Tanmay has submitted this review in our Ownership Review Contest No 13, ensuring himself an assured prize. The contest also offers a chance to win Riding Jacket, Helmet and more…Here are all the details.
I woke up on the road bathed in the silver moonlight, and glanced at my watch – it was 2 am. I looked over at her, standing beside me, expectantly peering down at my prone figure. I stood up, bracing myself against the biting cold. The road was glistening with the rippling moonlight, and she was staring down the road, hungry for more. I swung a leg across her, and got on top.
No, that’s not a prologue to some soft porn, that’s just an astounding experience I had with my bike (that’s the ‘she’, by the way) on a fine full-moon night in December!
Hey guys, I am Tanmay Tikekar, a 21-year-old creative writer, biking geek, and passionate road tripper. This is the story of my 12000-kilometer long journey with the Yamaha Fazer.
First things first, my story begins rather less auspiciously than most enthusiastic bikers. I had no interest in bikes in my school days. I didn’t learn to ride bikes until I started attending college and actually became legally able to ride bikes. I started off with the evergreen Dio, that old charmer, and was quite happy with the zippy moped. I used the Dio till I was 20 years old. I never lusted after the latest model (biking model, I should clarify!), and never asked my parents to buy me a bike.
The thing that changed my mind about bikes was a 900-km ride from Pune to Ratnagiri to Kolhapur and back.
When a friend came up with the idea, I had no biking experience, no bike, and in fact no license for riding geared bikes! I had learned how to ride a bike by then, but I wasn’t too keen on the trip. But my friends convinced me to join them, and looking back, that is one of the very best decisions I have ever made!
I got my permanent license just a few weeks before we left for the trip. As for the bike itself, a friend lent me his unused Honda Unicorn (which, by the way, still remains one of the very best 150 cc bikes in India!). This trip was one of the best moments of my life. It did contain my first accident – a result of over-correcting on a sloping bend in Varandha Ghaat – but it turned me into a biker, and made me fall in love with being on the road. When we got back home, I was a changed man and knew I had to get a bike in my life somehow!
A few months after that, I got my first job, and the hunt for my first bike officially began. I was never a fan of getting someone to buy something for me, so I was waiting for the chance to be able to pay off whoever paid for the bike. When I got my job, my very generous grandfather agreed to pay for the bike up front, with me paying him back in monthly instalments.
I had started my bike hunt and research right after the Ratnagiri trip, and had zeroed in on 5 bikes:
Honda Unicorn (obviously, having ignited the biking passion in me), Apache 180, Pulsar 180, Hunk, and CBZ Xtreme.
Of these, the first one to go was the Apache. I am almost 6 feet tall and am on the ‘larger side’, and as we all know, it’s not really suitable for riders of that description. I am still a fan of that machine, but just not meant to be! The next to go was the CBZ. I know that many bikers prefer its styling over the Hunk’s, but to my eyes, those attached turning lamps look like horrid ear infections!
With all the rest being equal, the Hunk’s styling was quite a bit more equal than the CBZ. The Unicorn was in the back of my mind right until I ultimately bought my bike, but its bland styling rather let it down, especially compared to the muscular Hunk and the incredibly sleek P180. The Pulsar is quite good, and I do really like its styling concepts, but Bajaj has – maybe unfairly – acquired a bad reputation for its poor build quality and high maintenance costs. That ruled out the P180, though I am looking forward to the Pulsar 400SS at present.
The Hunk had won fair and square, and I had even told my grandfather and parents that I would buy it. But then, there came a twist!
She Came, I Saw, She Conquered!
I had considered and ruled out both FZ16 and Fazer very early on without really giving them a thought, because they were quite expensive, and were notoriously low on mileage. I also had the typical Indian mindset of “Less is Good”! Sure, the Yamahas would perform better, had much fatter tires, had the Yamaha pedigree, but lusting after all that is sacrilegious to an Indian mind!
All that changed when I rode the Fazer for the first time. God, I loved those tires! I loved the engine note! I loved the perfectly optimized stance!
My repressed feelings about its stunning looks came rushing back, confusing my brain with the rush of endorphins and adrenaline! Sure, it cost a bit (ahem, a bit, ahem) more, it would never ever exceed 40kmpl, and my pillion on long rides would need serious re-constructive surgery on the backside, but who cared? I certainly didn’t!
Every tenet of logic screamed I should buy the sensible Hunk, but once you fall in love with a Yamaha, style always triumphs over substance, and the devil on one shoulder always shoves the angel off the other one!
DELIVERY (of the Bike ;))
Without wasting any time, I paid the advance and booked the bike at Monarch Automobiles. Fortunately, I didn’t have to wait a ridiculous amount of time to get my hands on it; Monarch very amiably completed all the formalities (insurance, RTO, etc.) within a week, and delivered it on 26 July 2012 – just two weeks before my birthday!
I could barely sit through work on the day of the delivery, and rushed out at the stroke of 6 o’clock. The people at Monarch handed over the key, and elaborately explained the basic operations and servicing intervals. Though I was impatient at that time, in hindsight I really appreciate them dedicating some time to explaining stuff about my bike and making sure I knew about the necessary formalities, service schedules, etc. I had been using the Honda division of Monarch in my Dio days, and the excellent experience has continued with the Fazer.
Then came the very first ride of my own first bike! After the customary ‘pooja’ at my grandparents’ place, I filled up the tank, and rode home. The excruciating run-in period passed satisfactorily. I only very rarely crossed 4500 rpm, and N-E-V-E-R before 500 km; the maximum speed I achieved in the run-in in the fifth gear was 62 kmph, at 4200-4300 rpm. A bit more than a month after I bought it, the all-important first servicing was done, and I was free to open the taps a bit!
Rides to Lavasa and Mahabaleshwar (120 km from Pune) became a staple thereafter. Long trips are, sadly, a bit infrequent (more on that later).
The Fazer is the perfect combination if you are a regular commuter with a taste for the occasional road trip. Its riding position has the perfect angle for daily rides to and from the office, as well as for solo road trips of more than a thousand miles (more on that later).
Fat, Grippy Tires
The famous rear tire of the Fazer is every bit as good as the hype suggests. I bought my bike in the last week of July, with the monsoon in full swing. I was a bit nervous about riding in the rain, but after some deliberate and some unintentional (and scary) testing of the brakes and the grip, I have become extremely pampered by the ridiculous amount of traction gained by those fatties!
The rear brake could and should have been a disk, but the front disk is excellent, and more than makes up for the rear drum. It is also excellent for trail braking. The only thing that messes with it is any amount of gravel, which I found out the hard way (more on that later).
Sticking with the tires, you would expect such fat tires to develop chicken strips, but so far at least, they are fine.
On the styling front, the Fazer is probably the best sub-200 cc bike available in India. I know that beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder, but if this beauty doesn’t move you, you probably need glasses!
The front cowl adds a valuable bit of sophistication to the rogue charm of the FZ. The head-on view is fantastic, and it especially comes alive when viewed in profile. It doesn’t look as sleek as a Pulsar, or as radically geeky as the Duke, but for sheer muscle and presence, it is unrivalled. The looks are what convinced me to buy it in the first place, and I haven’t had a moment of regret since!
The wind deflector is the only thing that differentiates it from the FZ (apart from slightly longer gear ratios), and even though it appears a mere cosmetic addition, it really helps a great deal on long trips. It also houses the beautiful twin lamps, and is a major part of the stunning looks of this bike.
This performance-oriented machine is also ridiculously reliable! In my 12,000 km, all I’ve had to do, apart from regular servicing, is change the clutch cable once, and that was only because the service center guys didn’t notice it was about to break at the previous servicing. No component has ever gone wrong. Let me repeat that, no component has ever malfunctioned yet, and I am touching a lot of wood at this point!
My first 3000-4000 kilometers were done in heavy monsoon rains, but in spite of that, the electrical stuff remained absolutely fine. I haven’t even had a puncture, and these are the supposedly soft tires we are talking about! The servicing costs less than 700-800 Rs., and I usually get it serviced every 2.5-3 months.
Performance and Engine Note
The engine note is a particular favourite of mine. It is relatively quiet, and in fact a bit irritating, while rumbling below 3000 revs, but the acceleration past 4-5000 rpm in the 3rd-4th-5th gears produces a sound of sheer magnificence! It doesn’t screech or shout, it growls and roars! It’s not the volume that impresses – it’s not particularly loud, per se – it’s the baritone timbre that steals the show. And speaking of sounds, the horn isn’t half bad, either! I know it isn’t a major factor, but the horn is the loudest and meanest I have ever used.
Every bike is said to have a ‘sweet spot’, and the Fazer finds that in third gear. The acceleration from 30-ish speeds to 55-60 is a sheer joy! The same gear can also drop down as low as 18-20 kmph without sputtering, and then effortlessly carries the bike to 60 kmph, which makes shifting into 4th a sheer bliss!
As for top speed, the highest I have reached is 117 kmph (probably more like 114-115 kmph, accounting for speedo error). It is most comfortable when cruising along at 75-80, but really starts to whine and vibrate once it crosses 100. The engine should have been larger on the Fazer, seeing as it is marketed as a touring machine, but within its capabilities, it is an absolute delight.
Aided by the tires, the steering and handling is fantastic. It does look and feel a bit large at first, but once you get used to it, you can easily zip through the urban traffic with minimal input. It’s at its best on mountain descents, but it’s also fantastic in day-to-day city traffic.
Francis Bacon once said, “There is no beauty that hath no strangeness“. Now, to be honest, I haven’t the faintest idea who this Bacon bloke is, and be honest, neither do you, but he does make sense!
For the exceptional rear tire, there is the horrendous rear seat. For the deft styling, there is the utterly daft price. For the perfect stance and the wind deflector, there is the horrible mileage.
Yamaha has massively improved the rear seat in the new edition (the pre-2012 models were utterly torturous), but it’s still nowhere near as comfortable as a Unicorn, Apache, or Pulsar. The front seat has become very nearly ‘good’ in the new edition, and it’s no concern as long as the road stays smooth. But the moment the road goes rogue, which happens about every 500 meters in India, your backside suffers horribly. I haven’t spent much time on the back seat, but it’s probably still not ideal.
Despite all the riding pleasure and handling bliss, you just can’t ignore the low mileage. Unlike Hero, Honda, or Bajaj, who fit slippery, hard-compound tires, Yamaha use softer, grippy tires. Softer tires interact more with the road, and provide better traction, braking, and grip in the corners, but need more fuel to overcome the larger amount of friction between the tires and the road. Harder tires, on the other hand, cause less friction with the road and thus consume less fuel, but are more slippery in corners and much more likely to slide under braking.
In none of my 18 months have I gotten a monthly average above 35kmpl; 30-32 is the norm, which for a 150cc bike is terrible, any way you look at it. Even steady highway riding fails to get it much beyond 35. I guess my bulk has something to do with this, but I seriously doubt it will do more than 40 even if Casey Stoner rides it.
Even the twitchy, racing-bred Apache 180 consistently does 40kmpl, which makes the 153cc Fazer’s mileage look absolutely ridiculous. This is a major con with this bike, but having admitted to a fondness for style over substance, I guess you gotta overlook that. And 35 isn’t reeeally the end of the world, is it? (No, it isn’t, and this isn’t denialism, no, no, no!)
Default Headlight Design
Another notable drawback is the split headlight. Unlike the R15, the Fazer’s lights can only be switched on one at a time. This can be changed for a small fee, but any fee paid for something that it should have had in the first place, is unfair! But if you get the headlights unified, it’s quite sufficient.
For a “sports tourer”, a tank of 12 liters makes no sense. Especially when you realize that the much leaner Apache carries 16 liters and the equally lean Unicorn also carries 12 liters! The tank and the cosmetic additions on it look massive, but are pretty much useless functionally. Combined with the low mileage (at times nearly 20 kmpl less than the Unicorn), this means that the Fazer can only do about 400-420 km between fillups. Not bad in the city, but could become an issue on highways.
Last but definitely not the least, the price is atrocious. I’m a bit torn over this point, since I have admitted that style does trump substance when it comes to the Fazer, but I don’t want to sound like a spoiled rich brat, either! I’m sorry Yamaha, but you can’t expect to grab top spot in Indian market shares when the P220 and P200NS, with engines that are 70cc and 50cc larger, sell for virtually the same price as your 150cc commuter!
The high starting price is sort of mitigated by the low maintenance costs, but almost 90,000 Rs. for a glorified commuter just won’t do. For its cost, the Fazer’s engine should have been at least 180cc, and how hard is it to throw in a rear disc brake, eh?
My Ratings (Not Rantings ;))
All in all,
- Riding Position: 8/10
- Seats: 6/10
- Handling: 9/10
- Suspension: 8/10
- Braking: 9/10
- Reliability: 10/10 (As I said, I only had to replace one cable once! Not a single component has
- ‘gone wrong’ in 12000 km.)
- Styling: 10/10 (I will believe till the day I die that there is no better-looking sub-200cc bike in India!)
- Mileage: 6/10
- Performance: 9/10 (I have reached a top speed of 113-115 (actual, not the speedo reading), and it’s flawless for highway cruising at 75-90 kph. The only reason it’s not 10/10 is that it should have had more power in the first place.)
This is where the Fazer really comes into its own. It’s a Sports Tourer edition of the FZ (the official name of the Fazer is actually ‘FZ16 ST’; ‘Fazer’ is just a marketing title), and though it should have had more power, it is an excellent mile-muncher.
There is no point in listing all the tours I have made with the Fazer, so I’m listing the three instances that best describe this beauty. The first one was done when the odo was at about 7500-8000 km, and the others came when the odo had crossed 10,000 km, in late-2013.
The first time I took it out of its comfort zone was when I rode it onto the Rajmachi fort near Lonavala. It was perfect on the highway cruise to Lonavala, and then bravely battled rain, slippery mud, and flowing water. I didn’t take a photo of my bike in the water, because it had started to rain and I’m damned if I use my camera in the rain, but as you can see, this sort of terrain isn’t really what the Fazer is built to be able to deal with.
You’d expect it to require some major repairs after returning from such a gruelling trip, but a shower and a bit of lube (my god, that sounds dirty!) was all it needed to get back to its joyous, eager, loyal vigour! Even the gearbox, which had been forced to constantly provide 6000-7000 revs in the first or second gear for much of the day, showed no aftereffects.
The next memorable moment came in the shape of a solo ride to Kolhapur, Panhala fort, and the Pavankhind pass. It was Diwali, and I had 10 days on hand. Obviously, no holiday should ever be wasted sleeping on one’s backside at home! The initial plan was to visit 5 forts in 10 days, but eventually it had to be tempered down to Panhala and Pavankhind on my own, and then some sheer timepass and tomfoolery around Ratnagiri, where more friends would join me.
The first leg of the trip went according to the plan. Unfortunately, while I was en route from Kolhapur to Ratnagiri, news came that the father of one of my friends had had an accident back in Pune. The other guys turned around from Chiplun, about 85 km from Ratnagiri, and I was left with nothing to do in the middle of nowhere.
Deciding that there was no point in spending the night in some lodge and then going back home in the morning, I left Ratnagiri around 3 pm. Riding nonstop (just 1 fuel stop), I made it home around 9 pm; later I found out that I had somehow overtaken my friends, who had had an almost 150-kilometer headstart, on the highway! The relentlessness of the Yamaha machinery really shone through here. I said it once, and I will say it again, on smooth roads (which the highway was), there is no better sub-Rs. 1,00,000 bike in India!
First Attempt at SaddleSore 1600K
The third one is the maddest thing I have done so far in my life. I guess most of you have heard/read and thought/dreamt about the SaddleSore challenges by the Iron Butt Association. I came across the whole thing while sleepily searching for ‘best long-distance rides’, and was instantly intrigued.
I never had a doubt about the bike’s ability to do it, but could I sit on the Yamaha seats for almost a whole day straight? Only one foolproof way of finding out!
After some late-night Google-mapping, I zeroed in on a route of Pune-Bangalore-Pune, about 1650 km, and decided on the date of 14 Dec 2013. I got the bike serviced one week before, on December 8.
The week between the servicing and the ride was the most distracted I have ever been at work (if anyone from work reads this, I confess, guilty as charged)! I had planned to start in the very early hours of 14 (12.00 am sharp if I could), and ride back to Pune before 12 am of the 15th.
On Dec 13, I took a half-day off from work, came home, and slept till 9.30. I left at 11.55 pm. I had planned my first stop at Belgaum, but guess what, there are no petrol pumps open at night in that area! Karnataka is much worse than Maharashtra in the matter of roadside amenities! The bike went into reserve a few kilometers after Belgaum. It was night, there were no streetlights, I was in another state, I was alone, and my fuel tank was about to run out!
After the best hypermiling ever seen on a Yamaha (a bit of self-aggrandizement, but probably true, I think), I made it to Dharwad after the most unnerving two hours of my life, and experienced something really weird. The Fazer’s official fuel tank capacity is 12 liters, yet the fuel pump meter was reading 12.11 liters when the guy filled it up!
Shows just how scarily close I was to running out of petrol in a state whose language I don’t speak! First possibility, the fuel pump owner is a lying cheater; second possibility, Yamaha don’t know how big their tanks are; third possibility, the Fazer is the most miserly bike in the world. Hmm… I wonder which one is true…
I reached Bangalore and took the time-stamped receipt around 11.40 am (I don’t remember the exact time, and I tore up the receipts in frustration when it later became clear I couldn’t make it back home in time). I had reached Bangalore with time to spare, including the time I had determinedly spent at 45-50 kph, in reserve. With better-planned fuel stops, I was well in line to make it back home comfortably.
Unfortunately, I had a crash on the way back, at around 2 pm. There was gravel on the road, and the road had sloped banks on either side. I didn’t see the gravel in time (my fault, I admit, I *may have been* a bit drowsy after riding 14 hours on just three minimal stops), and my brakes locked up.
To speak in comic book lingo, ‘blammm’ ‘thudddd’ ‘screeeccchhh‘! The bike and I had slid into the sloped bank. Fortunately, my helmet, padded jacket, and knee guards had protected me apart from a bit of scratching on the right forearm – an endorsement for wearing proper riding apparel if there ever was one! The image may seem gruesome, but keep in mind that this is the only thing that happened to me after a full-fledged fall and slide at more than 70 kph.
The bike, sadly, was badly out of shape. The fairing had bent and cracked, the left side of the handlebar was almost touching the fuel tank, the left footpeg and the left grab rail was lost somewhere in the bushes, and, somehow, the rear brake pedal had bent upwards. I was thrown off the bike when we slipped, and I couldn’t see exactly what happened to it, and I am glad for that! I couldn’t have watched the heroic machine suffer because of my idiocy!
I got the bike out with the help of some locals, who also directed me to a mechanic nearby. After a considerable delay, which made returning within 24 hours impossible, the mechanic fixed the bike enough for me to get home. The powertrain, gearbox, and all the cables were, luckily, completely fine, as were the brakes and suspension (another evidence of Yamaha’s build quality)! When I got back to Pune, I rode straight to the Yamaha showroom and delivered the bike for the vital repairs.
What had started out as a 24-hour challenge had ultimately taken me 34, but it had ultimately become the best trip I had ever had! I took a nap at the side of the road in the brilliant moonlight, some 500 km from home – one of the best experiences of my life, and a memory that will stay with me forever – and eventually made it home at 10 am on 14 December.
What can I say? I have ridden 800 km in 11.5 hours with her, I have crashed and broken her, I have slept beside her at the side of a national highway, I have pushed her through monsoon mud and streams on a Maharashtrian mountain fort! She has become way more, way way more, than just a commodity to get me from home to office and back. She has become a dear friend!