I seem to have found the mechanical love of my life, finally!
When I first came to Pune I was an impossibly naïve character. So naïve, I didn’t realize I was looking like a complete joker wearing that cheap, ill-fitting imitation of a Repsol Honda tee. In fact I hardly knew it was a cheap imitation, and strolled around the office with great pride, flaunting my passion. The act must have triggered some furtive smirks amongst my colleagues when I was around and some belly-rattling laughs when I was not. Thankfully, my office mates never made the fact obvious to me, and very patiently bore with the B-town lad who took his own sweet time learning corporate etiquettes.
However, even after being uncouth, I was reasonably good with telling good motorcycles from the bad ones, right from the first day. For example, the expression of my experience with the Bullet Electra that offered gearshift and brakes on the correct side was so demeaning I almost got fired by my editor. That report was the expression of a Japanese bike lover who rode an RE for the first time. And that, I think should be proof enough that I was generally good with my evaluations. The original copy was shown the way to the bin though, for obvious reasons.
In the following years, I rode scores of motorcycles – new and old, big and small, geared and automatic, friendly and scary, all varieties imaginable. Some of these bikes were incredibly appalling, especially the ones made for the bald, middle-aged stingy people and promising to circumnavigate the earth 500 times in a little less than half a litre of fuel. Needless to say, I dug my fangs relentlessly into paper for all such bikes, spitting out the last drop of all the venom my brain could produce. Thankfully some of these pieces went into print without being altered much, something that doesn’t usually happen in the Indian scheme of things.
There were other instances when I got completely smitten by some bikes. The LML CRD100, the R15 on the racetrack and Stuart Lima’s K5 Gixxer 1000 on the extreme end of the spectrum were the bikes that had me completely bowled over. While the CRD was a revelation going by the puny engine that propelled it, the R15 was a pleasant shock for most Indian auto journos as regards handling. Stuey’s Gixxer was the first bike that scared the stinkiest shit out of me with its uncontrollable acceleration and that deafening howl from its lovely Racefit exhaust.
Even as I appreciated these machines from the core of my heart, there never was a compelling craving within to make me lust for any of these beauties. I never wanted to own any of them. The CRD would make a laughing stock of me among my friends, while the Gixxer would surely kill me sooner than I could fathom. The R15, even the Ninja 250 are nice bikes, but they’re a good distance away from quenching my hooligan instincts, the limits of which I know very well. And knowing those limits, the 600 and litre class sportsters get automatically struck off the list. The essence of this entire rant is that I have never been able to find a bike that I would crave to own and ride every day. Bigger bikes were too manic for my liking and abilities, while the smaller ones were too timid. Anything in between wasn’t either sporty enough, or was too much of it. But all that changed when I rode the CBR 400RR recently – or the BabyBlade as they loved to call it.
I laid my hands on the beauty a few days back when it hit our garage for a wacky comparison test with the Ninja 250R. Draped in hues of red, white and blue, at first it looked similar to numerous other performance bikes I have ridden save for its nineties’ round twin-lamp styling. The 400cc mill dishing out a few more than 50 horses sounded tasty, but nothing to sweep me off my feet. I first took her out for a kilometre-long one-way ride to the grocer’s and whoa! It shattered my perception about the ideal performance bike for India.
The first thing that smashed the nail bang into my head was its angry, throaty growl. Once she gets talking, she never lets you know that she’s running 600 less cee cees than her elder sisters whose exhaust notes are worth giving an arm and leg for. The aftermarket Yoshimura system made this baby sound like the sweetest thing in the world, and guaranteed jolted twists of every neck in a region of 400 meters as soon as I wrung the throttle open. It sprints to 100km/h in 6.5 seconds flat and keeps intensifying its violent advance through the air ahead until it reaches 200km/h, after which it sobers down a bit to reach its top speed of 220km/h. Now that’s the kind of performance I would love to tame on Indian roads without having a massive, unused reservoir of power. That’s the kind of performance I would like exploit to the hilt without having to risk my life. That’s the kind of performance I can think of taking to its extreme to master my steed on the limit. It’s manic enough to scare, yet sane enough to not be termed as overkill. With its inconvenient, low handlebars and big tank, it makes you feel you’re riding a proper superbike – the inline four powerplant revs just the way a superbike should, while the compact dimensions and the correct amount of power make sure that you’re not struggling to save your life every time you attack a corner in full force.
The production of this beauty stopped in 2001, and unfortunately there are hardly any more 400s available in the market. But if there ever was just the perfect sportsbike for an Indian enthusiast, I am sure this would be it. So finally, after five years of learning, the naïve B-town lad has a bike to crave for. And guess what? He’s finally found something worth saving up for!