Bijoy Kumar column – The charm of on-off road bikes
Some time back I decided to have my very own monsoon special motorcycle. Those days, the only other two-wheelers in my garage were the Enfield Thunderclap (Clubman mod on the Thunderbird) and a Vespa clone. So, I acquired an RX 135 for very little money and sent it to a garage for the necessary modifications. A Yezdi rear wheel with knobby tyres, and front disc and the fork assembly from a Pulsar was all that was done. In the process, I ruined the beautiful handling and the throttle-wheelie madness of the RX 135. It worked like magic on slush though. I can imagine how much fun, the two-stroke motocross bike contributed to the overall charm of the 1980s and 90s. At the slightest hint of the right wrist, the rear tyre would grapple for grip and launch the lightweight bike into a frenzy. I have never had so much fun off-roading a motorcycle. Of course, I had my share of falls too, but nothing could take away the Thrill of Riding this mix-and-match special in the rain.
For some strange reason, on-off road bikes have not done well in our country. Right from the BSA Spitfire (50cc, 5.5bhp Moto Morini engine and monoshock rear suspension) to the Bajaj SX 100 (based on the Kawasaki Bajaj KB100 RTZ), our market rejected them all. The Hero Honda Impulse was a great attempt but failed to find the numbers required for the business case. It looked right, mind you, and there are some loyal fans to this motorcycle. Some did their own R&D and fitted the Karizma motor to the Impulse, giving it more usable power and torque. The Royal Enfield Himalayan came and filled another niche altogether. It was conceived as a tourer and it does that job well. You can have fun off-road with it, but its role is slightly larger. So is there anything in the market that is light, affordable and fun to ride in the off-road space? Wait a minute. Perhaps there is some hope.
Today you can buy a fun on-off road motorcycle off the shelf. Drum roll and welcome the Hero Xpulse 200 FI. And guess what, it ticks all the right boxes. The 200cc motor is neither too small nor too big and develops a decent 18.1bhp and 17.1Nm of torque. A five-speed 'box ensures that it can handle tarmac stretches in a relaxed manner and even features ABS. It is refined to a fault – so much so that you wished it made some more noise.
Some serious thought has gone into the Xpulse and it comes with bash plates, an upswept silencer, LED headlamps and brush guards.
The best bit is the suspension which is tuned nicely to handle pothole-riddled roads as well as trails. I like the overall simplicity and the fact that there is nothing much that can go wrong. At 154kg, it is 40kg lighter than the Himalayan and that means I can pick it up easily as and when I drop it!
All that for Rs 1 lakh and some change? Yesss! That is the charm of this motorcycle. It takes on-off roading to the masses and I sincerely hope it finds enough takers. Yes, I do have a problem with the way it looks, (it is better on flesh than on paper) but that is just a personal thing.
Building a bike for your needs has its own charm, but lazy being that I am, the XPulse appeals a lot. That said, my RX is quicker any day – reed valves don’t lie!