Ever since the Karizma was launched, Indian biking standards entered the performance arena. Earlier when the RD 350 went on sale, there were only a handful of customers were identified as performance enthusiasts by Yamaha, Bikes were sold only in terms of their Mileage and Maintenance cost. But now the current scenario has entirely changed. Now a days bikes are identified with exact BHP and Torque output that came be made out of it. So I decided to have a check on the top three performers among Indian Bikes.I have to accept that currently in India we have wide range of bikes in every segment. Shortlisting three bikes among the wide range was a bit difficult task.
After consulting various showrooms, Bikers and test rides, finally I figured out the truth that performance is not only about the Engine Capacity or power output that a bike can make, its a overall package consisting a balance between Power and Handling.Now coming to our list of top three contestants, I had hard feelings to have the Karizma dropped from the list as both the variants ZMA R and ZMR fall a tad lesser in terms of performance to the Bajaj Pulsar 220 Dtsi, TVS Apache 180 and Yamaha R15. Hero Honda has a different league and point of view than Bajaj and TVS as they are not into any competition, while others keep re-boring their engines to top the performance chart. So finally I ended up shortlisting the Pulsar 220 Dtsi, Apache 180 and Yamaha R15 as the top three performance bikes currently available in Indian Market and let see who wins by the end of this review.
A Brief Introduction:
The Yamaha YZF R15 which was launched on July 2008, has taken Indian performance biking to the next level. As R15 is the direct descendant of the mighty R1 not only carries the looks, but also the R series biking spirit in terms of handling and performance. R15 is the most least Powered, small capacity engine and highly priced. Its hard to believe that only with 17ps of power on a 150cc engine, R15 can easily challenge the big guys running with 220cc engines. TVS with its new upgrade launch over the RTR FI, has removed the FI badge.
But refined the engine to 180cc that can do a 17.3ps. Judging the looks many still think there isnt much difference between the 160 and 180cc RTRs. But trust me you have to have a ride in the RTR 180 to have you mind blown. Since Pulsar 220 DTS-FI just made a drizzle in sales chart and been outperformed by a tiny 150cc engine, Bajaj upgraded the Pulsar 220 with a massive 21ps of Power in a carburetted 220cc engine, Pulsar 220 hits all other performance bikes directly in terms of Power to Money ratio.
These days many youngsters have started to give much importance to looks and styling right from selecting a Girl Friend to a Bike. Enough spoken about R15’s looks, undoubtedly still there is no bike in India within the common price range to match the R15. Since the R15 is better known as the 150cc version of R1, it directly carries the cuts and curves from the R series. The gorgeous front fairing along with R series dual head lamps and split clip-ons can drag any Eyes to stare upon. On contrast as we all know the rear looks a bit annoying with skinny tyres, but I hope almost everyone got used to the narrow looking rear. I have to admit that its a feast to our see the amazing dual head lamps lit in high beam during night. Though R15‘s rear looks similar to any other normal bike.
Also the R15 carries the same digital speedo from its sibling R125, the fact is R15‘s speedo offers better contrast than any other bike in Market. R15 is currently offered in Yellow, Red, Blue and Black. Also a limited white edition is circling among various showrooms.Moreover in terms of dimensions, Pulsar 220 looks like a father in front of the kid R15. But this scenario changes once you sit on the bike as Pulsar 220 feels the same like a 150cc Pulsar with some extra plastics attached and not the completed race bike feel like the R15.With all black styling, the all new Pulsar 220 Dtsi looks more attractive with added magnetism. The beautifully sculpted front semi fairing looks pretty much more for the Price tag, but looks plasticy too. But I would say the ZMA R’s Semi fairing shows much more maturity in designing. The eye catching feature is the front projector lamps which not only helps the rider in dark, but also exhibit killer looks which is the only one of its kind.
Pulsar 220 Dtsi is the only bike in India to have a projector based head lamp apart from the Yamaha R1. Bajaj has tried to meddle with the Side view mirrors this time, but have ended up on the wrong side, anyways it looks “okay” on the fairing though. When looked beneath the Fairing, its all the same like a 180cc Pulsar. Same chassis, clipons, Split seats and Rear led. Its almost impossible to figure out a Pulsar 220 from rear. Even the Digital speedo and gas shocked suspension is exactly the same like its siblings. So you its very easy to understand the marketing strategy behind Pulsar 220. My favorite feature on Pulsar220 is the exhaust, Technically the exhaust is the same as a Pulsar 180’s but neatly buried in a beautiful Silver moulding which certainly grabs everyone’s attention instantly. Its evident that TVS hasn’t spend much on time on designing the new Apache 180.
The design elements are pretty much same like the Apache 160cc. With additional Pearl White color and golden forks the RTR can be distinguished among its siblings easily. Tank scoops carry the RTR logo on them and the all black theme is well blended. No more modification with the RTR 180’s rear, the removable rear mudguard is really appreciated as it can be removed to look aggressive and attached during rainy rides. Rear LEDs are the same from its siblings and has a good reputation for its quality over the Pulsar’s rear LEDs.. The speedo is Blue lit and posses a 0-60 timer as well as a top speed indicator. But one outstanding element in Apache’s design is that the seating posture, which fits a rider more perfectly than any other. That is, the Rider and bike look like “made for each-other”.
In simple words to join the crowd you can buy a Pulsar or Apache, but to stand out the crowd you should have something like the R15
- Pulsar 220: 3.5/5
- Apache 180: 4/5
- R15: 5/5
The most juiciest part of this review may be this segment as this is the real purpose for which all three are made for. When reviewing the papers, there is no match for the Pulsar 220 with an amazing 220cc engine, running on a 32″ carb, produces 21bhp of power and a stunning 19.44nm torque. Adding to this Bajaj claims that a Pulsar 220 can hit 0-100kph in 11secs and a top whack of 144kph. which is currently the Fastest Indian (Bike). Next comes the Apache 180, with a slightly bigger 180cc engine, capable of producing 17.3ps and a decent 15.5nm torque, always has an edge over the Pulsar in terms of handling. But TVS also claim that the Apache is capable of hitting 0-100kph in 12.5secs and a top whack of 125kph. Some may feel 125kph may be a turn down, which makes absolutely no sense within a city.
In contrast to Bajaj and TVS, one factor that I love about Yamaha is their marketing approach. Yamaha has never claimed any 0-100 sprint record or top whack for R15 or FZ. Even after launching the performance accessories, they specifications just say the power is increased by 30% and top speed is over 150kph thats it, Plain and Simple. Some may feel with puny 150cc generating a 17ps power with 15nm torque may not be worth comparing with the Pulsar220. But let me make you understand the actual scenario with my experience over these bikes.
Yamaha R15: First of all, Bikes never exactly perform the same mention as mentioned in papers. For example Pulsar 135 LS is advertised with 13.5ps power and a 0-60 sprint in 5.2secs, but in real world Bajaj made this calculation based on an output with a rider weighing 58kgs. So in order to gain the exact performance mentioned on papers, our dynamics should also match with the bike. Here coming to our contestants, The only bike that can rev quickly upto 10,500rpm would be the R15. Remember the ECU cuts off fuel supply to engine after 10.5K rpm. R15 with a hardworking 150cc engine, made of die-casted aluminum which is imported from Thailand, performs to the extreme, but fails to make a typical rider understand how exactly to ride the bike to gain optimum performance. Since most of us are used to Pulsars and Apaches, we are used to a 3000 to 7000rpm power band, where most of our Indian bikes struggle or rather feels stressed to reach 7000rpm in the first place. But the actual fun in R15 is released over 7000rpm till the engine gets cutoff at 10,500rpm. The more you accelerate the smoother the engine is, as a result R15 makes you power hungry and urges to accelerate more and more. Trust me you can never get a vibration free ride in any Indian bike over 100kmph, except this one.
Pulsar 220: Once I release the clutch in Pulsar 220 , eagerness to move forward was much higher than the R15 and Apache 180, it deliberately pulls you forward which will surely make you understand what exactly means “21bhp”. But regarding RPM level Pulsar’s engine is pretty much happy to operate under 7000rpm and feels totally stressed over that mark. Power band is pretty much narrow towards the Low and Mid range. The next amazing thing about the Pulsar 220 is that you just need to twist the accelerator 55 degrees to achieve the maximum throttle, which is about 85 degrees in R15 and Apache. But I have to admit two things the engine is not as smooth as the other two at higher RPMs and vibrations around the petrol tank and fairing, jointly reduces confidence for a normal rider over triple digits on the speedo. Since the entire bike weighs about 150kg twisting the bike at high-speeds is also a concern. Nothing much to say Bajaj has done a great job this time with the Pulsar 220, If you need a relaxed seating posture and no compromise in Power then here is your Holy Grail.
Apache RTR 180: As the name describes it really oozes out Racing Throttle Response, on demand. Apache 180 is pretty much eager to move forward, while you may feel someone pushing from behind, once the clutch is released. Similar to R15 the Apache feels completely under powered when a Pillion is on board, this may be due to the huge power to weight ratio and lesser capacity engine. Also the absence of semi or full fairing ticks a negative point towards the Apache, as a normal rider may loose confidence over high speeds. But within city the Apache 180 is a gift for performance freaks. Though Apache 180 looks like a normal bike, the ride quality cannot be compared to any other bike within 200cc (Xcluding R15). Like the other two you hardly notice when you hit 100kph and due to the same chassis design vibrations are felt so badly within 4500rpm to 7500rpm and once you pass the mark you forget everything as heavy wind blowing towards you , makes you forget all vibrations. Being clear about Apache !80‘s performance, its a practically undefeated machine at its price point.
A Drag and Top Speed Test:
We fixed the deserted Shamshabad airport road to be ideal for testing as the road itself is built in International standards. But unfortunately, our friend with the Pulsar 220 did not turn up in time to have this Drag and Top speed test within Sunset, hence I wasn’t able to click Pictures. I was safe sitting in a RD350, with a camera. But sorry guys the video quality came out so pathetic that I dont want to publish.
Once the Whistle was blown to take off, it was really amazing to see the Pulsar 220 with a small wheelie moving forward with much potential than the other two, Just about half a meter distance followed the R15 and Apache was about inches lesser than the R15. But once all three crossed about 85Kph the R15 with a big smile kicked both the bikes till 123kph with a good two meter gap. But lately the Pulsar took over and a top whack of 151kph was seen in Pulsar, where the R15 just struggled at around 142kph. Since I was in a RD 350, we all three did not pay much attention to the Apache 180, which was in the league untill 110kph and went about 20-30 meters behind with a top whack of 126kph.
We tried the same thrice and found Pulsar 220 to be the best in Drag and top whack too. Next came the R15 which also topped the drag from 80kph, but lost at the end. Apache even though kept at the maximum throttle, gave a good engine note, but failed to catch the other two. One thing which we noticed when all three were running at the same speed, was the speedo read exactly 65kph in R15 and Apache, where it was 68kph in Pulsar 220. This made us suspect Pulsar speedo to be over enthusiastic. According to our calculations all three hit the 0-100 sprint in less than 10secs, Where the time difference was in micosecs.
An interesting point to be noted in the above test is that, Both Pulsar 220 and Apache 180 were is stock condition not even a Month old, but the R15 was 2 year old. Later the next day I got an opportunity to ride an R15 factory modified with ECU, High lift Camshaft and Racing exacust. Nothing can catch this baby except the Ninja, it easily hits a top wack of 150kph with plenty of energy left in it. Yamaha salesmen quoted a top speed of 167kph at 12,000rpm in 6th gear, which is not possible with any other bike in this segment. Also Yamaha recommends you not to exceed 11,000rpm as you may end blowing-up the engine. Along with the upgraded discs the entire ride was like a gift to me. But you got to add 30,000/- to an R15 to gain this performance.
- Pulsar 220: 5/5
- Apache 180: 4/5
- R15: 4.5/5
Comfort and Handling:
Once we headed up to city traffic, The entire scenario changed, The Pulsar 220 felt so heavy and the Rider was almost feeling so hard to take sharp curves. In contrast Apache felt like heaven in zipping the traffic. All three have tubeless tyres, where Pulsar and R15 have better road grip as they are MRF’s soft compound.
Apache still feels unsafe over high speed cornering due to its TVS Tyres. Within city it was the Apache to kick both R15 and Pulsar in terms of ease handling. But once the Traffic can give way upto 60kph, both have to give way for R15 as the rider has the confidence to do 90kph within the same traffic. R15 feels like the front tyre is firmly attached to the ground and nil vibrations makes one feel that its okay to accelerate more and more.
Since the R15 being the lightest of all three, it has a edge over in the Handling department. Its provides you maximum confidence over high speed cornering. Also an important point to add is that when cornering on Pulsar 220 or Apache 180, I noticed most of the riders bend towards Left when taking a Right corner due to lack of confidence, but most of the R15 rider bend towards the same direction on which the corner lies. This purely depends on the Bike’s overall balance. R15 is much more accurately designed with the Delta box chassis which certainly makes you understand about Yamaha’s heritage.Regarding brakes all three are equipped with front and rear discs and Apache which has a Roto petal disc grabs motion much easily than others.
A distinct feature about the R15‘s discs is that, even without an ABS in place the brakes never lockup at all. Regarding Pulsar 220 , it carries the same brakes from its sibling and is efficient enough to stop the 21 horses. Some serious improvement is required regarding the rear discs in Apache and Pulsar. They feel less reliable than traditional drum brakes and also disc pads wear out in the rear most commonly.
Needless to say R15 provides much accurate biking it a good balance between the front and rear discs. Moreover in terms gear shifting, Apache 180 seriously needs some quality R&D as its still difficult to operate the gear box normally. Pulsar 220 with an improved gear box is certainly perfect, but not as perfect as the internationally engineered R15’s gearbox. Its proven that two supensions cannot work at the same frequency providing a complete balance over the wheel travel. Hence R15 has an advantage of mono suspenstion, which is a gift for track racers and also handle potholes much efficiently than Apache and Pulsar.
If you are a frequent tourer and confused between these three, then ideally this content should help you. Generally touring on a bike is purely for enjoying the ride unlike other mode of transport. In our comparison its the Pulsar 220 to bag the First prize because of its relaxed seating posture and semi fairing, gives enough comfort for long distant drives. Pulsar 220 is capable of cruising at 120kph with ease. On contrast the R15 can provide you a much more smoother ride in triple digits, but the seating posture is a completely inconvenient for longer drives, a normal rider has to take a break every 2 hrs in order to relax from backache. Coming to the Apache, the Seating posture is still inconvenient as shoulders are not relaxed and vibrations, which is a nightmare in longer drives. This makes the R15 and Apache to be disqualified for touring purpose .
- Pulsar 220: 4/5
- Apache 180: 5/5
- R15: 4.5/5
- Pulsar: 5/5
- Apache 180: 3/5
- R15: 3.5/5
Quality and Durability:
Since all the contestants deal with the performance, All three engines are constantly operated in higher RPMs which surely reduces the Engine life. But I have tried to give a clear picture of how these bike may look over 2 years of optimum usage.The main reason for having a huge queue out of Honda showroom with wait periods over 2 months is just for the kind of quality that Honda products offer.
Still many may argue that am using my Pulsar for more than 5 years and its still running. I agree to the point may be your Pulsar or Apache is running, But How? For instance the Apache 180 feels much stressed over 5000rpm, It feels as though you are punishing the engine, which literally annoys the rider, if you plan to take a smooth ride over the Highway, trust me you will surely end-up reaching home much tired than having a ride in Pulsar 220 or R15.
Personally I was totally upset as an Apache 150 customer, After vibrating constantly for 3 years, now it makes the funny sounds all around, TVS service personnel say it common for a three year old bike. The ugliest truth is that the Syncro Stiff Chassis (as advertised) which was used in Apache 150, has proven itself to be incapable of handling a 150cc engine is still carried over to the Apache 180 too. Even the engine housing is also the same for all Apaches except the Bore and Piston size. So if Apache is your choice for a enjoying the next 5 years with smooth riding then I may advice you to step back anytime.
Since the Fastest Indian has a relaxed 220cc engine, it has an edge over the R15 and Apache in terms of engine stress, But when I compared R15 with both Bajaj and TVS’s salesmen all they told was our bike will perform equal or better than R15 at a lower price Point. But regarding quality, durability and vibration free ride, their answer was its a Yamaha Product Sir, and moreover “What you pay is what you get”. Bajaj pro-biking showroom executive directly admits that Pulsar’s engine usually gets rattled over a period of two years. But he also informed me that the new Pulsar is much more refined than its elders. But its hard to believe that Bajaj has improved its quality by reducing its Price bracket.
Regarding R15‘s quality, its the world famous tunning fork logo that is going to make the statement. All the above speed test was done with a Two year old R15, about 30,000kms done. But the other two were in stock condition. I am pretty much sure that if a similar aged Pulsar or Apache can never be compared with R15. Also another point I noticed was Bajaj and TVS recommends, some cheap grade engine oil which would cost you about 200rs, which itself is a downside for performance and engine durability, Where Yamaha recommends Yamalube semi synthetic engine oil which would cost you about 400rs. Moreover one thing common between Pulsar and Apache owners is that they often complaint about engine vibrations, exhaust note being harsh and gear box rattling at the service center. Where as R15 owners almost say nothing at service points. In short the R15 looks and sound the same even after two years of optimum usage. Trust me the engine sounds exact the same like a new R15 waiting for delivery.
- Pulsar 220: 4/5
- Apache 180: 3.5/5
- R15: 5/5
Value for Money and Mileage:
All three offer Digital Speedo, front and rear discs and Full DC electric system, Additionally Pulsar and Apache have Back lid Leds, in which Pulsar’s fail very often.To own your Pulsar 220 on road, it may cost you about 85,247/- with Bajaj finance you can pay 38,147/- as initial down payment and the rest 3,236/- in 18 months at 10.99% interest rate, At this price point Pulsar 220 is really unbeatable with a higher power and displacement engine and gadgets like projector lens lamp, Self canceling indicators and back lit switches (Which I personally dont like, during night the more darker the more fun.
More over one needn’t look at the switches every time he operates it.) Also another point to be noted is that the Pulsar 220 carries only three free services after which you got to pay for other services. Apache 180, which is pretty much the same like its 160 sibling, offers a little more powerful engine and rear discs at a competitive 80,487/- and you can avail TVS finance at just 8.99% per annum, that is for a 40,000/- down payment, you have to spare 2,817 for 18 months. If you compare Apache 180 with Fazer or Pulsar 180, I would anytime say its the Apache which is miles ahead of both. But in this comparison, its clear that the Pulsar 220 seems to be providing much more value for money than Apache. Moreover the Pulsar220s without the semi fairing is yours for 81,747/- only. Yamaha R15 retailing at about 1,11,492/- is still a dream for many.
But Yamaha has provided enough justification for the price, unlike the Pulsar’s oil cooling system, R15 liquild cooling system really works hard to keep the engine oil viscosity under control. Like the other two, if in case you are ready to continue paying your Emi’s for about 6-8 months you can cover the extra 30,000/- to own a R15, which would become your status symbol.
Speaking about mileage is quit illegal in this comparison, but still its a deciding factor amongst us when comparing all three. Since R15 runs on FI, the fuel supply is much more controlled than the other two. So you will never experience a sudden drop in mileage. If you hold the throttle about 8000rpm in both Apache and R15 every time then you may expect both to run about 35kms each. But if you operate an R15 under 5,000rpm you are sure to run 50kmpl. Similarly Apache 180 may run upto 45-48kmpl when kept under 5,000rpm. Pulsar 220’s power hungriness reflects in fuel consumption too, Pulsar when operated over 8,000rpm runs about 30kmpl and 35-40 when kept under 5,000rpm. With this about information you can calculate your riding style and conditions (city or highway). Regarding spares TVS seems to cost a bit more than Bajaj and Yamaha as a Brake pad would cost you about 1300/- which is just 1000/- for Pulsar 220 and R15. One important point to notice is that Yamaha’s spares are much cheaper than others, the complete front fairing plastics would cost you only about 2500/-.
- Pulsar: 4.5/5
- Apache 180: 3.5/5
- R15: 4.5/5
After sales servicing is also a long term deciding factor when purchasing a Bike. According to the sales chart, Yamaha R15 sells almost five times more than Apache 180 and about three times more than Pulsar 220. Which makes Yamaha R15 the best seller in India among these three. Its the same old story the more market demands the less response you get. R15 is allowed for a test ride only in selected showrooms, moreover the wait time for a Yellow color R15 is about 2 months which may be an irritating factor, where Bajaj and TVS are ready with their products in hours. Moreover in India customer service from Yamaha doesn’t reflect its international reputation. TVS has changed its approach towards customer service, these days. Every customer is treated with much importance and this makes us gain more confidence towards their products. Every compliant is taken into account and a callback is make within 24 hrs to ensure the customer is all right.
Bajaj with its world class Pro-biking showroom and a Ninja in display creates a WOW feeling the moment you enter the showroom. Owing to the sales depression on Pulsar 220 and Avenger, Bajaj is ready to provide a test ride even without a pillion within a controlled environment. Everything is plain and simple with Yamaha, we offer you service and Yamaha branded spares and you pay the money thats it, there is no mutual understanding which makes them stick to their rules and regulations. Bajaj due the limited number of pro-biking showrooms makes many to drop the Pulsar 220 due to after sales servicing issues. Anyways personal satisfaction towards customer experience is guaranteed with TVS.
- Pulsar: 4.5/5
- Apache 180: 5/5
- Yamaha: 4/5
Since you are tired reading the entire review, Let me make this plain and simple. Pulsar 220 being the fastest Indian may score a edge over others in terms of performance. But heavily lacks durability and ease of handling. So our winner in this segment would be the Yamaha R15, in order to understand this you have to attack a corner at about 110kph in an R15 to understand where exactly all your extra money went. There is no comparison to the quality of ride that an R15 can offer you. Every corner and every twist would be a happy event to be attacked by the R15 unlike the other two.
Coming to our runner the Pulsar 220, I have to admit that Bajaj has done a great job in uplifting Indian biking status. But still a long way to go in order to gain international standards. Also Bajaj should understand the fact that restricting themselves to a lower price tag will never help in gaining reputation.
Coming to Apache 180, which is surely not a loser. But not upto the mark like the other two. TVS has to do something to reduce the Vibration which is carried out like a genital disease throughout the family. Excluding which Apache 180 still needs a better chassis and at least an aero-dynamic semi fairing in order to top the others.