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.

 

Tour de force

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Motoware_march_09

 

From boots to helmets and eyewear to jackets, we ensure you are all togged up for the ride


 

 

Marushin Helmets
Marushin, the parent manufacturer of Daijya helmets, has arrived in India with a huge range of their exclusive helmets for the enthusiast bikers. The 2009 range of Marushin helmets includes the RS-1 Carbon helmet which weighs just over a kilo and also ensures high safety standards. With other helmets in exciting graphics and eye-catching colours, you are definitely going to be the best looking biker around with utmost safety for your head with these Marushins. For more details and options for Marushin Helmets, log onto the website mentioned above.

Joe rocket big bang jacket
A timeless racer styling with a bold logo and design accents make for one killer looking jacket. The Joe Rocket Big Bang jacket has heavy duty Hitena® nylon outer fabric with CE rated protectors for the shoulders and elbows. The jacket has a removable insulated vest liner, a variable flow™ ventilation system and is priced at Rs 10,000.

 

HARLEY DAVIDSON EYE GLASSES
Harley-Davidson’s official eyewear is now in India. Their Low Rider range of sunglasses weigh just 27 grams and are available in various shades for the frame and lens with the H-D name engraved on them. H-D sunglasses have a scratch and impact resistant lens with a hard coat and a sturdy built glass. 99.9 percent UV resistant, they are currently being sold through ebay India for Rs 2,799.

Joe rocket speedmaster and sonic boot
The Speedmaster boots were developed with the input of Joe Rocket’s factory riders with the goal of creating the ultimate professional race boot. These have a leather construction with injection molded protectors on the heel, shin, calf and ankle areas. The Sonic boots, on the other hand, are for the sole purpose of touring and utilize an adjustable ankle strap and a reinforced padded shin flap with hook and loop fastener for convenience. They are 100 percent waterproof and breathable with a DRY-TECH moisture wicking interior for all day comfort. The Speedmaster boots are available for Rs 15,000 and the Sonic boots are priced at Rs 8,500

Motoware-feb09

Lazy sunday rides, weekend trips or serious track days, we have something for everyone this month

 

 


 

 

Fastrack eye wear
The new range of Fastrack shades compliment both half face as well as full face helmets. Available in various designs and colours, Fastrack’s range of sunglasses start from Rs 895 and go upto Rs 2,295. The products featured here are for Rs 1,595 each.

Cramster touring boots
Water resistant with a non-absorbing outer shell, Cramster touring boots are made from PVC based heavy duty synthetic leather. They also have a torsion cup for ankle bone protection. Other features include padded shin protection, toe shift protection strips, toe and calf sliders and anti allergic inner lining. Priced at Rs 4,800 the boots are available in one colour only and are suitable for street riding and touring.

Joe rocket ufo and lucky jackets
Joe Rocket’s UFO jacket combines bold racer styling and breezy free-air poly/mesh shell with all the obligatory impact protection. The Lucky jacket, on the other hand, has a Vegas themed graphic treatment adding to the allure of its stylish yet practical appeal. Aside from the typical assortment of impact protectors and comfort features, it also has something hiding up its sleeves. The Rocktex 600 outer shell has zip off sleeves to reveal mesh lower sleeves for summer riding. The jackets are priced at Rs 11,000 and Rs 7,500 respectively.

Cramster velocity riding pants
Specially designed for Indian weather conditions, Cramster Velocity riding pants feature an outer shell made of MaxTex Cordura while the inner shell has a perforated breathing liner. The pants are waterproof with CE approved armour for the knees and foam padding for the hip area. They are available in one colour only and are priced at Rs 4,300.

Joe rocket speedmaster 7.0 and gpx 2.0 gloves
Speedmaster gloves are the brainchild of Joe Rocket’s factory riders. It has molded knuckle, finger and thumb protectors with high density padding for fingers, cuffs and wrists. The GPX series are professional racing gloves with a drum dyed leather construction and high end pittards ceramix infused leather armour tan for the palm. They are priced at Rs 9,000 and Rs 6,500 respectively.

Intruder Alert

Warning: The muscular and mighty M1800R has attacked. We hear its making heads turn and eye balls pop. Observe caution on the road
Story Gauri Lokare
Photography Sanjay Raikar

For some, the Suzuki M1800R or the Intruder is just a big heavy cruiser boasting of colossal torque figures. One look at this massive beast and you can’t help but be awed. But for someone like me who uses a rather puny (not in India though) Royal Enfield 350cc motorcycle for daily commuting, the monstrous cruiser with the biggest capacity Suzuki engine seemed like a scaled down version of God.

The night before the day I was supposed to ride this monster, I was behaving like a silly teenager getting ready for her first date. I felt butterflies in my tummy the whole night and anxiety just wouldn’t let me be. My colleagues at Bike India too were quite apprehensive about their decision to let me swing a leg over the beast. As was evident looking at their faces, they hoped they didn’t have to regret the big decision. I wouldn’t have been surprised if an ambulance or a fire brigade was called on standby while I went for the ride. The few hours that I managed to spend in bed that night felt like an agonizing, endless nightmare. I was all geared up and raring to go much before the sun had risen.

As we reached the shoot location, I turned the key, switched on the ignition and the display lit up for the self-check. Just before I was about to press the starter switch, I whispered to the bike, “be good to me”. A gentle dab of the right thumb and the 125PS engine roared to life with a deep pulse. It may sound like exaggeration, but to me, it sounded like the birth of the Universe itself.

I literally had to sit down, take a moment and let the sight of this torquey behemoth sink in. The design works towards emphasizing the big 1800 odd cc V-twin engine rather than overshadowing it. Suzuki has taken the word ‘big’ quite seriously for the Intruder. The bike is fitted with one of the fattest rear tyre (240mm wide) available on a production bike. The fuel tank with a capacity of 19.5 liters is wide enough to hold a violin and merges seamlessly into a comfortable saddle. The tail cover, shaped like a rare diamond, easily stands apart. The frowning hooded headlight expresses a ‘don’t mess with me’ attitude. The chrome side stand which looks rather delicate is strong enough to hold the 8 feet long beast weighing a mammoth 319kg. The dual exhaust takes a seductive U-turn near the engine to point towards the 240 section rear tyre. Ending as a pair of bedazzling slashed mufflers, the chromed exhaust pipes exhibit raw oomph. This cruiser expresses aesthetic coherence brilliantly. Needless to say, the Intruder is all about road presence and attracts attention wherever you ride it. Bystanders and other commuters are dazed by the sheer sight of this monster cruising on the road.

The M1800R looks every bit a bespoke cruiser machine, but make no mistake, it draws heavily from the flagship Suzuki sportster, the GSX-R. Suzuki has always honed its technology on racetracks and they have made good use of the advancements made on the GSX-R in this cruiser. The borrowed technology bits include the dual throttle valve system, radially mounted disc brakes and dual spark plug ignition. The perky performance of the Intruder reflects the debt.

The wide handlebar is a good reach away. Get the bike rolling, take your feet up and the far stretched footpegs make the seating position feel rather awkward. It may sound as if I’m exaggerating, but the riding posture actually made me feel like an orangutan clinging from a zoo cage. I at 5 feet 8 inches and yet struggled with this rather awkward position. I can only imagine the plight of riders shorter than me. This design seems strange as compared to true blue cruisers, including the Indian ones, which are equipped with conventional laid back handlebars.

SHINE ‘EM: The frowning hooded headlight expresses a ‘dont mess with me attitude’ and makes generous use of chrome

THE CONSOLE: The speedometer firmly rests on the fuel tank while the tachometer lies in the conventional position

 

THE POWERPLANT: The large 1783cc V-twin fits in perfectly with the rest of the body elements with no visible see through gaps. The asymmetric layout of the header pipes gel with the bike’s curvaceous styling and recieves a similar plush chrome treatment as the engine

The Intruder, boasting impressive figures in terms of power (125PS) and torque (160Nm), is equipped with brakes to match. Ripped from GSX-R1000 Superbike, the Intruder sports two radially mounted 310mm discs with four piston front brake calipers which work exceptionally well. Instead of using the more conventional chain/belt drive system, the Bavarian-inspired, shaft drive mechanism is used on the Intruder. Suzuki adopted its first shaft drive system way back in the year 1979 with the GS1000GT. With advancements in technology, however, the state of the art unit on the Intruder not only imparts a long lasting drive but also contributes towards a cleaner rear end design.

The sheer mass of the bike coupled with the prodigious power, would make one wonder about its handling and balance. Gettingthe 315kg bike off the side stand for the first time, proved to be physically demanding. Although by using the right technique, it was hardly a task. The initial few minutes of riding were very difficult as I tired to maintain a steady pace and find the right balance. As I got used to this machine, the giant horse broke in. The bike lurched forward each time I twisted the throttle. This was most noticeable while the shorter ratios were selected. Thankfully, there were no unnerving wheelspins like the other ‘big’ bikes. Yes, this is a cruiser and one doesn’t expect it to wheelspin. But it has enough torque to shred the rear tyre within a few hundred kilometers of riding – precisely the reason why Suzuki has fitted a torque limiter to restrict low end torque. Gear shifting was jerky early on as the shaft drive needed precise timing of the clutch release and throttle input to have a smooth shift. Failure to do so resulted in a loud clanking sound emanating from the ‘box. As my day progressed with the cruiser, shifting of gears smoothened out. I learnt to master the right technique of gear shifting eradicating the clunks between shifts. The fourth and fifth gear felt far less abrupt. Once at ease with the bike, I was cruising way above the 120km/h mark – the fastest I had ever gone before this. The headlight housing is designed to deflect the wind blast from the head and torso that occurs at high speeds, but its function proved to be very limited at speeds above 100km/h.

The more I rode the Intruder the more I began to understand it. This is precisely when fears and reservations left my mind and I truly connected with the Intruder. Feet up turns which were like a nightmare earlier, got easier. After a while, the ride became so smooth, I felt as confident on the Intruder as I feel on my Royal Enfield Thunderbird.

One point of irritation is the speedometer. While the somewhat trapezoidal digital tachometer firmly rests where you have the instrumentation cluster on regulation bikes, the speedometer is mounted on the fuel tank. This means that the rider has to dip his/her head every time he/she wants to check the speed. The huge wheelbase and the enormous bulk of the rear tyre means you need more rider input while changing directions. This can get a little demanding in case you have a pillion rider with you. The exclusion of a pillion back rest from the design needs the pillion to lean onto the rider. While parking the bike, its best to park it with its nose facing the road or else you’ll need at least a dozen people to pull the bike back when you are ready to go.

So, now the question which haunts me is, do we have the roads for such monstrous cruisers in India? In the city, hell no! The Intruder with its torquey 1783cc of V-twin power craves for long wide highways where one can open the throttle and justify the very purpose of its existence. Our ridiculous traffic situation seems like a huge concern regarding the practicality of the bike. In a country where you have to find roads amidst potholes, handling the cruiser does become tricky. Because of the ultra low profile (40 section) rear tyre, you can feel every grain on the road surface being transmitted to your back side. The Intruder which is priced at Rs 13.63 lakh in India was developed keeping in mind the butter smooth open highways of the US and Europe. So if, touring is in your mind and you are looking for those perfect set of wheels to leave behind city roads and embark upon lost highways, the Suzuki M1800R would be a great choice.

As the sun began to set, it was time to wrap up the shoot which brought the curtains down on the most wonderful ride. I am not sure if I ever would be able to own the M1800R. I might not be that lucky. But I was lucky enough to have earned the experience to ride it for a day. The memory will last a lifetime. As I got the mighty Intruder back to its parking slot and alighted, I realized that this wasn’t just a road test for the M1800R. In a way it was a test for me too – as a rider, tourer and an automobile journalist. I just hope I managed to cruise as effortlessly as the big tourer. After having ridden the bike, overwhelming feelings began to erupt. I wanted to sing, dance, shout and cry at the same time. Not in that order but all at the same time.

 

Motoware

This month we showcase some of the finest riding gear from Italian icon, Alpinestars

 

Alpinestars Vector Leather Jacket
The Astars Vector jacket is constructed using MotoGP technology. The 1.2-1.4mm full grain leather has a soft finish with good abrasion resistance. The shoulder features MotoGP inspired cup protectors. The multiple stitched main seams provide the greatest tear resistance and Kevlar stretch panels maximize flexibility. The ventilated hump is aerodynamically designed just like a MotoGP racing suit. It also features a chest pad with PE protectors and removable CE certified protectors with a back pocket that holds a removable back protector. This jacket retails at Rs 29,499

Alpinestars Aero Tank Bag
The Aero tank bag has a capacity of 30 litres when expanded and 20 litres when closed. It features a transparent pouch for a map. The lower portion of the bag and the magnets are removable. There are built-in rain protects and the internal area has organizer pockets and a sleeve to hold a 15-inch computer. It features a strapping harness that can be used with plastic or aluminum fuel tanks. It also has straps that can transform the tank bag into a backpack. This bag is priced at Rs 9,999.

 

Alpinestars Vader Backpack
The Vador backpack from Alpinestars is constructed to give you loads of carrying capacity. It has a 100 percent nylon/polyester construction engineered for carrying stationeries. It also features side pockets with sub-divided storage areas and a top pocket for sunglasses and portable electronic devices and a sleeve for a laptop. The total volume of the backpack is a good 26.5 litres and the price tag reads Rs 5,999.

Alpinestars Sniper Air Flow Textile Jacket
This lightweight summer jacket is constructed using 600 Denier polyester fabric with non water absorbing and abrasion resistant mesh panels. Astars has provided soft CE certified protectors in the shoulders and elbows and a pocket for an optional back protector. The PE protector in the chest can be upgraded to Astars bionic chest guard. The internal area has a lightweight mesh construction. The jacket with an adjustable waist and two external pockets is priced at Rs 10,499.

 

 

Motoware

BMW MOTORRAD’S PREMIUM PRODUCTS FROM THEIR 2010 LINEUP ARE AN ABSOLUTE DELIGHT FOR FANS AND FANATICS

 

DOUBLE R HELMET
The Double R helmet is a premium product built for optimal performance and exclusivity. This helmet offers you an anti-scratch, anti-fog and UV protected visor with no tools required mechanism for removal. The outer shell is made from composite materials that offer better protection upon impact. The overall shape is aerodynamic which offers better stability at high speeds. An excellent ventilation system offers you a sweat free ride.

RALLYE 3 GLOVES
These Rallye 3 gloves are made using super fabric which has a grain like texture that offers high resistance to abrasion just like leather and the flexibility of modern day fabrics. The exterior has a hard plastic shell with vents for effective cooling and 5mm thick foam padding for enhanced protection. The interior has a single layer of soft kangaroo leather for superior feel.

RALLYE GS PRO BOOTS
BMW’s Rallye GS pro boots are ideal footwear for adventurers as they provide you with all the features necessary for long hauls. They have a new removable inner shoe with a gel cushion around the ankles for a better fit and finish. Safety is top priority as the sole of these boots comes with reinforced steel springs for increased stiffness. Adequate protection on the outside assures complete safety in case of an impact.

 

DOUBLE R BOOTS
BMW’s high quality Double R boots offer you superior quality combined with utmost safety. They are made using high quality leather with a high resistance to abrasion. These boots feature a reinforced perforated intermediate sole for extra comfort and a shin guard that is padded with foam on the inside. The boots also get patented protectors that guard vital areas like ankles and joints.

DOUBLE R GLOVES
These new Double R race gloves are a step above the renowned pro race gloves that are a favourite among racers. These gloves are made from 100 percent kangaroo leather and have very few seams to reduce the bulge and swelling around them. The inner side of the hand consists of a twin layer of light leather that is clubbed with a layer of Kevlar underneath. On the exterior, the gloves feature knuckle protection and wrist

HELMET BAG
This sleek looking bag is an ideal carrier for your helmet as it features a plastic bottom which extends upwards to the sides giving it added stability. It also has a soft inner lining that is laid in order to protect the helmet visor from any scratches. A wide opening zipper allows you better flexibility for placing and removing the helmet from the bag. It also has external pockets for knickknacks. For further information visit www.bmw-motorrad.com

Jiving-with-the-scooters

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 


An-indian-at-a-sushi-party

Does the lightweight Pulsar have the right mix of spices to tingle the commuter’s taste buds? Or will they still prefer the Japanese offerings?
Words: Sarmad Kadiri   Photography: Sanjay Raikar

By now most BIKE India readers would have a fair knowledge about Bajaj’s latest artillery to hit the Indian circuit. Our first issue of this decade featured a detailed report on the Pulsar 135 Light Sport, which promises to deliver class defying performance and fuel efficiency with snazzy styling. And all that, at a very, very competitive price. But the proof of the pudding is the eating. We decided to bring the new challenger from Bajaj’s stable face-to-face with the best bikes from a segment above and below it. Incidentally, both the flag bearers are from the Honda lineup – the Unicorn 150cc and its younger sibling, the CBF Stunner 125 (non fuel injected). In other words, Bajaj’s puny performer intends to gatecrash the Japanese giant’s party. So, let’s find out if it succeeds.

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

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

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

THE LOOK

The Pulsar 135 LS has evolved from the XCD Sprint concept first showcased during the 2008 Auto Expo. The naked streetbike inspired headlamps nestled between the razor sharp panels and the floating fairing sitting above reflect the concept’s design cues. The side scoops on the curvy tank, the clip-on handlebar and step seats accentuate the sporty theme of the bike. The dual coloured front mudguard with ridges appears aggressive. At a glance, it looks distinct from its siblings and yet snazzy enough to hold your attention.

Shifting our focus to a segment below, the CBF Stunner 125 has just gone through a quick facelift and now comes with new colour schemes and body graphics. The addition of an engine cowl, sharper rear view mirrors and a black paint job for the engine, exhaust cover and handlebar make it look even more ‘stunning’ than before. The 2010 Stunner gets the much awaited tachometer in a new look console. Giving it competition is the Pulsar 135 LS’s neat instrument console which holds the digital speedometer, odometer, fuel gauge and trip meter as well as the analogue tachometer.

Okay, I’m midway through talking about the appearance of the bikes, but I haven’t even mentioned a thing about the Unicorn. This is simply because there is nothing new to talk about the bike’s design. Honda has been giving minor cosmetic tweaks to their reliable 150cc bike, but the Unicorn desperately needs to visit an A-list stylist real soon. It remains the most understated bike in this shootout and probably in its segment as well. The all-black Unicorn badged with the chrome Honda wing looks neat but dated. Honda did display a concept Unicorn during the Auto Expo 2010, but it didn’t manage to make eyeballs pop and looked more like an oversized CB Twister 110. Hmmm… That’s about it for the Unicorn in this department leaving the fight between the Pulsar 135 LS and the CBF Stunner 125.

The rear panels of the LS keep the Pulsar style DNA intact and the icing on the cake is the superbike type rear without a mudguard. But here’s the anti-climax, the full tyre shroud looks plasticy and rather odd. The designers should have incorporated sleeker shrouds similar to the ones used on the bigger Pulsars. Apart from looking ugly, it will be a pain to clean dirt from under it. The Stunner has a nice looking tiny hugger at the rear that guards the 17-inch tubeless tyres. The same tyres also perform their duty on the Pulsar 135 LS. The radical theme of the LS is also reflected in the sliced exhaust chamber. Personally, a slightly meatier exhaust would have enhanced its looks further. Bajaj has tagged the Pulsar 135 as LS, meaning Light Sport, but a complete metal chain cover is neither light nor does it look sporty. The Stunner, on the other hand, has a plastic half chain cover which does its duty well and looks great too. The LS and the Stunner sport step seats which look great. A minor flaw that our Editor, Aspi pointed out to the Bajaj boffins is that the side stand of the Pulsar 135 LS is located way too close to the gear lever. Even a light impact to the left side of the bike could disrupt the gearshift. Both the Hondas have their side stand perfectly located. The LS manages to balance the sporty theme well without going over the top, which means mass appeal. But the Stunner will still be a hit with the younger lot.

THE RIDE
I have a lot to talk about the Unicorn in this section and only good things. It is the only bike equipped with a monoshock and yes, it does make a difference. I feel this 150 has the best ride quality across segments and this is no easy task to achieve. If you enjoy taking your friend or girlfriend (ahem) along for rides on the highway or even through the unruly city lanes, the Unicorn with its superb suspension and 150cc engine is a joy to ride. Shifting to a segment below, the Pulsar 135 LS has conventional shock absorbers with a combination of hydraulic, gas and coil springs. This combination works well when riding alone, but is strictly okay with a pillion rider especially if he weighs even marginally close to our photographer, Sanjay. Though the LS’s suspension is not as soft as the Unicorn, it is subtle and athletic even with two heavyweights onboard. The LS has a new swingarm and a long wheelbase of 1325mm which is even longer than its big brother, the Pulsar 150 although the steep steering angle assures reasonable handling agility. It is roughly based on the XCD’s square section chassis and handling is not the strongest point of the LS.

Its seating position is inclined more towards a sports bike stance with the clip-on handlebars and the low seating position making it fun to zip through traffic but the bike feels comparatively unsettling while taking on long curves. The Stunner with its 1271mm wheelbase and well sorted suspension scores over the LS in this section. It feels more composed and the new MRF rubber boosts confidence as I experienced while negotiating the corners of ghat sections. But the overall winner in the handing and ride quality department has to be Honda’s old legend, the Unicorn. The monoshock combined with the longest wheelbase among the three (1340mm) and the trusted MRF zappers make it nimble, agile and supremely comfortable.

THE HEART
Astride 2010’s new look Stunner for the first time, I kept praying in my heart, “God please, please make this ride like the Stunner Fi. Please, please!” But it didn’t. Let me break this up for those who haven’t used both the Stunner versions. The 125cc has a great Honda engine which is smooth and peppy, but the carburetted version is extremely under geared (for reasons best known to the company) which causes the bike to vibrate way too much as it reaches the 60-70km/h mark. Surprisingly, the fuel injected variant of the Stunner is free of this shortcoming thanks to the taller overall gearing. The Stunner Fi feels extremely refined even at high speeds. Unfortunately, the Stunner that qualified for this particular test was the carburetted version. While riding it in the top gear, my mind kept yelling “Shift the gear! Shift the gear!” but my left foot responded, “There are none here! There are none here!” It manages to touch the 100km/h mark which isn’t bad for a 125cc bike. But the Stunner gets outshined by the light Pulsar as it has minimal vibrations even at high speeds. The LS, as the name suggests, is quite light at just 122kg which is a good 7kg lower than the smaller Stunner, let alone the 146kg weight of the Unicorn. This is a great trend which is also the topic of discussion at automobile research and development departments across the globe. But India has a long way to go as international bikes with 600cc mills weigh just around 170kg! The light weight of the Pulsar coupled with its indigenously developed four-valve powertrain can match up to the performance of 150cc bikes. The four-valve technology helps it breathe better and so improves the fuel efficiency and the performance of the machine. Talking about four-valve technology, here’s some trivia for the petrol heads: the first Indian bike to use this technology (though developed overseas) was the now forgotten, Kinetic GF 125 which was launched about a decade ago. Time to return from the flashback to real time. The LS goes from 0-60km/h in just 5.18 seconds and has a genuine top whack of 112km/h! Several 150cc owners will be reading these figures over and over again. In reality, it’s not just about speed. The Unicorn is still content with its old two-valve technology, and it reflects in the bike’s performance figures. The younger Pulsar manages to outrun it by a whisker in the top speed stakes as well as the 0-60km/h sprint. However, the Unicorn leads when it comes to class leading refinement, smooth power delivery and unparalleled durability. Apart from reaching the top speed, what is really important is coming to a halt in urgency. The older and more experienced Honda scores over the other two in the braking department. The Stunner has good low down power and can even pull from low rpms in a higher gear which makes it a good city commuter. It also is the most fuel efficient among the three bikes here with an average of 66kmpl. The LS is not far behind delivering an amazing 63.75kmpl out of the spirited 135cc mill and the bigger Unicorn manages to stretch a liter for 58.92kmpl.

The Pulsar 135 LS shakes up the competition by delivering class defying efficiency and performance, thanks to its light weight. But I have to give it to the Unicorn for its refinement, smooth power delivery and reliability.

THE MOOLAH
In our country, the big question that follows fuel efficiency is the price. And this is the interesting part in this shootout. Honda retails the Unicorn at Rs 64,082, on the road in Pune and the Stunner at Rs 60,580, but the 2010 model will be dearer by another Rs 2,500 thus bringing its sticker price closer to the Unicorn at around Rs 63,000. (Drum roll) Presenting the party spoiler for the Japanese giant, the all-new Pulsar 135 LS comes with a smashing price tag of Rs 56,500 only. (Silence). It can save you Rs 6,500 of your (or your dad’s) hard earned money. Yes, you can spend it on your girlfriend we mentioned above or donate it to a charity.

THE VERDICT
If you take the price into consideration, the Honda CBF Stunner is overpriced and if price isn’t a problem, then why not buy a superbike? The Stunner is a great looker and can also make your friend’s fiance go weak in the knees. It also has a strong sales and service backup and not to forget Honda’s quality assurance. A great buy for the yuppie generation.

The other bigger, older and perhaps wiser Honda, the Unicorn amazes me every time I ride it because of its overall performance, solid build quality and unmatched refinement. It has proven to be an extremely reliable commuter bike over the years. But there is a problem with this bike. It looks dated and Honda is not doing anything about it. For those who want to take a plain Jane, soft spoken, non-fussy, docile and low maintenance companion home, look no further.

THE WINNER
For those who don’t fancy the plain Jane, Bajaj has the answer for you. The Pulsar is a really good 135cc bike that balances the commuter aspect by giving you over 63km per liter of petrol and at the same time, it will make you overtake the city crawlers by its raw power. The price positioning and value for money aspect gives it an edge over its rivals. It is light weight, looks naughty and wears a bikini fairing. Settled then, don’t take the Pulsar 135 LS home. Take it for a ride, a really long one.

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.