Gone are the days when you had to spend big money to enjoy premium quality and tech-laden bikes. Tech wizardry that was only found in bikes above 500cc has now found its way into much smaller bikes (in terms of engine capacity) for the masses. In the previous article, we talked about the different bike builds available and what can fit you best based on your usage among other aspects. Continuing on that note, here is a list of some of the best bikes in the 250-400cc segments that feel premium, are tech-laden and smile-inducing whenever you swing a leg over one of them while also keeping an eye on the price.
The ADV – Royal Enfield Himalayan
The most underrated and usually misunderstood bikes must be the ADVs or adventure motorcycles. While enthusiasts and bikers who have had a go in one will swear by the capabilities of these breed of bikes, the masses often see them as too big a big motorcycle for the streets and deem them as not required for daily runs to the office and back. They could not be much further away from the truth. Take the Royal Enfield Himalayan for instance – a rugged, tough-as-nails, hardcore and very capable adventure motorcycle. I can personally vouch for one of these because on two occasions I have ridden the Himalayan – once in Shimla during peak winter and the most recent one during our week-long trip to Spiti Valley in Himachal Pradesh. On both these occasions, I was smiling widely under the helmet when tackling some of the worst patches the Himalayas can throw. The Himalayan can brave any terrain and soldier on and carry on like nothing ever happened.
The 410cc single-cylinder air-cooled engine has oodles of torque (34Nm) that you can chug along even in first gear on steep terrains. The enormous 220mm of ground clearance means that the Himalayan can actually take to the water bodies like a duck to a lake. We encountered many streams and the Himalayan just sailed through it, its upswept exhaust ensuring that it does not choke on its own exhaust. The tall handlebar, low seat height and rider triangle ensure that you do not get fatigued on long journeys. The seats are cushy and comfy. The commanding view that you get and the ease of standing and riding make this an able tourer.
Our country has no dearth of bad roads and with cyclones adding to the new normal, you need a bike that can brave all conditions. Of course, there is the BMW G 310 GS and the KTM 390 Adventure if you can stretch your budget by nearly a lakh or more, depending on the variant. It is in this aspect that the Himalayan wins – purely a no-nonsense, tough ADV priced sensibly at Rs 1.91 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi) to make off-roading affordable for the masses. ‘Nuff said.
The naked – Bajaj Dominar 250
The quarter-litre segment is busy and competitive. A few years back this category was not making as much noise as it is now because not a lot of options were available and those that were available cost a bomb. The average Indian biker who has had enough of 150cc bikes is now looking a notch above with much interest because of the numerous options that are mushrooming. Competition has made these bikes even better. In short, these bikes hit the sweet spot.
To be honest, it is hard to recommend just one bike in this class where all the bikes are desirable. But even in this crowd, the Bajaj Dominar 250 stands out. Priced at Rs 1.65 lakh ex-showroom, Bajaj has positioned this bike as a ‘sports tourer’, emphasizing its long-distance touring credentials. It has the numbers to back that claim – 26.6bhp and 23.5Nm churned out by its single-cylinder, liquid-cooled motor (borrowed from the KTM 250 Duke), mated to a 6-speed gearbox. The perimeter frame has always complemented the sporty character of the bike. But the only downside may be the 130mm rear tyre, which is not as wide as the competition and therefore can limit the leaning characteristics of the motorcycle.
On the safety front, it gets dual-channel ABS, disc brakes on both ends and a powerful LED headlamp carried over from the Dominar 400. It misses out on the upside-down forks but that is not a deal-breaker considering the pricing. The Dominar 250 is available in two colours only (Canyon Red and Charcoal Black). Flanked on the rear is the ‘D250’ badging on both sides. It also gets regular telescopic front forks and not the USD forks that the Dominar 400 wears. Test riding the bike and its competition will give you more perspective on the bikes in this hotly contested segment.
The Sportbike – Suzuki Gixxer SF 250
Yes, the Gixxer SF 250 is your only option if you wanted a 250cc fully-faired sportbike within Rs 2 lakh. And being the only option, this bike has a lot going for it, as it is packed with tech while offering the thrill of speed and sporty character. It also won the ‘Autocar Bike of the Year 2020’ among other awards, so even though you have one option, it seems like a great option. Despite it being a sportbike, it is a tourer friendly bike. It has the tech that a quarter-litre bike in this class is expected to have – single-cylinder, liquid-cooled, 249cc mill that develops 26bhp and 22.2Nm, mated to a 6-speed gearbox.
A saddle height of 800mm makes it accessible to short riders as well. 12L of tank capacity may not be much, but that is compensated by its fuel economy and subsequently, the range that you get on a full tank. With a claimed fuel economy of 38.5kmpl, even if you can eke out 35kmpl by riding sensibly, you get a range of 420km on a full tank. And in that Suzuki Ecstar livery, you couldn’t ask for more to stand out in the traffic lights. Priced at Rs 1.76 lakh for the regular variant and Rs 1.77 lakh (ex-showroom) for the MotoGP edition, Suzuki has done well to price it aggressively.
The Retro Cruiser – Royal Enfield Meteor 350
There is no stopping Royal Enfield in this category. The legacy, the feeling of belonging to a community of RE bike riders, and the various bike rides that the company organizes to engage its customers – have all contributed to its reputation and brand image. The competition has made its presence with a range of bikes to take some of the pie that is mostly enjoyed by Royal Enfield. But the reigning king of this segment, Royal Enfield, recently launched the all-new Meteor 350. This replaces the Thunderbird 350 and the Thunderbird 350X. The 350cc platform that took RE to stratospheric heights now gets a full revamp. This new platform will also make its way into the next-gen Classic 350 as well.
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The Meteor 350 gets a new twin-downtube spine frame which replaces the single-cradle unit. It gets new engine as well and the technical changes include a new SOHC with a two-valve head which replaces the pushrod system, increased bore and stroke, a new internal oil circuit, and a new primary balance shaft. It remains an air-cooled engine though. The engine pushes out 20.2bhp and 27Nm of peak twist, mated to a 5-speed gearbox. Suspension duties are managed by 41mm telescopic forks upfront and twin shocks with a 6-step adjustable preload setting. Tubeless tyres are shod on the 19-inch front and 17-inch rear wheels.
The five-speed gearbox is also new, but it raises a question as to why RE did not fit a 6-speeder considering it is pegged as a long-distance tourer. If the customers are not complaining about it and are satisfied with its performance, then why fix it if it ain’t broke right? Despite the Meteor 350 being longer in wheelbase by 50mm compared to the Thunderbird 350X, the former is lighter by 6kg. Fuel tank capacity is reduced to 15-litres, down by 5L. The Meteor 350 gets bigger brakes, reduced rear wheel size, and is longer and wider than the outgoing model. It promises a lot in terms of ride and handling.
Though it retains the circular dials, the packaging is neat and it also gets an LCD display inside the big circular dial. A smaller circular dial is used to display turn-by-turn navigation and time too if you know the route to your destination and are not using the navigation. With its ‘Make it Yours’ programme, customisation is the keyword here – you can choose from eight different exhausts, various colour options, sear covers, six seats, accessories and much more. Is this enough to keep the competition at bay? Well, it seems like RE has got a winner in its hands but only time will tell how much people have warmed up to the Meteor 350. What do you think?
What is your favourite bike in the above segments? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!