From the time when performance and value-for-money aspects were the only deciding factors for motorcycle enthusiasts, India has now matured on the wrong side as, shockingly, the most performance-oriented, locally-manufactured motorbikes in our country are the least sellers in the 150 – 500 cc premium segment.
Leaving the two stroke era aside, the Indian performance segment began with the launch of Hero Honda CBZ in the late 1990s. That was the motorcycle which pushed people away from the regular crop of 100 cc commuter motorbikes.
By early 2000, the segment began gaining traction with two competitors, Suzuki Fiero and Bajaj Pulsar 150 followed by a few more motorcycles. By mid-2000, the segment became the most sought after by enthusiasts that Yamaha and Bajaj made a big breakthrough by launching their flagship motorbikes, YZF R15 and Pulsar 220 which brought new identity to Indian motorcycle enthusiasts.
But, since then, the craving for performance slowly started taking the back seat as the never-heard-of advanced motorcycles with breath-taking performances weren’t able to pick up sales in the country even after offering competitive prices.
As of today, the premium made-in-India 150 – 500 cc segment has popular motorcycles like Yamaha YZF R15 V3, FZ 250s, Royal Enfield 350s, 500s, Himalayan, Pulsar 200s, 220, KTM 200s, 250, 390s, Bajaj Dominar 400, Honda CBR 250R, TVS Apache RR 310 and 200.
To give you a clue about how their sales are, the Royal Enfield 350s, which are the least powerful in the above lineup, sell over 60,000 units every month combined while the fastest and the most advanced KTM 390 twins sell just over 500 units. The latest kid-on-the-block with BMW’s technologies, RR 310, is on the same ballpark which is an aspect to worry about.
People may argue that Royal Enfields belong to a totally different category and can’t be compared with the KTMs. Even in that case, the least powerful sports bike, Yamaha R15 V3, sells around 8,000 units every month while Bajaj Dominar 400, with loads of performance, which is only a tad pricier, averages just around 1,500 units. Now, again, people may argue that R15 is a full-faired motorcycle while Dominar is street fighter.
Even in that case, the R15 sells more than four times the full-faired Bajaj Pulsar RS 200 which has much more performance on offer. People may argue that R15 is from Japan with better quality levels. Even in that case, the now-discontinued Honda CBR 150R, which was also from Japan, had more performance. In fact, the CBR had a DOHC screamer engine but still couldn’t hold a candle to the R15 in sales leading to its discontinuation. In this way, we can compare any number of aspects and can see performance taking a back seat in the buying decisions of people.
There are various reasons for this phenomenon and if we overcome some of them, chances high for Indian motorcycling scenario to bounce back and be as aggressive as it was a decade ago.
The first and foremost aspect that is preventing people from taking the plunge into performance motorcycles is trust and complexity. The R15 is now the top-seller because it has been on sale for the past 10 years. Also, Royal Enfields sell over 60,000 units because people believe they are simple, old school and easier to repair. If people believe that present-day motorcycles are as reliable as the established ones despite being complex, a positive change might happen.
Secondly, most parents refrain from buying high-performance motorcycles for their children fearing misuse. But, the scenario, has changed now with better road infrastructure and propagation of safety.
Thirdly, people give too much importance to style as top-sellers, R15 and Classic 350, are the best lookers in their own way. But then, compromising too much on performance for style can be avoided if we have a bigger perspective.
Fourthly, there is a wrong notion among people, transferred from the previous generation, that only under-square engines can be used for long-distance riding – like only Royal Enfields are fit for driving to Ladakh. In reality, Dominar 400 with an over-square engine has conquered not only Ladakh but also the entire cold deserts of Siberia. These are a few aspects which people should reconsider to make a positive change for advancements and technologies to come to our shores in the near future.
Some technologies which redefined performance in India:
1) Liquid cooling
2) Dual overhead camshaft
3) Variable valve timing
4) Slipper clutch
5) Negative back-rack gear
6) Aero package
7) Perimeter and Trellis frame
8) Anti-lock braking
9) Four valve head
10) Nikasil coating
11) Forged pistons
Performance technologies soon expected in India:
1) Quick shifter
2) Traction control
3) Launch control
4) Force feeding
5) Electric assist
6) Regenerative braking