Of charisma and power

Buying a motorcycle is an emotive decision for a biker. And most of them look for a style-reliability-ride-comfort combination. Here's a lowdown on Hero Honda Karizma ZMR and Royal Enfield Bullet Classic 500

Hero Honda's original Karizma set the sports touring ball rolling with its good blend of performance, refinement, reliability and comfort. The Karizma quickly earned its stripes as a reliable companion for adventurers yearning to escape from the confines of city life.

While steady sales from Karizma loyalists allowed it to soldier on for very long, an upgrade was overdue and Hero Honda introduced the Karizma ZMR late in 2009.

Royal Enfield's Bullets have always been synonymous with touring, thumping forward virtually unchanged from the 1950s. If anything, the venerable Bullet's old world charm grows with each passing year. Yet the Chennai-based manufacturer has recently rolled out the Bullet Classic 500, a model that keeps pace with the times and employs a relatively modern, fuel-injected engine.

Both bikes are tourers and their styling screams out their respective pedigree. The Karizma ZMR and the Classic 500 look as apart from each other as day and night. The ZMR is about sharper lines and modern cues as seen in its large, angular headlight, full fairing and chiseled tailpiece that features contemporary LEDs. Hero Honda's flagship model also sports visor-mounted mirrors for better rear vision, a meaty exhaust and well-finished, split alloy grab rails.

The Classic 500's on the other hand is retro to the core. Everything on this Royal Enfield including wire spoke wheels, capped headlight, teardrop fuel tank, spring-loaded riding saddle through to its simple tail-light looks vintage and does total justice to its ‘Classic' moniker.

The ZMR's striking and comprehensive all-digital instruments are in sharp contrast to the 500's minimalist instrumentation that includes a chrome-ringed dial for its analogue speedometer and another for the low fuel and system check beacons.

In terms of overall quality, the ZMR is rattle- and squeak-free even after many hours of hard riding. Sure, the Classic 500 may be better built than most Royal Enfield models, but it's got some catching up to do.

The ZMR is powered by a revamped version of the trusty four-stroke, single-cylinder, 223cc engine first seen on its predecessor. While the ZMR's engine benefits from Honda's PGM-FI fuel-injection, it also sees the addition of an oil cooler to improve cooling. Peak power is up slightly to 17.6bhp at 7000rpm, while max torque is now 1.87kgm, available at 6000rpm. The ZMR is refined and stays unstressed even when pulled into the upper reaches of its power band. Its strong mid-range makes highway overtaking a cinch and allows the ZMR to cruise at speeds close to 100kph without as much as breaking into a sweat.

Displacing more than twice the Hero Honda's cubic capacity, the Classic's four-stroke, single-cylinder 499cc engine also comes with fuel injection. This long-stroke engine produces 27.2bhp at 5250rpm while its peak torque is an impressive 4.2kgm at 4000rpm. The Classic 500 packs a solid punch low in its rev range, allowing riders to rocket away from rest with disdain and keep pace with practically everything highways. And its stylish, optional exhaust belts out the loudest of thumps, ensuring there are only a few who don't make way for this bike on their own. As with all Royal Enfields, vibrations are a cause for complaint. Still, think of the Classic as a moving massage chair and you are good to go.

Both bikes employ five-speed gearboxes, shifting in a one-down and four-up pattern.

The ZMR's riding position is comfortable and calls for a little lean onto its clip-on handlebars. The Hero Honda bike's ergonomics are spot-on and there's ample space for the pillion to stay comfy over long stints. While the Classic's combination of an upright seating posture and wide handlebar still wins it many admirers, the riding seat isn't comfortable over long rides and pillion riders will find their seat a bit too narrow.

In terms of handling, the Karizma is light, easy to manoeuvre and always game for a bout of cornering. Straight-line stability is appreciable. In the twisties, the heavier Classic feels reluctant with the rider having to coerce it around a corner. Get out on a straight road and the bike feels like a road-going locomotive, rock-steady and easily able to hold its line.

While both tourers come equipped with disc brakes up front, the ZMR also offers a rear disc unit. Despite this omission, the Classic manages quicker stops.

The Karizma ZMR and Bullet Classic 500 are two means to the same end when it comes to enjoying open roads. Both have their strengths and are likely to appeal to users for various reasons.

The ZMR is a bike for those who value reliability and are looking for a workhorse that is as much at home in the city as on a highway. Feature-packed and smartly styled, the ZMR (Rs 91,000, ex-showroom, Delhi).

The Classic on the other hand delights with its old-school design and powerful engine. The 500 is a motorcycle that makes more sense to wanderers willing to live with the quirks of owning a Royal Enfield and with pockets deep enough to digest its hefty (Rs 1,24,000, ex-showroom, Delhi) price. And going by the response to this new Royal Enfield, there are quite a few who belong to this breed.


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