We pit four entirely different bikes, each built for a different purpose, up against one another to find. Which one is the best in the sub two lakh category?
Flashback to the mid 2000s, an era when Pulsars and Karizmas were the definition of affordable performance motorcycles in the country. Whether one aspired to be a track-monkey, hanging off the seat and scraping knees, or a dirt-snorting junkie, willing to take motorcycles off the beaten path. The options were very limited. Unless you had a huge stash of cash and could import those poster bikes from Japan and Europe. But most bikers didn’t have that deep pockets.
Then in 2008, Yamaha changed the game with the introduction of the YZF-R15. The baby R1 was designed exclusively for Indian market, with the help of Indian auto journos. Putting out 16 horses from its puny 149.8cc single-cylinder engine and packed with DOHC, liquid-cooling, fuel-injection, a monoshock and MotoGP-derived Deltabox frame, this motorcycle gave India its first taste of affordable performance. Yeah, it was pricey compared to the others, but was affordable in the grand scheme of things and drew in the crowds like nothing else.
Much has changed since then. Manufacturers are now taking smaller capacity motorcycles seriously and are no longer just barfing out tricked-out commuters. I am a Supersport kinda guy and there’s one very specific motorcycle I would put my money on if I had two lakh rupees. Heck, I already have! The RC 200. But I was curious to know what the others would choose if they were shelling out the same amount of moolah.
Abhishek was floored by the Bajaj Dominar UG after his first ride last month and was ready to put his money on the mean green machine. Suvrat was willing to place his wager on the YZF-R15 V3.0 and Sudipto, a 390 Duke owner, put his stakes on the 250 Duke. Meanwhile Hari, being the off-road junkie, chose the Himalayan. A power-cruiser, a baby supersport, a streetfighter and an adventure motorcycle – from four different motorcycle verticals, all very capable and all fall short of our Rs 2 lakh cap. Time to find out which one is king.
Out of the lot, I couldn’t help but stare at the Dominar. The bright green paintjob is hard to miss. And that's not all – the silver 43mm USDs, Diavel-inspired rear view mirrors and double-barrel exhaust are all new and look great. Turn on the ignition and you’ll notice that the primary display has been updated. The bike now shows you its dynamic fuel efficiency! The secondary display too has been updated, housing vital data like the time, trip information and gear indicator.
As soon as I fired it up. The bike sounded mean, growly almost. So tempting that I couldn’t wait any longer and took her out for a spin. Right off the bat, the Dominar UG wasn’t anything like the old one. The SOHC setup has been upgraded to a DOHC unit. This has given the engine a noticeable 5bhp bump. The raunchy exhaust note was urging me to push the bike harder and surprisingly, there were no vibrations until the top of the rev range. The Dominar felt planted, quicker to 100, almost like her Austrian cousin. She is now a good 19kmph faster than her predecessor too! Fret not, these changes haven't made the Dominar a frantic, sharp machine. She still retains her neutral handling, but now packs enough punch to be deemed a true power cruiser.
It’s not all hunky-dory with the Dominar though. Additional muscle usually translates to the need for better stopping power, and this is where the Dominar disappoints. The brakes failed to evoke the confidence needed to carry speed and drop down the anchors hard. Another gripe with the Dominar was the annoying position of the secondary display. Now that it packs a lot of vital info like the gear indicator, time and the trip information, it has to be visible to the rider. Instead, every time I wanted to check the time or the trip readings, I found myself adjusting my riding position to steal a glance at the tiny display plonked on to the tank, to the point where I just gave up looking for that information.
From the power cruiser, I decided to switch to the baby Supersport, the YZF-R15 V3.0. The latest iteration of the bike that started it all. The bike looked really hot in Yamaha’s signature blue colour. No more was she mimicking the big daddy. She has her own persona. The twin LED headlamps and faux ram air intake give her a mean, angry look. After drooling over the bike for a few minutes, I hopped onto the saddle and man did it feel good!
With every generation, Yamaha has been making the R15 a bit sportier, and the third generation is no different. The upgraded 155cc engine now puts 19 horses to work! Cutting through the traffic, I realised that the engine was tractable, and the power delivery was linear – it even gets variable valve timing now. Hitting the highway, I tucked myself behind the windscreen, which finally did what it was supposed to do. The taller 815mm seat height with the lower clip-ons and the rear set pegs make for a committed position. It was no surprise that I headed off in search of some good corners and that’s where the V3.0 shines. The sharp 25.5-degree rake angle and a short wheelbase of 1325mm make the YZF-R15 V3.0 a great corner carving weapon. The 140-section tyre was great at corners, giving me oodles of grip. And that’s not all, packing a slip-and-assist clutch, the bike rarely lost composure when downshifting aggressively.
The R15 is almost perfect, now that it comes with dual-channel ABS. The issue, however, are the brakes, especially the front which felt a bit spongy and lacked bite. Also, the 41mm forks felt a bit towards the stiffer side and didn’t really soak up bumps well, but then again, the R15 never wanted to be a comfortable bike.
Next, I took the Austrian babe for a spin. I share a special bond with the Duke. The 200 Duke was my first affair with a performance motorcycle. I've had my fair share of saddle time on the 200 and 390, but the 250 felt new to me. This particular one had tank grips and flaunted Metzelers.
The 250 Duke is an amalgamation of the 390 and 200 Duke. The overall styling is inspired by the badass 1290 Superduke, but the bolt-on subframe, exhaust, body panels, fuel tank are a straight from the 390. Heck, even the engine is an underbored unit from the 390 Duke.
As we rolled out, it felt like a typical KTM, raring to unleash all those 29 horses. The 248.8cc single-pot engine is rather composed compared to her hooligan siblings. The 250 doesn’t feel intimidating and won’t scare the wits out of a noob. The Katoom rather feels like a smaller capacity bike that has a few tricks up its sleeve.
Like other KTMs, you either go hard or go home. The engine doesn’t like to stroll around at 30-40kmph, but is a hoot in the mid range. And where the 200 Duke runs out of breath, the 250 keeps darting ahead.
This punchy midrange makes this bike a hoot to ride. Overtaking on the 250 is a piece of cake and the sharp front end is ready to dive into corners and confidently sticks to the line. That’s what I love about the KTMs. They are light, sharp and pack a zealous engine. The 250 gets a slipper clutch which is always helpful in aggressive downshifting. Though, there is single-channel ABS, the 300mm disc from the 200 Duke doesn't feel adequate, considering the fact that it has to take an additional 21kg over the 200 Duke.
Abhishek eventually spotted an open ground, perfect for the Himalayan to stretch her legs. Before we could say Mount Everest, the big man was on the Himalayan’s saddle and off the tarmac. Of course, we too went off the beaten track, but only as spectators.
A few jumps, slides and a puncture later, content Abhishek handed over the keys of the Himalayan to me. The Himalayan is the most subtly-styled bike of this lot. There is no flair, no drama on this bike like the others. She is rather simple with more emphasis on function over form. No sophisticated TFT display, no flashy paint job, no complicated body lines. The Himalayan is purpose-built. It means business... serious business.
The tall, wide handlebars and comfortable, upright ergonomics add up to a fatigue-free ride. This tall, lanky bike is so comfortable, I've done a Mumbai-Hyderabad ride stopping only to refuel through the 700km route. So there's no doubting its touring capabilities. However, though the lazy, long-stroke 411cc mill packs a punch in the low range, it all starts fading at around 6,000rpm. And especially when you have a KTM in the equation, this engine feels downright boring on the highway.
But it's a different ball game in the dirt. The tall handlebars, long-travel suspension with 200mm travel and massive 220mm ground clearance, coupled with the 21to17-inch wheel setup is the perfect recipe for going off the beaten track. Standing on foot pegs and making your way through undulations comes naturally on the Himalayan. The 32Nm of torque at a low 4,500rpm ensures great tractability, giving you a whale of a time when off the tarmac.
The drawback here is the non-switchable ABS. Why Royal Enfield chose to skip the option of switching off the ABS on an ADV is beyond me. Though the quality has tremendously improved over the first generation, some parts still feel flimsy. The fuel gauge needle kept wobbling between reserve and half a tank like a tottering infant.
While the Bajaj Dominar seems perfect if you intend to stick to the tarmac, the Yamaha YZF-R15 V3.0 is the perfect track weapon. The KTM 250 Duke is always comfortable hooning, pulling slides and wheelies while the Royal Enfield Himalayan woos you with its go-anywhere capabilities. Yamaha made a gutsy move introducing India to performance bikes, and pricing the current-gen R15 at `1.4 lakh has given us cash-strapped peasants a chance to explore the charm of these adrenaline-pumping beauties.