The Haulay Haulay Bikes!

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Added in: Features

Country’s best lightweight contenders come together for a three way battle

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This story is about three prospective first time bike owners, Mr. Mukharjee, Mr. Rathore and Mr. Deshpande. On the left is poor Mr. Pradeep Mukharjee, a marketing executive, who was ordered by his wife to pick up ‘few things’ from Big Bazaar, on his way home from the office. His ancient Bajaj Priya has given up on him yet again. He desperately needs a new bike. At the centre is Amit Singh Rathore, a free spirit. Moved to the city a year back, owns a small business that is picking up rather well, and parties hard every night until the bars shut down. He wanted to buy a Karizma or at least a Pulsar. But thanks to the recessionary times doesn’t have the cash for anything above 45k. On the right is Mr. Mihir Dixit, just graduated and works (not really, he is on bench) in a big software company. He is fed-up of waiting for company bus and has a fat pay packet. He can easily afford a bigger bike. But he doesn’t really have any inkling towards performance. He just wants a bike that will be completely hassle-free to own and run, just an interim solution until he can afford a car.

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Motoroids being deeply concerned about these three lost souls, decided to help them chose the right set of wheels. We tested the bikes extensively on the traffic logged and pothole strewn streets of the city for a week. And then to push things to their limits; we took them out for a spin (a rather long one, 200 kms.) on the worst possible roads to inflict a months worth of wear and tear on them in a single day.

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Design and Engineering

100cc bikes still make up for about 65% of the bikes sold in our country. So what you see here are the ‘bells and whistles’ variants of the ‘bread and butter’ models. All three of them sport a neat little fairing and full size stickering jobs, both of which have become indispensible in this segment. But the similarities end there. The “New Generation” Splendor as Hero Honda likes to call it doesn’t strike the right chord, when it comes to looks. It looks okay from the front, but the stickering is a bit too much and the disproportionately huge tail-lamp isn’t exactly in accord with the bike’s porportions. The Discover is a bit too curvy for my liking. It tends to polarize opinion, people either like it or they don’t, but one thing’s for sure it looks more distinct than any other 100cc bike on sale today and has a good recall value. TVS has been successful at making the Star City look big. It has been styled so as not to offend anyone and if it weren’t for the rather tasteful ‘leaping horse’ graphics, the Star City would have looked a bit dull.

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The three Musketeers (not us. the bikes i.e.) taking a brief respite beside a lake

All three of these bikes have excellent build quality and apart from the Bajaj, the other two have a good reputation for reliability as well. However after our ride, the Discover remained free of any rattles or other niggling problems and Bajaj seems to have caught up with the other two in this department.

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Broken roads like this were a norm rather than an exception

Ergonomics

The Star City with its capacious 16 litre tank, wide, accommodating seat and big fairing feels like a much bigger motorcycle than it actually is. The soft seat squab makes the rider as well as the pillion feel instantly comfortable. But ride it for a long time and its flaws show up, as the soft and oddly stepped foam gives way, you can feel the hard plastic underneath and the high-set foot-pegs make your knees rise above the waist level, which feels awkward. On the contrary, the Discover, inspite of being the longest bike here feels tiny. The seat is wide and supportive, but is slightly hard. The knee recesses in the fuel tank are strictly aesthetic and instead of accommodating your knees they actually prod against them. The Splendor NXG has simple tank and a seat but the ergonomics are so well judged for the average Indian frame that you feel instantly at home, be it for long rides or short.

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We love the ‘leaping horse’ graphics of the Star City. The NXG’s stickering is a bit overdone. The Discover’s graphics are subtle if a bit busy

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The Discover gets an LED tail-lamp but the chrome garnish looks a bit garish. The Splendor NXG’s tail might be the biggest one i have seen to date on a motorcycle. The Star City’s flush-fitting brake light is the most elegant

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The Discover has a very distinctive front-end with the floating visor and the pot shaped headlight. The NXG dosen’t get a perspex visor, the fairing is a one-piece unit. The Star City’s fairing is big though a bit plain

Value For Money

All three bikes here have electric-start and alloy wheels as standard. But the Discover is the most well equipped bike here. It tries to outdo the other two in every department. It has a 5-speed gearbox, the Hero Honda and the TVS have only four ratios. It has gas-charged rear suspension while the other two get conventional spring-dampers. The Discover gets LED tail-lamp and eyebrow-shaped pilot lamps while the other two get the normal bulbs in their units. And not to forget it has two spark plugs while the other two only get one spark-plug each!

Inspite of all this it’s the Hero Honda which is the priciest of the lot at 48,700 Rs. OTR, Pune, commanding a premium of nearly three thousand rupees for the company’s reputation. But, it will definitely retain its value better at the time of resale. The Discover retails for Rs. 45,700, offering great value for money while the Star City at Rs 45,000 On-road, Pune costs roughly the same as the Discover.

Fuel efficiency

Let’s be perfectly clear about one thing beforehand, all three bikes here are extremely fuel efficient and if you have a problem with the fuel efficiency of any of the three bikes it is your fault not the bikes’. Also, during our trip the bikes were being ridden at full throttle more often than not and hence the fuel efficiency we got is the minimum possible real world figure. You can safely assume a 25% rise in fuel efficiency. That being said, it was the Discover that returned a maximum of 66 kilometers to the litre. Thanks to the peaky power delivery and the availability of a well judged fifth gear, the Discover pulls from speeds as low as 30 all the way up to 80. No wonder then that we have amongst us the newly crowned ‘Queen of the Average’ (pun intended). During our ride, it managed to run lower revs than the other bikes in the competition, and hence the stunning lead over its rivals. The ‘Fill it, shut it, forget it’ bike came second with a kpl of 56. However, the NXG is more at home on city streets and will claw back some of the lost ground to the Discover on its home turf. The Star City, thanks to it being tuned for out-and-out low end performance delivered a fuel efficiency of 50 kpl. The TVS also had some snag in its fuelling when it was delivered to us with it misfiring its way to glory every time the rider went off the throttle. We got it rectified at a service centre the next day but, we suppose we lost the ideal carb setting in the bargain, heavily compromising the Star City’s mileage.

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The TVS uses a single downtube frame with the engine as stressed member and a box section swingarm

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Star City has clean white faced dials along with the Power and Economy ‘Nanny’ lights

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The Star City gets thumb operated preload adjustment for the rear suspension

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The Discover’s headlight is the best of the bunch with nice throw and cool eyebrow shaped pilot lamps

Engine-Gearbox

The Discover might be having the smallest engine on test here, but it makes up for the lack of CCs with its effervescent attitude. It’s a surprisingly free revving unit, remarkably refined at lower revs and acceptably refined at the red line. It also has a fantastic throttle response to boot. It is the quickest accelerating bike on test here and thanks to the mini-Pulsar exhaust note, feels even quicker while riding. In our two-up, roll-on tests*, it turned out to be the quickest bike in all three gears, with a timing of 15.7 seconds in third, 21.3 seconds in fourth and 20.5 seconds in fifth gear. It has a weak low end, but it almost makes up for it with its lively top end & goads you into riding faster than you usually would on a 100 cc bike. However its gearbox is the weak link here. It misses downshifts and lacks feel. This gets annoying at times, especially since you need to triple downshift at times, thanks to the combination of 5-speed ‘box and lack of low end torque. The 5th gear does make it perfect for all those ‘lane hoggers’ who like to roam all over the city in top gear at 40kph.

The Star City has the biggest engine of the trio and TVS has tuned it to deliver the maximum possible low end bang. It returned respectable figures for the double seat, 30-70 kph roll-on test of 15.8 seconds in third and 25.1 seconds in fourth gear. It is a smooth operator and wonderfully drivable upto 60 kph after which the performance trails off and it gets a bit strained. I rode the smaller 100cc Star Sport a couple of months back and its engine felt much more free and linear than its 110 cc sibling, so good infact that I started wondering if we included the right TVS in the test. The gearbox works quite well but there is a minor snag, you can’t crank up the electric starter unless you put her into neutral.

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The Discover gets gas charged shocks and a box section swingarm

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The Discover gets the most comprehensive switchgear with the ‘Ride Control’ switch which we didn’t really find of any use

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The Splendor NXG’s head-lamp is the weakest of the bunch with a weak beam and not too much spread

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The Hero Honda gets the most basic cycle-parts with an old-design suspension, tubular swinarm and the slimmest rear tyre

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The Splendor gets a scooter like console featuring a big speedo with a bold font

The 97 cc ‘sloper’ unit in the Splendor NXG is legendary, and there’s a reason for it. The engine has been honed over decades and has evolved to near perfection. It is the archetypal Honda engine, refined throughout its rev-range, right upto the rev limit. But the best thing about it is that it delivers power just where you need it. It has great tractability through the gears and a gutsy low to midrange which makes commuting a breeze. It does feel a bit out of breath with a pillion on-board though, which is reflected in its 30 to 70 kph roll-on times of 17.1 seconds in third and 30.6 seconds in fourth gear. Complementing the fantastic engine is an equally fantastic gearbox with short throws and slick, positive shifts. The powertrain is what makes the Hero Honda so special among the bunch. It is the be all and end all of this bike.

All three bikes have a common shortcoming though; none of them have the globally accepted one-down-rest-up shift pattern.

Ride-handling

Our riding route consisted of some brilliant snaking tarmac, just right to get a feel of the bikes’ handling and a huge stretch of broken village road with enough potholes to test the ride quality. Basically all three of these bikes have been adapted to tackle the cut-and thrust of intra-city travel. They are lightweight and have a compact wheelbase. This makes them extremely nimble at crawling speeds.

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The Discover might be having the smallest engine on test here, but it makes up for the lack of cc’s with its effervescent attitude

The Star City has extra soft suspension making it ultra comfortable over isolated bumps, but throw in a series of undulations and it wallows all over the place. The Splendor has the most bare-basic frame and suspension of the trio. It also has the slimmest tyre, a mere 2.75 section at the rear. It absorbs smaller bumps well but tends to get unsettled when faced with the bigger crests and troughs. The Discover has the best ride-handling of the group. It has a stiff chassis, gas charged shocks at the rear, and 17 inch wheels. Though the setup might be a bit on the stiffer side, it never bottoms out and holds its line rather well.

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We just had to stop here. The bikes couldn’t resist the beauty of the place!

All three of these bikes come with drum brakes as standard which leaves a lot to be desired on the braking front. None of them offer disc brakes even as an option. In fact all the bikes desperately need better cycle-parts. For ages manufacturers have paid a lot of attention on developing the engines only because engine developments can be bragged about as fuel efficiency, power or performance numbers. But in the bargain, they have neglected the chassis-suspension and continue to offer the bare minimum. All these bikes are in dire need of stiffer chassis, better suspension, wider and stickier tyres and powerful brakes, no two ways about it.

Our riding route consisted of some brilliant snaking tarmac, just right to get a feel of the bikes’ handling and a huge stretch of broken village road with enough potholes to test the ride quality. Basically all three of these bikes have been adapted to tackle the cut-and thrust of intra-city travel. They are lightweight and have a compact wheelbase. This makes them extremely nimble at crawling speeds.

bajaj discover, Hero honda splendor, tvs star, 100cc, motorcycles, motoroids,

It was one of those times, when you wish you could just ride on forever

The Star City has extra soft suspension making it ultra comfortable over isolated bumps, but throw in a series of undulations and it wallows all over the place. The Splendor has the most bare-basic frame and suspension of the trio. It also has the slimmest tyre, a mere 2.75 section at the rear. It absorbs smaller bumps well but tends to get unsettled when faced with the bigger crests and troughs. The Discover has the best ride-handling of the group. It has a stiff chassis, gas charged shocks at the rear, and 17 inch wheels. Though the setup might be a bit on the stiffer side, it never bottoms out and holds its line rather well.

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Rains, clouds, rainbows, Amit dancing like a peacock. Nothing felt weird in that place

All three of these bikes come with drum brakes as standard which leaves a lot to be desired on the braking front. None of them offer disc brakes even as an option. In fact all the bikes desperately need better cycle-parts. For ages manufacturers have paid a lot of attention on developing the engines only because engine developments can be bragged about as fuel efficiency, power or performance numbers. But in the bargain, they have neglected the chassis-suspension and continue to offer the bare minimum. All these bikes are in dire need of stiffer chassis, better suspension, wider and stickier tyres and powerful brakes, no two ways about it.

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Trying to a perspective of things, from under the ‘bow

Verdict

The Star City  feels big and comfy during initial impressions, but it is starting to show its age. A new one is due in a couple of months and we have great expectations from it. Mrs. Mukharjee loves it for its comfiest pillion perch. Poor Babu Moshai, he is going to get badgered by his wife into buying the TVS just like he was badgered into marrying her by his family. But in our comparo, the age-old rivals from Hero Honda and Bajaj Auto manage to over-shaodow the TVS by the slightest of a margin.

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Brilliant snaking tarmac through thick forests, is this biking nirvana?

The Discover is by far the most fun to ride bike among its peers. She entices the two prospective grooms in our story Mr. Rathore & Mr. Dixit with her zesty engine, taut road manners, lots of goodies and the icing on the cake, her frugality. She is the modern metropolitan woman. She’s a raven. She might even make a good home-maker, one who will sing the kids to sleep and then party at the Hard Rock Café. Mr. Amit Singh Rathore is ready to take the plunge. It might turn out to be a match made in heaven. She might be able to tame his wild ways with her tact. But even if things don’t quite turn out to be that way, even though they part ways after a while, he will always remember his fling with her, fondly. And going by the fact that Bajaj sold a lakh Discovers in a matter of just 50 days it seems that a lot of Indians folks are looking for a ‘fling’ nowadays.

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Evaluating the bikes nocturnal ability

Mr. Dixit however, likes the Hero Honda better, because it’s a safer bet. He understands that in the long term, the Discover comes with a risk factor involved. But our man doesn’t like taking risks; he likes to be 100 % sure. He is not a rebel; he is perfectly comfortable with the traditional match-making. Love is not his cup of tea; he prefers the cups of tea that he will be served before his arranged marriage. He seeks marital bliss and the Splendor NXG is the bride of his dreams, effortless to own and effortless to ride. It fits the given role to the proverbial t. and is the winner of this shootout. Now I know why Hero Honda sells three and a half lakh two-wheelers every month.

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