Nov 4, 2010

Honda CBR250R is a big deal

So I did manage to ride the new Honda CBR250R. And I needed to put the bike in perspective and I thought that my long-ignored blog might be a nice place to do that. What say, eh?

As you already know, we've been crawling at an abysmal pace up the value ladder in the motorcycle market while the car guys seems to be able to sell whatever the hell they want to. What gives?

I've long suspected - with increasing confidence - that the Indian motorcycle buyers is value conscious to a crippling extent. And that he expects the motorcycle makers to add all the goodies - displacement, power, styling, comfort etc - at prices that literally boggle the mind.

If you allow me to digress and give you an instance, I was once at a motorcycle clinic where a (undisclosed) manufacturer was trying to understand what Indians want. The respondents were all bike enthusiasts, garage owners, bike modifiers and so forth. And the 10-odd gents came up with the demand for a 850cc V-Twin cruiser that should be on road for, oh, Rs 1.5 lakh.

Anyway, having gotten stuck at 223cc for a long time, things are finally moving again. This time, for real. Mahindra's 300cc Mojo is being readied. Hyosung will re-introduce the Comet, this time with the right engine, the 650cc engine. Bajaj-Kawasaki are working towards a low price point for the Ninja 650 and KTM is working towards the launch of what should be the 250cc Duke by Diwali next year - that last bit is my reading of the market, official word is that the 125cc Duke that is going to Europe is not coming to India. We'd never buy a 125cc at the price it will end up commanding.

Yamaha remains stupefyingly hard to read. They get the R15 and the FZ16 right. Then they hibernate for a whole two years before unleashing the weedy SZ-X. I'm hoping there's a R25 and a FZ25 in the works for next year. Else it's gonna be grim for my favourite performance motorcycle brand.

TVS is understood to be working on the 220cc version of the RTR. I'm hoping the Southern silence is because TVS has finally seen the light and are instead readying a RTR250. One can hope, right?

My point is that the Honda CBR250R is a great motorcycle. And not because of its performance or dynamics either.

Many of us felt that the R15 was too expensive. And it is an expensive - but outstanding - motorcycle, no contest. But Yamaha is having to get some of the higher tech bits from Indonesia from what I hear which makes a lower price tag hard to achieve.

The CBR is about to turn the premium segment performance and price equation on its head. By international standards it is an uncomplicated motorcycle. A simple single-cylinder engine with four-valves and two cams. Cooled by liquid and fueled by an injector. Stick said unit in a steel diamond frame, tack on appropriate front forks and de riguer linkage-type monoshock at the back and you have it. It even has - for Indian fat-tyre fans - a 110-section front and a 140 rear.

My short stint on board says the motorcycle is sorted. Engine doesn't vibe at all. You notice some vibes past 8000rpm but even those aren't worth complaining about. It sounds strong, is never stressed and it pulls hard enough to be interesting. It also doesn't sound wheezy like the Karizma and the CBZ do. As in, likeable. The thrust lasts all the way through the rev range, the six-speed gearbox is slick and the handling package is accurate, honest and neutral enough for newbies and experienced riders to emerge from their helmets with smiles on their sweaty mugs.

Unlike the R15, the performance isn't delivered with urgency. But it's unquestionably a heck of a lot faster. Also unlike the Yamaha, the ergonomics are closer to the sporty Ninja 250R than the committed R15. Which means you can ride on the street, long distances on the highway with equal ease. That last bit will be a great, great reason to buy the motorcycle in India. I don't think the pillion ergos - in addition - are crippling either. So if the rear perch proves comfortable enough when the launch happens, this will be a proper two-up tourer.

But the true greatness of the motorcycle lies in the pricing. With Honda likely to put down the base version - the one I would buy, minus the C-ABS system - at about Rs 1.3-1.45 lakh ex-showroom when the motorcycle launches here in the February-April 2011 window.

Let us assume for arguments sake that the final price comes out to be 1.45 lakh for the CBR250R. Suddenly the Karizma ZMR looks pale. 16PS for Rs ~90,000 when a full 10PS more, a far more shapely fairing et al is just Rs 60K more? The extra money in EMI terms would be a trifle.

R15? Again, 10PS more, a slightly milder styling ethos for a mere Rs ~30K or so more?

Ninja 250R? Why would you pay nearly twice as much for a motorcycle that makes just 7-8PS more? I have a good reason to actually prefer the Ninja but I will come back to that.

Now the unlaunched bikes. Mahindra's Mojo is likely to be a 25PS bike also. But the stated price is Rs 1.7 lakh. Uh-oh.

And the KTM Duke 250 - if I'm right - will be all-KTM from head to toe and will arrive at a CBR-matching price point, similar or better performance and dramatic styling.

The Comet 650 will come in at Rs 5 lakh odd. That's the Kawasaki Ninja 650's ballpark as well. Uh-oh.

My sole reason to buy the Ninja 250R is, of course, that it is a twin. Those of you lucky enough to still have RDs know that parallel twins are great engines in most cases. And that singles are the entry point to motorcycles. Nothing more. I know from my previous chats with R&D engineers that a twin cylinder engine typically tends to double the cost of making a motorcycle over an equivalent single-cylinder engine. So to me, the Ninja's double price isn't a surprise. If money was no object then the Ninja vs CBR debate would end in the green corner.

That the CBR looks like the VFR is also a minus point for me. The VFR isn't going down as a design classic anytime soon in my book.

The CBR is also great because I think it will sell well. And when it does, it will give other manufacturers more confidence in the motorcycle enthusiast. It will tell them that there are those of us who've seen past the whitewash that is appliance-grade motorcycling.

But words like great being conferred before the launch itself? Am I getting carried away? Maybe. But I'm also desperate. And desperate times call for desperate measures.


Satyen Poojary said...

Good to hear from you!
Pretty much similar thoughts :)

and for sake of repeating, please do WRITE more!

Julian said...

"... the base version - the one I would buy, minus the C-ABS system ..."

F yeah! Real bikers rely on skill, not excessive tech to ride fast and hard! :-p

Agree about the price, I have been saying for a while that if honda were to price it around 1.5, it would sell like hot cakes. Especially since we indians are suckers for exactly what this honda is offering.

The ninja's pricing isn't much fun at all, it being a CKD plus the FTA with thailand, you'd think maybe it could be cheaper? Indian govt. FTW!

However, the best bike IMO, would be an R15 with a 300cc twin. Priced around 2-2.5l.

Julian said...

p.s. also agree about the looks. Somehow the 150 looks better to me than the 250, but it may be different in the flesh.

and the mojo will fail. at any price above a lakh. Mark my words, i do have the same last name as a certain octopus. Who died, sadly.

Siddharth Soni said...

Fantastic post. That you got to writing again on your blog is good news :).

I just wrote a speculative post on "how competitors could react to CBR 250 launch" on my blog as well. Though yours is more informed I must say.

The BATFAN said...

I knew you would bite the bait to review this one. One look at it keeping in perspective the pricing and the performance details and any Indian motorcyclist would hope it's a game changer. Well now let's just cross our fingers to see how the cookie crumbles.

P.S : Fresh from watching Bruce AlMighty ;)

Roshan said...

Wow!, welcome back... nice to know that you have come out of your hibernation!.

Agree with every word you said, I wish we had this bike 5 yrs back, even without Fi would have been great. We do deserve bigger options.

Julian said...

"I know from my previous chats with R&D engineers that a twin cylinder engine typically tends to double the cost of making a motorcycle over an equivalent single-cylinder engine"

Got a Q on this for you Rearset. Wouldn't just the engine cost double? Not the whole bike.

My Rtr Fi which i bought for 75k, cost the dealer about 37k. Since production cost of a bike is surprisingly low, wouldn't engine cost be not grossly expensive?

Shrinivas Krishnamurthy said...

Welcome back! I'm all in favour of launching 250cc single's with proven performance and reliability in our market. However, I never get a bike that I cannot commute on. By commute, I mean of course, park by the road, outside a building, or in a mall without it being bullied, fondled and manhandled by every idiot who passes it. There is no cure for this, and only when the market is flooded with such "bigger" bikes, will they manage to remain unnoticed amongst other bikes on the road. This is the only reason why I'd still buy a ZMR or an R15 over the Ninja 250 or the CBR250R. The ability to blend and not stand out is unfortunately the price we must pay for staying unmolested. I will not disagree with your choice of the Ninja twin over the Honda single, and it has nothing to do with price or power. I just cannot live with a bike that lacks character and personality. The Ninja is all panache, the CBR250R, a messeger bike.

lloyd said...

Interesting, the price range looks just about right. I think it will sell a lot more. The comet 650 at 5 lakhs is expensive but i am not complaining i am waiting to pick up a nice bike 250 single or twin.
I currently own a 535 lightning so would want something lighter and that does at least 160 KMPH

EvolutioN said...

First things first, good to see you back.

Word is it that it is not an RTR 250, but another 180. This one, apparently, is going to be very different in dynamics from the RTR. I, for one, have no clue what that means. Being notorious for starting slow off the block, and a big TVS fan, I must wait and watch. One of the most interesting companies in the country, by sheer engineering prowess.

Now onto the debate. Being a die-hard Kwackerian, I found it interesting while reading about the VFR, oops, the CBR. Honda seems to have gotten everything right about this motorcycle. The styling, the power, THE PRICE. But that is where it ended. For some reason, though there is everything going for the bike, it failed to evoke the upwelling of emotions which I so often feel when a Yezdi or an RD go by. In simpler words, I do not connect with it.

But then, that's a battle hardened motorcyclist who still has some crashes left in him till his memory completely takes leave. For the Indian Motorcyclist, this seems to be the answer to his prayers. All the goodies, controllable power, Honda docility and a reasonably fast machine at a small premium over the market leading "premium motorcycle". Sounds too good to be true. Probably it is not. Let us hope it is.

As for Mojo, I agree with Julian. It is going to die a quick painful death. There are very few enthusiasts who are actually going to go out and put their money on a company who has started to make motorcycles all of six months ago, and introduces a premium motorcycle at a fraction lesser than 2 lakhs. Hell, even Bimota, those crazy Italians with their relentless pursuit for perfection stabilised only after twenty of so years of customizing other's bikes!


Pulsurge said...

Am going to courier you a quintal of sweets, if the price mentioned by you (minus the C-ABS) comes true....just like you, I'm getting desperate as well.

Shaiju B said...

Great to see you back again. And what a way to came back. Great Post!!

250cc Honda bike under 1.5 lac is a surprise for me even though it is single cylinder. BTW, Hey how did you manage to ride the CBR250R ?

Julian said...

Word on the street is a 1.8 Lakh on-road price. A little more than sounds right, but it will still probably work...

Deepak T said...

Nice article mate..

witnwisdumb said...

Fascinatingly informative post... I'm dreaming of getting myself a sports tourer in the near future, but the Indian manufacturers seem intent on continuing with their jack-of-all, master-of-none style products. Here's hoping they grow out of that, and we (consumers) grow out of our ridiculous expectation of superbikes at rat bike prices.

PS: Fabulous blog. A veritable goldmine of information for a noob biking enthusiast such as self. Keep writing!

witnwisdumb said...

Also, how may I get in touch with you? May I have an email address at which I can write you?

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