In a sports-bike market dominated by Bajaj's eminently successful Pulsar variants, Yamaha has made inroads of sorts with its FZ series, and TVS with its RTR. Hero MotoCorp tried bravely with its Karizma, but has simply not been charismatic enough. So when Honda unveiled Size-0 versions of its race-pedigreed CBR series, bikers reacted with anticipation.
Honda launched the 250-cc variant last year, with some success. The kid brother, released this year, is much in the same mould, but in pricing it at a rather ambitious Rs. 1.34 lakh (on-road, Delhi) - almost double the Pulsar 150 ( Rs. 80,000 on road), one wondered if Honda has been rather rash. Anyway, it was worth taking a comparative look at the Honda offering, and its nearest rival, Yamaha's YZF R15.
Honda CBR 150 R
First off, the looks. No doubt it is very easy on the eye. The fairing, the seat, the angles, the headlight - all promise a track-worthy performance. Press the self-starter, and the engine's growl takes that promise a step further.
Seating is crouched, the front seat slim and tapering to bring the knees behind the fuel tank. Just right for a rider of medium height, but maybe a tad uncomfortable for a tall person.
The shockers are great, with the rear single featuring a both-sides moving mechanism the company says is track-inspired. Disc brakes at both ends give confidence, and a liquid-cooled engine is a rarity in this category.
Moving off, the first disappointment sets in. WHERE IS THE TORQUE? Revving up, till about 4th gear, it is decent going, but beyond that, it is a huff-puff job working up the torque, with the engine's maximum power-band slotted well above 9,000rpm and peaking at 10,500. The torque is a measly 12.7 nM, also at a high 8,500 rpm, which makes this really a gear-to-gear operator. Lose speed, step down at once.
Within that constraint, it is a good ride. 80-90 kph are easily attained, and thanks to the high seating, the rider feels confident negotiating traffic and sharp bends.
On an open road, if you open up the throttle, however, the disappointment resurfaces. There is really no takeoff worth the mention. The difference in engine comfort between 90 kph and 105 kph is palpable, and to hit 120kph will need an endless straight line!
If only they had plonked in an engine with a better bore-stroke ratio! This big-bore, short-stroke stuff needs multiple cylinders to pull it off.
And Honda, where is the headlight flasher? Bad miss.
In terms of looks, there is precious little to choose between the two. This too is a winner, out of the box. Twin headlights, aggressive forward stance, a neat exhaust, and a step up superbike seat.
Straddle the seat, and ouch! where is the cushion? The shape, too, is awkard for the rider's derriere. The pillion seems well-positioned, albeit also sans much cushioning. The view from up there must be imposing! Seat height is much lower than the Honda, though, and a little more awkward, resting heavily on the arms.
Slipping into gear, the difference is clear. This engine has one horse less than the Honda, but takes off better. Where lies the difference? Ah, torque. A peak torque of 15 nM at a lower 7,500 RPM than the Honda makes gear-shifting less compulsive. The engine is more growly, more responsive, but weaving through traffic - one of the greatest sports invented for motorcyclists! one becomes conscious of a trailing rear, and a feeling that the Honda is, perhaps, a better beast.
It is easier to bring it up to scratch, though: 100 kph is easily achieved, and it gives the impression that the sixth gear will be properly used. Not at lower speeds, maybe, but definitely used.