Big trip

Tushar Burman  /
09 May 2013 16:11:06 IST

All the groundbreaking tech on the VFR is there to help the rider in terms of safety and comfort and that makes it the most comfortable tourer

Most of us have been middle class boys, envious of those who own imported motorcycles while being wishful in our own little way, and why wouldn't we be? Superbikes scream gut wrenching acceleration, mind numbing top speeds and are powerful chick magnets, some things that all of us desire. So when I was presented with an opportunity of riding one for over a thousand kilometres, I grabbed it with all earnestness while being a little perturbed. I must admit that the timing wasn't all that right to embark on a trip like this. We had just wrapped up our two-day long jury round on the MMST race track and both Halley and I were dead tired. We were lapping the track endlessly for two days and I could see how tired he was, and

vice versa. Even Sirish at one point of time asked us if we were really sure that we wanted to do this and the answer was a unanimous yes. We did not want to let go of such an experience.

Let me start by introducing our rides. On one side we had the Honda VFR1200F which is at the cutting edge of motorcycle engineering and is Honda's flagship sports-tourer. Everything about the VFR is a far cry from what we are used to in a motorcycle, even imports for that matter. Its unconventional design is full of compound lines and graceful curves which are a blend of aerodynamic necessities and the designers' creative genius. The distinctive 170PS V4 engine is coupled to fly-by-wire throttle control, with the world's first twin clutch automatic gearbox and also ABS, a feature we haven't seen on any imports other than Hondas. All this meant we had one super tourer waiting to munch and spit out miles like a train. It also meant that we had one really expensive hunk of metal which needed to be taken care of real carefully. So I let Halley, a bonafide Honda fan have a go at it first. He also happens to be a far more experienced rider than I am and has much superior control.

The other motorcycle in contention was the Suzuki Bandit 1250S. Although its name suggests something as intense as the VFR1200F, as most of you know, it isn't. It is a much milder motorcycle in every way. It is much cheaper to produce with basic mechanicals, quality and electronics. In fact, the Bandit has no fancy electronics to boast of at all. What the Bandit had going in its favour was its reputation of being one of the best touring motorcycles in the world and that reputation preceded it. I've always been a tourer and the Bandit's attributes appealed to me so I began by riding it.

The original plan was to have three motorcycles on this ride, the GSX-R1000, the VFR1200F and the Bandit 1250S. The idea behind the story was simple, a supersport versus a sports tourer versus the most versatile category of them all, a semi-naked tourer on our roads. A minor technical snag saw the Gixxer drop out and we were left with the sports tourer and the naked, the VFR and the Bandit respectively, not that we were complaining. The Gixxer was Abhay's pick and he was forced to take his lid and kit and fly back to Pune.

We hit the road at dusk praying that the rain gods would spare us since it had been raining intermittently in Chennai all through that week. As it turned out, he didn't. A couple of hours into the ride we were greeted by torrential rain which delayed us by an hour. The next glitch we faced was slippery roads. Nearing dinner destination, the roads were covered with gooey slush, all thanks to the mud brought on to the road by dumper trucks which was now mixed with rain water. Other than managing to stay on the bikes, we had to look out for throttle happy truck drivers who didn't give a damn whether they were splashing a kilo of muck at both of us.

With 120-odd kilometres from Chennai on NH4, we halted at what is the 'legendary' town of Ambur according to Halley to sample some of the best 'mattan' biryani in the whole of South India and the place which supplies leather to all top brands in the world, again according to Halley. I ended up eating some soup with vermicelli instead - sigh, long story. Halley on the other hand relished the great South Indian biryani but had to limit his intake as he didn't want to get into sleep mode while riding! On the other hand, what I was more concerned about was riding the VFR1200F. Having made our way to the bikes through the huge crowd that had gathered, we began kitting up when another interesting fact emerged. No one notices the Bandit at all, and I mean at all. Having a visually arresting motorcycle like the VFR next to it only makes the Bandit fade further. The grey colour and 'regular' styling simply do not attract attention. That may be a good thing or bad, depending on how you look at it. If you want to buy a CBU and want to attract your money's worth of attention, the Bandit won't deliver. On the other hand, if you want a usable CBU motorcycle which you can confidently park in the average parking lot and return to it knowing that no sat on it or scratched it out of pure jealousy, then the Bandit is perhaps the sole CBU in India which can manage this. And this is before you consider the fact that this Suzuki is by far, the most effortless CBU motorcycle you can buy in India, in traffic, on the highway and indeed, at the racetrack as well. It, literally, does do it all.

Getting astride a VFR after riding the Bandit feels somewhat like getting into a Mercedes after driving an Alto. I'm not exaggerating the slightest here. The Bandit is a simple motorcycle. It's what the Europeans call a budget motorcycle. It doesn't have any fancy gadgetry and isn't the lovechild of a computer and a motorcycle like the VFR1200F can sometimes feel like. The VFR on the other hand feels much more complex and sophisticated. The difference in the quality and ultimately the additional cost shows itself clearly. The VFR is festooned liberally with buttons you can play with which includes the drive mode setting switch and the gear shift switches. Even the instrumentation cluster displays much more information and the design feels space age once you compare it to the Bandit's simple layout. Even the quality and the fit and finish are posh on the VFR1200 and these are the differences I could make out at night somewhere on the highway a few hundred kilometers short of Bangalore.

Slot the VFR1200F in 'drive' and be prepared for a heavy jerk, like a truck just nudged you from the back and then be prepared for an even more uncomfortable start if you are planning to inch ahead slowly rather than accelerate hard. Once in motion, the VFR1200F feels more stable and balanced than the Bandit, it feels heavier (in a good way) and better planted at high speeds. The twin-clutch automatic is the best thing to happen to touring motorcycles. Some might hate it and call it a kill joy over conventional motorcycling but let's not forget, the VFR is a touring bike and the lesser the fatigue the better the ride and the gearless riding does just that, reduces rider fatigue. The VFR1200F also does feel better than the Bandit when it comes to smoothening out rough tarmac but the difference is marginal. Where the VFR1200F did lose out were the impromptu speed-breakers. The Bandit manages to evade them without rubbing the underbody but the VFR1200F most certainly lacks the clearance to go cleanly through.

All throughout this journey the Bandit felt much more comfortable thanks to its relaxed seating and the high handlebars but the difference in comfort is just marginal. The VFR, over a long distance can be a bit taxing on your wrist and your back but that is because of the riding conditions on our roads. We have to keep braking and accelerating often for various reasons and that made riding the VFR a bit uncomfortable for me with my tall frame. However, The VFR presents a strong argument in this matter; it can get you from point A to point B much faster than the Bandit so you won't have to spend those additional hours on the VFR. Certain sections in between Kolhapur and Pune where we had long open and well surfaced stretches, the VFR managed to gain adequate grounds on the Bandit. The visor on the VFR is better at channelling air over the rider and Halley could hold on to high speeds while I was being blasted with wind on the Bandit once the needle crossed the 130kmph mark. In the VFR's intended habitat, which are highways in Europe and America, it would be an effortless ride as your average commuting speeds are much higher and a committed riding position won't be as stressful as it is here in India. It smokes the Bandit in all aspects of performance and in sports mode it's simply impossible for the Bandit to keep up with the VFR1200F. Not that the Bandit is puny but its 98PS isn't a match for the VFR's 172PS. Such ferocious power coupled with the slightly better handling makes the VFR1200F a highly capable machine with a much sportier intent than the Bandit.

If our highways would have been reassuring, this would have been one of the best trips of my life. However, stray cattle, sudden lunar crater sized potholes on perfectly flat tarmac and the lack of good quality fuel made this trip an exasperating affair. The most notable instance was the flat tyre on the VFR. We spent well over four hours trying to get it fixed and don't ask us why. The second most notable issue we had was the bad fuel quality which saw the Bandit refusing to rev beyond 2000rpm. It began with the revs being limited at 5000rpm and then gradually falling down to 2000rpm. Initially we had no idea what was happening and a bit of Google-ing on the highway led us to the problem. Apparently the Bandit has some sort of a fail-safe which restricts the revs in accordance to the amount of fuel passing through the filter. The nice guys at Suzuki were then woken up late in the night by our phone calls and promptly managed to replace the choked fuel filter (see pic) at six in the morning in Bangaluru. Other problems included the bikes overheating in Bengaluru's mad traffic, worked up truck drivers hell bent on running us over and Davangiri's local mafia losing their cool on being refused a ride. It's a strange feeling when you are riding motorcycles like these on our roads, you want to be calm but you just can't. There is so much going on in your mind that concentrating just on the ride is not an option and superbike owners will echo my sentiments.

We finally managed to reach Pune late night the next day and reaching Pune never felt this good. Exhausted and about to collapse, I thanked my stars for making it back in one piece after a day and a half of ups and downs and also spared a moment to retrospect on the ride. Evaluating such bikes on our roads requires a slight off-track method. You just can't go "oh this is good and this is bad." You need to consider the fact that they weren't designed for such environments. The consensus which Halley and I both agreed upon is that the VFR is a much better tourer compared to the Bandit in terms of performance and riding convenience. All the groundbreaking tech on the VFR is there to help the rider in terms of safety and comfort and that makes it the most comfortable tourer out there. The entire tech on the VFR means that it works more and makes the rider work less and that is the best feature of the bike. Even though the Bandit would have won if the other bike in contention would have been a supersport, it leaves much to be desired when pegged next to the VFR. Although the Bandit does everything well, it is a very simple motorcycle where CBUs in India are concerned. It doesn't have the flair, the appeal or even the performance that we Indians expect out of a CBU. To make matters worse, it is just available in two colours, grey and black and trust me, it takes some effort to spot the Bandit in a parking lot. If money is no object then I'd go for the VFR any day. Unfortunately for most of us, money is an object and that tilts me in favour of the Bandit.

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