I don’t know about you, but I think, in retrospect, that my TVS Apache short shift in the last issue was pretty far out. In my defence, I was excited to have a potential Pulsar beater at hand. More importantly, it caused lots of anticipation among the boys in the office. And now, despite the hype, if the Apache did manage to impress them once they rode it, the bike had to be pretty damn good, right?
So within minutes of finishing our Bike Of The Year evaluation, I was rustling up this, our 150cc comparison. We had to have the closely matched Bajaj Pulsar 150 DTSi and the Honda Unicorn. We toyed with the idea of getting a new Unicorn, rather than our long termer, but decided that the stickers would be detrimental to the Unicorn’s chances. Like you’ve read in BSM before, we rather fancied the Achiever’s chances and of course, the Apache went in as our Bike Of The Year... would it win?
For the eval team, we put in the lot. Joshua, our newest, most hands-on, mechanically-oriented (and tactless/outspoken) motorcyclist. He also happens to have a level head in evals. Shreenand, possesor of the mighty pen, all black-riding kit and a whiny voice (which happens to make sense when he’s on about bikes) was the next choice. Zubin brought his vast riding experience on all sorts of mobikes and his quiet ‘exactly right’ assessments. Et moi (Keith Code’s 11th disciple and chatterbox par excellence – Shreenand) After logging a fair amount of saddle time, we fixed up the photography route. It began with a lightly traffic-ed urbansection (read mid-range), passed through a market (read tractability), took in a bit of highway (read upper-end gusto) and then ended gloriously on a superb hill road that ends in a blank mountain face (read no traffic and lots of corners). And finally, we called in Vijay Jain to add pizzazz and monos to the pictures. All set? Honda Unicorn
When we last put the Pulsar and the Unicorn together, we came up with an almost-tie. The two bikes were distinct in character, but very close in scores. In the end, the sportier Pulsar got our vote. This time, it was a bit clearer.Right from the off, we knew that the Achiever and the Apache had moved the goalposts. While the Pulsar and the Unicorn came close on scores again, the Unicorn’s surprising state of disrepair lost it points on build quality and fit/finish – enough to put it into fourth place here. Shreenand said, ‘The parts that should be noiseless somehow are the noisiest – the tail lamp for one. Apart from the engine, everything seems like it will fall apart.’
The Unicorn still has one of the best motors in the business, though. The fluid delivery, mechanical grace, good acceleration and economy are hard to match. Zubin said, ‘The engine is so smooth. You can be as mean to it as the proverbial bully, prod it, poke it and provoke it and it still feels indestructible.’ However, its torque-heavy delivery, welcome about town, also gives it a slightly weak top-end. On the highway, this shows up as the need to plan overtakes better, especially if you are planning to keep up with the Apache and the Pulsar. But it is faultless on performance, reliability and refinement fronts. And the gearbox is a delight.
Unfortunately, that is the high point. Handling is clean and likeably neutral, but the smaller wheels on the Apache and the Pulsar show distinct turn-in and stability advantages. The fact that both have alloy rims make the already meek, safely-styled Unicorn and the commuter Achiever look older, less snazzy and more anonymous. Although there is no mistaking the Wing on the tank, or the new wing-theme stickering on the newer Unicorns. Joshua adds, ‘It’s not bad, but it does not feel as confident as the others. Perhaps because you feel every bump on the road travel up your spine.’
Fourth in a hard fought segment is not all bad (though it could be better). The points difference between the Unicorn and the winner isn’t a yawning gap, which points to just how good all the four bikes are. It also suggests that a few thoughtful updates in specification could have the Unicorn ace this comparo next time round.
Bajaj Pulsar 150 DTSi
Zubin opened the debate on the Pulsar with, ‘I cannot believe the bike that feels the sportiest here also feels the slowest.’ In traffic, the P150’s late and low torque peak is quite obvious and up the mountain it needed the most revs. It was only down the highway that the P150 came to the front. Joshua pointed out, ‘The Pulsar, you have to note, is seven ccs down on all of the other bikes, so its output would be lower, man.’ But then, we’re not the ones stopping Bajaj from upping the displacement, eh?
Shreenand says, ‘Even after seeing it at every traffic light, it still looks as good as it did the first time around.’ So much so that while Vijay found it the hardest to wheelie, it looked the best in the pics until our man spent a fair bit of time hoisting a better pic out of the Apache, his mono-fave.Outside of the slow feel though, all was well. The Pulsar’s sharp handling was a delight in the corners, and nimble ride quality kept things smooth. We now know that the seat-pegs-bar relationship works quite well, so riding mountains and highways are both quite comfortable. Without a doubt, the Pulsar still feels the sportiest in character of all the machines here. The change is that while it usually seems to have the thrust to outstrip its peers, now it needs an upgrade.
Joshua seemed to like the handling, ‘The sporty riding position makes it easy to corner the Pulsar. However, the front-heaviness shows up the slow steering response at low speeds.’ The seat is one of the best in the business too.On the highway, the revvy motor made up for the lack of torque somewhat, but having three machines surge forward at middling revs whenever needed did the damage in the points.
The points deficit is just enough to have the Pulsar in third place. A place the motorcycle – and we, as testers – are unaccustomed to. However, even as we went to the Auto Expo and then the press, we saw the Bajaj already have an upgrade ready and raring to go.
What that means is that the Apache’s run at the front could, potentially, be a short one. At the very least, a rematch has become due. We should get to ride the new bike soon, and then we’ll really know, won’t we? Hero Honda Achiever
Had this bike beaten the Apache in this comparo, we’d have all been quite happy about it. Its sole sore point was the styling package. Zubin countered, ‘That can be worked out. That set of body panels responds quite nicely to extreme makeovers.’ And that was about the only flaw we found.
Being a Unicorn motor, the zone below the tank on the Hero Honda oozes mechanical glory and sounds just brilliantly refined. There are no vibes, no unnecessary clatter of any sort and gears snick effortlessly into place. Bliss. Hero Honda’s machine also has the perfect throttle effort in place. It takes just the right amount of pressure to twist the grip and that alone is worth a hefty number of points in my book.
Joshua said, ‘In traffic, that throttle enhances the sensation of being pulled along by the torque. That is a truly enjoyable feeling.’ The engine just pulls you along happily. It’s hard not to appreciate this sensation. The bike just seems to push you back gently as it surges forward with a almost hydraulic sort of silent, seamless push.
Until it runs out of puff near the top end, that is. Like the Unicorn, the motor is biased towards commuting/torque and at higher speeds, the Pulsar 150 catches up quickly with the Honda and the Hero Honda. This is a bit annoying after having spent some time smiling indulgently in the saddle, but down the highway, this is the number three bike.
The chassis package is very impressive and the Achiever is a confident cornering machine. Shreenand said, ‘I wish it came with a 100/90 at the rear because when you hop off the Apache and take the Achiever on, the lack of rubber is a confidence eroder, and it never feels as good as the other two.’ I also felt the thoughtfully placed toe protector (to isolate sandaled toes from hot engine cases) interfered with tucking my hobbit feet in for corners.
Overall, this is one likeable machine to ride in traffic and up mountains. It is able, comfortable and at a price point similar to the Pulsar, affordable. On the highway, sustaining near three-digit speeds can feel a bit stressful, but as a big-inch commuter (oi, don’t laugh, this is an Indian 150cc comparo after all), the Achiever is without equal.
Yes, the Achiever is without equal. For the Apache is even better. By how much? When we sat down to evaluate the foursome, I took an informal entry poll of sorts on which bikes everyone thought were winning. The answer was a unanimous decision for the Apache. Even some parties that were not part of the evaluation thought the bike rocked. One spectating John Abraham clone-type even said, ‘Bike’s Rapchick (translation: killer). Firing jhakaas (translation: flashy). Two boosters (translation: el cheapo exhaust cans) and you’re bindaas (translation: badass).’ You know now why John-ny was not part of the eval team.
When the quartet of testers first saw the four bikes together, they gravitated instantamente to the TVS. This was the first sign that the Apache’s muscled lines were finding favour. The rear three-fourth view of the bike is stunning and it is easily the best looking of all the bikes here. In the rear view mirror, the Apache actually looks a lot like a whole bunch of big nakeds that sell well in Europe. I’d say Benelli TNT to give you a picture, but you won’t believe me. So I’ll say this, ‘Watch out for one coming up fast behind, and you’ll know what I mean.’
Everyone was also startled by the amount of torque that the still refined-but-now-sounding-more-er…-employed-than-the-F2-motor was able to make. In traffic, the Apache found speed at any revs in any gear in a manner that none of the other 150s are able to match. On the testing runs, the Apache put in a stunning 5.1 second run to 60 kph, which is just 0.2 seconds off the P180! Obviously, the P180 runs away at higher speeds, but nothing, not even the Pulsar 150, the fastest of the 150s to 100 kph so far, is able to catch the Apache. The TVS only loses out in top speed, where it is slower by 6 kph than the still-king Pulsar 150 DTSi.
In corners, the 17- and 18-inch wheels come together very well. The Apache corners with confidence and when you’ve reached a fairly graphic lean angle, there’s still clearance and ability left. The 150cc class at Sriperumbudur and Coimbatore are going to see lap records smashed.
Perhaps the two weak points, slightly related, are the seat and the ride quality. The new-fangled mono-tube linear multi-stage valve suspension is effective but has a zone where it doesn’t respond quite as well to bumps. Nandu cribs, ‘It’s damn good on great roads and impressive on broken surfaces, but there’s a middle zone where it feels a little bouncy.’ And the seat is a bit hard, although I (as the author) am willing to believe for now that the foam will soften and become more comfortable over time and retain its shape long after the competition has re-upholstered.
By this point, we were looking for a chink in the Apache’s armour, which increasingly looked more forbidding than the great walls of Mordor. Zubin said, ‘Erm… it returns the ballpark 50-55 kpl figure and is three grand cheaper than the Pulsar. The competition is going to find it hard to handle.’ Our Bike Of The Year 2006 is the test team’s unanimous choice for the best all-round 150cc motorcycle on sale in India today.