Blessed are the meek; for they shall inherit the Earth. That's the full form of the beatitude from Gospels of Matthew (5:5). And there may just be some truth to that. To use a food example, consider the best burger in the world and the best-selling burger in the world. They are strikingly different creatures. The former will have exotic components, exotic cooking processes complemented by an equally evocative presentation. The latter is the McDonald's burger most of us know so well - mass-produced components, cooking designed more for efficiency (cost and time) rather than flavour and available freely and relatively inexpensively. So while desirability lies with the former, the world of business, of volumes, of vast profit tends to lie with the latter.
And that is the game being played in the suddenly buzzing entry-level segment. It's not a segment that really makes news in our kind of magazines though we understand it's importance. I think the last time the 100cc motorcycle was news was when Rajiv Bajaj made his comments on the Boxer which was misquoted or quoted out of context to oblivion. Since then, silence. Unless you talk of quarterly reports or monthly sales updates from bike manufacturers. When Hero boasts (as they do like clockwork every month now) that they've sold another 6 lakh motorcycles last month, what is lost in the ooh-aahs is the fact that roughly 5.98 lakh of those were likely to be entry-level 100cc motorcycles.
And that is the battle that has been joined. Within days of each other Honda launched their Dream Yuga and Suzuki launched the Hayate. Both bare-bones commuting motorcycles that on the face of it hardly warrant a second glance. The meek. But on their wee shoulders rest the battle for the world itself. No, seriously. The Dream Yuga carries the Dream name, a big name right through Honda's motorcycle history. And make no mistake, it has one goal and one goal only. To become the world's largest selling motorcycle model.
The Hayate is more modest in its ambitions. It does want a piece of the Splendor's pie and Suzuki would throw a six-month long party if it overhauled the Splendor on sales but right now, the Hayate's task is to establish Suzuki at the bottom of the Indian motorcycle market. To be a player doing serious numbers in the most number-oriented end of the business.
The thing with the Japanese is that everything runs to a (usually hidden) plan. And these plans aren't instant gratification deals. They are long slogs in the trenches, hard-fought battles produce mere inches of progress, but it must be done. And in five years, maybe ten, they will be the kings. To the point where my point blank question to Honda Motorcycle and Scooter India chief Muramatsu San, "When will the Dream Yuga overtake the Splendor?" was answered very carefully (after much laughter) as thus, "That's far away. India only has three million-plus products - Splendor, Passion and Activa. First we make Dream Yuga a million seller, then we see. Remember Splendor sales will continue to grow. So we have to grow faster than them to pass them. Not easy."
On the other hand, as usual, Suzuki underplay their hand. They say the Hayate is neat, effective and efficient and they expect a warm response. Splendor-beater? Smiles all around at the naivete of the experienced journalist.
But let's get into the thick of it. And I warn you, there will be blood before the dust setttles in this game.
As usual let us begin with the design of the motorcycles. The Splendor is a legend. It's so well-entrenched in its ways that a design critique is almost besides the point. You already know the simple lines of the tank and the panels, the range of stickering related updates and upgrades its been through and all that. There's a certain civility to the design that still shows through but in pure, cold assessment terms, it's an old motorcycle and familiarity isn't an asset.
But look what it's done to the others. The Honda and the Suzuki have to toe the line the Splendor's drawn. The format is the same - coloured-front mudguard, bikini fairing, a simple tank design, similarly neat side and tailpiece panels ending in a substantial tail lamp. All mounted on hardy, simple chasses with spindly telescopic forks and basic twin-shock rear suspension. And let's now forget the skinny tyres - though that is something we will return to in a moment.
Within that template, the Honda is physically the largest motorcycle here. It borrows lines from the Shine on the face of it and the design is simple, uncluttered and in that lies its spartan brand of appeal. It may not be a good-looking bike or a design icon but it is inoffensive to all, and by extension just what they wanted for some. In fact, I was told by all concerned that this customer is a traditional-minded soul and revolutionary isn't something they're looking for. They wanted simple, unintimidating and easy to relate to and that's what the DreamY delivers to them. Yes, that's what I intend to call the motorcycle for the rest of the story. The segment's been a playground full of odd-nomenclature since forever but I suspect Honda's just turned a corner even on that front - and not in a good way.
The Hayate, then, is refreshing in that it looks like it's own person apart from the very-very Suzuki tank design. The fairing looks distinctive enough though the overall motorcycle looks tiny. Dimension data says the Splendor is smaller, but the Hayate looks smaller still. But you don't buy these motorcycles for their design flair so let's move along.
The big matter here is the engine. The Splendor uses the same-old, ultra-reliable, frugal 97.2cc single from back then though it's cousins, the Splendor Pro and the NXG (and the Passion Pro) get an upgraded version with 0.5PS more power and 0.1Nm-odd more torque. It's a legendary engine because of the faith that the Indian motorcycle buyer seems to have in it and in that sense it being bettered by other competitors on nearly every operational aspect seems to do bugger all in deflecting it off its sales trajectory.
Consider the Hayate for instance. It displaces 112.8cc and it employs the difference in displacement to make 8.4PS (1.1 more than the Splendor+ and 0.6PS more than S Pro and S NXG) as well as 8.8Nm of torque, roughly 10 per cent more torque. This, however, does not manifest in its performance figures. The Splendor+ itself is marginally quicker in acceleration to 60kmph though the Hayate has it back by the quarter mile. You can laugh at the hilarity of a 100cc bike going the quarter mile but the smiles disappear when you realise that the Hayate easily beats the Splendor's 56kmpl in the city by returning almost 65 and trumps it on the highway as well (70 versus 73 for the Suzuki). Economy is crucial to this segment and every iota counts.
The DreamY displaces 109cc but makes even more power and torque than the Hayate - 8.63PS and 8.91Nm. It also weighs less than the Splendor so performance should be blistering, er, fascinating. But surprise, the gearing of the Honda makes it the slowest motorcycle here in standing start acceleration. But then the Honda trumps both in two areas, one useful and the other critical. The useful bit is roll on acceleration and the Honda is very quick to go from 30-70kmph, beating both the others easily. But on the economy front, it's peerless and a half. City economy test figures at 72.88kmpl which forced us to recheck the test before we published it. Highway economy nearly nudges 79kmpl, which is phenomenal!
And the three are dramatically different in feel as well. The Splendor likes its 'economy zone' and revved past that it complains vocally and loses a fair chunk of its otherwise quiet brand of refinement. The Hayate is silk. The engine has the liquid ease of mercury and only at the very top revs does it begin to lose its iron grip on engine noise and vibration. The Honda is silk as well. Normal city work is handled without noise or vibration and when you're in the mood to push it, the engine feels surprisingly eager to join the party rather than complain. It was the Honda's ability to handle the quiet lugging of the economy-minded as well as the high-rev blatting that road testers usually subject motorcycles too that really brought home how versatile an engine Honda have created. It's something we liked on the Twister but it really hits home on the DreamY.
That said, the shift patterns are a mess. Honda have gone with Hero in the all-up pattern while the Suzuki uses an all-down pattern. They are all pretty positive but they are also notchy in feel across the board. I had loads of trouble adjusting to the shift patterns but thankfully (hopefully?) buyers will have only one of these in the garage so it's a non-issue aside from the fact that you'll find yourself in neutral by mistake very often and when that happens in the middle of a u-turn it can be very annoying.
The DreamY doesn't give up anything in the dynamics department either, to continue with the comparo. It uses a diamond frame as expected but Honda's specifying tubeless tyres for the alloy wheels models was unexpected. And the chassis as a result is a light, flick-friendly but stable job that throughly enjoys its sticky tyres. The Honda can be cornered with an impunity that 100cc bikes aren't really expected to do and it's the second time we encountered that fun angle to this commuter motorcycle and we liked it even more. The Hayate is not slouch either and we were quite surprised by how its diminutive feel works for it in the corners as well. And together they made the Splendor feel old. The Hero feels like it has the most inertia here and it's a negligible sized matter but despite the smallest wheelbase, the Splendor felt the least agile here. As in ridden back to back you can easily sense how old the platform is.
On the ride quality front, again, the same story plays out. Basic suspension is the norm here but the Hayate chooses a soft setup and makes it work on bad roads while Honda uses a stiffer setup that smoothes bad roads nearly just as well but helps in corners. The Splendor is pretty good, but it simply doesn't feel as supple as the other two. Again, it's matter of degrees, but the Hero is clearly an older motorcycle here, trumped noticeably - but not significantly - by the new kids on the block.
On the braking front, I'm gutted that the customer hasn't moved on and think drums brakes are okay for daily use. I would have liked to see disc brakes across the segment but they (all) tell me the 100cc customer still isn't willing to pay the extra money the disc would cost. All three, then are decent on the brakes but the Hayate has the most feel at the lever and perhaps that is the reason it produces the quickest stops of the lot.
So where does it end? The battle has only begun and it will not settle until almost every Indian has voted with their money, and then some. But to focus on the products, the Hero's case looks weak. In feel the motorcycle feels more strained when riding even slightly above normal speeds although it does turn out numbers when pushed. Still very fuel efficient, the competition has it beat now and the premium the Hero commands now is purely a matter of its reputation, it's strong resale values and the sheer momentum of the brand. It's still a solid buy, unquestionably, but it's clear that on most fronts the other two are ahead.
The Suzuki Hayate should be a properly impressive motorcycle. It has a significant price advantage, a likeable quiet, efficient engine and excellent road manners. But as has been the case with all of the Suzuki motorcycles so far, it lacks a sense of excitement of personality just as much as it reeks of good quality and build. It's a secure purchase you will be happy with, I'm confident but I think Honda are on to something in the Dream Yuga.
You see the Dream Yuga nearly matches or bests the other motorcycles on practically any parameter you'd care to name. It's fuel economy here is unmatched and it may seem like the slowest engine here by the standing start numbers but it's the quickest in the roll-ons as well as the livelient, most energetic in feel. It also has a neutral chassis, excellent ride quality and the best tyres here which add up to a cheerful motorcycle that can damp out bad roads effectively as well as corner quite hard. The price of the Dream Yuga is slightly higher than the Splendor on the spec sheet but note that when you compare it to the other Splendors, the Pro and the NXG, then the price difference is minimal. Back all that goodness up with the huge reputation Honda enjoys in India and it appears like the Dream Yuga's reign is only a matter of time it's our clear winner here. It isn't the cheapest motorcycle in the test, but it is unquestionably the best.
But there is something you must remember at this point. Many challengers have come armed to this battle before. But so far, none have succeeded. Then again, it was Honda that crafted the Splendor and it is perhaps appropriate that it falls to them to break the hegemony they helped Hero create.