Aug 26, 2011


IS THAT ALL YOU CAN DO? And the rain finally showed its full fury. The motorcycle engine screamed in anger. Rain rippled water was rent asunder by warm rubber looking for tarmac. And for grip. The falling drops were drowned in the howl of the wind. Vaporised silently on the clear plastic of my visor. Steam curling off the radiator slipped unnoticed through the fairing. Water collected slowly in the boots. The world was a happy streaking wet blur.

Now sitting in the balcony looking at a sea of wet kit. Imagining the muck drying off leaving (hopefully horizontal) streaks on the fairing downstairs. The rain is slowly leaving my gloves, pants and jacket. The last drop gleams defiance on my helmet. The boots squelch though my toes aren't in them anymore. The cool breeze isn't laden with a million drops of water anymore but laced thickly with a fresh, wet memory.

The world is still happy. Inside my head, I'm still laughing like the maniac I sometimes become.

Feb 12, 2011

Let's speculate: Yamaha YZF-R15

Three years on, Yamaha is finally readying what appears to be a significant upgrade to the YZF-R15. If you search for 'R15 spy pics' in google, you will be rewarded with a whole bunch of pictures of the blacked-out spy shots doing the rounds. Now, open another tab and look up the Yamaha YZF-R125 and you'll immediately see the similarities in design. And then you will note that the mechanical bits don't match.

First, the R125 will never officially come to India. It simply isn't going to happen. Two-stroke nuts and fellow optimists, give up. The logic is simple. It's a two-stroke. It won't ever meet our norms. And if it did, it. I am given to understand the motorcycle would be too expensive for Indian customers to digest. That's not counting the fact that if it were re-tuned to meet our emission and noise specification that it would turn out so weak and so expensive that of you lot, about two would be willing to buy one. It ain't gonna happen.

What is likely to happen, on the other hand, is that Yamaha will neatly transplant the R125's awesome looks on the new R15. Which, as far as I am concerned, is a good thing. The slim, fit rear-end of the European stroker will fix the weakest link in the R15 package - the rear end. It'll gain both a fat rear tyre and a sleek rear-end in one shot. Nicely done. The R15 looks like an older R1, the R125's package resembles the tightly packed GP bike with an almost vestigial rear, it's a forward move in styling, definitely.

But what is crucial is how the performance and price moves, right? Here's what I think is going to happen. There's only two options. The harder way is to boost the performance. The R15 engine has been a pretty well-used engine in the sense of offered performance and potential performance. You have to remember that Yamaha's option to extract all of the horsepower from this engine is restrained, even strangled , by our pollution and noise norms. Can they bump up the power further? I think they can. Say you add another cam shaft (raise the redline, but lose still more ability to operate effortlessly at street speeds), some clever engineering, bump up the compression (raises sensitivity to fuel quality so you have to be careful) and so forth, and you should be to get say, another 2 horsepower out of this. Is that enough? A 10 per cent rise in power is pretty damn good I have to say. Although if you look at it as the gain over three years of a product's life, it does look weak.

You could also switch to more exotic materials as an option or in addition and lose weight to gain more performance. But there's no getting away from the fact that this is the expensive option. Unless you're willing to up the displacement.

Which is another can of worms because now you have to change the name. A 223cc R15 cannot be called R15. R22 or R22.3 is just weird. If you do an R25, on the other hand, you have to assume that the extra power means more serious chassis upgrades as well - another cost. And what do you do with the R15? Use it as a base model? Kinda lame unless you drop the price. Which in turn impacts the margins - dammit.

And remember that the price and the performance of the CBR250R hangs like the sword of Damocles over all the products in this segment. Rs 1.5 lakh ex-showroom gets you a Honda-badged 250cc single making roughly 25PS of power.

This ain't easy.

The simpler option is actually, perhaps, the smarter one. Bump up the power by half a horsepower. Bring in the slinky new styling. Localise some of the still-imported components to drop costs. And smoothly move the price down to a more acceptable, more accessible level. Yelling boo? Think about it. You get the motorcycle that is almost the automatic choice of the enthusiast - either money-down or aspirational - with updated rubber, some more power and more modern styling at less money. It might sound like the option here with less flair, but it has merit.

It's less complicated. There's no serious technology upgrades to be worked out. Styling is plastic - relatively easily to handle. A lower price point brings you closer to the buyer and makes your nearest competition (P220, Karizma et al) sweat harder. And raises the distance between yourself and the CBR250R so that something else - FZ250? - can be slotted into that space. Heck, you could do a proper R25 later if you chose this method.

It'll bring volumes. Lower price means more buyers. And Yamaha need volumes - every thing they can get - to meet their own target of market share.

It frees up attention. Which you need to focus on other products. Like the scooters Yamaha is supposed to be working on. Taking on the Activa isn't child's play, you know.

Of course, this is all my guess work. And as I write this, it makes sense to me. It may not tomorrow. What I do know is that Yamaha needs new products and that an R15 upgrade is coming. Dates? Hopefully March, but this is unconfirmed.

Jan 12, 2011


Memories rarely arrive as fully formed sequences like an artfully directed short film. The best of the lot arrive as flashes. Flashes that offer scintillating overlays of past experience on the reality your retinas are currently capturing. The psychologists and their ilk will tell you that our senses are powerful triggers. Textures felt, aromas inhaled, things seen, taste are all capable of setting off the memory equivalents of the camera flash barrage that you see at movie premiers and celeb-dotted events.

The trip I made to Delhi recently was burnished with sweet memories. For the first time in a long time, I arrived into a bright, stunningly sunny, but ferociously cold Delhi. Thanks to the fog, I was put on a morning flight for an evening function. I'd usually pack the space in between with meetings and other boring but sometimes necessary evils. Today was different. The vagaries of the fog - ironically, the very lack of it - meant a day, literally off.

Within moments of exiting the airport, I was both cursing myself and enjoying memory flashes. Have you had them? You return to a place once familiar. You're sitting inside the car hearing the buzz of traffic around you. And just for a fleeting instant, your brain takes a sharp left at the approaching intersection. A mad two-stroke twin howls dementedly away as your right wrist just keeps rolling the throttle further and further open. In the moment, you feel the rear tyre squirming under you bum. And then with equal abruptness, you return to being within the car, smiling contentedly to yourself knowing that the straight you were on leads to two corners. The second of which is off-camber and it tightens on the exit. That's where you first heard the screeching glory of chrome on tarmac as you ground out your precious, there's-no-spares-to-be-had-exhaust. That's where the runt on the RX100 finally grasped that the RD350 was not a motorcycle to be messed with.

Then, coming back to our hotel in the night, my friend and I were sitting quietly in the car as it whirred away, appliance like, tearing a path through the gathering tendrils of the nightly mist. A hint of a rolled down window let a thin shaft of wind ruffle my hair with the attendant sizzle of the cold. It brought back musty memories of a leaky Vega HP helmet. And once more, I remembered the tireless nights I spent running in my RD350 on that very road. How I laughed while I rode that brand new engine hard-hard-hard while practical-alter-ego-me screamed in frustration - another month's salary expended on a new set of pistons, another overbore and so forth. Maniac-me retorted, "Overbore? Means more displacement and then more power." Underneath, the twin throbbed with the vitality of recently born, tearing the night apart with its brutal, all-pervasive roar. It could have been the Qatar GP if you measured the events in terms of intent and commitment.

Nothing stirs in Delhi at night. Well, it didn't in those days. The roar of the rare beast shattered the unearthly silence if at all. I should know. I was on one. I was one.

Once more the brain hangs a left sharpish at the next roundabout. Lean over all the way to the right, and hold. Lift gently out of the seat to allow the bike to aborb that nasty bump caused by tarmac that's lumped up, flowing glacially in Delhi's searing summer. Feel the sudden arrival of the wind in places it usually doesn't get to. And then remember that cold balls means more spunk - never a bad thing. Smile today at the simplistic conclusions of a more youthful time. Then lower back into the seat, nail it. And pick up the gleaming black RD and flick it hard left at an arbitrary exit, knowing that this part of Delhi is jam-packed with roundabouts. Lefts and rights in any flavour you like, in any sequence you can dream up. I see myself disappear in a blur of fog-white and smoke-blue lit balefully by the yellow sodium-vapour lamps that dot Delhi. The roar fades out, the twinkle of the weak-bulbed tail lamp finally disappears...

Drat, someone's rolled up the window all the way.

When I got back on the flight, I was beside myself with the longing for another go in the saddles of my two twins. To shatter through the night like I was twenty once more, sans care, sans EMI and sans sense. And then I wanted to come back in heat of the summer as well. To feel the 47 degree wind tear the moisture right out of my system. To feel the gaze of cagers around me as they wondered why an 'unprotected' biker would be out there in this heat. To feel the RD engine panting for a little respite. To smile and deny mechanical mercy until I was quite done.

It almost makes you want to wish that memory was a well-made long-format movie. Something you could download in 3D-HD from youtube. So you could go back and live it any time your bloody well liked.