. Yours for Rs 7.50 lakh (the 883L is even cheaper at Rs 6.95 lakh), the 883R is your ticket into the world of iconic motorcycles.

XR1200X (Sportster family)

This is a sportier variant of the XR1200R which was the first Harley tuned for European riding and styling tastes. With the X, what you get is a blacked out engine casing and a matte black tail, tank and mudguards to create a more aggressive look and of course brilliant Showas (suspension). The XR1200X looks like no other Harley; it has a charm of its own. It takes time getting used to the high seating position but that in combination with the comfortable upright posture helps in giving you a commanding view of the road ahead. The bike is powered by the same 1202cc motor doing the honours on the 1200 Nightster, though with a different level of tuning. Maximum power is believed to be around 90 horses, but as is the case with most Harleys, the torque does the talking, all 100Nm of it. The bike felt pretty comfortably though the seat could have been softer. Power delivery was great. In fact, with the upright posture, I had to hang on tight during flat out acceleration in the top three cogs. The XR1200X sells for Rs 11.95 lakh – a good deal for a sporty 1200cc V-twin bike.

Super Glide Custom (Dyna family)

This is the first ever factory custom Harley. Though termed as a cruiser, the versatility of this bike surprised me no ends. It might weigh in at 310 kilos (kerb), but the ease with which the Custom handled slow moving traffic and even inside our big resort campus left me impressed. Without any kind of wind protection, the Custom managed to chew up miles easily while sitting at an indicated 110km/h with me saddled up comfortably in the broad seat, holding on the wide pulled back handlerbars. The 1584cc engine belts out 123Nm (gulp!) of torque and is pretty smooth at cruising speeds with that typical Harley twin-cylinder music from the engine.

On the design front, the simplicity of the overall composition will be appreciated by many – the twin flush caps for the tank, the simply laid out speedometer, the upside down indicators upfront, et al. In fact, the true beauty of this bike’s understated charm is its blank slate appeal. The Custom offers a great platform for anyone who likes to leap into the sea of personalizing their bike with Harley’s accessories catalog.

Fat Boy (Softail family)

This is the quintessential tough guy motorcycle and without a doubt, one of the best selling Harley-Davidson bikes ever. Arnie too rode one in The Terminator and if you are in Yankee land, chances are you will end up seeing more of these solid disc wheeled motorcycles than other models on the road. As the company’s Indian MD puts it, the Fat Boy is a timeless combination of power and style. True to its name, it weighs in at 330 kilos, but feels lighter on the move due to its low mass centralization. The 1584cc engine is mated to a six-speed ‘box and is a real pleasure. It hasn’t lost its typical Harley charm with the inclusion of the compulsory fuel injection. Like most Harleys, the well padded generous seat, pulled back bars and footboards allow for a comfortable riding posture but for serious touring, a windshield is recommend. This is where another thing comes up – the list of aftermarket add-ons for the Fat Boy requires a book of its own! If I am in the market for the most outrageous road ready custom, then this bike would sit at the top of the motorcycle chain.


Heritage Softail Classic (Softail family)

The Heritage Softail Classic remains as retro styled as it was when launched two decades ago. With only subtle changes on the design front over the years, this bike retains its old world charm, so loved by a huge chunk of Harley riders. The 21-inch spoke wheels with the white walled rubber, the retro styled leather saddles and the leather extension to the rider’s seat – this is the bike to have for those who love old schools. Beneath all that metal and leather is a modern 1584cc motor putting out an impressive 117Nm of torque at a low 3200rpm. This translates into effortless low speed cruising (so typical of a Harley, isn’t it?). Aboard this bike, you feel you are back in time and yet you get modern touches like ABS. The king sized windshield can be removed, however, I like it this way. Some may think this bike is a bit much of a throwback, but I have to admit that it’s a good looking bike all in all. It’s true what some say about the classics never going out of style, I guess. Rs 19.45 lakh is a lot of money, but certain things just seem better with age, don’t they?

Night Rod Special (V-Rod family)

This is the rock star of the entire H-D gang. It looks mean and menacing and even made me look cool while riding it. Well almost. I did have my arms and legs stretched out, but leaning ahead made me feel more comfortable as well cut through the air properly. At times, all it took were a few seconds to get from an indicated 100 to an indicated 150, thanks to the new generation sophisticated and smooth 1250cc engine that belts out 125 ponnies along with 111Nm of torque. Going from zero to hundred in fewer than four seconds with a top whack of around 225km/h, the Night Rod is unlike any other Harley. In fact, the intoxicating V-twin growl and that linear acceleration are courtesy engine design help from Porsche. For most, the Night Rod might be a difficult bike to handle around curves or in city traffic, but for me it rules the roost and for reasons. Show up on one and people don’t stop staring. For Rs 18.95 lakh you also get custom quality construction, inimitable Harley cachet and a set of wheels that is as much fun to look at as it is to ride. Period.

Road King (Touring family)

When first launched in 1994, its styling was the biggest asset for the Road King – one of the two bikes from the touring family. The bike carries a mix of retro design elements like spoke wheels, three big chrome lamps upfront, inverted indicators, et al. along with modern touches like hard panniers, technological advances for the engine, plus cruise control and ABS! Even the chassis is all-new and it shows its true colours in case you push the bike hard. It has the same 1584cc engine seen on the Softail family, though this one pumps out 127Nm of torque. In fact, I rode the Road King after riding
the XR1200 and was immensely surprised with its smoothness. I could comfortably ride this bike to its full tank range (300km+) between stops and the only snag would be the wind turbulence created by the screen for my tall height. If the likes of Elvis Presley were still alive, they would have one of these gorgeous machines parked in their Graceland garages. Like most say, it’s good to be King, though at an expensive sticker price of Rs 20.45 lakh.

Street Glide (Touring family)

The chunkier and modern of the two touring bikes, the Street Glide had me hooked the moment I swung a leg over. It might look like a Road King with an add-on bat wing type fairing, but there is a lot more to this bike. The Street Glide is the original stripped and slammed (lowered rear suspension) bagger from Harley-Davidson and is powered by the same twin cam 96 V-twin engine as on some of the other models, though it is in its torquiest form here. It performs more than well and during our early morning shoot, getting the rear to spin out was pretty easy. In fact, with the fairing, high speed cruising is better than some of the other machines here. The lowered ride height, however, limits the suspension travel and two-up, bad roads can rattle your insides pretty easily. The six pods in the speedometer console finished in white look sporty with the music system and various buttons under it increasing the functionality. The system, a Harman Kardon unit, was kept near its top volume most of the times much to other motorists’ surprise but this is the way a Harley is to be enjoyed on open Indian roads.

Ultra Classic Electra Glide (CVO family)

Prepare to be coddled. The most powerful, heaviest and comfiest bike of the whole range is the Ultra Classic Electra Glide, a bike born out of the CVO or the Custom Vehicle Operations’ family of Harley-Davidson. Harley’s entire bag of techno tricks are featured on the CVO Ultra, including a 160Watt CD/AM/FM/WB/MP3 Advanced Audio System by Harman Kardon, CB and intercom, passenger audio with controls, cruise control and standard XM Radio to name a few. If size matters with money no bar, this is the machine to have. Both the rider and the passenger sit in the plushest of accommodations and once on the move, its massive 430 kilo weight seems to vanish. In fact, while riding up to the Amer fort, I was effortlessly scraping away expensive metal from the footboards. The engine sounds sweet with an intoxicating intake growl at low revs with a surge of locomotive like torque available throughout. The CVO sits lazily at an indicated 150km/h with much in reserve to tease other smaller models of the family easily. If your idea of a road trip means ditching your business class ticket and riding to Mumbai from Delhi, the CVO is the answer even at its staggering Rs 34.95 lakh sticker price. Who says inspiring dreams is always cheap?

John McEnaney
Harley-Davidson Service Operations Area Representative, India


Age:
50
Favourite H-D bike in India: FXDC Dyna Super Glide Custom
Why? “It’s a no BS bike”

How different will be the maintenance of Harley-Davidson bikes in the Indian riding environment vis-à-vis the US?
Harley-Davidson motorcycles have been ridden for decades in over 70 countries spanning various terrains and weather conditions. In the U.S. itself, we have experienced and tested our motorcycles in every riding condition. To give you an instance from India, the first Founders Ride we did in the country was through torrential rain in New Delhi. Furthermore, our ride through Jaipur presented us with a different set of riding conditions – heat, varied roads and some long stops in traffic. The fantastic thing about India is that the variations and unique riding terrain make it an incredible riding destination. Our vision for our dealerships in the country will be to provide world class after sales maintenance and servicing at par with a Harley-Davidson dealership anywhere. The service teams across our dealerships in India will be trained to ensure customers enjoy every minute of ownership and have an optimum experience.

What about the performance of Harley-Davidson motorcycles in India’s harsh, i.e., hot summer months?
We’ve ridden through the pouring rain in Delhi, the summer heat in Jaipur and the stop-go traffic of Mumbai and Bangalore. Every ride has been a new experience. Over the next few months, we plan to ride across different regions in India and enjoy the thrill of riding through varying terrain and weather conditions which you cannot experience anywhere else in the world.

Anoop Prakash
Managing Director
Age: 37
Favourite H-D bike in India: FLSTF Fat Boy
Why? “A timeless combination of power and style.”

When do we see the first H-D showroom up and running and in which cities?

Bookings for Harley-Davidson motorcycles will open across India on the 20th of April, 2010 and will be taken by our dealers in Mumbai, Hyderabad, New Delhi, Bangalore and Chandigarh. We will announce dealer locations by the first week of April with all five showrooms scheduled to open by the end of summer. This year all 12 motorcycles from our Indian model line-up will be available on sale in addition to a broad selection of accessories, merchandise and apparel.

Which models have been the most popular among prospective Indian buyers till now?
We realized from the start that bringing in one or two models would not come close to meeting the craving and demand for the full Harley-Davidson experience here. Through our website, www.harley-davidson.in, prospective owners from all corners of the country have staked their claim to be among the first to own a 2010 Harley-Davidson motorcycle and we have seen demand across all model
families. For the city riders appreciating our heritage and classic cruiser styling, the Sportsters and Dynas seem to be on the top. For speed enthusiasts, the Night Rod Special has captured their hearts. For executives wanting the classic originals to explore greater India, the Softtails and Touring bikes reign supreme. Additionally, since we have partnered with ICICI Bank to provide loans at 11 percent interest, all riders can find their ride!

Sanjay Tripathi
Director, Marketing
Age: 37
Favourite H-D bike in India: VRSCDX Night Rod Special.
Why? “Speed, torque, stability and of course its hotrod styling!”

Harley-Davidson is an iconic brand and markets itself pretty well. Is this working in your favour in India already?
The stature Harley-Davidson enjoys is because our riders have built a bond not only with their motorcycles but with each other. The inclusiveness of the brand, the enthusiasm of the owners and the camaraderie built between the riders transcends geographical boundaries and binds them into a global HOG (Harley Owners Group) family. We have brought the pure Harley-Davidson experience to India with a range of 12 models from all five of our motorcycle families to give riders here the true look, sound and feel of our heritage, our culture and the Harley-Davidson lifestyle. Our range of MotorClothes will only add more authenticity to the complete Harley-Davidson experience in the country.

Do we see special made in India, for India ad campaigns on the Idiot box soon?
We are in the process of finalizing the right mix for our marketing campaigns and will soon roll them out to bring Harley-Davidson motorcycles closer to our riders. Our campaigns will certainly reflect the Harley-Davidson ethos and from a marketing standpoint we will continue to hold experiential events, so that riders and enthusiasts get the opportunity to really understand the lifestyle and experience.

Re-electrified


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

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

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

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

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

brothers in arms

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

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

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

BAJAJ PULSAR 150
Hallowed be thy name


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

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

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

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

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


The Pulsar loves being ridden hard and rewards you for it

SECOND OPINION

BUNNY PUNIA
DEPUTY EDITOR

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

 


HERO HONDA HUNK
The Emperor’s new clothes

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

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

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

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

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

The BIKE India slow race formation

SECOND OPINION

SARMAD KADIRI
Senior Correspondent

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

SECOND OPINION

BUNNY PUNIA
DEPUTY EDITOR

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

SUZUKI GS150R
Loaded to the brim


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

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

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

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

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

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


This Suzuki is the biggest bike of the lot

SECOND OPINION

SARMAD KADIRI
Senior Correspondent

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

TVS APACHE RTR 160
Catch me if you can

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SECOND OPINION

BUNNY PUNIA
Deputy Editor

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

VERDICT

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

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