Naked Love

Mid-sized naked bikes present a blend of good looks, performance and usability, which makes them compelling all-round propositions. For street cred and practicability, these are hard to beat.

auto-bikes-3 Indian Scout Sixty

Whether you like shiny-chromed bits that hark back to classic British motorcycles, the blacked-out matte look of bad-boy American muscle, or hard-nosed Italian brutishness, there’s a beguiling clutch of motorcycles vying for your attention in 2017.

Scout’s Honour Indian Scout 60

I’ve never been ambiguous about my unbridled love for the Indian Scout. For someone who’s torn between love for retro styling and performance, the Scout, when it debuted in India in 2014, delivered, and how! 100bhp on tap; incredible mid-and higher-end torque; authentic American cruiser looks, mated to the kind of handling you’d never get in a motorcycle of that ilk; all in all, a rare motorcycle which felt equally at home as a runabout in town, and as a highway mile-cruncher. Bugbears? Just the suspension that felt a tad soft, but that was a minor, and easily rectifiable shortcoming on an otherwise stellar motorcycle.

The only thing not to like about the Scout, specifically in India, is the fact that, as a built-up import (CBU), the duties add a hefty premium—it’s pegged close to 015 lakh (on-road, Delhi). Enter the Scout Sixty that costs $2300 (01.54 approx) less in the US, which translates into two lakh rupees less in India.

My first response was one of trepidation: the Scout is one of those motorcycles you don’t want anyone to tinker with, especially in the interest of affordability. At first glance, there are some discernible differences between the Sixty and its bigger variant: it looks a bit like the Scout’s bad-boy alter-ego. Instead of the surfeit of chrome on the Scout, the Sixty has blacked-out parts—rims, engine, handlebars—giving it a meaner look. The difference in engine capacity—from 69 cubic inches to 61 cubic inches (hence the name)— is too minimal to be visibly obvious. Other visual differences are marginal: there’s no Scout logo on the Sixty’s tank and the seat height is slightly higher (the Sixty’s seat is also vinyl compared to the leather saddle on the Scout).

On the road, the difference in power output is not at all apparent—the Sixty makes 22bhp less than the Scout—and arguably the only reason. I could gauge that was because I was looking for it. Both bikes are free revving, and there’s just a wee bit less grunt in the Sixty at high speeds and when you’re red-lining the engine. I didn’t miss the sixth gear of the Scout (the Sixty has a five-speed box) because it hasn’t been done away with: the fifth gear on the Scout has been removed on the Sixty and that means the comfortable high-speed cruising hasn’t been affected. I would argue, and this is purely personal, that five gears are in fact easier to live and ride with than six. The Sixty is also liquid-cooled, no small matter in a country like India where big air-cooled motors can become excruciatingly hot in the summer months.

So, does it make sense to buy the Scout 60? The attributes that make the Scout such a wonderful motorcycle are very much there on the Sixty. This is a compact motorcycle, shod with a big motor that inspires confidence even in those making the move up from a commuter bike, and offers enough grunt and fun to experienced motorcyclists. The low seating position means that you don’t need to be six-feet tall to put both feet on the ground, or have brawn to throw the bike around. That feeling of assuredness is amplified by the generous patch of connection to the road provided by the wide tyres.

If you’re a horsepower addict then feel free to pony up the extra cash for the Scout, but at 78bhp, the Sixty has more power than you’ll ever need. The vinyl seat is easier to maintain, and equally if not more comfortable than the Scout’s, and the bike definitely looks more badass. I’d probably get the Scout Sixty, and use the extra cash to splurge on accessories.

Indian Scout Sixty

Engine 983 cc; V-Twin; liquid-cooled

Power 78 bhp

Torque 89 Nm

Weight 250kg

Price 012.75 lakh (ex-Delhi)

Gentleman’s Ride Triumph Bonneville T 100

auto-bikes-4 Triumph Bonneville T100

If a person’s mien mirrors his inherent personality, then the Triumph Bonneville T 100’s classic good looks are a manifestation of this motorcycle’s affable, do-it-all, uncomplaining character. The Bonnie is no average motorcycle: with a significant lineage encompassing numerous iterations that have set a benchmark for refinement, comfort and no-fuss everyday riding, it’s arguably one of the most difficult bikes to evolve, let alone re-invent.

Triumph’s designers and engineers are obviously cognizant of that fact. The disclaimer on the website spells it out: “It’s not what we’ve added to these classic iconic motorcycles over the years, but rather what we have not taken away.” That mollifying phrase also explains why today the Bonnie can be had in as many as four avatars. So you’ve got the T100 for the purists who embrace nostalgia and the clean lines of a classic ‘British’ motorcycle; the T120 for those who want the same with more power; the Thruxton R for those who want a ready-made Café Racer; and finally, the Street-Twin for those who want a Bonneville, but just in a more contemporary iteration.

I suspect, that at least in terms of design, the Street Twin represents the true evolution of the Bonnie, but you’d be hard-pressed to hanker for that when confronted with a gleaming dual-tone red-and white T100: this is such a good-looking motorcycle! Like that suit your dad wore back in the day that you’ve altered to size and wear proudly. You know what I mean, some things are truly timeless, and attribute class by association—the T100 is one of those rarities.

Down to brass tacks, the 900cc motor isn’t earth-shatteringly powerful, but more than adequate to get about in the city, and adequate on the highway for a spirited sprint—what it lacks in sheer horsepower is made up by a linear torque curve. And you won’t complain because this motorcycle is good-natured and cares about you: the seat is superlatively comfortable, and the suspension just kind of bobs over all but the worst bumps.

Appearances are paramount. Hence, the radiator is cleverly obscured and the engine has faux fins giving it the old-school air-cooled twin look; the wheels are still spoked, and even the fuel injection is housed inside what looks like a carb. Thankfully, this homage to heritage does not include lack of a safety net: the T100 casts a wide one by giving ABS and traction control as standard. It looks lighter than it is, but isn’t unwieldy and stays planted on the highway, in crosswinds, or when you throw it about.

If I had to go on a fault-finding mission, I would complain about the strange placement of the number plate (above the headlamp) that the T100 wears like an ill-fitting ornament. That would be first thing I’d re-situate to a more conventional point between the front forks. And I do think Triumph is being stingy by not making a centre-stand a standard accessory on the T100 unlike the bigger T120. Lastly, the ground clearance could have been more liberating. While it doesn’t scrape the speed breakers, I think it might have some trouble on the road to Leh. But that’s also a measure of how comfortable you feel on this bike, and how quickly; you want to take it everywhere.

Triumph Bonneville T100

Engine 865cc; parallel twin;

liquid-cooled

Power 54bhp

Torque 80 Nm

Weight 230kg

Price 07.8 lakh (ex-Delhi)

Box

Agile Hipster Triumph Bonneville Bobber

auto-bikes-1 Triumph Bonneville Bobber

If the T100 is a capital all-round ride, then the Bobber, a variant of the bigger T120 Bonnie, is a factory-custom hipster ride. Now, without getting into a discussion about factory customs not being ‘authentic,’ the Bobber is a stunning option for those who don’t have the time or inclination to mod their Bonnie (for those who do, Triumph India offers Bonnie customisation kits for Trials and Scrambler versions).

Coming back to the Bobber, this single-seat, rear-monoshock naked bike has a brand new chassis and suspension mated to the 1200cc T120 engine (significantly re-tuned) that churns out roughly ten percent more power than the T120. It weaves and dips into corners with an agility and urgency that the T120 does not have. You can’t take a pillion and the ride isn’t as cushy, but those are mundane practical considerations to which people drawn to the Bobber are unlikely to give much currency. This is positioned as a hipster machine that looks and acts the part and delivers on the road, too. Most importantly, even though you’ll ‘miss her terribly’ there’ll be no excuses needed when your girlfriend wants to come along for the ride.

Price: 09.09 lakh ex-showroom, Delhi

Long Live the Monster Ducati 821

auto-bikes-6 Ducati 821

You can’t overstate the magnitude of what the creation of a motorcycle like the Ducati Monster signifies. Only a handful of manufacturers in the world have the audacity to break norms the way Ducati seems to have made a habit of doing, and create a radical motorcycle which goes on to become a modern classic. The Monster 821, that has replaced the 796 and 795 in India, is the latest entry-level iteration of this iconic motorcycle. I was sad to see the 795 go. A fantastic motorcycle in its own right, it offered incredible value-for-money at under seven lakh (ex-Delhi). That entry-level space has now been occupied by the different, but equally capable Scrambler. (See box).

The Monster 821, like most of its illustrious ancestors, is instantly recognisable. From the front it looks like an ill-tempered bull, snarling and sputtering, ready to rear on its hind foot, and gore with the hint of a touch on the gas. If the appearance of strength and mass were yardsticks for motorcycle design, then the 821 nails it with its distinctive styling. If the Monster design cues are typical then the exhaust note is almost a Ducati trademark: the lovely throaty rasp from the pipes of the 821 reassures you that you are, unmistakably, riding a Ducati.

The minimalism of the Monster has been the benchmark for naked motorcycles, and the 821 is no exception: there’s not a single part on this bike that doesn’t serve a purpose. Or more than one for that matter, the switchgear, for example, is so compact that it takes just a flick of the fingers to access all the buttons, which also happen to be multi-functional. The fantastic single-unit digital display has all the information neatly laid out in a manner that it takes no more than a quick cursory glance.

Thankfully, the minimalism does not extend to the electronics suite. You get three riding modes: Urban dials down the power to a manageable 75bhp; Touring restores the entire 112bhp, but tones down the throttle response for a smoother ride; and Sport, as expected, is all systems go. There are no cables—the 821 has a drive-by-wire system in which throttle response is calibrated electronically. There’s also adjustable ABS, and an advanced traction control. This is a simple motorcycle to look at, but that simplicity does not mean you’re left in the cold when it comes to safety features.

I admit I’m not a true-blue Ducati fan in the league that purists who swear by their 848s are. Before the advent of the Monster, riding a Ducati meant that you were prepared to forgo everything—comfort, handling at low speeds, and easy riding—to ride what was essentially a road-legal, hard-nosed performance motorcycle. I’d like to think that it’s riders like me that Ducati addressed with the Monster and the even more comfortable Diavel. A fellow auto hack called the 821 an ‘uncompromising compromise,’ and I don’t think it could be put better than that.

The 821 is very much a Ducati, but it’s not hard to live with and ride—keep the rear cowl on for solo rides, or take it off if you want to take a passenger (there are even handrails for a pillion); the handlebar is much closer than a 795 putting the rider somewhere between a committed and an upright riding position (the seat height is even adjustable); and the low-end grunt is better than any other Ducati I’ve ridden. It’ll also do pretty much everything with the possible exception of off-roading without a fuss.

Two things I would change are the position of the rear footpegs: when you do want to push your heels out and get into a committed position then the rear footpegs get in the way. I reckon the 821 might be just a tad tougher to put your knee down on because it does seem a bit harder to move around on the bike. And the rear view mirrors: for the life of me I couldn’t adjust these well enough to not show me my elbows—aftermarket grip-end mirrors might look even cooler. But these are small issues: it’s very hard to fault the 821—if you are in the market for a Monster then there’s nothing quite like the 1200, except the 821 that is.

Ducati 821

Engine 821cc; twin-cylinder; liquid cooled

Power 112bhp

Torque 89.4 Nm

Weight 205kg

Price 09.72 lakh (ex – Delhi)

Box

Hip and Happening Ducati Scrambler

auto-bikes Ducati Scrambler

If you’re a Ducati fan, and have your heart set on the Monster, read no further. For everyone else, especially those who’re looking at making the move up to a big bike, the Ducati Scrambler is a shoo-in—this is by far the most unintimidating performance big motorcycle on the roads. Once you get the hang of the throttle, that can be twitchy at slow speeds, the Scrambler navigates traffic and narrow spaces not just with ease, but with aplomb—darting into corners, and weaving in and out of tight spots with alacrity. The 803cc twin pushes out 75bhp across the powerband (and six gears) that’s genuinely more than you’ll ever need in the city, or even on the highway. The low sitting position inspires confidence and the seat is comfortable even for the pillion (riders taller than six feet should consider getting the flat, brat-style seat for more comfort). The Scrambler’s functionality and versatility are enough to make its case purely on practical virtues, but that’s just the start of it.

It’s also a bonafide Ducati—it sounds like one with the engine revving to the red-line like you’d expect a Ducati to; it looks like one, across guises—Icon, Classic, Urban Enduro and Full Throttle—absolutely drop dead retro. With a plethora of customisation options, which include everything from complete kits to components including handlebars, seats, levers, rear-view mirrors, exhausts, headlamp cowl…pretty much anything you can think of, the Scrambler can be as distinctive as you’d want it to be.

Precisely the sort of machine hipsters would like to swing a leg over.

Price: 07 lakh onwards (ex-Delhi).

High on Decibels Benelli TNT 600i

auto-bikes-5 Benelli TNT 600i

So you want a motorcycle that sounds like a superbike. But would prefer something less committed, a bit easier to live with and ride in the city. Most of all, you would rather it didn’t cost as much as a bonafide litre-class motorcycle. I have no hesitation at all in nudging you in the direction of the new Benelli TNT 600i. I wouldn’t have if this was 2015: the previous iteration of this inline-four was very different in two very crucial ways: no ABS, and insufficient braking. Both deal breakers if you’re on a motorcycle, and especially if 85 bhp is being delivered to the rear wheel. Benelli has been quick to realise this and this new 600i stops on a dime, without any danger of locking up that rear wheel. It also costs, cylinder for cylinder, exponentially less than anything else in this class.

The 600i is not going to win any pageants, but the simplest way to make it really stand out is to eschew the white and grey versions for the blood-red one (christened Rosso by Benelli). The red really pops out at you, broken only by the black veins of the exposed trellis frame cradling the tank; the powerplant, as with all naked bikes, takes centre-stage embellished with four menacing brass-tinted exhaust-pipes running under the engine housing.

On the road, the 600i makes sure that people are watching for it to come along: twist the accelerator to climb over 3500 rpm in virtually any gear and you’ll induce a scream from those under-seat twin exhausts that would make people think you’re on the straight at the Isle of Man. And you could evoke that decibel in as low as 60kmph provided you’re on the second cog. Pretty darn convenient for the city if you ask me. Show-offs will have a field day with this motorcycle.

But it’s not all bark and no bite: the inline four heart races up to 12,000rpm before the rev-limiter kicks in—Kawasaki lovers in particular will find the 600i quite mollifying. That means that a quick surge up to a tonne takes just over five seconds. More importantly, getting back to standstill requires a very short stretch of tarmac. Perfect for those GP daydreams at red lights in the city, provided you have an empty stretch.

I didn’t take the 600i on the track, but I imagine it would acquit itself respectably. The gear ratios are bunched up pretty close together and while that necessitates multiple shifts in the city, it would be great on a racetrack. The handling does feel a bit heavy, but the wide handlebars and the upright riding posture help with negating that to a considerable degree, at least in traffic.

The instrument cluster is certainly not cutting edge: the two minute buttons to toggle the information display are strangely hard to press and the whole ensemble looks like it belongs on a smaller motorcycle. There are no complaints with the ABS toggle switch on the handlebar, which allows a fairly quick disengagement on the move.

The suspension is pliant, but not too much so; the 600i felt reasonably planted under hard braking and soaked up bumps on city roads without too much fuss. Over the few days I spent with it, the bike seemed usable as a daily commute. I would imagine that it would be equally at home on weekend rides on the highway (although the GT might be a better option for those who ride out more often). At the end of the day, it’s essential to view the TNT 600i through the prism of value-for-money: at under six lakh rupees, there’s nothing else out there with this kind of muscle, and road presence. As long as you stick to the Rosso Red that is.

Benelli TNT 600i

Engine 600cc; inline-four;

liquid cooled

Power 85bhp

Torque 54 Nm

Weight 231kg

Price 05.73 lakh (ex – Delhi)

A Class Apart Harley-Davidson Roadster

auto-bikes-2 Harley-Davidson Roadster

Harley-Davidson exists in a space all its own. And that makes comparative reviews, in my opinion, facile. It’s not just about the kind of motorcycle; for riders who’re hooked to the torquey churn of a Harleys’ engine will not find motorcycling nirvana in any other iteration. That’s why the best part about the Roadster - Harley-Davidson India’s latest addition to its Sportster line-up - is the engine. The 1,200 Evolution motor is a tried-and-tested gas burner that, over the past three decades, has been offered up on numerous models in varying states of tune. The virtues of this engine are well-documented—much more spirited than the bigger V-twins, oodles of grunt in low-mid revs, and significantly less vibe-y than its larger counterparts. Nothing new there, and that’s not a bad thing.

In less than a minute of riding the Roadster, it’s apparent that for all its heritage, there’s something new going on in this bike. From the word go, the ride seems a tad stiffer; you brake for the first big sweeping corner well in advance and lean in a bit gingerly. Surprises galore—the Roadster holds its line with a composure that you haven’t experienced on a Sportster before.

Pull over to inspect and the bike stops with a newfound assuredness - you notice the twin discs upfront and the inverted front shocks (a rarity from Harley) which, as it turns out, have a fair bit more travel than any of the other bikes in the line-up.

Aided by adjustable rear shocks and a reworked steering geometry, the whole thing adds up to the Roadster feeling, which is quite responsive and agile through corners. The seat, one of most comfortable I’ve encountered on a Sportster, has a thoughtful bulge keeping the rider from sliding back when accelerating and just makes it easier to stay in posture. On the straights, the motor does complain a bit when you push it to the redline, but then let’s not forget that, Sportster or not, this is a Harley, and you’d be best served by keeping it in the mid rev ranges through the gears. There’s also the inexplicable issue of the footpegs that have been stretched out a bit too far—you’ll take a few knocks on the ankle before watching out for them when you put your foot down in traffic.

If looks were the only parameter, the Roadster scores over the Forty-Eight - probably the most successful Sportster in recent times - and there’s an obvious harking back to the Sportsters of the sixties and their café racer personas.

The Roadster’s allure is more esoteric than can be discerned from figures and kit; it’s hard to articulate, but there’s a cool quotient about this machine that hitherto was palpable only on the iconic XR1200 Sportster. You throw a leg over, reach for the low handlebars and right at that moment feel a sense of unification with the bike. There’s a cool nonchalant vibe that the Roadster transfers to the rider that I can’t put a finger on. Harley-Davidson obviously can.

Harley-Davidson Roadster

Engine 1202cc; V-Twin; air-cooled

Power N/A

Torque 103 Nm

Weight 259kg

Price 09.7 lakh (ex-Delhi)

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