Do you remember the time when you stuck a so called cassette tape into a Walkman, Hara jeans were the most fashionable pieces of clothing, Charms cigarettes at the chai shop were in and Jacko wasn’t termed Whacko? The legendary RX100 is the only other thing that will thrill you to bits when added to that list. And if it doesn’t, then you’re probably from the generation that has an iPod as a best friend, considers low-waisted jeans worn backwards cool, has chilled frappe as a cuppa and thinks Jacko is whacko. And of course you think the Pulsar is the be-all and end-all of Indian motorcycles. Well, both the popular Pulsar and the RX100 are heroes in their own right, so we decided to put them up against each other to see if the RX was simply a piece of wistful nostalgia.
It’s just about eight am and we’re waiting outside the Mumbai University campus for the RX to arrive. It was supposed to be here an hour ago and Pablo’s getting a bit impatient. It suddenly appears as a distant spec at the far end of the road, just as the bells of the tower clock start tolling. It feels surreal, like the warning sirens at the start of a war.
The 1990 RX100 here is bone stock and has covered 55,000 genuine km, while the Pulsar is our long-term 180 DTSi. Gleaming chrome, glossy red paint and simple plastic badging are up against our electric blue and snazzy decals and it’s already hard to make a choice. Clean, straight side-panels with a small oil gauge stiffen next to the Pulsar’s well-curved racy-looking ones and somehow this battle seems evenly poised.The small (and not so bright) headlamp squints at the neatly crafted bikini fairing. I’m in love, definitely, just not sure with which one yet. This RX100 is like few I’ve seen before – no expansion chamber, no MX mudguard and no trail of blue smoke that reduces visibility to the tip of your nose. Soft and crisp, the only note from the bike was that of the exhaust. The RX is so stock that it still runs the original tyres! And talking about stock RXs brings up visions of that unlikely but gorgeous cherry red colour that charmed the girls and attracted probably the biggest female fan following back in the day. Or was it the 2T stains on the Haras?
The Pulsar, on the other hand, is more familiar to my generation. We’ve seen it evolve and get more ‘Japanese’ by the day, yet retaining that unstickered musculature that has become its hallmark. The electric blue paint is just something else, and it is a real pity there aren’t too many around in this brilliant colour. The Pulsar, like the RX100, is the chick magnet of its time. It draws women like an electromagnet powered by a 2000 watt power plant. I should know, I rode one to college.
When I finally get on board the Yamaha, I begin to realise just how special the RX must have felt. The Yammie is as smooth as a baby’s buttocks – and don’t be fooled by her diminutive looks because she means business. She’s missing the coolness of modern bits, but that doesn’t detract anything at all. A go at the throttle and the revs rise instantly. When the powerband arrives, you can feel the spike in power and the 11 bhp mind-altering rush that comes with it. The RX’s famously skinny rubber and agile cornering can add a scary/thrilling feel to it. Riding it feels like taking your college crush on her first date again, if you know what I mean. It’s an experience that somehow made me want to be 20 years older than I am, and then travel back in time with it, so I could go to college again. The RX100 is a fundamental motorcycle with a cult status in India that makes the Beatles look overrated. Now, it’s sad that the cult of the RX foundered in the model updates until the last ones were mere shadows of the original, both in reputation and in their following. The contrast to the Pulsar, in fact, couldn’t be more startling. With disc-brakes, a thumb-starter and alloy wheels, the Pulsar is modern, chic and truly the motorcycle for the spoilt generation. No doubt the razor sharp disc brakes are better than the drums and the thumb starter lets you wear loose low rise Levi’s. Still, the bike retains the simple joys of motorcycling – a quick throttle and sky-high wheelies that scare the blazes out of you. Perhaps the only thing missing is the memorable blue contrail. The Pulsar has its own charm, with its lazy-boy comfort levels and superb handling. Get on it and you immediately know that it’s a well developed piece of machinery. It feels more planted, more er... civil and you feel more in control. The shifts are slick and the power delivery more linear. The Pulsar is in no maddening rush to let out those 16-odd horses, but can still give all other Indian motorcycles a run for their money. Its no-nonsense attitude and reliability are what makes it the motorcycle for the current generation, where time is as precious as that electronic device that offers you companionship.
For those of you who were born on the wrong side of the ‘80s and have not been on an RX, take it from me: you are missing something. You are yet to experience an unforgettable aspect of motorcycling fun. Seriously, it makes me want to buy, restore and keep one so that decades from now, my progeny can smell the premix and ride a powerband at least once.
The Pulsar? It isn’t as special. Perhaps that’s because it hasn’t yet gained the patina of time, and the extra ‘special-ness’ that comes with being out of production. Besides four-strokes, with their civil, uncomplaining natures will never be as cool or as scary as bonkers two-strokers. The Pulsar, an Indian milestone of a bike, will be remembered for changing the face of Indian motorcycling, but I suspect that’s about it. It won’t ever be RX-cool. Will motorcycle journos twenty years my juniors want to save a mint Pulsar for their children to experience? Doesn’t quite make a picture, right?