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On highway trip

The spunky Karizma ZMR faces off with the retro Bullet Classic 500 in the hunt for the best tourer.

autos Updated: Feb 18, 2010 01:27 IST
Nikhil Bhatia

Hero Honda’s original Karizma set the sports touring ball rolling with its good blend of performance, refinement, reliability and comfort.

The Karizma quickly earned its stripes as a reliable companion for adventure seekers yearning to escape from the confines of city life.

While steady sales from Karizma loyalists allowed it to soldier on for very long, an upgrade was overdue and Hero Honda introduced the Karizma ZMR late in 2009.

No such problems with Royal Enfield, whose Bullets have always been synonymous with touring — thumping forward virtually unchanged from the 1950s. If anything, the venerable Bullet’s old world charm grows with each passing year.

Yet the Chennai-based manufacturer has recently rolled out the Bullet Classic 500, a model that keeps pace with the times and employs a relatively modern, fuel-injected engine.

Best for a tour
Both bikes are great touring vehicles and their styling screams out their respective pedigree. The Karizma ZMR and the Classic 500 look as apart from each other as day and night.

The ZMR is about sharper lines and modern cues as seen in its large, angular headlight, full fairing and chiselled tailpiece that features contemporary LEDs. Hero Honda’s flagship model also sports visor-mounted mirrors for better rear vision, a meaty exhaust and well-finished, split alloy grab rails.

The Classic 500 on the other hand is retro to the core. Everything on this Royal Enfield including wire spoke wheels, capped headlight, teardrop fuel tank, spring-loaded riding saddle through to its simple tail-light looks vintage and does total justice to its ‘Classic’ moniker.

The ZMR’s striking and comprehensive all-digital instruments are in sharp contrast to the 500’s minimalist instrumentation that includes a chrome-ringed dial for its analogue speedometer and another for the low fuel and system check beacons.

In terms of overall quality, the ZMR eclipses the Classic 500, remaining rattle- and squeak-free even after many hours of hard riding. Sure, the Classic 500 may be better built than most Royal Enfield models, but it still has catching up to do.

Power surge
The ZMR is powered by a revamped version of the trusty four-stroke, single-cylinder, 223 cc engine first seen on its predecessor. While the ZMR’s engine benefits from Honda’s PGM-FI fuel-injection, it also sees the addition of an oil cooler to improve cooling.

Peak power is up slightly to 17.6 bhp at 7000 rpm, while max torque is now 1.87 kgm, available at 6000 rpm. The ZMR is refined and stays unstressed even when pulled into the upper reaches of its power band.

Its strong mid-range makes highway overtaking a cinch and allows the ZMR to cruise at almost 100 kph without breaking a sweat.
Displacing more than twice the Hero Honda’s cubic capacity, the Classic’s four-stroke, single-cylinder 499 cc engine also comes with fuel injection.

This long-stroke engine produces 27.2 bhp at 5250 rpm while its peak torque is an impressive 4.2 kgm at 4000 rpm. The Classic 500 packs a solid punch low in its rev range, allowing riders to rocket away from rest with disdain and keep pace with practically everything highways.

And its stylish, optional exhaust belts out the loudest of thumps, ensuring there are only a few who don’t make way for this bike on their own. As with all Royal Enfields, vibrations are a cause for complaint. Still, think of the Classic as a moving massage chair and you are good to go.

Both bikes employ five-speed gearboxes, shifting in a one-down and four-up pattern.

Ride quality
Both the Karizma ZMR and Bullet Classic 500 deploy twin telescopic front forks and gas-charged rear shock absorbers. The ZMR, however, goes one up in using a sturdy rectangular swingarm as opposed to the Classic’s dated tubular unit.

The ZMR’s riding position is comfortable and calls for a little lean onto its clip-on handlebars. The Hero Honda bike’s ergonomics are spot-on and there’s ample space for the pillion rider to stay comfortable over long stints, though the seat is a tad narrow.

And while the Classic’s combination of an upright seating posture and wide handlebar still wins it many admirers, the riding seat isn’t comfortable over long stretches.

In terms of handling, the Karizma is light and easy to manoeuvre and always game for a bout of cornering. Its straight-line stability is worth appreciating.

Around twisty turns, the heavier Classic feels lazy and reluctant with the rider having to coerce it around corners. But it feels rock-steady and holds its line on a straight road.

Of these two motorcycles, the ZMR rides better with fewer surface undulations making their way to the rider’s body. The heavy Classic feels bulky in comparison, managing to successfully deflect bumps only at slow speeds.

While both tourers come equipped with disc brakes up front, the ZMR also offers a rear disc unit. Despite this omission, the Classic manages quicker stops than the Karizma but is unable to match the Hero Honda’s poise with hard braking.

HERO HONDA KARIZMA ZMR
Price:
Rs 91,000 (ex-showroom, Delhi)
Engine: Single-cylinder, air-cooled with oil-cooler, four-stroke
Displacement: 223 cc
Power: 17.6 bhp at 7000 rpm
Torque: 1.87 kgm at 6000 rpm
Gearbox: 5-speed, 1-down, 4-up
Suspension (f/r): Telescopic forks, gas shocks, rectangular swingarm
Brakes: 276 mm disc, 240 mm drum
0-100 kph: 13.63 seconds

The Karizma eclipses the Classic 500 and remains rattle-free even after hours of hard riding

ROYAL ENFIELD CLASSIC 500
Price: Rs 1,24,000 (ex-showroom, Delhi)
Engine: Single-cylinder, four-stroke
Displacement: 499 cc
Power: 27.2 bhp at 5250 rpm
Torque: 4.2 kgm at 4000 rpm
Gearbox: 5-speed, 1-down, 4-up
Suspension (f/r): Telescopic forks, gas shocks, tubular swingarm
Brakes (f/r): 280 mm disc, 153 mm drum
0-100 kph: 11.51 seconds