As India turns 71 this year, there are many ways to look at the years that have gone by. While these may differ across a vast range of the spectrum, for us, it is the automobile sector – which is also quite literally the “driving force” of all Indians for decades. So much so, that our country now boasts being the largest automobile market in the world.
We have already spoken about the scooters that charted their way into India’s history and now it’s time to look at five such motorcycles that endured the test of time and carved an image not only in the automotive industry but also in the hearts and minds of thousands of people, for decades.
Being unable to choose one over the other, the following list has been put in no particular order. As a bonus, do play the listed videos too for an epic trip down the Nostalgia lane!
1. Royal Enfield Bullet
The motorcycle that kicks of our list are the ones whose ‘kick’ is still remembered by many – the Royal Enfield Bullet.
There’s a long history of this model but here’s an attempt at explaining it without going too much into details. The first Royal Enfield was built in 1901 and the first Bullet was manufactured in 1931. In 1955, the Redditch based company joined hands with Madras Motors and formed ‘Enfield India’ to make the 350cc Royal Enfield Bullet in Madras (now Chennai). By 1962, all components for the Bullet were being made in India. In 1990, Royal Enfield collaborated with Eicher Group in India and merged with it in 1994.
Jump to 2017 and the Royal Enfield Bullet holds the title of the longest production run of any motorcycle. It sells in more than 50 countries and has surpassed the likes of popular brands like Harley-Davidson in terms of global sales. But all of this is just history, facts and numbers.
What’s special about these motorcycles is the number of stories that almost every biker has about it. And let’s not forget, the classic “thump” of these motorcycles have spawned generations of bikers who still swear by it. The motorcycle has also been part of several movies and served as the choice of motorcycle for the Indian army for decades and also, has become a collector’s item over time.
2. Hero Honda Splendor
The next motorcycle in this list is the one that has been the workhorse of the country and someone or the other has owned it in almost every family in India. Before the Splendor there was the legendary CD100 which is arguably the motorcycle which established Hero Honda in India – a company that was the result of a collaboration between Hero Cycles and the Japanese automaker Honda. Succeeding the CD100 was a big task and when the Splendor was launched in 1994, it far exceeded anyone’s expectation. While the CD100 played a role in establishing the base for Hero Honda, the Splendor can be attributed to playing a huge role in the expansion of the entire two-wheeler industry in India simply because of the sheer number of units that have been sold ever since.
Low cost of purchase and ownership followed by great fuel economy was the formula that made the motorcycle a hit with the masses. And even today, it remains its image as the go-to motorcycle if you are looking for reliability on a budget.
3. Yamaha RX 100
Ah, the Yamaha RX 100. The two-stroke madness that has encapsulated all of India for years now, albeit in several different ways. When launched in India in 1985, it was Yamaha’s way of overcoming the sloppy sales of the Yamaha RD350 and the answer to the Ind-Suzuki’s (as it was called back then) AX-100 and the Hero Honda CD100. It got everyone’s attention simply because of the way it accelerated and the power it produced – a whopping 11 horsepower at a moon-touching 8500 RPM, that too in 1985! To put it in perspective, the 2017 Hero MotoCorp Super Splendor generates 9 BHP at 7000 RPM.
It is said that the RX 100 actually gave birth to a rumour saying that the bike actually has a higher capacity engine. Race conductors double checked the engine block by opening it apart to check whether it really is a 100cc engine. The peppiness of the bike, unfortunately, also made it popular among the likes of chain snatchers which led to a ban on the RX100 because it was too quick to be caught! While we can’t independently verify these sayings, they do make for very cool anecdotes among RX 100 owners today. Speaking of which, these bikes have become a collector’s item with auction prices rocketing sky-high and also making way for several RX 100 owner communities and fan clubs on social media.
4. Bajaj Pulsar
It was 2001 and the trend in the two-wheeler segment in India was towards churning out as much fuel efficiency as possible. As a result, most of the motorcycles were using engines of 100cc capacity and even 80cc, if someone wanted a higher capacity motorcycle then the answer lied in the 350cc Royal Enfields. The Hero Honda CBZ, in 1999, showed that there was some scope for slightly higher capacity motorcycles and that is where the Pulsar comes in. Bajaj went against the tides and launched not only a 150cc engine equipped Pulsar but also a 180cc variant of the same and boy was it a success. The masculine fuel tank and the classic round-shaped headlamps became a rage and started the shift of the two-wheeler industry towards the 150cc-180cc segment.
Bajaj launched a new, sharper version of the Pulsar in 2008 which continued the success story for the Pulsar name tag and Bajaj. Today, the brand has evolved to several styles and variants with engine options ranging from 135cc to 220cc in motorcycles of different shapes and sizes. The examples include the Bajaj DTS-I series (standard), the street-naked styled NS series, the full-faired RS series, the much more aggressively priced LS135 model and also the AS (adventure-sports) styled series which have now been temporarily discontinued. Bajaj also showcased 400cc engine-equipped models of the Pulsar, called the CS400 and RS400 at the 2014 Delhi Auto Expo which was later launched as the Bajaj Dominar 400.
Simply put, if a company makes so many versions, variants and styles of a particular product – you know just how important it is to the company and what kind of a recall value the name has among the masses.
5. Hero Honda Karizma
While there was quite a debate amongst ourselves to finalise which motorcycle takes the fifth spot on this list, the Hero Honda Karizma managed to pull itself ahead of others – a trait that made it famous among the youth aspiring to ride a fancy, quick motorcycle in the early 2000s. Hero Honda’s answer to the 180cc Bajaj Pulsar was given in 2003 when they launched the 223cc Karizma.
The styling resembled the Honda VFR800 and came with a very peculiar combination of a relatively relaxed and yet sporty styling. More importantly, the Karizma spawned generations of semi-faired motorcycles in India during the years that followed. The bike was known for being sporty, quick, and fast on straights and corners alike.
In 2007, Hero Honda launched the Karizma R which carried on the popularity of the model before the Karizma ZMR came out in 2009.
So this was our list of the top five motorcycles that managed to carve their way into the books of Indian history. Do you think we missed out on any motorcycle or is there any that you would have liked to see on this list? Let us know in the comment section below.