Jul 9, 2007

Mailbag #8: Apache RTR 160 – Not Convincing

Caughtilya-Rearset Stamp 1From a Vibrator to a smooth 'no' vibe engine, to seeing 120 kph "very" easily on the speedo, to the best handling 150cc in the market, to be feeling 30 kph less at 76 kmph.... is there more to this than what meets the eye? Did TVS suddenly get a magic wand or has the bike come straight from the gods.... I for one am not convinced. Over to you...
Lavkesh

TVS Apache RTR 160Actually, the answer to that question is quite simple. And no magic wands are being waved either. To a manufacturer conversant with good engineering, eliminating vibration is a very simple matter. You either attack the primary vibes from the motor, or you add a set of dampers that ensure that not much vibes appear in the three-odd places where a rider might feel it – pegs, bars and tank.

Adding displacement is another fairly straight-forward game too. You can use computers to model a whole bunch of (bigger) bore, stroke combinations and select the one you like. Run it on prototypes, see if you like it and when you do, more power is there for the asking. 120 kph? They could have got more. I, for one, would not be surprised to see a TVS Apache 160 Racebike touch much, much higher speeds.

What was wrong with the 150 handling? Stability. Stability, for ages, has been solved by lengthening the wheelbase. And the best, most productive way to lengthen the wheelbase is by increasing the swingarm length, which brings more stability and increases the ability of the rear tyre to 'hook up' better. For a manufacturer, this is the equivalent of a patch for a set of small niggles in a new operating system, so to speak. All of this takes time, agreed, but it isn't magic, magical or a miracle of sorts.

What I am saying is that the primary thing that TVS has done with the 160, is solve the problems that stopped the 150 from being truly jaw-dropping. The potential was always there. Another example of a similar bike, although still-born, was the Graptor. There was so much that LML could have done with that bike.

However, the biggest change, the real reason why the Apache 160 is such a great ride, is a change in stance. You see, as a small manufacturer (compared to Bajaj and HH), TVS always needed to consolidate its volumes and that was an overriding consideration. This, usually, means engineering and motorcycling compromises aimed at snaring the largest possible number of prospective customers. It means you cannot give your bike special abilities. You focus on making it adept and comfortable in a variety of roles. Would a small air force benefit from having a bunch of pilots who were okay fighter jocks, decent bomber captains and passable chopper flyers as well?

What happened with the 160, is that someone at TVS woke up and realised that the reason the TVS Apache
(like many, many bikes all over the world) wasn't doing as well as they had expected was the fact that the bike didn't really have a focus beyond good sales. That approach never works. Look at most of the 1000cc or 600cc bikes, and you will see that the popular ones are almost always good at one thing, and borderline crap at others. It's the focus that brings riders to the point where they reach into their pockets.

With the RTR, I think, TVS decided to go radical and make an all-out sporty bike, rather than a sporty commuter, that could also handle and would also race and would also... and so forth.

The R&D team, now had a clear focus. Clear focii usually mean solutions to problems are found faster and are easier to implement without interference from other involved departments (like marketing and sales). That's what happened, in my opinion. And for once, it has come together in spectacular fashion.

If you are still not convinced, my friend, just hop over to the nearest TVS dealer, I promise you will not have wasted your time.

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17 comments:

Sprotor said...

Lavkesh,

TVS has been into racing for a good time. Racing requires heavy research, with the manufacturer often spending enough man hours and money to build their best. Such research provides a lot of learning, which can easily be used to a regulated extent on production vehicles. Almost all major manufactuers (both cars and bikes) do it. Getting a good bike out on the road is not a hard task for a manufacturer who's into racing. However, launching bikes into the market must also return revenues to the company which is why you don't see too much of the 'good' stuff on production bikes. In the above case magic wand would have been spun by TVS long back. It's just that we are seeing it on the road now, because there's a market for it.

FYI, TVS has very competitive bikes of much higher cc doing the tracks. They are spinning the magic wand well :)

Navendu said...

@sprotor
Look at Bajaj, they don't have any racing team still they are able to come out with good bikes (read: refer to sales numbers) ;-)

About TVS bikes benefiting from their racing exp. Is it really true? (read: refer to the sales numbers) ;-)

Lavkesh said...

Rearset,

Thanks for the clarification. The reason I wrote it was because I found come of the comment to be going overboard even though I havent test rode the bike. For example the vibes can be lessened to a great extent but not completely eliminated. Secondly there is no way a sportsbike would feel 30 kph less when doing a 'mere' 76 kph. About the top speed, I wouldnt be surprised to see a 160cc bike from TVS doing 150 kph or even more on the track, after all we have 125cc motogp bikes doing 200 kph all the time but race bikes are not designed to last unlike the mass market product the Apache RTR 160 is, i hope you get the drift. In India being the ack of all trades is the 'need', else a bike like the classic CBZ wouldn't have failed even after the advent of other 150cc. Its still, to date is the best 150cc bike to have come out from any manufacturer. I wish TVS all the luck, afterall competitions is good for the consumer.

rearset said...

@Navendu
I wouldn't go by sales numbers. Especially in a market like ours, which has a minority of 'knowledgeable' buyers. Bajaj's sales record is impressive, that goes without saying. But does that automatically mean that their bikes are better than the competition? Not necessarily. As far as TVS bikes go, as I've clarified in a comment elsewhere, since the Shogun, TVS hasn't really made a single-minded focussed product until now. That is why I'm excited by the RTR.

@Lavkesh
Vibration:
See what I've written carefully. I never said anything about lessening vibration. However, there are solutions that allow you channel and/or obstruct the vibration where you don't want them. For instance, There are enough engineering solutions to stopping (completely) vibrations from reaching the pegs, bars and tank. Just ride any Buell

Speed mismatch:
That speed difference is the precise reason why I say the refinement levels are very good. But in the same breath, that's also the symptom which says the 'feel' isn't that great.

Racing vs longevity:
While philosophically you are correct, TVS' Fiero series of racebikes has, in fact, quite a reputation for being reliable. In fact, I remember talking to TVS Racing Engineer who told me that their race 180 was as reliable as a streetbike – it only could not meet the emissions...

Jack of all trades:
True. Except that TVS have been clear this time, that the RTR is for the sporty rider. Not for the commuter. You could commute on it, but that wouldn't be the role description the R&D had in mind. Just ride it once, and remember to see just how far back the RTR wants you to tuck your feet. Even a racing-minded friend who rode the RTR soon after me thought they were too odd, and too committed to start with. And then, moments later, he was greatly enamoured of the motorcycle as well.

CBZ:
Ah, the old ghost has returned. To be fair, the CBZ was path-breaking at launch. But when it got overtaken by the competition, Hero Honda (and Honda by implication) chose not to do anything about it. I remember one senior HH official commenting at a press conference that the CBZ sales were not affected by the Pulsar. His logic was that the CBZ sales had settled at 2,000-odd units a month, and while the Pulsar had gone from nothing at all to 16,000 units a month in the space of six months, CBZ sales had remained at 2,0000 units. See? No effect. Such apathy to a motorcycle model will kill anything, no matter how classic it was. This is almost precisely why the British motorcycle industry did not survive the Japanese. Was the old CBZ the best 150cc to come out till date? You obviously have a soft spot for the bike, but I'd beg to differ. I think the Pulsar would be my pick for the most important 150cc model ever launched in India. And I have a feeling, that the RTR would be 'cheater' favourite.

Speed Mismatch 2:
I also just remembered that motorcycles in India have been getting quieter. As emission and noise norms tighten up, manufacturers have little choice but to hush up the bikes even more. Which could be one of the reasons why the RTR appears to have such a large speedo-real world sensory mismatch. To be honest, the later Pulsars, 200 and 220, have also felt the same, going faster than I thought they were. In fact, the only recent exception, is the CBZ X-Treme which feels much faster (and therefore gratifying) than it is going. But then again, I've called it noisy and unrefined, haven't I?

rearset said...

@Navendu
I just thought of the simplest, almost luminescent example of the sales not equal to greatness thing. Hero Honda Splendor. Do I even need to explain this? 8-D

Lavkesh said...

Rearset,

Thanks again for your patient reply.
Quoting yourself
"In fact, I remember talking to TVS Racing Engineer who told me that their race 180 was as reliable as a streetbike – it only could not meet the emissions..."

I wonder what stops TVS from launching the bike in the market if its as reliable as a street bike as the engineer said. As for emissions, they only have to bring it to the street tune and put in a cat con.

As for CBZ I said its the best 150cc to have come out from any manufacturer in India till date. Offcourse not as important as a launch as Bajaj Pulsar, the two things are different.

rearset said...

||As for emissions, they only have to bring it to the street tune and put in a cat con.||

And what makes you think, the 160 isn't just that? No, but seriously, its the noise norms that make the difference. Plus, meeting the norms costs bhp. That's the real rub.

Aneesh said...

hey rearset..

good job on the post..

my nick is m1g on xbhp..

i thought it was another of those stupid "copy-paste" blogs that our "riiddrrr" friends have been so proud of...

aahh..yes..and the RTR is good..

stop comparing it to the 180, compare it to its class...
you love the RTR, good for you...dont? thats good too

Navendu said...

@rearset
Any idea if TVS will be providing a facility to replace the bhp robbing parts on RTR with the parts not meeting norms but giving some extra oomph?

The BATFAN said...

I think rearset has exemplified this elsewhere :

Sales success is driven by meeting needs of the masses, the more needs of the more masses you meet the more successful you are.

Greatness is achieved by surpassing expectations to build a product that creates newer needs.

The CBZ started it while the Pulsar redefined it. The RTR may have just started to hit the nail on the head though I am yet to take a test drive.

@rearset

What about the tour ability and long drive comfort of the RTR?

rearset said...

@Navendu
I am told that they are considering performance upgrade kits. What finally comes out is not known though. Fingers crossed

@BATFAN
Not had the time for a longer trip. When I do, will post up.

Navendu said...

@rearset
No issues, I have time and going on a trip. Give me the bike and I shall give you the feedback :-)

Lavkesh said...

"And what makes you think, the 160 isn't just that?"

Why a 160 when they already have a street reliable 180! If it had to be an all out sports bike, no holds barred, why this compromise. They already had a 150cc in Apache.

Meeting the noise norms should be a cake walk when you have designed the engine, already. Yes meeting norms costs bhp but taking few bhps from a "race tuned" bike wont hurt much and would still be on par with the competition.

I seriously wonder how these two wheeler companies work in India and who's on the board taking all these decisions.

rearset said...

Again, TVS do not intend for the Apache 160 to be a second Apache in the line up. The 160 was designed to replace the 150. The 180, if there is one, will be a separate model, to be launched later.

And noise norms, more than emissions norms, are the big hurdle in the Indian market. The Shogun, for instance, was killed by noise regs, not emissions regs. I also remember a Yamaha engineer telling me quite a few years ago, that it would cost an RD350 much more bhp to meet noise regs, than it would cost to meet the then current emissions regs. Inasmuch, the noise regs are not a cake walk. Especially compared to emissions regs.

Lavkesh said...

Rearset,

Both the examples quoted by you are 2 strokers! We are talking about 4 strokes here I think.

rearset said...

Yes, but its the same thing. Noise regs dont recognise which stroke you use. They simple put up a decibel limit which you must meet. I am told that the limit is very low. Which is why racebikes, which are pretty loud, will find it extremely, extremely, hard to meet them, no matter which stroke engine they employ.

Have you heard the race Fiero 180. I have. It's so loud, that when it passes you on the motocross main straight, you flinch. The TVS motocross 400 four-stroke, which they have is so loud, that most of the time, they wont start it outside the factory test track, since the usual race tracks are usually school grounds, or in populated areas.

Essentially, trust me, or verify this on your own. Indian noise rules are so tough, that they are rapidly becoming the primary emissions hurdle, rather than tailpipe emissions.

The TVS engineer (factory employee not dealer flunky) I met when I rode the RTR for the first time, told me that the RTR was as close as they could get legally to a race ready 160.

Rahul Nair said...

If you also notice the CC limit for the 150 class bikes in track racing events in India is "vehicles upto 160cc". So the intention to sell a 160 instead of a 180 would also be to make maximum use of the rules in competative racing. Not just a potent 150 challenger.

Gues the max limit of the next class in racing events.... :)