The Concorde revolutionised commercial flying. Recently, a heated automatic toilet seat changed the way I performed morning rituals. If I have to think about motorcycles which fast-forwarded Kaalnirnay for the Indian biker, which includes me, it brings to the mind some seriously brilliant machines. A few, too ahead of their times probably. Some of them, well they just started a new time zone altogether. Here they are then, the firestarters!
Yamaha RD 350
It came at a time when it wasn’t as popular for being a little too thirsty. Manufactured in India by the Escorts Group, the RD “Race Developed” 350 was offered in an ‘HT’ and ‘LT’ format. Its production run lasted from 1983, until 1989. For those times, it came with a 6-speed gearbox, a 7-Port two-stroke, parallel twin engine, and could slip under the rider’s bottom to 60 kph in less than four seconds. To keep costs low, the bike’s original front disc brake was substituted for a 7″ twin leading shoe drum brake from the Yamaha RD250. What has now attained legendary status and costs a bomb, you’d find many owners have replaced the front drum unit with a modern disc.
Introduced in 1985, the Yamaha RX-100 still goes like a cork coming off a champagne bottle. Yamaha’s answer to the Suzuki AX-100, this pint-sized firecracker fooled many into believing that the 98cc two-stroke motor displaced more than what was stated. As stricter emission norms started coming into effect, the RX-100 grew up to be an RX-G and then into an RX-Z, which came with a bikini fairing and a 5-speed gearbox. The final variant was a 4-speed RX135 which was fitted with a catalytic converter and a fuel gauge which was sold very briefly from 2003-2005.
Hero Honda CBZ
Back in 1999, two-strokes were dying a certain death. The RX had almost died and was waiting for something to pick up the relay. Enter the Hero Honda CBZ. Styled to look like a scaled down Honda CB, the 156cc CBZ could sprint from 0 – 60 in about 5 seconds and hit a top speed of 130 kph on its speedometer. It was one of the first motorcycles to feature a front mounted disc brake, came with a toe shifter, a 5-speed box offered a sporty riding position and handled brilliantly. I was still in school back then, but for a very long time, I was fascinated by this motorcycle and its TPFC technology. Although I never knew what it did, it sounded too fancy for that time.
It started with a TV commercial where two nurses exclaimed, “It’s a boy!” Positioned as something definitely male, the very first iteration of the Bajaj Pulsar with its round headlamp and that chiselled 18-litre tank, was the closest thing to Enrique Iglesias’ bike in one of his music videos. An Indian made 180cc motorcycle for 2001 seemed plenty fast, where the DTS-i model which followed was said to be hitting a top speed of nearly 140 kms!
Hero Honda Karizma
It was a time when the Indian motorcycling enthusiast was active on the internet and there were some really popular forums to discuss how lawnmowers elsewhere made more power. Enter the Hero Honda Karizma. The first motorcycle which genuinely crossed the 200cc barrier after the RD350 and went on to become an instant hit. It featured a fancy little electronic display, delivered all its power in a smooth and relaxed manner, looked pretty, could sit between 110 – 120 kph all day, and was just the tool back then if you wanted to cover long distances on a reliable and fast motorcycle without the dug-dug.
Yamaha YZF R15
It carried the legendary YZF tag, where ‘YZ’ is Yamaha’s designation for Race bike and the ‘F’ stands for four strokes. For a 150cc motorcycle, the R15 was extreme. Its motor sat inside a twin spar frame and employed forged pistons inside an all aluminium cylinder. The engine was liquid cooled and had a radiator to calm things down. It cranked out 16.4 bhp of power along with 14.5 Nm of torque, which is modest by current standards, but the refinement was next level. MRF was called out to develop a special, sticky compound for the R15’s tyres and all of it worked together to make the R15 special. And then there was that scaled down litre class styling.
KTM Duke 390
We don’t need to tell you how this little orange monster was launched at an unbelievable price and packed so much punch, it still has no match. A thoroughbred Austrian, fitted with a motor which makes you want to push it hard all the time, the KTM Duke 390 still acts as the right base, before one can move on to bigger machines. In fact, many argue that it offers just the right amount of performance for our kind of roads, where anything more is merely a want. Like things faired? There’s an RC too.
The Outsider: Yamaha FZ16
The Yamaha FZ is singlehandedly responsible for making commuter motorcycling in India look pretty. Although it was powered by a modest motor, its inflated body panels, fat forks, and that massive rear tyre made it look substantial. But it wasn’t just all show and no go, for this beefy Yamaha handled like a dream, which still makes it such a joy to thrash around traffic-infested streets. Not for nothing they called it the Lord!
This list follows the order of the year of introduction, where the latest motorcycle has been mentioned last. There are some more machines too, like the Suzuki Shogun and the Fiero which haven’t been mentioned. And although brilliant in their own right, they didn’t turn out to be as popular as their competitors here. Think something else belonged here? Leave a comment and let us and others know.