has been road testing for a decade but is rapidly making up time lost not being at the racetrack. His lap times are getting quick and there is more speed to come. He represents the rider who has done a few track days, is gaining in skill and confidence but still some way from matching someone like Anand on track.
used to be a club racer in the US before chucking a perfectly good software career to become a full time motorcyclist. Indimotard's lanky boss' easy going manner belies his incredible speed and smoothness in the saddle. Anand is a pro-level rider, whose trap speeds, corner speed and lap times are our reference for this test.
is a naturally fast rider whose raw speed is matched only by his inexperience. This is Rishaad's first time at the track and he represents the largest chunk of Indian enthusiasts - talented but new to the track, and to the art of riding motorcycles fast. His sense of traction, confidence and speed will naturally differ from the others.
Lap times alone tell eloquent tales but our track test is different. We have the times for three levels of riders as well their feel of the motorcycle and as you will see their feel is not always matched by their lap times, and sometimes between themselves, they don't even agree. What we are looking for is a motorcycle that will keep you interested and learning at the racetrack, without busting your bank. The winner of this test will be a motorcycle that feels great around the track, has the power and handling to allow you to grow your skill, doesn't cost the Earth and is comfortable to ride outside the track environment if possible, in that order of importance.
We picked the top six motorcycles in terms of enthusiast appeal for this test. The Yamaha YZF-R15 may make a big impression but it is the smallest displacement motorcycle here. Its reputation at the track is solid gold. Next up is the TVS Apache RTR180, physically the smallest bike here and TVS bikes have traditionally always been track-friendly. The Pulsar and the Karizma are the two 220s. Both are big draws for the enthusiast and great on the road and the highway. Can they hack the track? The two juiciest motorcycles, of course, are the box-fresh Honda CBR250R and the Kawasaki Ninja 250R, both top the charts in price, power and desirability.
Coimbatore is a good track for these smaller motorcycles because of its combination of slow chicanes, high speed sweepers and short and long straights. It's harder to get a good lap at the smaller of India's two racetracks because the track doesn't flow like the one near Chennai. It is also old tarmac and the bumpier surface also forces the suspension to work harder, all the better to work out how these bikes do on the ultimate test of all-round performance.
HH Karizma ZMR
223cc, 17.6PS, 189kg, Rs 98,840 ex-showroom Mumbai
It's easy to get on with once you start to enter corners at lower revs
The Karizma is the one motorcycle here that caused the most turmoil in the pits. Rishaad took a great liking to it, while Anand thought the motorcycle was just not suited to track work. I agree with both in parts, to be honest. From the moment you get on it, you sense that quiet capability that all Hondas seem to exude. Rishaad's liking for the motorcycle isn't hard to fathom. The ZMR is a composed, soft, unthreatening motorcycle that is a good place for a track rookie to start building up his pace and skill. The problem is that increasing skill overwhelms the motorcycle rapidly. The overtly large top fairing, loads of plastic under the visor area and all do make the motorcycle feel quite vast and the bottom-heavy, long-wheelbased, slow-turning nature of the motorcycle only adds to the impression. However, until you do start going really quick, the Karizma is a feel-good ride. Its chassis is composed and turn in is on the lazy side but not intrusively so. You never forget the large wheelbase, the feeling of heft and size, but manners remain good.
But the oldest and largest platform gets steadily harder to wring out good lap times from the pace rises. Like the Pulsar, its suspension isn't designed for this kind of continued on-the-limit punishment and the Karizma's highway smoothening suspension begins to create first clearance issues as stuff touches down and then the whole package feels like it's responding a bit too languidly to your increasingly frantic inputs. It is a Honda in the fact that you never quite feel out of control or distinctly uncomfortable on the ZMR but the fact that Hero Honda never intended the motorcycle to be a track demon is made amply clear.
I certainly wouldn't be throwing a tantrum if it were the only motorcycle at the track, but as Anand pointed out, the Karizma's engine - which can feel amazingly torquey on city roads and down the highway, feels a little underpowered. You have to learn to use the gears to allow the midrange to make up time. Suddenly the 8000rpm upshift seems oppressively low and in pure numbers terms, everyone went slowest on the Hero Honda, save for Rishaad, whose love for bike obviously gave him wings. The Karizma's inability to deal with the track becomes further obvious when you note that at the end of the straight, the ZMR is the slowest of all the motorcycles here. The ZMR's heft also makes it hard to slice through the technical turns one and two, where it duly post slow corner speeds. But the ZMR does have its points. It's an easy motorcycle to get on with once you realise that you need to enter the corners at lower revs (and consequently higher gears) than every other bike here to allow yourself headroom so you can shift up neatly at 7500rpm on the exit.
The Karizma remains one of the country's best highway tools, but while track days can be enjoyed on a ZMR, there are better bikes for that job here, and the ZMR is honest and up-front about what its role in life is and does its job quite well.
"It wallows a lot and the long wheelbase is not helpful. It is stable around corners but extremely sluggish. Completely lacks top-end has no low-end and in this comparison, a weak mid-range. It almost feels like a cruiser. The Karizma is good
for the road, but is not a track bike." - Anand
"It's soft and it is comfortable. It gives me the confidence to push, it corners better than the Pulsar and gives me the confidence to lean over more. It isn't too focused or too sharp, which makes it an easy motorcycle to ride." - Rishaad
Upgrade it! If you haven't already purchased a ZMR, get the Karizma R. It's lighter and has carburettors which means engine upgrades will be cheaper and less expensive. It also feels less bulky than the ZMR which makes the task of hustling it around a race track a bit easier. Slightly stiffer suspension, a lighter exhaust and higher set pegs should also give you more handling, enhancing a stable, capable chassis.
Bajaj Pulsar 220F
220cc, 21.04PS, 150kg, Rs 73,840 ex-showroom Mumbai
Everyone instantly appreciated the feel and grunt of the engine
The impression that the usually terrific Pulsar 220 was not meant for track work starts from the moment you start getting it ready for the track. Little things like removing the mirrors is a proper pain and it's main and side stands are big hurdles to cornering from the off. Anand, Rishaad and I had to get used to the centre stand scraping away and other riders who ride the track on their 220s eventually told us that even the side stand causes the same problem. And it is harder for the rookie to get used to all the scraping, which Rishaad demonstrated immediately by setting the slowest lap time of the day on the Pulsar.
But everyone immediately appreciated the feel and grunt of the engine. Even at top revs, the engine doesn't sound too stressed, vibration remains low and essentially the engine leaves you alone to deal with the rest of the motorcycle.
And that is where things do get complicated. The long wheelbase and the soft suspension are great on the highway but they get in the Pulsar's way at the track. While I clearly noticed the Pulsar absorbing bumps on the track to the point where the track seems amazingly smooth for the first couple of laps out, the quick left/right before the first chicane has a minor dip on the entry which would always bottom the rear suspension out at speed. Similarly, while Rishaad noticed some issues with the suspension, Anand's fearsome pace caused stability problems for him that all seemed to originate in the suspension's softness. The Pulsar logged the fewest laps because it proved to be the last motorcycle of this lot all of us wanted to put laps on.
That having been said, a quick look at the fast data shows that the P220 loses nearly four seconds to every other motorcycle through the two chicanes. Anand and I both had to work around the scraping of the center stand, while the same scraping also causes you to slow through the final double apex corner which penalises the Pulsar's speed trap performance, allowing - shock - both the RTR180 and the R15 to log nearly 1kmph faster speed before braking for turn one, where, again, the stability of the motorcycle and the relatively low lean into turn one allow the Pulsar to post the fast corner speeds of the sub-250s here. In terms of pure handling, the Pulsar turns in slower than the other motorcycles here and the chassis is slow to respond, as expected, in the flick-flack direction change as well. Its asset is its stability and it holds its line in the long sweeping right at the end of the lap well, hampered only by the stuff that's steadily grinding away underneath. Down the straight, the engine feels powerful and end of the straight hard braking produces no issues, although a sharper bite from the brakes would have been nice.
You might wonder why we didn't remove the main stand and see what the Pulsar did. Well, one of my first criteria for this test was that a new rider should be able to bring a bike to the track, nix the mirrors, tape up the lights and go out without any other mechanical modification needed. As we discovered, the P220 is the one motorcycle where you will need to remove the main stand before the fun can truly begin.
The Pulsar did win one back though. When it was time to head back to the hotel after a tiring day at the track, through the traffic and all, the Pulsar's keys were heavily in demand!
"The Pulsar has the potential but lacks image - it is clearly not meant for the racetrack. The engine is track worthy, but not at par with, for instance, the R15. As a track bike, the Pulsar wouldn't be on top of my purchase list, but the engine has great potential." - Anand
"The Pulsar 220 has a good engine which is revvy as well as torquey around the corners. The main stand is a big issue on the track. It makes you feel like you shouldn't be pushing the bike. That is why I prefer the Karizma to the Pulsar." - Rishaad
Feels the least suited to a race-track, from little details like the 14 washers you have to manage in taking off the mirrors to the softness of the suspension. Lose the centre stand and if you're really into it, you will have to eliminate the side stand as well to gain clearance. The marginally lighter S model would be better than the F and just with more preload and stiffer suspension, you should get more feel and cornering confidence.
TVS Apache RTR 180
177.4cc, 17.03PS, 137kg, Rs 70,470 ex-showroom Mumbai
The RTR is super agile and turns into corners extremely quickly with great speed
TVS' long history of motorsport and success therein has often reflected in their motorcycles and the RTR180 is a good example of this. The RTR series has always been noticeably more compact than its peers. Indeed, we ourselves have often commented on how the lightness, agility and track-readiness of the TVS bikes is hugely enjoyable. The RTR 180, at launch, had its wheelbase extended by a tiny bit over the 160 which added significantly to chassis stability and went a long way in making the bike feel sweeter than the 160. In fact, before we go any further, let me up and say that of this lot, the RTR is the cheapest viable track bike. If my budget was restricted and I needed to buy a motorcycle exclusively for track use, this is the bike I would buy.
It isn't the best here though. Part of the reason is the lightness itself which ensures that everyone spends the first two laps just readjusting to the TVS and getting mentally ready to push the pace. And once you are ready, you will notice the sheer lack of weight of inertia as you flick the bike left-right through the two chicanes with almost zero effort. Indeed, Anand said the balance between grip, cornering clearance and engine power was so good that he found that dropping a gear and flick-flack became his way of dealing with the two chicanes on the RTR. And nothing dragged, slid or lost composure. And the numbers back this up. The RTR is marginally slower than the R15 through most corners, actually quicker through turn 1 and just 0.22kmph slower than the R15 at the end of the main straight - if the engine had a happier feeling top-end, I think that speed trap results could have been reversed. Where the RTR loses ground to the R15, in fact, is in the last section, where the R15's stability allows the Yamaha to make up loads of time through the sweeper. It is almost a surprise when you note that the effortless R15's lap times are nearly identical to the RTR. Then again, we were all surprised when we finally noted that the P220 actually gets around faster then the RTR, actually posting faster corner speeds through the entire lap.
I am not as quick or confident as Anand, but I did find the RTR an incredibly easy and agile motorcycle which turned into corners extremely quickly allowing you to leave the braking a hint later and pick up the apexes without effort at slightly higher corner speeds than usual. That said, the R15, an engine performance peer in output terms, makes the TVS engine feel a bit slower to rev and the strain on the engine around 9-10,000rpm enforces shifts. This makes the bike feel slower and it isn't until you can monitor the speedo or the lap times that you realise that the TVS feels slower than it is, and the impression that you're putting a lot of effort into a lap time, throttle wise is illusory.
We were also not surprised to find that the TVS' appeal isn't universal. Those who get on with it sing high praise, but on the other hand, Rishaad took a full four sessions before he began to get on with the lightest motorcycle in our test and then began to get faster on it. I personally, found the TVS seat significantly softer than the rest which, at first, made me just notice it and then later, I kept feeling that the softness of the seat was robbing me of feedback from the rear wheel. To the point where a lower set of handlebars and a lower, stiffer seat would probably be the first changes I would make for a track-only RTR 180.
"I had a lot of fun on the Apache - and on the various Apaches I have ridden on track before. The smaller wheelbase makes it extremely flickable. It feels like it doesn't have a great top-end, but then all the machines here lack that. But I would say the RTR was more fun to lap quickly on than any other." - Anand
"I felt that the RTR was just too small for me. It is, on the other hand, very easy to turn in, very light, loves going into corners. I think the engine feels powerful as well, clocking 110-115kmph at the end of the main straight. I would have felt a lot more confident, I think, if the tyres were grippier." - Rishaad
Get properly sticky tyres, a stiffer, lower seat and metal pegs and you should already have a formidable, and relatively cheap track tool. Engine performance should be the next area of attack, but I think this is the motorcycle that requires the least changes to prove very handy at the race-track, the small outlay makes the deal that much sweeter
149.8cc, 17PS, 131kg, Rs 99,000 ex-showroom Mumbai
It can hold a tight line, suspension and brakes are as good on track as on the road
Mention an R15 in pit lane at either track in India and you're going to find smiling people. Those who have one or have ridden one at a track will smile from their happy memories, and those who haven't will offer a more envious, wistful version. It was launched in India at the Chennai track and it has proved to be an enduring, reliable, forgiving and very track-happy motorcycle. Its sense of being at home, poised, focused and sharp on track is unrivalled despite there being faster motorcycles here in this very test. The engine feels like it would survive a decade of relentless redlining and the chassis is crisp and well-matched. Every time you find the confidence or skill to raise the pace on the Yamaha, the R15 seems to find the clearance, power and grip to dance with you step
It has rapidly become the default pick across automotive magazines for track work and it isn't hard to see why. It may be the smallest engine in displacement terms, but its footprints are Yeti-sized. Want to learn to go properly racer fast? This is the motorcycle you should be learning on. I think it makes just enough power to let you play with the throttle without fear, and the chassis is all feedback, stability and ability. As neutral, stable handling packages go, I believe that the R15 is about the best motorcycle we have seen in India as far as I can remember. Yamaha has done an incredible job with this motorcycle, and I am praying that the upgrade rumoured to be coming later this year proves to be a motorcycle that ups the game one more notch. At the very least, it gives an excuse to return to the race-track once more, right?
In fact, the R15 does a credible job of staying close to the 250s at the race-track despite the power and displacement deficit is a testament to how hard the chassis works to allow you to go faster. MRF has outdone itself with the tyres that help a solid chassis stick like chewing gum to the race track. Looking at the split times, trap speeds and corners speeds suggest that if Yamaha were to bridge the displacement gap, the Ninja and the CBR would be in loads of trouble as the Yamaha would go out and post faster lap times in an instant. What we're saying is that the Yamaha is properly fantastic. And if you had to buy one motorcycle of this lot and your budget doesn't stretch to the CBR, the R15 is a solid pick. And with the Yamaha going racing and all, ECUs, exhaust pipes and what have you are available which can make the R15 go significantly faster still.
So why doesn't the R15 win this test? For the simplest of reasons. There are two motorcycles here that press home their displacement advantage admirably, something you cannot overlook. Hop off either the CBR250R or the Ninja and the R15 suddenly feels slow. It remains hugely enjoyable, extremely confidence inspiring, you just keep wishing for more power, more engine and more pace. Yamaha, we need an R25, and we need it now!
"It's a fantastic machine for the track. Its factory set-up just works. Good suspension, good tyres and good brakes make it the best bike for beginners and a wonderful motorcycle to learn on. The stability is superb - it feels as good as a 600 or a litre-class bike in that respect. Cornering is quick and with very little effort." - Anand
"The R15 felt like the most cramped of this lot. It is very agile, very nimble and revs like mad. It doesn't vibrate much, the tyres are brilliant, the brakes are good and the Yamaha is a lot of fun on the track. I would pick this as the most enjoyable motorcycle on track and the most confidence inspiring for me here." - Rishaad
Upgrade it! Is the most track ready of the lot out of the box by far. Race ECUs from Yamaha and others can give you more power and a higher redline and if you go there, consider finding a stickier, softer set of tyres to go with it. Racers suggest keeping the plastic at home for still more performance, but outside of that, the Yamaha is just stupendous.
249cc, 33PS, 172kg, Rs 2,69,000 ex-showroom Mumbai
Ninja 250R is final step on the ladder to larger displacement motorcycles
Let there be no doubt on this front, the Ninja 250R is the ultimate track tool here. It feels like it was born in turn one, enjoyed its first kiss at turn two and lived happily ever after at the final sweeper. It's sprung stiffly by the standard of the other bikes in the test to the point where you can feel the front kicking off the bumps in the second chicane on a closed throttle. But unlike the CBR, it feels lighter and denser in mass than the CBR. Which translates to a more connected feel and faster responses in corners.
The stiff suspension also allows the capable frame its head and opening the throttle out of a corner is a thrill all on its own as the engine rises from a steady hum at 7-8000rpm to a heady 12500rpm shriek before you shift up. Through all this a complete lack of vibration or stress in the engine note eggs you on. And having an extra 1500rpm left on the over rev does come in handy in Coimbatore where many of the other bikes enforce a relatively awkward shift on the exit of the corners as you try to wiggle your toes under the shift lever and hook the next gear somehow. I did feel that the IRC rubber holds back the chassis somewhat and that this motorcycle would have felt still better with a stickier pair of hoops down there.
Lap after lap on the Ninja, braking from well over an (indicated) 145kmph at the end of the main straight, flicking its weightless green-ness this way and that through the corners, the Ninja is an extremely satisfying way to spend the hours. Power is delivered with the right amount of urgency - not so much you'd feel scared, but hard enough so that ham-fisted application will lead eventually to a highside. As your skill grows, the Ninja 250R feels extremely well suited as the motorcycle that is the final step on the ladder to larger displacement motorcycles with more cylinders. And it's a twin, which sounds a lot more, erm, right shrieking down the straight than all of the other singles in this test.
Anand has a slightly different perspective, though. He says the Ninja isn't a get on and go fast type of machine. It takes some acclimatisation and only then do its R15-like stability and agility come through. Back to back with the CBR, the Ninja requires more precise riding as you always rely on the top-end for pace - its low- and mid-range aren't that robust. Despite Anand's assertion that the Kawasaki felt as quick in corners as the R15 or CBR, the Vbox logs show that the Ninja's pace here is unmatched - it is faster every where, and not just on the straights where its 7PS power advantage becomes the CBR's nemesis.
Unfortunately, the Ninja happens to be nearly twice as expensive as the non-ABS CBR, which is perhaps the sole reason why we cannot crown it the winner. Compounding the case against the Ninja is the realisation that 90 per cent of the time, the Ninja-CBR battle will take place on the streets and in that environment, the Ninja's stiffness, the very thing that gives such a great feel at the race-track, makes it a less accomplished motorcycle overall.
"The Ninja takes some time getting used to. It is similar to the R15 in terms of agility and is a well set up motorcycle. The aerodynamics - the fairing and the bubble are good. The Ninja does feel sluggish in the low- and mid-range but has the most top-end of all the bikes here. It's as fast in the corners as the R15 or the CBR but the power makes up time on the straights." - Anand
"The engine feels awesome when it is revving hard. I cannot get over how good it sounds. This is a smooth, beautiful bike to ride. I thought the brakes were very sharp and I needed to be extra careful with them. The Ninja pushes you to ride harder and for this track, I think
the Kawasaki had the best suspension set-up." - Rishaad
Upgrade it! It's nearly perfect for most people as stock. Upgrading the IRC tyres to same size Pirellis or Michelins would be the upgrade that brings the most gains around a track.
249cc, 25PS, 165kg, Rs 1,77,000 ex-showroom Mumbai
With just a little effort and money the CBR would be a tremendous track day bike
Since this is the last motorcycle in this list you already know the new Honda CBR250R is the winner of the track test. If you have read the previous pages, you also know that it isn't quite as good around a race-track as the Ninja. Here's why.
The big asset of the CBR is its Honda-ness. I mean that in terms of its neutral feel. Rishaad, Anand and I all immediately noted that in the back-to-back sessions with the other motorcycles, you would always be going quickest, the most comfortable in the shortest possible time on the CBR. You do notice its built-to-go-well-everywhere feel right from the start. It's a typical Honda trait and one that is sometimes frustrating because in the back of your head, you imagine how awesome a bike this could have been had it been, say, completely touring oriented, or completely track-focused and so forth.
In the CBR's case, your first impression of immense grunt at intermediate revs from the engine, followed a be a sense of low-down weight and a tall riding position in corners. The grunt bit proves useful because you discover that you have the option of two gears in many corners, one that's at very high revs and requires a shift almost as soon as the bike is vertical and a higher one which allows you to enter with the engine gurgling contentedly at mid-revs, that allows you to surge forcefully out of corners and shift up further down the straight. Cornering itself is neutral with the CBR feeling more or less like the median in terms of how quickly it turns and how stable it feels.
But as you up the pace, the softness of suspension, which works so well for the motorcycle on the street and the highway starts to become the weak link. The dive under hard braking is pronounced and settling the motorcycle into corners as you get faster becomes harder and harder.
Indeed, it took Anand quite a few laps before he concluded that the bounciness from the front fork was a distraction that hid the immense ability of the Honda chassis. And if you have the skill to work around the suspension, the Honda seems to be able to find more speed in practically every corner. The conclusion that stiffer forks and more pre-load would drop lap times on the CBR immensely was inescapable.
In pure numbers terms, the CBR loses time hand over fist to the Ninja thanks to the latter bike's extra cylinder, extra revs and extra power. But the soft chassis also manifests in the lower corner speeds, where the CBR proves to be significantly quicker than the Yamaha R15 only through the faster corners. Some credit must also go to the tyres, the Indian-made Continentals, which prove to be durable as well as sticky, showing little wear for the motorcycle that logged the most laps during our test.
When we sat down to hammer out a winner, all three of us agreed that with only a small amount of effort and money the CBR would prove to be a tremendous track day bike and that without busting the bank a la the Ninja. In stiffened form, its torquey engine would remain better to use in the real world and that is why it is the winner of track test and ascends to the throne as the winner of our test, even though the Ninja is actually quicker around this track than the Honda.
"The CBR's suspension is soft. But that's the only thing. It has low-end, lot of mid range and a very light top-end. The geometry is right and it is a well-engineered motorcycle. The riding position is a little more upright than I'd prefer, though. The Honda has a lot of potential, if you wanted to go racing with it." - Anand
"The CBR feels heavier than the rest and you have to muscle it around. But it also has more drive out of the corners as well. I think the brakes are extremely good and give you great confidence when you use them hard." - Rishaad
Upgrade it! The engine has loads of grunt, but the suspension is the weak link. We would put thicker oil in the front forks, jack up rear preload to the max and reposition the clip-ons under the top triple clamp - we aren't sure how the bars will clear the fairing though. The stock tyres are pretty decent, but upgraded rubber (softer not fatter) will bring benefits. If it is a track bike, we would recommend a non-ABS version. It is 8kg lighter and will allow you to practice braking without interference from the electronic fail safe.
Crash bungs are little nylon cylinders that project out from the bike to take crash damage instead of the fairing and engine cases. These are a must for faired motorcycles and do help with nakeds as well. A CBR600RR that crashed during the track day showed chewed up fairing, front axle and swing arm bungs in damage from a low side, with nary a scratch on the fairing.
Remove the need for a side stand on a track bike, a valuable addition if you have trouble with the side stand scraping, an issue more common than you know. They also make working on the bike easier given the lack of main stands on the faster bikers.
Moving the foot pegs and controls back and up give you a more committed riding position as well as greater cornering clearance. The other benefit is a more aerodynamic riding position as well as a greater feel for the motorcycle. Adjustability is crucial to your finding the right riding position for your body.
But the biggest difference in pace comes from having someone watch you, critique you and help you get faster and better on a bike. TWO Track Schools by Indimotard, powered by OVERDRIVE and the California Superbike School are great places to learn how to go faster at a racetrack. We have tried both and they both produce great weekends and better lap times.
How smooth and fast you can be in a corner depends on how comfortable you are. Grip pads attach to the knee recesses and give tons of extra grip to your knees which locks you into the motorcycle and makes hanging off and cornering miles better.
Losing weight, on your person and on the motorcycle can be a huge aid to better laps. If you are using your bike only at the race track, the lights, two-person seat, the tool kit under your seat, superfluous plastics are all items than can come off and give you a performance boost. Similarly the tyres around your waist.