Different strokes

Yamaha's RX100 meets Yamaha FZ-16 to prove old is gold, but new is bold

Abundant foliage, few people, fewer buildings, and traffic-free roads decorated with trails of blue smoke. Isn't this how all of us remember urban Indian streets of the 1980s? The blue smoke was courtesy the freshly introduced brigade of Japanese two-stroke bikes. Biking was different — fun, fast and simple as the machines of yesteryear delivered maximum thrills per rupee, and enjoyed lifecycles as long as a decade. Some of these lightweight screamers remain a part of biker folklore, especially Yamaha's popular RX100. Which is surprising, considering how modern motorcycles have moved the game forward in so many ways.

Therefore, it was only fitting that we brought two iconic motorcycles from the past and present together. Two-strokes meet four, with gloves off. Past-master Yamaha's RX100 meets present-day superstar, the Yamaha FZ-16.

The RX100, a handsome model in its day, sports simple lines with attention to detail seen in the parallel piping on its slender fuel tank. Minimalist with a capital M, this barebones style is today only comparable to a basic commuter bike. Three body instruments include a cable-fed analogue speedometer, indicators for the turn signals and a neutral light, Spartan to the core. And, while shiny bits may be frowned upon by today's buyers, bling chrome used to be impressive once upon a time, just like what shines out from the RX's front and rear mudguards, handlebar and silencer.

Enter the FZ-16 and you can see how motorcycle design has evolved over the two decades that separate these two successful Yams. A burly motorcycle, the FZ looks like it only just exited the local gym, when parked next to the lean-looking RX100. Designed today, for tomorrow, the FZ's loaded with eye-catching details. Its smart alloy wheels, angular headlight, sculpted tank and stubby silencer are all bits sure to leave people lusting after this motorcycle for years to come.

Heart of the matter

The RX100 belongs to the time when global warming was the least of an Indian biker's concerns, and 2T lube stains on jeans were acceptable. Powered by a two-stroke, 98cc, single-cylinder and air-cooled motor, the RX100 was good for 11bhp at 7500rpm. And, that's talking a stock bike. But, in the hands of an experienced tuner, the RX became capable of remarkably violent acceleration. Enhanced, hand-polished transfer ports, a higher compression ratio, bigger pistons, lightened engine internals, modified carbs, tuned exhaust systems, sprocket kits and tweaked gearboxes were all modifications that could successfully be implemented on this sturdy motorcycle.

The FZ-16 with its silky smooth, four-stroke, 153cc, single-cylinder and air-cooled engine is not half as involving to ride as the RX. Maybe the mechanical equivalent of a dose of steroids injected into its wide powerband would make matters more entertaining.

Large 18-inch tyres make the RX feel a little reluctant, while its upright riding position starts playing spoilsport. Also, the RX's skinny double cradle frame, telescopic front forks and twin shock rear suspension work as selfish components, with handling not really coming together as nicely as on the FZ, where the sum of all parts adds up to make one well-mannered motorcycle. Pushing the RX around a corner calls for a lot more planning, cautious speeds and then, the problem of braking. 130mm drums, both front and rear, were ample when the RX was enjoying its days of glory, but in an age where front discs are even making it to budget commuter bikes, drum brakes are seriously inadequate.

Switching over to the FZ after the RX makes us immediately feel at home. The FZ features the latest and best bits on Indian motorcycles, delivering an excellent combination of straight-line stability and cornering flickability. Handling prowess has clearly been a priority from the design stages of this bike. The focus on centralising mass has paid rich dividends in the way the FZ gets around corners.

Everything, from its single downtube frame, to beefy front forks, seven-step adjustable monoshock rear suspension and low-profile tubeless tyres work in unison to deliver a superlative experience.

The RX100 may not be able to hold a candle to new bikes when speaking of features such as alloy wheels, disc brakes, a mono shock or an electric starter, but then the RX belongs to a simpler time. What the diminutive bike lacks in frills, it makes up with rich character.

The FZ-16 comes with all the bells and whistles you expect from modern bikes. It's an outstanding package, and feels generations ahead of the RX100.

Technological leap

It is this that makes us feel we haven't noticed all that our bike manufacturers have achieved over the years. For instance, how better frame designs and the shift from tubular swingarms to sturdy rectangle section units have made such a difference to handling. How disc brakes and improved suspension make our rides more comfortable and safe. Alloy rims make tightening and adjusting spokes a nightmare of the past.

Maintenance-free batteries mean you no longer need to bother about topping up the battery so often, and even regular parts such as cables, switches and bulbs seem to now last forever and require far less attention. Enhanced reliability along with high-quality parts no longer call for massaging your local mechanic's ego to keep your machine in perfect working condition.

But, give us an option, and we would like to keep both Yamahas. The comfort and reliability of the FZ are just what the doctor ordered for a daily commute, while the RX100 needs to stick around to deliver that weekly kick of unadulterated motorcycling excitement.