Small bike comparos are tedious, hard work and downright boring. The little bikes, we’re talking sub-125ccs, are boring because manufacturers build them fastidiously to single-track, super-specialist specification. They’re expected to be ultra-frugal and that, is that.
So, when you have the prospect of a 150cc blood-bath, life looks much brighter. The 150s, taking up the bottom of the premium segment are designed on the lines of multi-role fighters. They are expected to be efficient commuters, refer previous para, but they are also expected to handle some highway duty, some outright race track style scratching down back roads. They are also expected to make a style statement. So three good 150s should be just what the doctor ordered right?
Once we’d finished the grind part of the comparison, which is the general riding towards forming first opinions, racking up the performance numbers, establishing behaviour patterns for the machines, we decided to head out of the confines of concrete to see what the pre-monsoon world outside was like. To give you an accurate idea of the various situations in which the bikes need to excel, we laid out a 300 km course. The road begins in the city, taking some congested, under-construction roads for about 100 km (50 km of light traffic, 50 km of seriously jammed, stop-go pressure cooking), then there is another 100 km of back road style highway, which winds through rolling scenery, bobbing up and down, around and around, but gently. This stretch has loads of sweepers, some of them very bumpy and with extremely light traffic. The final 100 km are pure mountain bliss. The road is straight for little more than 200 km at a time and the surface ranges from well-surfaced to patched up. The turns are usually tight with few well-camouflaged decreasing radius corners to give the bikes a run for their handling and trail-braking money.
To keep the action thick and fast we put together four testers, one with huge urban slice and dice experience (moi), one with loads of highway time (Joshua, the intern), one with a laid-back attitude (Pablo, not Picasso) and one who rides a highway-city commute daily on a really fast bike (Sanjeev). And poor Param, who was expected to keep pace with his camera, was consigned to be the pillion rider who would let the seat of his pants tell a tale of its own.
Does this sound like a recipe for fun or what. The festivities began in Param’s parking lot. The trio, the TVS Fiero F2, the Bajaj Pulsar 150 DTSi and the new LML Graptor parked next to each other instantly opened the debate. Pablo smiled sardonically at the Fiero F2 and said, ‘this thing’s styling is so safe and bland, it almost looks as if it comes from another era!’ The Pulsar’s slashing muscular lines and the Graptor’s futuristic, Cagiva Raptor-inspired lines do make far stronger style statements. In fact, while the Pulsar’s lines attracted positive comments from everyone,
the Graptor’s charms were almost unexpected.The Graptor is inspired in parts by various other motorcycles. Look closely and you can find loads of Cagiva Raptor and some LML Freedom prominently displayed. The effect was that everyone, and not just us, thought the bike looked good from the front. However, the rear is a bit of a mess. The stubby short tailpiece is misshapen and that grab rail seems to have come off a machine the size of the Bajaj Byk. And the decals don’t help out. Sanjeev offered, ‘if the tailpiece’s shiny parts were expanded to cover up the matt base plastic, and perhaps, integrated with the side panel, the machine would have looked more cohesive.’ The zig-zagging lines, creases, planes and surfaces also take away from the impression of quality. The Graptor comes across as solidly bolted together all right, but somehow the impression of a high level of finish, immediately evident on the Pulsar, somehow doesn’t come across. From our long term experience with the F2, we know the build quality is okay, but not great and rattles and hum do creep in by the time the odo rolls over to five figures.
Heading out, the TVS seemed to be the easiest to handle in traffic. Thanks to its light weight, agility and superb engine refinement, it is the least tiring to trafficate with, though not necessarily the fastest. The Pulsar is pretty stoic.
The Pulsar is a street racer; the wide bar, the sporty ergonomics and front weight bias make this very obvious. The heavy clutch and steering are a total turn-off though.‘The wider bar on the Pulsar 150 does make it easier, but the obvious front-end weight bias, sporty ergonomics work best in light traffic. In heavier going, the Pulsar’s heavy clutch pull, and steering can be annoying,’ Joshua noted before quickly swiping the Graptor’s keys from me for the rest of the city riding. The Graptor is very good in traffic. Its low seating, infinite steering lock, tall, wide bars that give great leverage and bursting torque make short work of traffic. Add the plush ride quality and Bajaj Chetak-like manoeuvrability and it really is impressive. And did I mention the high levels of engine refinement?
The Graptor’s 150.8cc engine is actually the largest here. Not surprisingly, it also boasts the best performance figures. Making 13.5 bhp at 8000 rpm and 1.3 kgm at 6000 rpm, the Graptor smoothly bests the Pulsar by half a horse and 0.2 kgm of torque. As a result, the Graptor feels very lively and energetic. However, it is hampered by its gearshift. Pablo, while riding it through a few traffic light drag races on a deserted road early in the morning, repeatedly found himself with a frozen gear lever, and an engine revving to the moon. We all faced this event at least once through the entire test and while the shifts are slick enough, the gearbox still needs sorting.
The LML gearbox also costs it the outright win in the 0-60 kph times. The Pulsar posts a nice 5.2 second run. The Graptor, with a difficult shift from first to second and four extra kilos in weight, passes 60 kph just 0.1 second later. The Fiero, is another 0.1 seconds behind. However, on the run to the top speed, the Fiero quickly reaches its 104 kph speed and then drops away from the other bikes. The Pulsar is still the top speed king with a full 118 kph available. The Graptor is only 4 kph slower than that. However, both the Bajaj and the LML get to around 110 quickly and the rest requires patience and road.
Fortunately for both, the middle section offered more than enough. On the sweepers, once more the Fiero quickly gets left behind. Joshua, who had the F2 for the first 50 km, said (once he caught up at the tea shop), ‘The Fiero needs a 5th, that and a little more on the speedo. Bouncing along on the F2 for almost 50 km wasn’t my idea of a ride. A little more weight and better suspension is what’ll do the trick.’ The F2’s progress is hampered by its ride quality. Its tyres offer great grip, but on bumpy sweepers it bounces so much, you have to back off. Mid corner lumps also upset the Graptor, which is otherwise the plushest on slick roads. Jump a speed-breaker on the LML (purely for testing’s sake, of course) and you may not even feel it land. The Pulsar excels here. While bad road ride quality isn’t outstanding, bumps in corners are pretty much dismissed with contempt. The sporty ergos and good feedback from the front allow the rider to blaze through sweeps with nary a hint of brake work.
And this is the only way the Fiero will make up ground in corners. It has the best brakes here and Pablo, who had the next stint on the TVS kept pace with its competition. ‘I can brake very late and very hard with the feedback the disc returns, this is just awesome.’ The Graptor and the Pulsar have good units too. While the latter is a smooth, progressive unit, the Graptor offers more brake force than you expect, which takes a little getting used to. I was regularly hopping around with a chattering front wheel until I got used to it and smoothened out.
The roads turned super-smooth once we hit the mountains. With that came a fast pace and a more competitive climb up the hill. And Sanjeev, now on the Fiero, quickly disappeared from our mirrors. ‘The Fiero F2 just wasn’t built for this. I can’t keep pace. Nothing’s wrong, but I just don’t have the grunt for this fight.’ The Graptor and the Pulsar turn fast and hard. The Graptor’s handlebar does get in the way though. It obstructs some amount of feedback and offers too much leverage in the twisties. It doesn’t feel like it, but it is pretty planted and turns in slightly quicker than the Pulsar. This also helped the LML fight through left-right-left combinations, where the Pulsar felt heavier and slower to change direction. The much lower seat height of the Graptor also makes it more tactile in corners than the too-tall Pulsar. But at the end of the climb, there is no doubt that the Pulsar is the sherpa, while the LML is almost one. The Pulsar climbs with authority and feels so accurate, confident and planted that the rider can usually edge closer to its limit and go that extra bit faster up the hill.
Once at the top, we sat down to make our notes, complete the parameter scoring. And to give Param a chance to speak. Sitting silently through all of this on the pillion pads of the three, he’d had the roughest time. ‘The Fiero F2’s pillion pad gives you the squirm-around backside blues. And that’s the most unwelcome sensation on a highway run. The padding’s too soft, overall ride quality is too sproingy and somehow the ergos seem to be all set up for a hunchback chimp. There aren’t any vibes to complain of, but within ten minutes, everything starts to ache.’ Param rated the Graptor and the Pulsar even, though. ‘They’re both quite good. Both have firm, supporting seats, great ergos and no peg vibes. However, the Pulsar’s peg-seat setup works well when it comes to committed, sporty two-up riding, while the low seat height and extra width of the Graptor allows the pillion to fall into a more relaxed, lounge-lizard position – better suited for the long haul.’
Then we dived headlong into the heated debate that goes with the points scoring. When the dust settled, we had a clear idea (and I am sure you do, also) that the TVS Fiero F2 wasn’t the winner. In the F2’s defence, TVS was very clear that they were making a large commuter. That, the Fiero excels at. Think of it as a large Victor and you’d realise it is a great machine. However, in the multi-role format, it is outmanoeuvred, outgunned and out-funned.
Between the Pulsar and the Graptor, the battle is very close. The Pulsar wins the handling and ride quality parameters, while the Graptor takes the engine points. The Pulsar wins ergonomics, the LML takes comfort. You see, they are very close overall, but are quite different in character. The Pulsar is unabashedly sporty, while the Graptor is a more calm, laid-back sort. Both are equally effective. As Pablo said, ‘the Pulsar can cruise very well at 80 kph, but the rider can’t. The LML enjoys 100 kph-plus hard scratching, but on it, you wouldn’t want to.’
However, at BSM, comparos must have winners. So in this case, the Bajaj Pulsar 150 DTSi wins this comparison test by the smallest of margins. The message is clear. The LML Graptor, at
Rs 56,749 on-road Mumbai,is a viable alternative to the Pulsar. LML has done a fantastic job of the machine and congratulations are in order. However, Bajaj’s menacing-looking baby is still the king of
the hill. Looks like it’s up to Honda, then.
After having clocked all those many kilometres on my trusted old Bullet, I was convinced it was the ultimate four-stroke on Indian roads. Others were just whiny engines, sissy lookers and tiny. I believed that everybody really makes way for the Bullet. Then came BSM, and with that came a change of opinion.
A couple of weekends back I took the Pulsar 180 DTSi for a 300 km ride and more recently this array of 150s for a comparison test. The new gen four-strokes are mechanically more refined (I know RE’s are using 50 year old technology, but why persist?), have better power delivery, and are weightless as compared to my old ‘67 Bull. This gives them the ability to corner harder, push the speedo further and dodge the errant MUV. And must I say, the vibration free rides to your destination, minus shuddering bones and knocking knees are very welcome.
I’ve been riding a Bullet for longer than I can remember and when I wasn’t on the saddle, I was on the tank thumping around Mumbai with my dad. And I know the deep throated exhaust note turns heads. The simplicity of the bike allows for quick repairs anytime, anywhere and by anyone. Which makes it the grand tourer it is and me, the grease monkey I am.
But all of this fortunate (or should I say unfortunate) access to the new four-strokes leaves me yearning for new machines. As for my trusty old Bull, she stays. The sentiments are too strong.