With the burgeoning popularity of the execommuter in the Indian market, we’ve been at it, repeatedly pitting the newest contenders against the previous best. The search for the ever-changing best buy obviously gets boring after a while. I mean how many times have you come across the same superlative applied to a different bike as we try and articulate the minute differences that separate one from another in a cut-throat, chock-full segment.
This time around, we’re testing Bajaj’s second entry in the execommuter stakes, the Kawasaki Bajaj Wind 125. The bike that carries the world bike tag. At the media launch, questions about the intended countries of export drew mysteriously vague references to south-east Asia. What became clear later is the fact that the Wind was designed with the clear intention of being able to take on commuters in other countries at the drop of a hat. However, the hat hasn’t dropped yet. Kawasaki says they will test launch it in Philippines and the response will govern the where, how and when of Wind exports to other prospective countries. For the moment, India is where its at.
Our blue is test bike left no one in doubt as to which the prettiest of the execommuter segment. Yes, more than one person pointed out a marked resemblance to the Caliber 115, but look close and they share nothing but the etched Kawasaki logo on the heatshield and some very minor bits.The two-tone paint scheme is smashing and the subtle crafting of the tank, integrated with the matt-grey, sculpted side panel and slick tailpiece with body coloured decals and grab-rail just looks infinitely more classy than anything in the competition. Just wish it had a better name.Oh and if anyone yells ‘Hoodibaba’ at you when you’re out riding, just rise out of the seat and let him have a glimpse of your wet butt. If that doesn’t convince him that you’re on the Wind, nothing will.Jokes apart, build quality is unrivalled and finish levels are of a very high order. Nothing seems capable of rattling even after years of hard use and perhaps the only place we can fault the styling package is the cutaway for the kick-starter which isn’t correctly aligned to the kick lever angle – looks odd. Apart from that minuscule detail, ladies and gentlemen, we have a new beauty queen which takes the tiara, uncontested.
The beauty isn’t skin-deep either, as we discovered within moments of using the soft kick starter to start the 124.61 CC two-valve engine finished in a classy gunmetal grey. The engine is a picture of refinement at all revs and doesn’t seem to know what stress is. It will deliver 10.6 bhp, but you soon settle down into a lower rev rhythm,enjoying a fat torque curve which peaks at just under 1 kgm at 7000 rpm. The engine proves hugely tractable and rolling on the throttle with precious little more than 1000 rpm on the centrally-placed, white-faced tacho will see the bike pick up speed without lurching or bucking. Obviously, serious progress needs more than 3,000 rpm on the clock. The CV carb employed on the Wind is obviously well tuned to do its job.
Smart ratios and a slick shifting gearbox ensure that keeping the smooth, vibe-free engine on the boil is not much work at all. Keep the positive shifts coming and the throttle wide open and the Wind will show you a clean 101 kph top speed. Its quick too, 60 kph comes up in 6.8 seconds, which is more than a second ahead of the TVS Victor and LML Freedom both of which have low eight second times. Not to mention the eleven-second Hero Honda Ambition.Even running flat-out and during the harshness of performance testing, the Wind managed to return a respectable 54 kpl. In everyday use, the Wind will return 62 kpl, which should be more than enough for most commuters.What is so delightful about riding the Wind is the eagerness of the motorcycle to please. Acceleration, steady speed or any combination of the two are delivered with an effervescence that makes riding the Wind a pleasure. And it’s effortless. The engine never strains itself to deliver and you never feel like you could be damaging the engine with too many or too few revs on board.
The effortless adjective applies equally to almost all other aspects of the motorcycle. The ride quality, for instance, is superb. While the Wind does not pitch excessively, the suspension takes care of all manner of bumps from rounded to sharp-edged with equanimity and a well-damped refusal to transmit shocks to the rider. In effect, the Wind approximately produces the same plushness of the Victor without the TVS’ relatively large suspension movements.
Which plays perfectly into the hands of the handling department. At a glance, the chassis is far from impressive. It uses a single downtube cradle to hang the engine, the swingarm is tubular and its very anonymous to look at. But the longish wheelbase (just 5 mm shorter than the Pulsar) and a relatively long swingarm give the Wind great stability. The premium MRF rubber at either end does a sterling job in corners and the abilities of the Wind when leaned over are unquestionable. While the ergonomics of the Wind are very comfortable even in extended riding, the width of the handlebar is the only thing that seems to get in the way when the roads begins to twist. Suddenly, it feels a tad too wide and hampers the controllability. That said, pillion also reported minimal peg vibes and said the Wind was extremely comfortable. The chassis just works. Our current favourite, the LML Freedom will certainly have a huge battle on the handling front against the Wind.
The Wind also becomes the only execommuter on the market to offer an optional disc at the moment. The 240 mm unit is very nice to use and sits perfectly at the cusp between too sharp and too spongy. The result is a friendly flow of brake force when you squeeze the lever and enough feedback to allow deceleration long after you leaned over. Even in an emergency, the front brake resists lock up and the rear refuses to step out. Very, very nice.
Wind chill factor
Not content to have a superb dynamic package, the Wind also gets nice details. The clocks, for instance, give the tacho a central position, flanked by the speedo and fuel gauge. The choice of switchgear, and we’re getting tired of pointing this out, is poor. The boxy units aren’t friendly to use, look ugly and downmarket and could easily be improved if Bajaj were to check out the units of the Fiero or the Enticer. One really handy feature, which many manufacturers overlook is the primary kick starter, which allows the bike to be started in any gear with the clutch pulled in. This is a boon in traffic snarls and at long red lights and is very welcome on the Wind.Liking the Wind is very easy. The LML Freedom is suddenly no longer my easy execommuter choice. While the Freedom is sporty in comparison, the Wind is the more sorted motorcycle, more taut, more responsive and most importantly, effortless.
Priced at about Rs 3,000 more than the Caliber 115, the Wind is not the cheapest bike to buy and with 62 kpl in daily use, it isn’t the most economical either. However, take a short spin and you will see that you get value for each extra rupee you spend. What is most significant about the Wind is this. Between the Victor and Freedom we said you should pick the one you like more. With the Wind there is no confusion, it is the best of the lot. For superlative watchers, here’s the deal. The Wind is the benchmark against which all execommuters must come good.
As the names and ad campaigns get worse, the bikes get better. The Wind 125 is undoubtedly the JW in the execommuter Irish-coffee today, with great build quality, immediate throttle response and a satisfying surge from 3-4000 rpm on, sharp and focussed handling, that rare feeling of plantedness and a disc brake. Downsides, imho, are the too-close-to-Caliber styling and pricing that could tempt you into a Pulsar 150 for not much more. But really, the Wind is now the pick of its class. It could and should sweep the segment in true Pulsar style. Bajaj seems to have hired a team of Olympic archers... bullseye again.