Hero’s affordable and lightweight adventure motorcycle has finally hit the showroom floors. But is it as good as it’s cracked up to be?
When Hero showcased the XPulse concept at EICMA 2017, it had most of us jumping up and down in excitement. Then, at the 2018 Auto Expo, Hero confirmed that it’s certainly going into production, leaving us even more excited. But, then, for over a year, Hero went all quiet, causing us to frown and be anxious and what not. However, they’ve finally got their act together as their lightweight and affordable off-roader – the XPulse 200 – has now finally seen the light of the day. In fact, to compensate, Hero has launched not one but two derivatives of the XPulse. Has it been worth the wait though? Could you say that ‘good things come to those who wait’, or is it a case of being ‘too little, too late’? Let’s find out…
Bare Bones Basic
Although the XPulse is offered in two variants, I believe it’s the off-road oriented version – the XPulse 200 – that most of us are excited about. So, that’s the bike I am going to talk about first.
The design? It’s bare basic. And Hero is making no bones about it either. This is not supposed to be an aesthetically pleasing motorcycle, which means it’s all about function. The XPulse 200 is a purpose-built bike, and every part screams off-road. The spoke wheels – 21-inch at the front and 17-inch at back, shod with meaty Ceat tyres, with the long-travel suspension – 37mm dia front fork with 190mm travel and a 10-step pre-load adjustable mono-shock at back with 170mm travel, a tall handlebar with hand guards, a small windscreen, a robust engine bash plate and a high-mounted exhaust are dead giveaway that the XPulse 200 has been single-handedly designed to take on the rough stuff. I simply love this approach!
The fit and finish on the bike isn’t the best though. The plastics feel flimsy and the paint quality could have been better. The all-digital instrument cluster, however, looks very good and it’s very easy on the eye with its large and clear layout. It also comes with Bluetooth connectivity and navigation system. But the system can be iffy at times – during our time with the bike, it kept on unpairing our phone.
The heart of the matter
On duty here is the same 200cc engine that debuted with the Xtreme 200R. Power and torque figures are identical – 18.2bhp and 17.1Nm, but one key update in the powertrain is that the XPulse gets fuel-injection. A carburetted version is also offered with same power output and torque. The engine is paired to a 5-speed gearbox.
The motor is refined and smooth with a very strong low-end and mid-range performance. It loves to be revved. And paired with a smooth and short-ratio gearbox, it feels very eager. That said, the top-end performance is weak and nothing to write home about. And overtaking a vehicle at highway speeds needs a lot of determination and pre-planning. You really have to rev the nuts off the engine to pull an overtaking move at 80 –100km/h. Of course, it gets a bigger sprocket compared to Xtreme 200R (38T vs 37T) for higher top speed, but even, then, it struggles to hit 120km/h on the speedo. And while you’re at it, the vibrations from the handlebar and foot-pegs are very prominent. So, if you plan to ride it within the city, it’s a decent bike, but out on highways and long-distance rides, you’d be left wanting more poke. But if you’re a relaxed rider and feel comfortable cruising at a relatively slower pace, like 80 – 90km/h, you can consider touring on the XPulse. Also, since we’re on the subject of touring, the saddle isn’t the most comfortable for long rides either, as the seat is hard and narrow, and it gets tiring after a while. The 13-litre fuel tank will ensure a good riding range though.
While the XPulse doesn’t feel special enough for the road, it all changes when you get off it. Because it’s simply brilliant there! You see, with its long travel suspension, crisp throttle response and short gear ratios, the XPulse is a hoot to ride on uneven surfaces. After literally throwing it around CS Santosh’s backyard – the Big Rock Dirt Park – for hours, I was completely smitten by the XPulse 200. What I really loved about it is the fact that it stays true to the claims – it’s a lightweight (154kg) off-road machine that’s very friendly and forgiving. And when you’re going over obstacles or riding on off-road trails, the balance of the chassis and the handling and intuitiveness of the bike will inspire you to push it harder, lap after lap. Another thing that particularly shines off-road is its suspension setup – the bike sure feels decidedly firm on the road, but the shockers work wonders when you go off-road. The balance between compression and rebound damping is very well calibrated. I can’t remember an instance where the front forks bottomed out – the front always felt tucked in even on the loose surface. Sure, the bike moves around a lot, but it’s very predictable. The main thing is the weight, since it’s so light you always feel under control, and it’s never overpowering even when you overcook things. And, to be honest, all of this shows that there’s a hand of Hero’s MotoSport division and CS Santosh in developing and fine-tuning the Xpulse.
The XPulse comes equipped with single-channel ABS and disc brakes on both ends. The brakes feel wooden and lack feedback, but the braking performance is satisfactory. One thing that I found impressive is the ABS calibration – it’s less intrusive and doesn’t kick in abruptly, and this is something that really matters when you’re riding on loose surfaces or gravel.
T for Touring?
Time to get familiar with the second version. The XPulse 200T. According to Hero, this one is for the road. Which is why it comes with the exact same suspension setup as the Xtreme 200R and not long travel forks. The wheels are smaller – 17-inch on both ends – and they are alloys. Plus, they are shod with more road-focussed MRF rubber. The engine is the same, but the T doesn’t get fuel-injection – fuel is fed through a carburettor. According to Hero, this is done to keep the costs in check.
Now while the underpinnings are more or less the same, the difference in chassis geometry makes the 200T feel completely different to ride. And not in a good way! The engine seemed to be a little less refined and the ride quality was even firmer. The top speed is also lower at 115km/h, despite the fact that it has a smaller rear sprocket – 37T – as compared to its off-road sibling. However, on the tarmac, the 200T definitely feels better, more agile and more planted because of smaller wheels and a lower centre of gravity. All said, given the price difference between the two, I’ve to say that the XPulse 200 is a better package overall.
Having ridden both bikes back-to-back for two days, the difference between the two was as clear as night and day. In terms of usage, Hero believes that the 200T will be the one that will bring in volumes as most of the buyers want a bike that looks ‘adventurous’ but then they use it primarily on the tarmac. I think it makes sense, too – because it’s priced well, it has a retro look and it comes packed with decent features, including full-LED headlamp and Bluetooth connectivity. The performance is more or less the same as the off-road version. But one thing that’s missing here is that it doesn’t tug at your heartstrings as the XPulse 200 does. And, not only that, I feel that the XPulse 200 is a more rounded package, and it does everything better than the 200T at only a fraction of extra money.
But the reason I love it the most is its one-dimensional approach. Agreed, its engine doesn’t pack enough punch, the quality levels aren’t great, and it isn’t comfortable for long rides. But, the moment you decide to fool around with it off-road, it’ll plaster a wide grin on your place. You don’t have to be an off-road specialist to have fun with this bike, nor do you have to spend a fortune to own or maintain this thing. Long story short, if you’re a beginner at adventure riding – like myself – the XPulse 200 is a great learning tool, and I guess it doesn’t get better than this.
Also read: Hero Xpulse & Xtreme 200S Launched
- Hero XPulse 200 FI
Engine: 199.6cc / Single-Cylinder/ Air-Cooled/ 2 Valve
Power: 18.2bhp @ 8,000rpm
Torque: 17.1Nm @ 6,500rpm
Price: ₹ 1.05 Lakh (Ex-showroom, Delhi)
X-Factor: A true lightweight entry-level off-roader that’ll also be light on the pocket.