Choosing a Replacement for My Caliber: Which one? Or do I wait?

Ever since my bike turned 9, I have been wondering – which one do I buy now? Initially I used to think – which is the best bike? But now, the scene has changed. With all the options available to the Indian biker today, that question now is: Which is the best bike for me? Today the options are so many that the Indian biker has to now identify the bike that is most compatible to his or her likes/needs. In a way it’s good. The competition makes manufacturers not only come up with newer models to keep them afloat in the market, but also target aggressive pricing to appeal and attract the Indian bikers. The broader the field, the less worries for the biker to think about familiarity and commonness. After all my hunting, I am sad to say, I am yet to find mine. However, I think this article is just to protrude the thoughts plaguing an avid bike buyers mind these days.

Nine years back: In flashback, just days before I decided to go for my Bajaj Caliber in late 2000, I had just come across an article in Auto India or Overdrive – I can’t seem to recall which one – about Bajaj releasing a new premium bike to be called the Pulsar – which was meant to go head on with Hero Honda’s then sizzling product the CBZ. I still remember coming across the half a page, blown up picture of the CBZ in the TOI newspaper when it was launched and I had told dad – This is the bike for me!! But the Pulsar – Boy! It had all my attention. To say the least, I distinctly remember it had pretty rave previews with some claiming it to be the next level of premium Indian biking, and oh yes, leaving the CBZ far behind when it came to performance. So true, the Pulsar twins did set the ball rolling as far as Indian premium and executive segment biking go. Rajiv Bajaj intended to raise Bajaj’s ball game to a whole new level. That was Bajaj’s foray into chipping off quite a chunk of Hero Honda’s market cap. Some might find it funny and I don’t even know what made me do it but I still remember asking the Bajaj service manager, “Can I book a Pulsar?” And I can never forget his reply (not to mention the look on his face!), “Eh?” He had absolutely no clue what I was talking about. I decided to dunk it and went for the Caliber.

Present scenario: 9 years later, I have seen everything come and go. 4 upgrades of the Pulsar DTSi edition, 5 displacement segments of the Pulsar (135 through 220) and a series of contenders who have taken the ball game to such a whole new level that nothing other than a full blown, from scratch, fresh gush of blood bike from Bajaj can take the challenge to them. Getting back to the point – I had to get me a new set of wheels. As a proud Bajaj owner, my tendencies would pull me toward the Bajaj stable but the field is different now.

The contestants: Today the contenders are far too many and they go outside the Bajaj stable. With some toil, I have rounded them down to – P180 UG IV, the RTR 180, Yamaha FZ 16 and the Yamaha RZF R15. I know some of you might say, how I can forget the Karizma, the Pulsar 220, GS150R, Hunk, etc. Well I can’t speak for the crowd but I can speak for myself. The GS150R is pretty frugal for a 150 cc bike. Make no mistake – there is nothing wrong with the bike, but there isn’t anything to get my pulse racing. Personally – I am not much of a fairing guy i.e. bikes with full blown fairings – just not my type. The naked look gets me going and that’s why the first Pulsar with the round light, no shrouds, no fairing caught my eye (and now the FZ16). Now you may ask, why the R15 then? Well the answer lies there itself. The R15 is a piece of marvel. Something that just stands out today in terms of performance and ride and handling. It just wouldn’t be fair if I left out this beautiful slick machine that has the other bike manufacturers running for their drawing boards. Today when I see all the bikes in the market, I see a lot of wonderful features in each of these bikes. But with it come some cons that one needs to decide if he/she can live with or not. I have hunted websites for reviews, road tests, videos, user comments and user articles on each of these bikes, road tested each one of them over and over again and couldn’t find one that fits my needs. The FZ16 and Apache 180 come closest.

Let’s get to business then: The P180: The looks are good, but now, far too familiar for the number of Pulsars you see on the road today. The latest edition didn’t impress me much when compared to the previous iteration with most parts being imported from the shelved 200cc elder sibling. It doesn’t seem like Bajaj had to do anything other than copy and paste, at the most. The 3D decals provide a good touch but the aesthetic but non-functional plastic shrouds seemed like a waste to me. They may add to the looks but at least the Apache shrouds were designed to aid in engine cooling. The rear tyre was already wide enough and the heavier weight just compounds the power utilization. The chunkier front forks do contribute to more stability but was it really necessary? Is the increased weight justified? I thought the 27mm forks worked just fine. The overall additions not only contributed to the increased kerb, but are also compounded by the shedding of 1 NM torque drop from the previous version. Yes, the power has gone up a wee bit to 17 PS but the overall power to weight ratio is still uninspiring. The elliptical swing arm is a welcome change in better cornering and stability but shedding the 1 Nm torque and an overall increase in kerb weight doesn’t bode too well for the performance of the bike. Overall the machine is a decent buy but not packed enough to provide any killer punch of any sort to the competition. Also not to forget all Bajaj products lack the build quality to match any of the Japanese makers.

The RTR180: Talk of RTR and the first thing any user will tell you are the vibes that it sends out thru the handlebars and footrests. I tried to gauge these vibes personally through a test drive but having driven a Caliber for 9 years, I guess it’s OK. But put it on a head on battle with the P180 and the RTR will set your pulse racing to come out hands down a winner. The longer wheelbase, contributing to more stability, the flickability which makes it a dream bike in the city, petal discs which provide for fiercely sharp braking, an amazing looking console complimented with perfectly sized adjustable clip-ons and an engine that just screams performance are some of the highlights of this mean machine. All in all, this bike takes the competition to each competitor – easy. The tires are a letdown; I would advice owners to switch to MRF, probably once the tires wear out a little – which would be a wise investment, if you ask me. The vibes are still there though and some would ask – why not FI. Well the reason is simple. The FI technology has still not been completely understood by TVS to iron out the glitches faced by the FI bike owners today. Today many a Apache FI owner does complain about the sudden loss of power delivery, inconsistent throttle responses and glitchy pickup. But some have never experienced it, so, it’s too hazy for me to decide for sure. Though the service engineers have tried their best, they are at loss to explain this. Hence, I believe, that TVS decided to go with what they know best – the carbureted version. I don’t know how FI could help the 180 do any better (even in terms of fuel efficiency).

The FZ16: Most reviews have claimed this to be a stunner that catches every eye’s attention. And why not! It’s a new bike. When the Pulsar came out that was exactly the same opinion of most reviewers. But I have to agree with the looks. This is a stunning bike. Yamaha has finally climbed up a couple of notches from the RX100’s and Liberos to bring out machines that they design and engineer best – pure performers. The FZ16 is an amazing machine to drive. The torque distributed evenly across the rev range is something enviable. 14 PS and 14 (OK… 13.6) NM torque go very well hand in hand. Plus I love the naked street bike look and a handlebar that is just simply awesome. The rear monocross suspension, the tyres that makes you feel planted no matter what the speed, the muscular yet sexy fuel tank, a console that houses most required information in a digital cum analog display and performance that just oozes class are just some things that you can expect. But (yes, there is a but) it has its drawbacks too. From a performance perspective, go past 80 kmph and you suddenly feel that the engine that was working for you so far, decided to go for a nap. From there on the throttle response just falls flat relative to how it responded until then. The rear drum brakes can be better I felt, if it needs to stop that fat rear tire. On the looks side, I hate seeing the number plate above my headlight. Auggh! And that rear seat, geez. What was Yamaha thinking? Plus I definitely need a crash guard on my bike. No matter how clean my accident history may be.

The R15: A 150 cc fuel injected engine that delivers 17 PS and a scintillating 15 NM torque through a SOHC engine which is oil cooled, a delta box frame chassis coupled with a linked mono cross rear suspension, front and rear disc brakes that do their job to a T and looks that might give you an impression that you are on an R1. Do I need to say more? All that kind of hinted to me; do I really need anything more? Well, let me get to the part that irks me about this machine. The bike has twin headlamps – I love it, make no mistake about it – but only one of them comes on in normal mode (non beam). Ahemm. No thanks. The rear tyre is a complete no-no from a proportion perspective even if Yamaha says that it was chosen considering the design of this bike. No crash guard again means my complete fairing is subject to damage each time she has a fall. Not to forget the sky high price tag that Yamaha has slapped on this bike. Plus Yamaha service engineers are still being brought up to speed on how to service these mean monsters! All in all, I think I will still wait.

In conclusion: Again, between the above four, the FZ16 and Apache 180 come closest Personally – between the FZ16 and the Apache, the RTR180 is what comes closest to my needs. Clean performance across the rev range, great looks, I believe I can live with the vibes on the bike and I am not too much of a FI fan – yet. But some features such as a linked mono cross suspension, oil cooling and a smooth fuel injection would have been probably perfect. 🙂 Probably something that would have given the R15 a serious run for its money.

Arvind Baliga