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.

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!'

Bike India Team – who has written posts on Bike India.

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