Almost 20 years ago, a friend and I took our bikes and rode to the Himalayas, to Lahaul and beyond. I had a 500-cc bike, but my friend had a Hero Honda. And we both had pillions.
To cut a long story short, the Hero Honda managed that expedition with much aplomb, suffering just one broken rear shocker — which was replaced without a fuss at Kullu. It is a bike meant to go places.
The humble Hero Honda has gone through many transformations, but the heart of the beast, the 97.2 cc engine, remains essentially the same. This year, Hero has brought a new variant of its Splendor, the iSmart, which it showcased at the recent Auto Expo. HT got to ride the bike. Here is what we found.
Looks, and the buzz
First up, the two-tone colour scheme and the graphics are mighty attractive, drawing passers-by. The all-analog instrument cluster has a new addition: a side-stand indicator light.
The indicator-cancel switch in this bike is the friendliest we have seen on any bike. On the right, in the space where the engine-kill switch normally resides, is a new switch. And that is what this iSmart is all about.
This is the switch that activates or cancels i3S (Idle Stop Start System) the start-stop feature on this bike — said to be the first on a bike at all, worldwide. Hero has filed to patent the technology.
If the switch is on, and the engine is idling, say at a traffic light, iSmart kills the idling, like a computer going into standby mode.
The iSmart engine returns to life when we press the clutch lever. Operating the system is as easy as it sounds, and it worked flawlessly.
Maximum fuel wastage happens at traffic intersections. With the idling stopping after 5 seconds, and no-fuss restart, this bike is going to bring down your monthly petrol bill!
Hero says the iSmart Splendor will be priced slightly above the regular Splendor, and with a claimed mileage of 68 kpl (which can surely be more with judicious riding) you could recover the difference in under a year.
Ride and handling
More about the bike. The headlight is nice and bright, the beam focussed just right. The ride is on the hard side, thanks to stiff fork, but comfortable. If anything, the stiffness makes the bike more nimble, and we negotiated traffic with considerable ease.
Braking is decent (there are new drum-pads, we learn) but there is no disc variant. Not surprising, considering that the bike is an out-and-out commuter with the welfare of the wallet in mind. For a steady 60 kph, it is great. Pushed, it did 85 kph well. Of course it is not a Pulsar or a KTM, but it can get there within its limitations. If you plan to push it, do remember that the brakes are not oriented towards speeding.
The gearbox is standard four-speed, all towards the heel — a configuration we don't particularly like. Five-speed would have made the bike lose its mid-range power, we guess.
In the looks department, the red rear-shocker springs and spark-plug cover are garish with colour schemes other than the red-and-white bike in the picture. On a green/white or blue/white, they jar.
The iSmart has got good technology riding on it. No reason why it should not be shoe-horned on to Hero's other bikes as well. There has been a plethora of small bike launches in recent times, none more surprising perhaps than Mahindra's Centuro and Pantero, but with this little innovation, it appears that Hero has fired one right back at competition.
Now to wait for the price: if they mess it up, we will need to revisit the calculator.