You’ve played Road Rash, right? For the uninitiated, the original PC game sped through a Hafeez Contractor-style multi-coloured landscape, where you and a bunch of bikers, on similar machines, raced to win. The central idea: anything goes, no blow’s too low and no holds’re barred. You kicked, chain-ganged, pushed, and shoved other riders while avoiding obstacles, pedestrians and cops to cross the line in P1.
That might sound suspiciously like a description of your daily commute, but it is almost totally representative of the acrimony the new Bajaj Pulsar 150 DTSi and Honda Unicorn are creating among the 150s. We thought about the TVS Fiero F2/FX, Hero Honda CBZ* and the LML Graptor for this test. But they’d be just making up the numbers.
For a quick recap, the new Pulsar 150 is a streamlining of the earlier DTSi model and sports minor changes. The swingarm and wheelbase are 10 mm longer, 17-inch alloy wheels are standard and seat height has dropped. On the engine front, exhausTEC makes a notable impact on performance and minor engine tweaking has resulted in more torque, and half a horse more on top. The Pulsar has built on its strengths, no doubt, hoping for some strong product from Honda.
Honda’s Unicorn isn’t the earth-shaking and paradigm-shattering 150 we were expecting. It is a motorcycle aimed squarely at the Pulsar, so you can’t take it lightly either. The Honda has the most sorted powertrain in the business today and the engine and gearbox are outstanding. The Japanese machine lays heavy emphasis on ‘safe’ choices for ingredients and aims for the largest possible cross-section of motorcycle buyers. So it comes with friendly handling, well-damped ride quality and the promise of Honda reliability.
To business then. We started out riding the bikes back-to-back on a ghat section that is renowned for leading nowhere in particular (light traffic) and for a road surface that varies heavily, sometimes mid-corner.
It was quickly obvious that the monoshock is a selling point, but not always an asset to the Unicorn. The pros are that it feels very damped and compliant with a pillion on board and is serene on good roads, even riding alone. However, riding quickly over bumpy roads shows up the shock as too hard. It seems to have too much compression damping, which makes it tough for the thinner 3.00x-18 tyre to stick to the ground mid-corner amidst bumps. The Unicorn, therefore, has to go slower than the Pulsar.