100Hero Honda Splendor
If the title of this article is a bit of a tongue twister, then wrap your head around these figures. Hero has sold more than 30 million Splendors in India since it was launched in 1994. 23 years and the bike still leads the way in monthly sales figures, with the Honda Activa the only vehicle to give it stiff competition. On an average, more than a million Splendors have been sold per year. The Splendor sells more in one month, than many bikes would sell in their lifetime!
Hero sells more Splendors in one month than European manufacturers sell from their entire fleet!
Hero has sold more Splendors than the population of Malaysia. Hero has sold more Splendors than the population of 21 states and Union Territories of India!
The Hero Splendor might have very modest specifications when compared to most motorcycles. With a 97.2cc engine, you wouldn’t expect much, rightly so. But the power and torque figures were never meant to grab your attention. What did get people’s attention was the frugal nature of the engine. The 4-stroke motorcycle claimed a whopping 70 kilometres per litre at a time when people were commuting on the gas guzzling 2-strokes. It might have not been anywhere close to the RX-100 or Shogun in terms of fun, but the real joy was felt in the wads of notes left in the wallet at the end of the month!
With an 11 litre fuel tank, you would get an astronomical tank range of around 700 kilometres! That is if you ever decided to fill the tank to the brim. Most owners would have been happy with a thimble full of fuel for a month!
We petrolheads often get impressed with the 0-100 figures of machines, the oodles of power and truckloads of torque. Yet there are motorcycles like the Splendor which go about their business without a fuss for 23 years. Without any proper maintenance, TLC and often without any sort of rider skills, the bikes would just go on and on and on. Even Duracell will give up earlier!
Almost any biker you will meet has a Splendor in the family or has had a relative with a Splendor. And every one of the owners will swear by their machines. Countless instances can be seen where someone sells off their old Splendor only to buy a newer one!
The bike has barely seen any changes over the two decades. A few new variants have been introduced by Hero after splitting with Honda to keep the prospective customer interested. Though the reliability of the machine over the years has kept a solid hold on the market’s interest. Currently Hero sells the Splendor Pro, Splendor ISmart 110, Super Splendor and Splendor+. You can buy any Hero bike you want, as long as it is a Splendor!
The Splendor will forever remain one of the most important motorcycles of India. It provided affordable transportation to millions of Indians. Collectively the bike would have clocked a billion kilometres across the length and breadth of this country, bringing bazillion good memories for its owners and more so for all those youngsters who robbed their dad’s keys for a quick spin round the block! Fittingly it is the 100th motorcycle of our search for #100Motorcycles in India…
17 years after it was first launched, the Honda Activa still rules the roost. The Japanese manufacturer has sold over 1 crore of these ubiquitous scoots. You see them everywhere in the country, ridden by everyone! From college goers to middle-aged office going men and women, to parents dropping off their kids, to the young punks with more stickers on their bikes than athletes at the Olympics! 17 years is a very long time to be at the top and the Activa is surpassed only by the unbelievable Hero Splendor, but that is a story for another day!
In 2000, Honda launched the Activa, a scooter in a market where there were a bunch of naysayers. Bajaj the scooter leader was looking to get out of the ever shrinking segment. Sales of motorcycles were going up, while scooters were plummeting. Yet Honda focussed on the Activa and its geared sibling the Eterno. The Eterno with its 150cc engine, flat footboard and gears should have been the automatic choice for the junta having ridden the Bajaj scooters for decades. For a multitude of reasons, the sales of Eternos dropped while the fortunes of the Activa was on a continuous rise.
Honda had correctly gauged the Indian market and by bringing an automatic scooter with decent fuel efficiency, it was poised to capture the imagination of the commuter who desired convenience along with low costs. For the urban environment, few vehicles can match the convenience of a scooter. Honda added to that the legendary reliability of the brand, good fuel efficiency, and low maintenance costs. Little wonder then, that these bikes sold like hot cakes!
Even today, you can easily find 15+year old vehicles running around without protest. These kinds of vehicles attract many owners who have neither inkling nor interest in spending time and money on servicing the scoot. Yet this workhorse will putter along, doing everything that is thrown at it and then some more. Today, when a person wants to buy a scooter, the first vehicle which comes to mind is the Activa. Everybody and their grandfathers seem to have one in the family! Yahoo and Bing are internet search engines as well, yet everyone will tell you to ‘Google it!’ The Activa is very close to reaching that status. There is competition, but it’s so far behind, that it just doesn’t matter.
The success of the Activa did not see Honda sitting on their laurels, the bike has been regularly updated, especially with Suzuki and TVS keen to make inroads in this segment. Currently, Honda has three versions for sale in India. The Activa 4G, which promises to be faster than your 3G smartphone? The Activa-I, which might have a touch of narcissism to it! And the Activa 125, because a 15cc bump will make the world of difference. As Honda would hope, you can buy any scooter you want, as long as it is an Activa!
The Activa will never have a cult following, where leather-clad bikers boast about their exploits. What it will have our thousands of people riding their scoots every day, without ever giving a moment’s thought to the feat of this bike. But then a workhorse will always have a thankless job!
98Yezdi D 250 Classic
Anyone born in the pre-IT Revolution age would remember a motorcycle with a pleasant roar as the rider sped past. You would find one of these in your family, neighborhood or among your circle of friends. And if you are really lucky you would have been one of the proud owners of this iconic machine. The Yezdi brings back fond memories to riders young and old. Someone might have experienced their first motorcycle ride on the tank of their dad’s Yezdi, others might remember an uncle washing and maintaining his bike on a lazy Sunday afternoon. Still, others might have had this machine as their very first motorcycle. Each one will have their own story to tell.
As part of our search for #100Motorcycles in India, we bring to you one of the most iconic bikes to have ever graced the roads (and off-roads) of this country. The Yezdi D 250 Classic. This 258.5cc machine was perfectly placed between the Bullet 350 and the Rajdoot. The simplicity of the Yezdi allowed riders to take it on really long journeys. For Deepak Kamath, that journey on his Yezdi Roadking took him around the world in 47 days.
There are a bunch of things on this bike that makes it rather interesting and it stands apart from our run of the mill modern day motorcycles. The Yezdi had a dual cam brake at the front, which provided greater stopping power; the rear though had a single cam brake. The front and rear wheels are of the same size both use 1.86 x 16” rims. Which meant that the wheels could be interchanged! The space between the front wheel and engine also a mounting point for an extra wheel, giving the Yezdi the convenience that only scooter owners are used to! The bike also had a gearbox with an inbuilt lever which would declutch the engine while changing gears. So one could actually ride the bike to safety in case the clutch cable snapped! But the most interesting bit about the Yezdi was possibly the gear change lever! It doubled up as the kick start lever as well! Weight saving we say! The rider had to use his/ her left leg to kick start the bike and ensure that they did so carefully. The kick back was strong enough to leave the rider with considerable pain if not handled with care! The bike came with two different carburettors, the Jikov for better performance at the cost of fuel efficiency, and the Pacco for the more cost conscious lot.
The company shut shop in 1996. The arrival of the Japanese with their 4-stroke super fuel efficient motorcycles was the death knell for the strokers. Though they continued to appeal to the performance oriented rider, but the ever-increasing commuter market was always going to take centre stage.
We were lucky to get our hands on a Yezdi, but if you really want to experience this motorcycle. We recommend visiting one of the Jawa Yezdi club meets on International Jawa Day in Bangalore or Chennai. It will be an enthralling experience as you see 100s of these strokes making their way through the crowds of two-stroke smoke and the thundering sound of the engines revving. You will surely not forget that experience!
We would like to thank Jai Tokas for allowing us to ride his Yezdi and walk down memory lane with this magnificent machine.
The Kawasaki ZX-10R is one of the best litre-class superbikes that you can lay your hands on. And if you look at the premier class of production motorcycle racing. You would have to believe that the ZX-10R is the best in the business. It cannot be mere coincidence, that Jonathan Rea has taken two back to back championships on board the bike in 2015 and 2016. And proving the consistency of the bike, his teammate Tom Sykes was second in the championship in 2016. And Rea is leading the championship by a huge margin in 2017. That speaks volumes about the motorcycle and its capabilities. Though the best bike in WorldSBK doesn’t necessarily translate into the best bike out of the showroom for the average rider. The success of the bike in WSBK, has seen the ZX-10R becoming one of the easiest superbikes to spot on the Indian racing scene.
We were lucky to get our hands onto this motorcycle as part of #100Motorcycles. And not just anywhere and any bike, but Sandesh’s race spec ZX-10R on track! The bike we rode on track is a 2015 model, though the bike isn’t stock. It has been completely modified for racing. Race fairings, Ohlins front and rear suspension, quick shifter, and Brembo brakes are some of the things which help this bike go fast around the track. A quick throttle and full system Akrapovic give it the final edge. The only upgrade remaining for the bike is a data logger according to him, but that is a very expensive upgrade and a bit beyond what the budget allows!
According to Sandesh, the biggest strength of the bike is that it is smooth. It isn’t the most powerful, but switching from one corner to the next, the bike is super smooth. The bike puts out around 190+ bhp and Sandy doesn’t feel it’s enough! Talk about racers and power.
Sandesh has used his ZX-10R for getting onto the podium at the JK National Championship at the Buddh International Circuit. That podium was taken with a broken leg! Unfortunately, he cannot take this bike for international races because of shipping, customs, and logistical problems. He also took the double win in 2015 in the MRF Championship and took the lap record at BIC in 2014.
We also asked his opinion about the 2016 ZX-10R. He said the bike was more powerful and a better handler, but slightly heavy. Even the aerodynamic features of the new bike are totally changed. Because of the increase in weight, Sandy would still choose the ’15 model over the newer bike.
We thank Sandesh for allowing us to ride his bike on the racetrack. It was an experience we are not going to forget anytime soon!
96MV Agusta F4 RR
The MV Agusta F4 RR that we rode in our search for #100Motorcycles, is Art on Wheels! And this one is a collectors’ art. The collector in this case in one other than Mr.Shirish Kulkarni, of the DSK Group who is responsible for getting the Benelli brand into India. What a great taste he has!
We dont know about Mr.Shirish, but you will eventually get a crick in your neck owning the F4, because every single time you walk away from your bike, you are going to turn to catch one last glance at it! From the silhouette to every small detail on the motorcycle, there is nothing that isn’t pleasing to the eye. One can literally sit near the bike for hours at end, appreciating the effort that has gone into building this masterpiece. This is after all the motorcycle which revitalized the ailing Italian.
Stare long enough and you will be writing out a thank you note to Massimo Tamburini, the famous motorcycle designer, who is responsible for this piece of gorgeousness! The 4-piece exhaust end cans have become characteristic of the F4, and any bike enthusiast can recognize it from a mile away!
But this bike is not a case of ‘beauty without brains’. It is smarter than most people you will meet! It has all the electronics that you would expect from a modern sports bike and then some more. The bike also probably the only current production motorcycle with radial valves. A technology developed by engineers from F1. The bike gets RBW and four different riding maps for different conditions. Looking at the bike you could easily mistake the riding maps to be fast, very fast, super-duper fast and ‘hang on for dear life’ fast! The F4 has an inertial lean angle sensor, which allows the bike to know how much lean angle it is and accordingly modulating the ABS, Traction Control etc.
If you are ready to shell out some extra moolah, you can even get the electronic shift assist, to make those gear changes faster.
And as you would expect, the F4 gets a top of the line suspension and brake components. Electronically adjustable Ohlins suspension and Brembo brakes, the industry standard now, if you want your motorcycle to be considered premium in the superbike segment. This tech-laden bike produces a whopping 200+ Hp and revs to a mind-boggling 14000 rpm! The service of titanium con rods is employed here, parts which are more at home on a MotoGP bike than a superbike!
The F4 is raced in WorldSBK in the hands of Leon Camier, who has seen some decent results with it, considering it is a very small factory operation with a single rider. There have also been two special editions dedicated to two of the fastest men in F1 and GP racing. Ayrton Senna and Giacomo Agostini were honored with liveries dedicated to them on the F4. Ago had won most of his GPs on board MV Agustas as he went on to be the most successful GP racer of all time.
We were fortunate to ride this beauty in Pune, possibly one of the few F4s in India currently. We hope to see more of this breed here!
95Ducati Supersport 900SS
The Ducati Supersport 900SS. A motorcycle which so beautiful, you will forget where you are, what you are doing and even what you wanted to say!
This bike has a lot of history and the current crop of Panigales will have to admit that this was their ancestor that started it all. When this bike was first launched in 1988, it was the fastest motorcycle that Ducati had ever produced and one of the fastest motorcycles available at that time. At the time of launch, it produced around 84 bhp and 84 Nm from its 904cc L-Twin engine. Coupled with its relatively light weight at 192 kg, this was quite the rocket in the 80s! The 900 boasted a top whack of 219 kmph, which is by no means slow. The figures might not seem impressive for the current generation of bikers, but it was phenomenal for its era.
And where else would you want to enjoy a motorcycle like this other than the wide open roads with zero traffic in Bangalore! Eh, who are we kidding? Even though we would love to ride this bike on the Buddh International Circuit, we must make do with what we have. And so we pitted this bike against the infamous traffic of Bangalore, to experience the motorcycle, where its creators had probably never intended! This motorcycle has so much Italian ‘character’ and Bangalore traffic has so much Indian character, that it was bound to be a heady mix!
The 900 Supersport was actually based out of the Ducati Pantah engine. And though the bike we rode was 20 odd years old, it still looks fantastic and in this shade of yellow, it was a traffic stopper. Not that the Bangalore traffic was moving very fast in the first place! This could easily vie for being the most beautiful bike we have ridden in #100Motorcycles. Only the MV Agusta F4 could actually challenge it in the looks department. The bike looks like a modern superbike and it’s only when you see the analog clocks, that you realize the motorcycles real vintage.
The sculpted tank can have you ogle the motorcycle for hours at end. The twin exhaust can stick out a bit from an otherwise gorgeous motorcycle. The tail section being the only thing that looks dated in 2016! The styling was not all that radical for its time, as you can expect from Ducati, but it was still a departure from the bulbous styling that the Japanese manufacturers employed during that period.
The bike handles like a dream and is light enough to be flicked around without thinking too much of it. Though it has a super aggressive riding stance, true to its Supersport name! It would be a hoot to ride on track but does take a toll on the rider’s body in stop-start traffic.
We were overjoyed to ride and experience this brilliant piece of motorcycling history right here in India and are happy to include this in #100Motorcycles. We thank Joe’s Garage for letting us revisit this Italian beauty from decades past.
94Royal Enfield Bullet Cast Iron
Kick starting this bike requires utmost respect and a little bit of patience as well. Yes, we are talking about the iconic Royal Enfield Bullet 350. The bike which has half the country’s biking junta salivating, while the rest scratching their heads in befuddlement. As in the advertisement for a popular chocolate on Indian television, you don’t just buy one, you earn it!
You cannot just throw your leg over the bike, thumb the starter and get going. You need to ensure the bike’s amp meter isn’t in the red and then give it one massive kick and hope the bike will roar to life. The rebound from the kick can be quite the risky thing; folk tales of the RE suggest that novices have injured their legs while trying to start the bike! The neutral finder in modern parlance can be called a quick shift way of finding neutral! The gear and brake levers are on the opposite side of the conventional, like all British brands. This takes an RE novice some time to get their head wrapped around! To add to this the bike has a shift pattern of 1 up and 3 down. But once the bike is running, the one thing that you will love for sure is the sound!
We rode a Cast Iron Bullet from 2009, with the typical thump which made the Bullet popular. The bike is not fast by any stretch of the imagination, instead, the rider is really relaxed on this motorcycle. You can feel the thump; you can feel the vibes actually resonate with the body. One of the reasons we believe that the Royal Enfields are so popular is that the vibrations feel so natural. The thump of the motorcycle seems to go hand in hand with that of the rider’s heart. A subliminal connect between man and machine.
The Cast Iron was phased out in 2011 in favour of the UCE (Unit Construction Engine). The biggest thing that the bike lost with this change was the thump for which the bike was known. Besides the thump, the bike has a certain charisma, which is not possible to decode. It can only be experienced. A lot of manufacturers have tried to replicate the cult-like following of the Bullet, but they have been unable to achieve the aura of this bike. The kind of popularity this bike enjoys is any marketers dream. A product which sells by itself. The only other manufacturers which have a similar following are Harley Davidson and Ducati and maybe to an extent BMW for their adventure touring series.
In 1955, Royal Enfield’s Chennai factory was built, from where bikes were rolled out to be sold to the Indian junta. Later the bikes were even exported around the world and still are.
This is the de facto motorcycle for foreigners coming to India. They will rent it for their trip to Ladakh! In North India, a typically used phrase for the Bullet is ‘Shaan ki sawaari’ loosely translated into ‘a ride for the royalty’. And you understand why this is so, when you sit upright on the Bullet, with the bike thumping away, you really couldn’t care less about what was happening around you. All that matters is the machine. Like Moses, the Bullet will part the sea of traffic! There is nothing like the Bullet on the road, and therein probably lies the success of the motorcycle.
Other manufacturers will spend millions of dollars to build up their brand but will fall well short of the Bullet. And that is why it is the king of Indian roads! The cult status of the ‘Bullet’ in India ensures that it has to be in the list of #100Motorcycles.
93Indian Chief Vintage
The Indian brand has a lot of history behind it. Ever since 1953 when the main factory was closed down, it was struggling to keep its head out of the water. But the brand is so strong (and evidently loved) that it seems to have been finally successfully revived once Polaris bought it over. Polaris’ experience with Victory Motorcycles was a big advantage in reviving this piece of history.
The first impression you will get on the Indian Vintage is that it is beautiful, in the truest sense of the word. It seemed to have been chromed in every bit possible and it does look stunning under a clear sky, as it seems to change its colour to blue with that plethora of ultra-reflective surfaces. The fit and finish are excellent with detailing like the embossed Indian logo on the mirrors and the Indian bevelled script logo on the tank giving it a lot of character to discover as your eyes flow around the bike. The Indian’s head on the front fender glows along with the parking light and makes for an attractive brand statement.
The next deal sweetener is the ignition switch. The system sports a fob that eliminates the need to use a key to fire up the bike. It just needs to be in your pocket when you are on the bike. However, you still need an actual key-in-and-twist action to lock the handlebars. This paradox of old styling with high tech gadgetry doesn’t stop there. You have RbW (Ride by Wire) throttle, an option of chrome plated Bluetooth speakers (!) and ABS thrown in. You also have cruise control. All this combined with simple and no-frill things like click-lock windscreen that is easily detachable.
And that is the moment you take a couple of steps back and have a look at the bike again in its entirety. Then you realize that there is a lot more to the bike than just an attempt to revive a great brand. It is actually a motorcycle that you would love to have in your garage and take it out on special occasions, or maybe even daily once you get addicted to the turning heads and the curious questions on red lights and cafes. “Is it a production motorcycle?”, “That looks beautiful, is it available for sale in showrooms?” et al.
The heart of this piece of art is the 1811cc ‘Thunderstroke’ engine pumping out 139 Nm of torque to push the 388 kg chrome on its way. Talking of thunder, the pull or the exhaust note will not blow you away. The pull is there, but it is flat throughout, unlike the Harleys that give you that initial elbows-out-of-your-socket pull. The overall package comes across as quite gentlemanly. Don’t expect people to notice you making an entry until they see you, that is. The bike is a visual delight but would have had a lot more character if it would have had that bleeding thump. But as a package, this finds many takers, and you always have aftermarket add-ons for the flashes and the noise.
Push the swanky starter button and the bike rumbles to life. The gear shifts have a reassuring thud to them, leave the clutch and the full 450-kilo bike (with the rider weight) propels forward, but again not with the suddenness that you might like, due to the rather flat torque delivery curve.
The Vintage rode very well in heavy traffic as well as on the curves, thanks to a more generous lean angle than many bigger Harleys.
This bike will make a statement at a biker’s meet or a high profile party or just being totally different on the road.
We all love things which are not possible! Teleportation, invisibility, time travel! We then use our imagination to give birth to characters who can live larger than life and inspire us and others. Since childhood, like millions of others on this planet, we have been inspired by such characters. Batman, Superman and more recently the Transformers.
They are an amazing creation out of a creation by mankind – automobiles. Imagine our surprise when we saw another motorcycle modeled after a comic character, this time the Bumblebee and Megatron from the Transformers. During our search for #100Motorcycles we bumped into these two Hayabusas in Bangalore, and also got a chance to ride them (thanks to the owners Hemanth Muddappa & Hardik Gowda). It is always a pleasure to meet people with similar eccentric tastes!
The two Hayabusas were a contrast of colours and the characters they were modelled after – the good (Bumblebee) and the bad (Megatron). And you cannot think of a better motorcycle than the Hayabusa to get this fantastic treatment. A legendary bike, which comes to life with the Transformer theme!
These two machines had stupendous road presence with their 330 rear and the Brocks Alien ear splitting exhaust. You cannot miss this on the road, especially in India! We loved the rear seat cowl detailing which had the glowing etched motifs of the two transformers. The Megatron won the battle for the day, not because it is ‘evil’, but because of the colour and the chrome alloys. It just looked mean!
One would expect that it would be a nightmare riding these bikes, especially through corners. But actually once you got used to them within a few miles, you forget the 330mm rear. We rode in the chaotic Bangalore traffic without any hassles. Except the attention was unbelievable. Think a Hayabusa, and then think a Hayabusa like this!
After a day of riding the Megatron and Bumblebee it was stunning to get back onto a regular Hayabusa. It felt super light and the rear tyre looked like that of a cycle! No kidding! These two motorcycles, inspire you to do something crazy with your own motorcycle as well…
91TVS Apache RTR 180 FX Rally
In our journey to find #100Motorcycles in India, we stopped over at the TVS plant, where we were lucky to experience 3 of their racing bikes. The street racing, supercross with Aravind KP and now the third, the TVS Apache RTR 180 FX Rally bike!
This bike was ridden by ace rider Nataraj for us to capture him on camera as he flew around the course. Just watching him ride would give you Goosebumps and we can only imagine what it must be like to ride at his level. Anand from the TVS R&D gave us the lowdown and some interesting insights about the machine.
The TVS RTR 180 FX Rally Bike is used to participate in the Group B Rallies. Nataraj has won 2010, 2011 and 2012 Desert Storm on this bike before he moved on to higher capacity motorcycles.
Nothing on this bike that you see will remind you of the street going RTR. It is drastically different, with only the name being constant! It has the same forks, shock, brakes, as used on the supercross bike, though in a different state of tune. The differences between the supercross and rally bikes are down to the details.
A lot of testing goes on inside the facilities of the TVS R&D centre. Where a bike is built which the engineers think will be good for the intended usage before it is handed over to the rider where it is fine-tuned. It’s the same forks used in supercross as well but with 136mm travel to handle the terrain. The spring rates are different, though, the damping rates are different as well. The rally bike has about 20mm more travel than a production Apache 180.
With motorcycles like the Hero Impulse, Kawasaki KLX in the Indian market, why doesn’t TVS bring out something similar as well we asked? Especially considering that they already have such a motorcycle in their workshop!
Anand told us that the changes that are made to the bike make the motorcycle very sensitive, and as such this machine needs the skill of a rider like Nataraj, to be able to extract the performance out of it. A regular rider would probably be slower than on a stock machine!
From an engineering standpoint, TVS already has such machines lined up. But to bringing it to the showrooms is a marketing and business decision. When the market demands, TVS will definitely bring it out they said!
This tuned engine produces around 24-25bhp as compared to the standard 17bhp of the stock Apache. That would be quite a stressed engine. A race tuned engine will have a life of around 20-40 hours, depending on the various internal parts. That doesn’t mean that the parts are scrapped after that, but you need to service, inspect and then assemble the engines again. And of course, for doing this job you need expert mechanics like the ones that are in the TVS Factory. A street bike, on the other hand, is built to last many years/ kilometers with minimal maintenance.
We sincerely hope that TVS will bring a road legal motorcycle which is dirt inclined soon to the Indian market. It would be crazy fun!