Seven eighths!

Team OD  /
09 May 2013 16:11:05 IST

I was just reading the 125cc test we did in July 2006 and I have to say that this one feels like a cover version more than a remix. The Gladiator from Yamaha that won the test has now become the sportier looking SS125 or the more 'normal' looking YBR that's in the pics. Big change? Alloy wheels. Similarly the Suzuki Zeus has been in the parlour and now emerges as the Slingshot bearing just the bare-bones tuning needed to meet current norms plus new styling. Shine? Powertrain's now black, buddy. Stunner? Is the new bike, it wasn't around then and now holds up the sporty end of the game based firmly on the Shine, but with an extra cog and altered gearing. The TVS Victor is the sole bike that was comprehensively replaced. The Flame was awesome to ride first time out but the loss of the second plug has dulled the sheen. The dual spark Flame is back but the motorcycles history isn't helping its showroom appeal. The Hero Honda Glamour soldiers on as usual bearing nothing more than fresh stickering. And sigh of relief, the current package is a lot more subdued than the original. Finally Bajaj's Discover 125 DTSi prompts this test with its re-launch. It shares nothing but body parts with the original Disco that claims credit for creating the 125cc space way back when. This one shares the mono-tube frame that started out on the XCD. The engine, now billed DTS-i like the Pulsar actually is based, once more, on the XCD's DTS-SI engine, a lighter, more fuel efficient unit. Both engine and frame are just like the ones the 100 and 150cc siblings use. The question is, will the arrival of the Bajaj challenge the likes of the Honda Shine, the largest selling 125 today? Bajaj is hoping that the 125 bridges the gap between the successful 150 and the superhit 100 and also replicates the latter's runaway sales as the company pushes towards three lakh unit sales per month. This isn't easy for the simplest of reasons - there are no duds in this test that you can dismiss easily. Buy any of the seven and you're doing all right. The question is which is the best, though.

Styling & design

Let's be honest; there are no motorcycles here that are going to blow you away in terms of design. The bikini fairing-tank-sidepanel-tailpiece hegemony has come to be the established way to do the Indian commuter and no manufacturer in their right mind is likely to make something dramatically different as far as I can tell. As with most Indian motorcycles today, product quality tends to be of a very high order. So to be honest, styling - a personal decision as it is given India's wide variety of tastes and values - isn't really a parameter a comparison can be won on in this group.

However, to complete due diligence, let's start with the, let's see, Suzuki Slingshot. The Zeus was a neat looking, if not especially distinctive looking motorcycle and this Suzuki goes the opposite way, it trades in some of the neatness to gain some distinction, but I'm not a fan. The visor design is too upright and boxy and I think it robs the motorcycle of what might have otherwise been a fluent design. Again, in lighter colours like this yellow, I also feel that the tailpiece looks too wide. But this is a Suzuki and the Slingshot, typically, feels extremely well made and build and finish quality levels are very good. I also like the way the instruments are laid out, though the neutral light being separated from the gear indicator lights seems a little counter-intuitive.

On the other hand, I've always liked the sleek and svelte Yamaha Gladiator and the YBR125 gets that body panel set and brightwork, and looks all the better for it. Again, it's hardly a ground-breaking design, but within the confines of the commuter template, Yamaha's old design still catches the eye. The knee recesses actually accommodate knees of all sizes and despite the familiarity, this is a good-looking motorcycle. I would have loved a full design update when Yamaha gave it a lower price point and this new name, it goes without saying, but the YBR remains among the top lookers in this crowd in my book.

Which I wish I could say for the Glamour, but I cannot. The styling has always been a bit too busy and mishy-mashy for my liking and years later, that feeling remains although the toning down of the originally garish stickers does help. The fairing just looks awkward and the side panels are massive which now look bloated. But don't let the styling diminish in your eyes the build quality and finish on the motorcycle, which has always been class-par or better and this continues to be the case.

Now, TVS has traditionally built very nice motorcycles. And when the original Flame came out that's what it turned out to be. It was a muscular looking commuter, built nicely with the voice and performance to back up the looks. But what emerged after the two-plug saga is a meeker motorcycle which still looks great in flashy colours - which this blue isn't.

Which brings us to the two Hondas. The Shine is one of the best motorcycles in this group, along with the Stunner, in terms of overall finish and build. But they are dramatically different styling packages. The Shine exemplifies the Indian template I keep referring to but makes a good go at it, coming across as carefully styled, if not distinctively designed. There's a sleekness to the basic design which is appealing. I do wish, though, that in keeping with the rest of the package, the design had more flair.

And if flair is what ticks your boxes, then the Stunner should be right up your alley. It's the sole attempt here to grow out of the typical styling tenet for this segment and it does look bigger than it is. You do feel disappointed, though, when you realise that despite all that fairing and design, you get startlingly basic looking meters, a downright downmarket choke next to the instruments and so forth. I supposed the Stunner could now do with a proper face-lift, but I have no worries on this front. The Stunner is Honda's 125 for the international market and as such, it should be up for a steady upgrade cycle, although it does feel like no one's pedalling it right now, sometimes.

The newest motorcycle here, ironically enough, employs some of the oldest lines in the comparo. The Discover's lines have essentially remained static even as the stickering on them has flickered sort of like the reflection of trees on a convertible's bonnet at speed. It's still a sleek motorcycle but it's also very familiar and I think a design upgrade would have done it a world of good. Then again, if the new Pulsar platform is due to hit showroom later this year, it makes sense that a new Discover platform should also be in the works and likely to arrive next year - which would neatly explain why the design still remains static. Bajaj's build quality has not been an issue over the recent years but I do think the finish could improve a few notches. There most certainly are motorcycles here that sport better finish levels overall.

Engines, performance & economy

The engines in this crew, thanks to cut-throat competition and super-tight emission norms, are a very closely matched bunch in terms of specification. They all displace 124-125cc, they're all single-overhead cam-ed and Flame's three-valve head aside, all employ two valves to breathe. Nearly all have roller-rockers and what have you to minimise friction and all the gearboxes are four-speed jobs with the exception of the five-speed gearboxes on the Discover 125, Slingshot and the Stunner. In terms of power, all the bikes make nearly 11PS with the exception of 8.5 on the Slingshot and 9 on the Glamour. Again, all those peak power points circle 7000-8000rpm. Similarly, all the peak torque figures are between 10 and 11Nm, all around 6000rpm, with the exception of the Shine which manages this at 5500, the lowest peak torque point here. The differences then, lie in the effects of the gearing, the weights of the bike - there's significant variation there - and most crucially how the engines and gearboxes feel in use.

Let's start with the motorcycle that makes the least power, the Suzuki Slingshot. To be honest, the Glamour actually feels slower than the Slingshot when you ride it despite the Suzuki claiming a 0.5PS disadvantage. But it isn't. The Glamour has the better power-to-weight ratio despite being a kilo heavier and this is borne out in all the numbers except for the top speed, on which the two are nearly even. The Glamour engine is among the most frugal here, but it also seems to sacrifice the most performance at the altar of economy. The engine feels a little rough in use but we know from history that this Hero Honda engine, the only one that takes things lying down, I mean that literally, is highly reliable. Absolutely hate the shift lever. I had to relearn upshifting, having to use my heel. Commuters may love it, but if you like it, you are not an enthusiast. But at 8.1s and 7.4s to 60kmph for the Suzuki and the Hero Honda respectively, these are the slowest motorcycles here.

Or are they? Well, despite making more power, the TVS Flame is actually the slowest bike in the test. It matches the top speed of the Slingshot and the Glamour, but is actually 0.01s slower to 60kmph.

Next quickest, then, is the Yamaha. The Gladiator has always had a good engine in terms of the economy-performance trade-off and it sits bang in the middle of the segment on this count. The YBR's performance is eminently acceptable though the fact that it has drum brakes - and despite the fact that Yamaha tends to make excellent drum brakes - means braking is not as effective as on any of the other motorcycles. The SS125, on the other hand, does have an excellent disc set-up. At low revs, there's a creaminess to the engine that is lovely to use which transforms into a surprisingly throaty tone once the revs come up.

The Stunner and the Discover offer nearly identical performance, 6.2 seconds to 60kmph, though the Bajaj - as usual - has

a significantly higher top speed. In feel, the Stunner engine is likable, and the Bajaj engine is as well - throaty, nice sounding and enjoyable. Both gearboxes are pretty slick

to use and this time, the 5-speed Bajaj box is not overtly light either. Riding them back to back, though, is a pain in the er, neck, because the gear shift patterns are diametrically opposed, causing me no end of trouble trying to remember which is which.

The Shine remains untouchable. Its combination of lower gearing, light weight, no superfluous plastic means it is still the quickest motorcycle to 60kmph in this company, though the advantage naturally fades as speeds rise, highway work feels strenuous. It's a refined, sorted engine that was designed to work on the street and while none of the motorcycles here are slouches in traffic, the Shine feels just a hint more effortless than the rest. In the city, it's a bike that panders happily to commuters who like to short-shift, hang around in top gear and not worry about where the revs are at.

Ride quality & Handling

Bajaj has always been able to create solid ride quality packages and the Discover is just another example of that. The Disco is able to absorb rippled concrete, broken tarmac and large bumps very nicely indeed. However, the same soft set-up that brings such ride quality becomes the motorcycle's Achilles heel when it comes to cornering. At normal speeds, there's no issue whatsoever - the long Bajaj chassis is stable in corners though not especially quick to change direction. However, pick up the pace or add a pillion and the bike wallows, not enough to be an issue, but just enough to make you back off. Any bumps in the corner at all, and the bike will feel a little unsettled. For the average commuter though, Bajaj has made a savvy choice.

The Suzuki Slingshot, in comparison, is distinctly stiffer, but it manages our roads well and handles adequately well as well. The Shine and Stunner share identical cycle parts, and they set the bar. The ride quality feels stiff initially but you realise really quickly that the well-damped nature actually works to keep the neutral handling of the frame as well as the demands of riders on less than perfect roads in harmony. Of the two, surprisingly, once again, the lighter stature, lower feeling of the Shine is actually better though the Stunner suggests very insistently that it is the sportier bike of the two.

The TVS Flame has been a sporty motorcycle in nature from the word go. It's always boasted of a stiffer than most ride set-up and very agile handling. It's a motorcycle that enjoys being used aggressively. But to truly unlock the aggression, you should upgrade the tyres. I must note that the engine's character will tend you make you back off the revs most of the time however.

Bringing up the rear, clearly, is the Hero Honda. It is one of the oldest packages here and it feels it. It rides well enough, corners adequately enough, but feels no joy in the process. It's a Honda developed product so everything works, but this is not a motorcycle you get emotional about. It's just something that does the job.

That leaves the Yamaha, which is still leading from the front. It's an incredible piece of work. You jump on and moments later your confidence in the frame, the tyres reaches for the sky. The YBR125 is easily the most accomplished dynamics package of the lot, marred only by the lack of a disc brake up front and better tyres would be awesome. The Yamaha immediately feels more honed and cornering-happy than all of the other motorcycles. It's a package that inspires confidence, encourages enthusiastic riding and is properly thrilling. Ride quality feels surprisingly soft, though this is one of the bikes that will not wallow or allow the ride quality to blunt the handling. Lovely.

Economy

On the economy front there's no prizes for guessing the Hero Honda is right at the top. But the TVS is actually even better, pipping the 75kmpl overall Hero Honda by 4.5kmpl. No mean feat that. The surprise is that the creamy Yamaha manages to neatly win bronze with the Slingshot managing to stay ahead of the nearly identical figures of the Honda twins. The new Bajaj Discover appears to be last here but overall economy is eminently acceptable. A little extra traffic on the day we tested the Discover hurts its economy figures causing a significant drop in the overall figure - just looking at the nearly class best highway economy figure confirms that Bajaj's well demonstrated ability to extract excellent economy from its twin-spark engines remains strong. The point is that all of the bikes here stay well over 60kmpl overall and near 65-70kmpl in the city which means economy, no longer, needs to make or break the decision of which motorcycle you should buy. The incremental savings across the board aren't significant enough - your riding style could potentially nullify the advantage any particular motorcycle might have.

VERDICT

I have refrained from suggesting at the end of the sections as to which bike has the best engine or performance or ride or handling as a contributory phrase to the verdict. And that is for the simplest of reasons - the margins of winning or losing here are so close that there really are no bad decisions in this package. Two exceptions: the TVS Flame is a motorcycle I don't recommend buying right now because all the signs point to an upgrade that should come sooner rather than later. And secondly because the engine is not able to match the other engines here on refinement or performance. Which I expect will also get fixed in the face-lift. And it is one of the more expensive motorcycles of this lot as well.

The other exception I must make is the Hero Honda Glamour. I have always believed that motorcycles should be fun and than the Hero Honda isn't. It's sole selling point really is the economy and the brand name. The latter is well established though it does have a major transformation ahead of it now. The former is not as far removed from the competition as I would have liked. If you must have every last kilometre squeezed out of your fuel, buy the Glamour - spending some serious cash to buy the Hero Honda in the process, I must add. But economy aside, there are bikes here that do everything else better than the long-in-the-tooth Hero Honda.

So, the top five motorcycles, then, are the Yamaha YBR125, the Suzuki Slingshot, the two Hondas - Shine and Stunner and the Bajaj Discover 125 DTSi. Of these, the Suzuki is a pretty decent buy on its own, but compared to the other bikes, there's a distinct sense that the Suzuki aims for the safety of the middle ground and in doing that becomes a little indistinct. There are better dynamics and engine packages here and so despite being one of the best quality bikes here, it's not a winner. That said, if your budget is an issue, the Suzuki sports one of the lowest prices of the lot and if that causes your decision to veer to the Slingshot, you would not be disappointed.

Then comes the Stunner. You would have thought the Stunner would be higher up the order, but the nice styling actually adds weight that robs some engine performance and it is the most expensive motorcycle in this group as well. The latter is particularly important because this is a price-sensitive market, and

Rs 8,000 over the Bajaj is very, very hard to justify, unless you're a teenager and it's your dad who is actually spending the money.

Of the top three, you could literally buy any motorcycle and you'd have done good. But despite it being my personal favourite, the Yamaha Gladiator loses the top spot and slips to third. It is the enthusiast-friendly dynamics king, but the lack of a disc brake is just downright silly in this day and age - there is no excuse for not offering the customer an option. The Yamaha is the third of the sub-50,000 rupee bikes in this test and a solid buy.

So, Disco or Shine? Bajaj storms back into the segment with the Discover. The motorcycle feels less stressed out than before, works rather well as a commuter, though not quite as well as an enthusiastic rider's mount. Performance is very good and economy is very nearly class-best in our highway tests and eminently acceptable in the city as well. Pricing, another traditionally Bajaj strength is in play as well and the Disco is very competitively priced.

But despite all that, the Shine is the best 125cc motorcycle on the market. It has the best performance, very good economy, a tremendously good ride-handling equation and is a very high quality motorcycle to boot. It's not hard to see why the Shine quietly remains the top-selling 125 on the market. The Bajaj loses out partially because of the chassis issues that crop up when you push the pace and because in terms of fit-finish, the Honda is marginally better. Plus, if you think of the time when you will sell on your 125 and move further up the motorcycle ladder, the Shine will return the better resale prices as well. It's not a knock-out victory for the Honda, but the Shine wins more rounds than the Discover.

Unfortunately for the Honda, this only adds to the Shine being the better motorcycle than the Discover. For then you realise that the Bajaj is nearly Rs 6000 cheaper than the Shine. That's a full 15 per cent less than the Shine, and enough of a difference to make the Bajaj the best buy of the lot.

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