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Who's the big chief ?

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THREE MUSKETEERS Which smoking barrel would you prefer to wield?
THREE MUSKETEERS Which smoking barrel would you prefer to wield?

The TVS Apache's got what it takes. Rishad Cooper pits it against the Unicorn and the Pulsar 150 DTS-i

Performance is really close, and will come down to no more than riding skills when pushing the limit Come to think of it, 150s only showed up recently. Back in 1999, Hero Honda's CBZ boldly stuck its neck out as a pioneer, and boy - that was an exciting bike in its time. The next sizeable divot on 150cc turf was the Pulsar 150, and DTS-i enabled it to achieve the impossible - flighty performance and great mileage. Bajaj's now-iconic Pulsar gave the 150ccs a sensible flavour and succeeded in taking the segment to a new high.

Wrapping and trappings

TVS's new Apache wants a slice of this pie, and sure looks like it's got the guts to match its striking looks. The Pulsar twins have long been India's best lookers and enjoy a cult status. But, make no mistake - TVS's Apache is a sharp dresser too. The Unicorn's styling fails to be as exciting as these all-Indian efforts. The TVS is a typical streetfighter - with its short, squat stance similar to the longer looking Pulsar 150 DTS-i. Both the Bajaj and TVS enjoy tasty alloy rims, while the Unicorn lacks this attraction. Attention to detail, paint gloss and overall build quality are equally good on all three motorcycles. They all deploy night-shredding headlight beams and viewed head on, the Apache and Pulsar fairings are very distinctive. The Unicorn's beaky front end is neat, but noticeably more sedate. The Apache apes the Pulsar with a matte-silver handlebar, and it shares tri-pod instruments in much the same mould as the class-leading Unicorn's fascia. Grips, levers and mirrors are equally satisfying kit on all bikes, and everything works and adjusts with a nice feel. Honda surprisingly fails to match specification levels offered by the Bajaj or TVS. Superior alloys, twin horns and fatter rear rubber find no place on the Unicorn. The '06 model only offers altered graphics, side panels, increased ground clearance and a different brake rotor. While the Apache does look stunning, we think the Pulsar will appeal to a wider spectrum of bikers. But it's great that the Apache's able to stand up to something as well-styled as the Pulsar. Besides, the TVS has a youthful exuberance about itself. All these three bikes come with similar engine specifications, being air-cooled, single-cylinder and four stroke. They come with roller bearings on their rocker arms and CV carburettors. However, the Pulsar 150 DTS-i engine displays the best performance here. Hurtling off the blocks, this bike gets past 60 kph in 5.35 seconds, the Apache following in at 5.70 seconds, and the Unicorn close behind at 5.86s. The Unicorn manages the best top whack though - 113 kph, while the Pulsar 150 DTS-i does 108 kph and Apache 107 kph. It's clear to see then, that performance is really close, and will come down to no more than riding skills when pushing the limit.Probably the biggest advantage a Pulsar 150 DTS-i offers is class leading plush ride quality. At speeds below 40 kph the Apache performs well, with quick handling thanks to that short wheelbase. Get up to more serious speeds, at about 80 kph, and all three bikes handle adequately. Come 90 kph-plus speeds though, the Apache starts to feel relatively unstable. Some more loss of stability can be found on the Apache when subjecting the bike to really heavy braking.

One choice?

For all that commendable performance all the three bikes were quite economical when it came to sipping fuel. Which makes it even tougher to choose a winner. The Apache's a great effort and is ideal for the city commute, raging in and out of traffic. But the lack of stability at very high speeds is what does it in. The Pulsar scores over the Apache in that aspect and you get road presence that will be beaten only by bigger-engined bikes. While, you may not have expected it, the Honda Unicorn wins this comparo. Sure, it's the most bland-looking of the trio. You don't get alloys. Not even a trip-meter. But the Unicorn is all that a bike should be. It has a refined engine, beats the Pulsar clean in the gearbox department and can amble along at city speeds, yet keep you confident at high speeds on the highway. A 150 by the textbook.

* * *
TECHNICAL DATATVS APACHEHow much?
Rs 52,498 (ex-showroom Chennai)
How big?
Length: 1,976 mm
Width: 743 mm
Height: 1,100 mm
Ground clearance: 165 mm
Wheelbase: 1,260 mm
Tank capacity: 16 litres
Engine
147.5 cc, 1-cylinder, four-stroke
Max power: 13.5 bhp @ 8500 rpm
Max torque: 1.25 kgm @ 6000 rpm
Performance
0-60 kph: 5.70 seconds
Top speed: 107 kph
Fuel efficiency: 51.5 kpl (overall)
Transmission
5-speed manual, 1-down-4-up shiftBAJAJ PULSAR DTS-iHow much?
Rs 56,200 (ex-showroom Mumbai)
How big?
Length: 1,990 mm
Width: 750 mm
Height: 1,035 mm
Ground clearance: 165 mm
Wheelbase: 1,330 mm
Tank capacity: 15 litres
Engine
143.9 cc, 1-cylinder, four-stroke
Max power: 13.5 bhp @ 8500 rpm
Max torque: 1.25 kgm @ 6500 rpm
Performance
0-60 kph: 5.35 seconds
Top speed: 108 kph
Fuel efficiency: 52.1 kpl (overall)
Transmission
5-speed manual, all-down shiftHONDA UNICORNHow much?
Rs 54,094 (ex-showroom Mumbai)
How big?
Length: 2,090 mm
Width: 750 mm
Height: 1,095 mm
Ground clearance: 168 mm
Wheelbase: 1,340 mm
Tank capacity: 13 litres
Engine
149.1 cc,1-cylinder, four-stroke
Max power: 13.3 bhp @ 8000 rpm
Max torque: 1.3 kgm @ 5500 rpm
Performance
0-60 kph: 5.86 seconds
Top speed: 113 kph
Fuel efficiency: 52 kpl (overall)
Transmission
5-speed manual, 1-down-4-up shift

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