Hero Honda Karizma - Promised land

It’s 90 kph in the saddle and the Karizma is leaning smoothly towards the apex of yet another corner when the rear end wiggles. Romantic notions of speed and motorbikes are left in the wake as the mind prepares to hit the panic button. But by the time you’ve realised that you are, in fact, pushing your luck in a greasy, dirt-coated kink, the Karizma’s re-planted itself and is racing ahead like nothing actually happened. Which, of course, is perfectly true.

A winding, deserted road and a fast motorcycle are usually a devastatingly intoxicating combo, especially if the bike is responsive to all your thoughts and desires, when it runs with genuine, unflagging enthusiasm even when the man-machine synergy is hurtling along dangerously close to the limits of the situation’s physics.But in this case, it isn’t the rider riding out of his skin, its probably just the Karizma. Swing a leg over the seat and you’re instantly comfortable – the width is near perfect, and there is lots of tank to hug. There is a well-defined big-bike feel which is a huge plus. Try your hand at a few corners and confidence reaches for the sky. The heavy alloys, large-ish wheelbase and solid constitution give the Karizma a superbly planted feel that make cornering huge fun, encouraged splendidly by a brawny engine with great torque all across the rev band. 

The 223 CC two-valve SOHC single cylinder engine is much in the CBZ mode, with a slightly under-square configuration helping the torque build-up. It revs quickly, drops revs just as fast and its Honda-spec refinement is immediately evident. The Karizma employs a constant vacuum carb with a variable ignition system that alters timing based on the engine speed (rpm) and throttle position. This helps in sudden acceleration and the bike spurts forward without any hesitation every time, unless the revs drop below 2,000 rpm.Slashing through traffic, the rich gush of torque preceding the 1.8 kgm (at 6,000 rpm) peak allows you to stay ahead using just the throttle, ignoring the five-speed gearbox as long as you have anything more than 3,000 rpm on the clock. Traffic light drag races are a cinch too – the Karizma will post low 4-second runs to 60 with ease. Our test bike’s front disc was binding slightly and we managed 4.3 seconds, but 4.0 should be easy. When the road opens up, the Karizma will rocket smoothly to its 122 kph top speed, at which point, the engine is loud and perhaps slightly strangled by emission norm meeting gadgetry, but is not stressed. In fact, every time we wrung the loud handle, our impression was of a unstressed softly tuned engine in which a knowledgeable tuner could find a few more horses easily. As is, the Karizma makes 16.8 bhp, less than the 18 bhp most of us expected, but fast  and lots of fun in real world riding.

The only criticism on the powertrain front is a notchy gearbox, with a clunky shift into first and a difficult shift from second to third when you’re trying to go fast. The gears do slot positively though. The second-third shift was, in fact, the most difficult bit to get right in our sub-11 second run to 100 kph.But never mind, ridden this hard, the Karizma will still return 32 km to the litre, a number that jumps to a wholesome 39 at a steady 50 kph. In town, 34 kpl is what you will get overall, which is very good. Yes, we must mention that a 225 CC motorcycle abroad will probably be more thirsty, but will also make 24 bhp in the process.

The engine sits in a CBZ-style single downtube chassis with a massive box-section swingarm and twin shocks. But that’s where the resemblance to the CBZ ends. This thing is miles ahead and oh-so-sorted. While it isn’t as agile as, say a Pulsar 180, the Karizma feels very planted in corners, goes right where you point it and is only upset when you try to change lines after you’ve committed. The softly-tuned 270 mm disc offers a lot of feel and the Karizma shows only the slightest tendency to sit up on the brakes. In short, a Pulsar 180 has a fighting chance only in the tightest of the corners and the Karizma is likely to cream the big Bajaj in anything approaching a flowing road.

The bike also rides with a silken grace that absorbs imperfections small and large to give you a smooth, unruffled experience. Emergency stops are quick and the bike stops smoothly even in slippery conditions. The minor pad-binding on our test bike’s disc was probably the cause of the small amount of brake fade we experienced, and lever travel increased perceptibly through a hard ride. This should not be a problem on Karizmas with well-adjusted brakes.So, it goes well, stops well and turns well. Are there any flaws at all? 

Well yes. Perhaps the most obvious of them is the name chosen for this bike. CB225 would have been infinitely classier. The build and finish aren’t up to the usual Honda standard – panel gaps are visible and colour-coded wiring snaking around inside the fairing looks ungainly and under-finished. The front number plate mounting is just plain ugly. The black powder-coated exhaust pipe is ugly too, but ends in a presentable fat can. Our “Pearl Composed Red” test bike (dirty brown, more like) and the black get a gold exhaust. The others get a chrome can which looks much nicer, which is why the static pics are of the “turquoise blue” bike we shot at the launch.

On the looks front, opinion is severely divided. At a distance, the Karizma looks bold and beautiful but up close, many don’t like the (older non-VTEC) VFR800-style front-end where the turn indicators stick out in a bulge of their own. The Hero Honda decal below it would have looked better placed in a single line along the bulge crease. The tail-end is far more appealing, with a muscular, sweeping tail-piece and gorgeous, large tail lamps. And may we suggest an option of silver alloys in addition to matte black? While we’re cribbing, no engine-kill switch is an omission. The rest is all good. It is even easy to keep clean – the bottom half has few nooks for grime hide in.

The handlebar is almost upright and combines with slightly rear set pegs to give you a comfortable, sporty riding position; clip-ons would have been welcome, though. The new instrument console looks very contemporary with twin clocks plus digital trip/odo, clock and fuel gauge. At speed, we found that our right side mirror would fold in due to wind pressure, nothing a few tightened screws wouldn’t fix, though. And while we’re on about the front, the headlamp throws an even, wide beam and those complaining that a fixed headlamp might compromise corner illumination needn’t fret.

Pillions may face a bit of a climb into the rear seat, but its a nice place to be once you’ve clambered on. There are no vibes from the foot pegs even at speed, and the fact that you can see right over the rider’s head reduces the shimmy-shake that usually comes from pillions switching shoulders to peek over. You can tell that we’re snowed. Hero Honda’s Karizma comes across more like an international motorcycle scaled down for India than a grown-up Indian bike. It feels a little sad that a package so cohesive does not break any new ground in Indian motorcycling. No monoshock, no oil-cooler, not even factory-fitted clip-ons. 

The momentary sadness can easily be dissipated by a quick ride, revving the refined and willing engine, enjoying the fluent handling package, gliding over imperfect roads, stopping on the proverbial dime and even getting great fuel economy. Should you go out and buy one? If you’ve got the Rs 90,127 the Karizma will cost on-road in Mumbai, we say yes, it is a must. We do believe the Karizma is a bit over-priced and a Rs 80,000 tag would have made a water-tight case for the bike. But until someone  comes up with something competitive, this is where the buck stops.