So, this is the shape of entry level sports biking in India. The R15 and CBR150R make for very interesting experiences on the track. It’s hilarious fun!
Hello, you join me in the middle of a world-class Formula One track, the Buddh International Circuit, and this has all the making of a review full of overused metaphors. But I won’t do that. I stand on the double-apex bend, wearing a tight condom suit, only it’s made of fine leather approved by the gentlemen at the helm of controlling things when it comes to two-wheel racing and I have two fully faired motorbikes with me. In the past, we’ve had two-wheeled examples from the pages of blue-blooded biking manuscript with each being as different as – oh, I promised myself not to use metaphors in this one, so I would let this go. We had hooliganism being represented by the Ducati 848 and the absolute playground for the nerd you’re definitely not going to invite over dinner – the BMW S1000RR. Then there were the nakeds somewhere in between. But mind you, they were all fairly large capacity motorcycles with talent fitting enough for a racetrack.
This one though – this is different. We know Indians are obsessed with sporty looking bikes and that’s why we see a lot of miserable aftermarket jobs on the Pulsars and CBZs. Or worse still, Splendors! Erstwhile Hero Honda was perhaps the first to truly capitalize on this illogical fixation with body kits and launched the Karizma in 2003. It even had an oversquare 223cc engine – no wonder the ‘performance’ hungry chaps were happy!
Sure, the Karizma was a special tool – it was supremely comfortable and had strong performance too. But I always felt that it was more of a touring machine than anything else. And I affirmed this when I rode it on the track for the first time. It wasn’t as nimble and lacked the swiftness required to attack the track, but it still remains a brilliantly capable machine outside of it.
But all compliments to Yamaha for bringing the true concept of performance biking to our lands. Yes, it’s only a 150cc bike, but how else would you start? Even in the serious business of racing, it’s the smaller capacity (now single-cylinder, 250cc) Moto3 bikes that run in the support races to the MotoGP monsters.
I’d never quite ridden the R15 on the track before and couldn’t let go of this brilliant opportunity, especially since it allowed for an upfront comparison with the latest weapon from Honda – the CBR150R. While riding to the track, I was companioned by Kapil and he opted for the CBR, impressed by its shiny body and sporty colours. I was following Kapil to the fuel station we’d decided to stop at, 10 kilometers ahead. He kept shaking his head and was seemingly rather unimpressed, so after tanking the bikes up, we decided to swap and he went on the R15. He instantly gave a nod of approval saying that it felt more aggressive in comparison to the Honda, when we reached the track and stopped to chat a bit.
This swap also meant that I got to ride the CBR150R again, after a fairly long time. It felt a bit different to me – the smoothness was all there and the gearshift was properly positive, but there was something slightly different about this particular bike and I couldn’t pin point where the difference was. The R15 felt brawlier and even bordered on the ragged edge of being raw in comparison to the Honda.
I went in for a couple of slow laps to get a feel of the track and the grip levels on the bikes. These familiarization laps are important because you get to learn a lot more about a bike in this short span of time than riding kilometers on end on regular city roads and long straight runs on the highway.
Like for example, the CBR150R’s brakes felt inadequate on the highway and the feel from the lever wasn’t as progressive as the R15’s and it made me think that the bite wasn’t as spectacular either. On the track, I realized I was wrong. I realized a whole lot more.
The Yamaha R15 is known to be an enthusiast’s delight and it’s been the last word in handling for good reason. It beats the Honda CBR250R hands down – I actually think the 250R isn’t much of a sharp handling bike anyway. And exactly because I have such high regards for the R15 did I find it amusing to be lacking on the track. Its behavior was flawed and didn’t feel as communicative. I am not saying that it didn’t handle well, but its nature of getting into a corner or the brakes being overly aggressive did diminish the involvement with it while in full attack mode. Also, the engine felt way too stressed all the time and seemed to take fairly long to get up to speed. The steering was impressive and the bike changed direction fairly well, but it was always the rear that was stepping out of character.
The motorcycle loop at the BIC is much different than the loop for cars. At the end of the back straight where the cars go around a hairpin bend, the motorcycle loop cuts in much sooner and is a fast and flowing right-hander that leads on to a smallish straight and then you again get a fast left hander instead of a mix of left-left-right that the cars have to negotiate. At the end of the back straight, I was getting down two gears and was trying to carry as much speed as possible. While the next left hander was with constant throttle in 4th and the parabola entry in 4th and then downshift into 3rd just before the apex and hold it till the next apex and after that it was flat out stuff. I was touching speeds of between 98-105km/h on the R15 in the faster corners that I just mentioned. The top whack I could manage was an indicated 134km/h and it gave me a lap time of 3 minutes and 6 seconds.
The CBR150R immediately felt a lot more accommodating when I got off the R15 and got on to lap the Honda. I am a tallish chap, considering the height of an average Indian, and the Yamaha made me feel like I was sitting on a bike designed for an 8 year old. The Honda seemed very well proportioned and the seat was hugely more comfortable than the R15’s. Everything felt right and the posture on the bike once seated was sporty, but not uncomfortable. The feet found the brake and the gear levers intuitively and the hands felt relaxed on the bars. The 150R’s engine is a creamy smooth thing that revs all the way to 12,000. Yamaha gets out of breath at 10,000. There’s noticeably less torque in the 150R compared to the R15 lower in the rev band, but get it up to 3500-4000rpm and the engine becomes all sprightly and the performance only gets impressive from there. On the back straight while the R15 was doing between the indicated 130-134km/h, the Honda was comfortably doing 138-143km/h. Even while entering C4, I was carrying at least 8-10km/h more than the Yamaha and the story was much the same elsewhere on the track, too. The Honda somehow felt a lot more confident and even the brake lever modulation seemed perfect for track use, while the bite from the brakes was always perfect – just the amount you needed. The engine’s creaminess and the slick operation of the gearbox were added benefits and the CBR150R returned back to pits beating its chest with a 3-minute-0.5-seconds lap. That’s not only about 5 seconds faster than the R15, but also a big shock, and a welcome surprise.
After my riding session, I got down to inspect the Honda more closely. And I found it – I found that one thing that made me feel more confident with the bike. The MRF’s had been dumped in favour of TVS Srichakras and that seemed to make a hell lot of difference. It may be the case that this R15 I rode wasn’t in the best of shape and a proper and careful servicing would make it better – but would it make it better enough to shave 5 seconds off its time? I don’t know – some other time, hopefully, I will get a chance to figure it out.
- Honda CBR150R
- Yamaha R15
Engine: 149cc / Single Cy linder / DOHC / 4 Valves
Transmission: 6-Sp eed Manual
Power: 17.57bhp @ 10500rpm
Torque: 12.66Nm @ 8500rpm
Engine: 149.8cc / Single Cy linder / SOHC / 4 Valves
Transmission: 6-Sp eed Manual
Power: 16.76bhp @ 8500rpm
Torque: 15Nm @ 7500rpm