Bajaj Caliber 115

Does the new Bajaj Caliber 115 have the ammo to take the execommuter segment by storm?

How should I know? I only work here, ask the ad guys.” smiled Rajiv Bajaj when asked what ‘hoodibaba’ meant. While the question never actually reached the ad-men, the campaign seems to work. Picking up the test bike from the Bajaj showroom and riding it to the office parking lot was punctuated by “hoodibaba” exclamations by people in cars, buses, on the sidewalks and even street urchins. As we realised later, the green motorcycle (the blue Caliber in the photos was snapped with Sachin riding at the launch, inside Bajaj’s Akurdi plant), would attract lots of attention through out the test. So, the ad campaign certainly has created brand recall value, but ultimately it also has to sell the product. Allow us to help with the decision-making.

STYLING, BUILD & FINISH
The old Caliber could never be accused of not looking good. Even after it had been around for six years, it looked familiar, but good. Bajaj have therefore carried forward the panels, save for a more defined tailpiece and that nifty fairing. Wearing brighter colours, the entire package seems to exude freshness and is very easy on the eye. For once, the decals take nothing away from the lines – in fact, the blue/green/silver decals on the green look very Kawasaki and very nice.

The Caliber’s bikini fairing is perhaps the nicest looking one of the bunch, using a crisper variation of the CBZ-shaped headlamp to striking effect and looking very sharp, especially side-on. The exhaust shield also sports an etched Kawasaki logo, which is also welcome. Rounding out the styling work are new dials for the speedo console. Bajaj’s recent motorcycles have been good on the quality and finish front and this one is no exception. The impression the new Caliber leaves is that it will age gracefully, though a few bits here and there might begin to rattle after a while.

POWERTRAIN & PERFORMANCE
On the road, gathering test miles, a rider on an old Caliber asked if I was riding the new hoodibaba. Getting a affirmative reply, he took a walk around and asked me what had changed. Perhaps the hardest bit to explain was that the 115 was actually only a 111.6, yes just like the old one. However, there the
similarities end. The engine has been through a full combustion chamber redesign, valves have been re-timed and re-sprung, cams re-profiled, intake redesigned, a larger carburettor now feeds the engine and a dual-map digital CDI (yes, like the Victor) controls ignition timing.

The result is an engine which makes 9.5 bhp on top with 0.9 kgm being the peak torque. However, riding along, you’d never think that the Caliber actually makes more power than the competition. Part of the
problem is that Bajaj has chosen tall gearing inclined to lowering engine revs for any speed (and boosting fuel economy). The other part is a lazy, slow-revving feeling that belies the power figures. This allows the Caliber to show 60-plus kpl no matter what you do, and as much as 70 kpl should be yours in daily low-rev commuting.

However, show the Caliber a stopwatch and the thing will launch itself to a 7.69 second flight to 60 kph, which is 0.5 seconds faster than the LML Freedom! And the time could probably have been bettered had our tachometer needle not chosen to avoid showing 11000 rpm for anything north of 8200. Low down grunt
gives way to unmatched top-end performance, but there does seem to be a lean spot from 4500 to 6000 rpm where power fades away a bit. However, once past 6000, nothing interrupts the rush to the indicated 100 kph top speed. Be prepared for the racket the Caliber will make while doing this.

Doing a high-revving run like this on the old Caliber would have felt like someone plugged you into an insane body massage machine. However, rubber-mounting the engine ensures that handlebar and footpegs vibrations are well controlled. Cruise in top gear at about 80-90 kph – pretty fast for a commuter –and you will find that the Caliber is quiet, vibe-free and eminently enjoyable.

However, accelerating hard through the gears and revving above 8500 rpm will make a racket, and the engine becomes quite loud when you stress it. Gear-shifts are still ponderous compared to the slickness of, say, a Yamaha Libero. Missed shifts, however, are few and actual shifting effort isn’t much.

The thing is, unlike the Victor or the Freedom, the Caliber never actually urges you to use all that power. More often than not, you find yourself settling down to a steady cruise, rather than really riding the bike.

RIDE & HANDLING
The old Caliber had a pretty sorted handling package to start with and the 115 uses the same tubular double cradle frame, with re-tuned suspension. Wearing MRF Zappers at either end, the Caliber will corner confidently, though turn-in isn’t lightning quick. Bumpy corners can cause the Caliber to waver from the intended line ever so slightly.. 

The ride quality is a revelation, perhaps the best in the segment. The suspension works hard to keep Municipal negligence at bay, without being so soft that you get rocked in the saddle by accelerating or braking.

The Croma’s disc did not make the revamp and you only get 130 mm drums. A step backward, perhaps. The drums are good, biting well and providing adequate retardation.Even given that the Caliber is 5 kgs heavier than its nearest competitor, there is a certain heaviness to it that is much harder to fathom. It feels heavy in a straight line and in corners, a feeling that isn’t uncomfortable, or for that matter a hindrance, but a noticeable trait.

FEATURES
The Caliber becomes the second Indian motorcycle to sport a halogen headlamp. Good show! The 115 uses the Elim/Pulsar switchgear, which once more missed out on an engine kill switch, and has the self-same, oddly articulated pass-flasher. Another gizmo inhabits the handlebar area, changing the rev-counter needle’s colour from red to green in the rev range for maximum mileage (irrespective of the two ignition timing curves). However, this becomes visible only after dark.

The seat seems to be made of dual density foam – a definite step forward from the narrow and painfully convex seat employed earlier. However, it still leaves you squirming to relieve your backside after 30-plus km. Bajaj have used a smart die cast grab rail – easy to latch on to, but the bike gets crowded with rider, pillion and two office bags to ferry.

VERDICT
There is no doubt that the new Caliber 115 is a flying leap forward from the slow-selling older Caliber that clearly was outgunned by newer, more capable competition. The new Caliber on the other hand, is a substantial package. The engine is vibe-free and offers a deceptive brand of performance. The handling was always good, now it gets the best ride quality of the lot and as we never tire of saying, Kawasaki green is always a welcome bonus, especially on the best looking execommuter yet. On the price front, at Rs 46,927, the 115 is a thousand bucks cheaper than the TVS, and some Rs 300 more expensive than the Freedom – a difference which will dwindle to nothing in EMIs. So, does the Caliber 115 have the competition outgunned? Read on...

Holy trinity
Does the Caliber 115 shake up the execommuter order?Here is how the Caliber stacks up against the TVS Victor and the LML Freedom, the current twin-winners of our execommuter shoot-outs against the Yamaha Libero and Hero Honda Splendor/Passion.The Freedom impresses with great handling, a willing, free-revving and unstressed engine, on par fuel economy... let’s just say in most aspects. Until now, its 8.5 bhp from the 109 CC engine was the highest in the segment, for the least money. Gearshifts are poor, but the torquey engine made up for it by blazing through traffic very quickly, without needing shifts to keep up or overtake. Ride quality is good to boot. The Freedom is easily the most fun to ride, with an inescapable sporty orientation.

The civil and agile Victor is the perfect foil for the LML’s exuberance. The 109 CC engine is a touch less powerful but very refined, with a slick gearbox and will willingly put up with any riding style. Handling is good too, though its admirable agility comes at the expense of stability. Ride quality is plush to a fault and after a while huge suspension movements generated by the throttle become irritants. Despite, the Victor is a very comfortable motorcycle to own and ride calmly. It also happens to be the most expensive one of the three.
The Bajaj Caliber 115 possesses a slightly larger engine, but has more power and torque than the competition and is easily the fastest of the three. It handles well, and has the best ride quality of the lot, as well as the best styling package. However, the Caliber has a certain heaviness to the engine and chassis that discourages fast commuting or sporty riding. This is the motorcycle you are most likely to cruise on steadily (and sedately) through traffic.

With motorcycles this capable, and so closely matched, picking one isn’t going to be easy. Let’s put it this way. The LML Freedom is the college-goers’ execommuter, happy to be ridden quickly. The Victor on the other hand, is a more mature package, more tuned to the calm office commuter. The Caliber has the goods to whip the Freedom on performance and will ride as sedately as the Victor, but seems to escape this kind of easy typification. When the ride gets fast and fun-oriented, the Caliber should be the most capable, but seems, somehow to make the rider work for it, while either of the other two do what they are good at effortlessly. All three make good execommuters, but it’s harder to have fun on the Caliber. Then again, if you must have the fastest machine, the Caliber rises head and shoulders above the other two.