The first product of Chennai-based Altius Automative Technologies, the on/off-road Scimitar is a unique motorcycle that can be run on either diesel, or a choice of fuels

C hennai-based Altius Automotive Technologies' first product is the multi-fuel Scimitar. The company, directed by former Hyundai Motor India chief B.V.R. Subbu, has partnered with California-based Hayes Diversified Technologies(HDT) to manufacture engines that run on a variety of fuels, including diesel, at its 7,500-square meter manufacturing plant located in north Chennai. HDT is the technology leader in lightweight gas and heavy fuel/diesel-powered engines. It has been supplying motorcycles to the U.S. armed forces since 1982, when NATO set about converting ground vehicles to operate using one standard fuel – Jet Propellant 8 or JP8.

Initially, they plan to manufacture low displacement (400cc – 700cc) multi-fuel, multipurpose engines that can be used for construction and power generation purposes too. The company flags off production in the first quarter of 2012, and they plan on having a high indigenisation percentage from day one itself.

The first bike is the 670cc on/off-road Scimitar – named after a lethal, thin and curved South Asian, West Asian sword.

The Scimitar is based on the Kawasaki KLR650, and looks like the typical multipurpose, on/off-road motorcycle, standing tall on long-travel suspension with a broad, floppy mudguard set high over its front wheel. A basic fairing surrounds the rectangular headlamp, aided by an Infrared light to help boost night vision.

Robust build quality

The handlebar is protected by a sturdy bar, which houses switches and levers of commendable quality. The Scimitar also has a good set of palm grips. The bike's compact, illuminated speedometer can be read in kph or mph, and includes a bar-type tachometer, odometer, trip meter and engine temperature gauge. The Scimitar has a very sturdy and robust build quality, including its large rotation molded plastic fuel tank and side and tail cowls. A solid drilled metal plate guards the engine's sump, while the footrests are spring-returned jagged metal units as commonly found on off-road motorcycles. The Scimitar also has the option of attaching a heavier pannier.

In an effort to simplify fuel supply logistics, NATO and the U.S. military machines from power generators to Stealth bombers run on Jet Propellant 8. Thanks to the multi-fuel technology it is built in with, this motorcycle will become the only one to run on either diesel, or a choice of JP8, JP5, JP4, AVTUR, JET-A1 and bio-diesel.

The Scimitar's 670cc, single-cylinder engine runs liquid-cooled, breathing through a triple-stage foam air filter element, producing 5.4kgm of torque at 3300rpm. The four-stroke, wet sump unit relies on indirect injection (IDI) for your choice of heavy fuel.

Smooth drive

While the Scimitar's exhaust note is not refined, it is without the bothersome clatter I had expected of a diesel. The engine feels heavy, the revs build gradually with a tardy, yet predictable, throttle response that takes some time getting to grips with. Acceleration and performance feel sluggish for a 670cc, 33bhp motorcycle but it pulls with a steady perseverance, the revs gradually rising as power feeds through in a stout, linear wave.

The Scimitar is smooth as long as you don't rev it hard. Upon doing so, the rider is treated to harsh vibes from the seat. The transmission is a conventionally toe-shifted, five-speed unit that sticks with a universal one-down, four-up configuration. Clutch feel is positive, surprisingly light, well weighted and the gearbox shifts smoothly, without undue effort once you master the timing for each shift. The Altius' claimed 150kph top speed is something that we were unable to attest owing to the closely packed gear ratios. The company also informs us that it is close to matching emission norms the Scimitar must pass before going on sale in India.

The Scimitar is a big motorcycle. A single downtube reaches down from its steering column to grab the engine, which is supported from below by a sturdy cradle. The rest of the frame is welded, high-tensile steel, with a removable rear section. There are a brace of rubber-boot protected long travel telescopic forks in front, the Scimitar getting a multi-link, adjustable rear monoshock. Needle bearings support all the swingarm pivots. Alloy rims are held together by tough wire spokes as commonly found on off-road motorcycles, the bike using petal-type disc brakes, both front and rear.

You sit comfortably upright on the Scimitar but shorter riders will struggle to maintain balance; this despite Altius having grooved the otherwise flat saddle. However, on the go, it's this and the wide handlebar that help provide a welcome, commanding feel and nice leverage, the Scimitar feeling light and steering with ease.

The dual-purpose on/off-road tyres are excellent off road but leave a lot to be desired on road. The brake feel is decent, while the Scimitar has the ability to wade through 2-feet of water. The claimed mileage of 46.6kpl at a constant 90kph sounds like Altius has done a good job tuning it for Indian conditions.

There are, however, some questions over reliability and durability that remain, as well as the HDT engine's ability to meet Indian emission norms.

While the Scimitar seems like the ideal made-for-India motorcycle, we will have to wait and watch out for the final production version to see whether the indicated price-tag of 1.5-1.75 lakh combines itself with durability and ease of use.