'Small capacity motorcycles in India are workhorses.' There was a time not too long ago when this statement was true. Not any more. A couple of years back, the Honda Stunner waltzed into the Indian motorcycling scene and changed the way we look at commuters. Whoever said only big bikes can have all the fun? The Stunner added 'fun' to 'frugal' and created a segment all its own. And the sharp new Pulsar 135LS is set to take that segment by storm. So, let's see which one's more fun, shall we?
Sharp or Suave?
Right from the off, let me say that the Pulsar is the better looking of the two, though that rear mudguard would do one of Kyle's oldies proud. Nevertheless, the P135 looks fresh, lithe and sportier than any small-capacity Indian motorcycle to date. Bajaj has done a great job of ensuring that prospective buyers will take more than one look at the P135, and that's half the battle won. And you get all the kit too - clip-ons, comprehensive digital meters, back-lit switches, alloys and LED tail light. The Stunner only has one of these and no tachometer. However, the little Honda feels more substantial than the Pulsar. And though it's not as racy looking as the Bajaj, it has a certain charm to it. Ever seen a shy but beautiful girl in plain blue jeans and a white T-shirt and thought 'Wow'? That's what the Stunner is, while the Pulsar comes across as the outdoorsy girl, fresh from a trip to a designer clothes store. I'd choose a bike depending on whom I was picking up.
Anyway, the Stunner's experience with us could be likened to that of an American soldier in a Vietnamese war camp. In spite of all the thrashing that we've put it through, the Stunner has held itself together like the finest British butler, never mind the loose chain, worn brake pads, missing mirrors and age-old engine oil. It's still as smooth and refined as ever and also remains rattle free. You can still see the golden bits shine like new when you run a finger through the dirt that covers them. About time for some much-deserved TLC, then. The Pulsar is well-built too, much better than what we've seen on small Bajaj bikes so far, though a little work on finer details is needed. The welding finish on the end of the exhaust can, for example, is one thing the bike could have done without. And I'm sure the ungainly metal rod frame holding the rear mudguard in place could be done away with and a better looking bracket designed for the purpose. Don't presume I'm nitpicking for no reason at all. If Bajaj takes their bikes to the next level, motoring journos are obliged to do the same to their game too! Anyhow, at the end of it all, when you crash either bike while trying to roll your stoppies that little bit farther, it will be the Stunner that holds together for longer. To be fair, it won't be by that much.
Agility or Stability?
Now, both of these bikes are agile and stable. However, each is better than the other at one thing. The Pulsar displays the typical Pulsar trait of being a lightning-fast handler. The grippy MRFs, the light weight, a powerful front disc and comfortable riding position come together very well to make the 135LS an effective weapon in traffic. And its tiny dimensions help you make the most of gaps, enough to get rid of those pesky pizza delivery guys who always seem to want to race you. You will have to be really pushing hard to exceed the P135's cornering limits. Nonetheless, there is no doubt that the bike could have cornered harder and deeper if it wasn't for those forward-set pegs, which means you're only going to get to about 80 per cent of its handling threshold. A pair of aftermarket rearsets are in order, methinks.
The Stunner handles with a composure that is better than some 150cc bikes. The roomy riding position and steering geometry means that it remains beautifully balanced whether you're crawling through traffic or trying to get the pegs and tarmac to kiss and make up. It remains more stable when you're nudging the tonne, with the fairing directing a considerable amount of windblast over your head, as opposed to the Pulsar where the wind smacks you in the face. However, while riding hard, the tyres constantly threaten you that it's only a matter of time before you make contact with the ground. I've said this before and I'll say it again - cost-cutting SHOULD NOT apply to tyres! It's credit to the bike then, that in spite of the worthless rubber, it impresses with its handling.
As for the fun part, it's difficult to choose between the two. The P135 has sticky rubber and a powerful front disc to make stoppies easy-peasy. I can see many budding stunters learning to roll on the front wheel on this Bajaj. And the engine has enough grunt to catch impressive air. The little Pulsar always gives you a good workout and seems frantic when you're trying to get either wheel off the ground. On the other hand, the Stunner comes up in a calm and composed manner and makes wheelies seem as easy as walking. Everything is more smooth and controllable, though those tyres don't inspire enough confidence to pull sky-high stoppies, with the front washing out due to lack of feel through the brake lever. With the front wheel in the air, it's the Stunner that's more composed, while the P135 is easier to get airborne.
Grunt or Finesse?
Okay, with numbers like these, you're not exactly going to set the road on fire. However, the Pulsar is a surprise. The 134.66cc, four-valve motor revs out 13.3 bhp@ 9000 rpm and 1.16 kgm@ 7500 rpm - enough for a 0-60 kph sprint in 5.2 seconds. Yes, that's quicker than most 150cc machines. If that wasn't enough, the Pulsar tops out at 112 kph, more than you'll be doing on your commute. It revs eagerly and always wants to be as close to the redline as possible. More often than not, I expect you'll oblige it. Gears slot neatly and the clutch is progressive, though first gear, drunk on a few revs too many, says 'CLONK.' Like all Pulsars, then!
The Stunner's got the FI trick up its sleeve which plays its part in making its 124.7cc mill as smooth as whipped cream. It develops 11.6 bhp@8000 rpm and 1.14 kgm@6250 rpm, which combines with the gearing to help it get to 60 kph in 6 seconds, while top speed is a leisurely 104 kph. Beyond 90 kph it feels strained, but that too in a refined manner, if you know what I mean - at no point does it get as vibey as the Pulsar. Gearshift quality is excellent, with the typical Honda feel through the gear lever, though the clutch is a bit too soft for my liking.
Sign of the times that fuel efficiency is being mentioned last in a commuter shootout. Or is it just me? Anyway, the P135 delivered 51 kpl, with performance testing and a few wheelies combined with city riding. The Stunner, much abused as the poor thing is, still managed 48 kpl in the same cycle. Definitely at least 5 kpl more to come after its service. Finally, This or That?!
Bikes like these two mean that wheelies, stoppies and corner carving are no longer the preserve of bigger bikes. Writing this test has further compounded the dilemma that I'm facing. I like both these motorcycles, though both of them offer entirely different experiences. The Pulsar 135LS boasts 150cc-rivalling performance, comes loaded with features and has that endearing, urgent nature. The Stunner possesses the equally endearing smooth and polished character that makes it a hit with learners and experienced riders around the world. It's more refined and comes with typical Honda reliability, which counts for a lot when you're thrashing your bike day in and day out. Also, Honda has launched a new and refreshed Stunner at the Auto Expo, though it remains to be seen if it's better-performing than before.
The Pulsar 135LS costs Rs 52,299, while the Stunner FI is around Rs 66,000, a shocking difference. However, there's always the carb Stunner which is available for around Rs 55,000. All you'll have to do is get your hands on the Stunner FI's rear sprocket and you're set. Okay, I'm only stalling because I cannot make a choice. So, for once, I shall take the convenient liberty of suggesting that you take a spin on each bike and see which one promises more fun for you. Hmm. I have a feeling I'd take the Stunner.
The Stunner's mirrors were nicked from our parking lot and there wasn't enough time to get replacement units. We strongly advise you against riding without mirrors and hope the nicker needed the mirrors for his own bike. In which case it's all good