It would be hard to count the sheer number of motorcycles and scooters that India has seen in the last century. Some of them completely changed the course of the way we look at two wheels, and some were lost to annals of history. India, the largest two-wheeler market in the world has a rich history. Post-liberalisation, the automotive industry in the country saw many new brands come into the market, company tie-ups and more that made the market a competitive one. Here are ten bikes and scooters that we believe made an everlasting impact on the automobile industry in the country.
Royal Enfield has been the name you go to whenever you think of a bike with power, authority and so much more. The Bullet 350 was an icon ever since it was imported by Madras Motors in India in 1949. The Bullet 350s were then introduced in the Indian Army and the official production of the same started in the year 1955. The same classic design and ruggedness of the Bullet 350 have been something that has been a constant for almost 70 years now. The Bullet 350 came with an air-cooled, four-stroke engine displacing 346cc, producing 18bhp and approximate 30Nm of torque. It gained a cult status and has a major following and clubs even today that love these motorcycles so dearly. The Bullet changed the course of the Indian two-wheeler industry by giving one of the most powerful engines of all time and a bike that can go through rough terrain without much difficulty. It is today the longest-running motorcycle in history to be in continuous production. If you happen to visit remote places in the country today, you would come across the Bullet 350s and 500s from the yesteryears being ridden around in mint conditions. The new models of the Bullets in compliance with the emission norms will be launching by the end of this year.
For the longest time, Bajaj Chetak and the word reliability were synonymous for millions of Indian families. Chetak was a 145cc scooter launched in 1972 and became a member of the family of anybody who owned it. The Chetak was so reliable and durable that you would rarely see the scooter at a garage, and for a while was considered to have the best engine on a two-wheeler. The scooter had so much demand but less production prior to the 90’s that there used to be waiting periods of years and years to get the two-wheeler, and people also waited to for the same. After liberalisation, in the 90s, the waiting period was gone and you could ride the Chetak directly from the Showroom, the number of deliveries of the Chetak at that point in time was very high. Due to its popularity, Chetak was renewed up until 2006 and was updated from a two-stroke engine to a four-stroke engine as well. The brand Chetak was reimagined and introduced as a modern-day all-electric scooter in 2020. You could observe the spirit of the original Chetak on the new EV scooter with the round headlights, muscular body and overall design, but modernised.
The one-of-a-kind Roadking had a 246cc engine producing 16bhp and 24Nm of torque based on the CZ 250 Motorcross bike. The motorcycle defined the performance bike segment in its class, it could get you over 120kmph of top speed along with a very muscular and dominant design. It gained a cult status, a large following and was popular among enthusiasts and motorheads. A fun fact about the Roadking is that it had the same lever for gearshift and kickstart. All you had to do was a gentle tap on the rear of the lever, kickstart the bike and get it back to the normal gear shift position. The Roadking featured dual exhaust and gave a tough competition to bigger bikes like RE Bullet 350.
Launched in 1984, the scooter made by Kinetic in a joint venture with Honda was a revolutionary two-stroke modern-day scooter and was also the first electric start scooter. The 98cc scooter was truly a bike for the masses and saw a long-running production which came in different models till the year 2008. The Kinetic Honda offered reliability, design, power and sophistication with modern features to a generation that didn’t know they needed these things in a scooter.
Launched back in 1985, the RX100 inspired by the much bigger RD350 has turned out to be one of the most iconic bikes of all time in India. The RX100 revolutionalised the performance-oriented bike segment in the country with performance that nobody else in its class could deliver and the sound of the two-stroke that every motorhead so dearly loved. The 98.2cc engine produced a strong 11bhp and 10.45Nm of torque in a package that weighed barely about 100kg. The bike was reliable and can be seen on roads being ridden even today in great condition. RX is very much loved in the modification community even today for the power it holds. Back in the day, every enthusiast wanted to own an RX100.
If you are ever talking about bikes in India that changed the course of the two-wheeler industry, you can’t not talk about the legendary Hero Honda Splendor. Hero Honda revolutionalised the commuter bike sector by launching the Splendor back in 1994, this was the bike that caused a heavy shift to the geared bike from the scooters in the country. The Splendour was an extremely reliable piece of machine that found its way not just in the lives of the working class but also the middle-class commuters. The low maintenance, excellent fuel efficiency ranging between 50-80kmpl and reliability made this bike a star among the masses.
The CBZ was launched in the year 1999, it was perhaps the bike that introduced the industry with an entry-level performance bike, in the four-stroke bike era. The CBZ packed a 156.8cc engine churning a 12.6bhp. The Hero Honda CBZ changed the course of entry-level sports bikes in the country and was well-received in the market with commuters and enthusiasts looking to get a piece of the sweet action the CBZ promised and inspired a whole set of machines after it, including the Bajaj Pulsar. There were more iterations of the bike, CBZ Extreme being the last of the lot which can still be seen on the roads in good numbers.
Activa can be called the most iconic scooter of all time, which set a precedent of what comfort and convenience should look like when riding a scooter. Ever since it was launched in 1999, the Honda Activa has been leading the scooter segment, with new models and updates coming to this day. The Activa established what could be expected from a modern-day scooter — reliability and usability, the idea that anybody could ride this scooter without any trouble. Another thing about the Activa is that even through years of evolving, the design and body of the new ones encapsulate the spirit of the old original one. The sales on this bike have been so high that Activa was genericized as scooter in the country. In Jan 2021, more than 20 years after its launch, Honda Activa has sold over 2.5 crore units making it the best-selling scooter in the world.
Loosely inspired by the Hero Honda CBZ, Bajaj created the ultimate performance bike in the commuter segment that is breaking records in the racing and stunting community even today. We at evo India and Fast Bikes India too recently used a Bajaj Pulsar NS200 to do India’s fastest quarter-mile wheelie and set the world record for the longest no hands wheelie with a Pulsar NS160. The Pulsar was launched in 2001 and came in two variants 150cc and 180cc producing 12 and 15bhp respectively. Bajaj Pulsar played an important role in the entry-level performance bikes segment, delivering motorcycles that had a lot of capabilities at much affordable prices and the trend is still being continued with new Pulsar models today.
The Hero Honda Karizma can be credited for popularising the 200cc+ performance bike segment in India. Hero Honda understood exactly what the market and the youth needed at that point in time and gave it to them, a way out of the same 100 and 150cc commuter bikes bracket. This paved the way for more companies to step into the 200cc league, specifically Bajaj with Pulsar 200. It came with a sporty bikini fairing, a 223cc engine producing 17bhp and 18.35Nm of torque and could do 0-60kmph in approximate 3.8 seconds. The Karizma was able to hold speeds over 100kmph easily for longer without trouble and had a top speed of over 130kmph. It was Hero Honda’s contribution to the higher displacement big bike segment.
Although there are many bikes and scooters like the Kinetic Luna, Jawa 250, RD350, Bajaj Sunny that were influential and had an impact on you personally as well as on the Industry. But the ones that we mentioned on our list, we believe have played a very important role in revolutionising and guiding the automobile industry towards the future. Literally changing the course of their individual segments.