Collage of bikes

What kind of bike should you buy?

Ten years back, if the average Indian bike buyer wanted to buy a bike that also evoked pleasure of riding, his/her options were not so wide as it is now. You had a handful of options when it came to naked bikes, even less when it came to sports bikes and the retro-modern bikes were gaining steam but only one player was gaining all the steam. Now, you have umpteen options even if you want to select a bike in one category based on build and that is the reason for this story. To give you an idea, dear reader, about the different bike builds available today and help you decide what bike suits you the best based on how comfortable the bike can be for you. Which brings us to the question, what are the different builds of bike available?

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Ducati bikes
Options, options…

There are different types of bikes as per the build for all budgets if you have deep pockets. However, to keep things simple and not overwhelm you with an exhaustive list, I have classified the bike builds into four categories which are most popular in the country among the enthusiasts on a budget (Images for representational purposes). You might enjoy some of the builds below once you get to know them for what they are and even take pleasure in riding the machines. The way you look at motorcycles may even be changed forever by a particular build. On that note, the bikes can be classified into naked bikes or street fighters, sportbikes, retro-modern bikes, and adventure/dual sportbikes. Now we will take a look at each one of them, see how they are different from one another and their pros and cons.

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“Now, you have umpteen options even if you want to select a bike in one category based on build”

Naked bikes

When you remove the plastic panels of your sportbike and expose the engine, the frame, and other mechanicals, your bike is naked and hence the name. This is just a simple way to explain what a naked bike is, but there are some key differences between a naked bike and a sport bike. You don’t get too many plastic panels on a naked bike; the handlebar is flat and raised; the footpegs are not placed too far back and as a result, you sit upright. In essence, the rider triangle faces forward and you get a good riding position. If you are wondering what a rider triangle is, it is an imaginary triangle connecting the handlebar grip, footpeg, and the rider seat.

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Ducati Streetfighter side view
The rider triangle of a naked bike

Coming back to naked bikes, the seat height may be lower than the sportbike in some cases and this means better accessibility for short riders. These factors aid in a comfortable riding position and that’s why you see so many naked bikes around you. Their suspension settings are not too firm and not so soft and strike a good balance between comfort (secondary ride) and handling (ability to tackle corners). Due to their short wheelbase and agile nature, they are corner-carvers and you can have fun attempting a hill climb on one of these machines. Mostly suited for street riding and traversing the urban jungle due to their nimble nature and fewer frills, these bikes have gained much popularity in the country. And of course, they are fun to ride, practical and cool to look at, so what’s not to like?

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Side view of the MV Agusta Brutalle 800
Aren’t naked bikes sexy?

Pros:

  • Priced low compared to other bikes in different segments
  • Upright riding position
  • Lightweight and agile
  • The turning radius is small
  • Best suited for tackling city jaunts and the occasional highway run
  • Lots of customisation possible

“Due to their short wheelbase and agile nature, they are corner-carvers and you can have fun attempting a hill climb on one of these machines.”

Cons

  • In many cases, the pillion seat can be uncomfortable
  • Windblast at high speeds due to lack of a flyscreen
  • Styling can be not to everyone’s liking
  • With so many plying the streets, they have become common

Sportbike

These are some of the most technologically advanced bikes. They are built with aerodynamics in mind; to deliver the speed thrills around a racetrack. These bikes have stiff suspension settings, transmission, and their engines are tuned for high performance. Essentially these bikes call racetracks their home, as you can exploit the full potential of yourself and your sportbike only in a racetrack and nowhere else. You cannot go riding like a hooligan on the streets and it’s illegal to do so.

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Side view of an R1
Bred for the track

But these bikes are great for someone who wants to be a budding racer and if you have a racetrack in your city, this is a superb tool to hone your skills. These bikes are undeniably cool and you stand out in traffic. But these bikes are not practical for everyday use and they have an aggressive rider triangle facing downwards – low set clip-on handlebars, rear-set footpegs, and a higher seating position mean that you have to crouch when you ride and this takes a toll on your back. Also if the flyscreen is not big, you can’t protect yourself from the windblast at high speeds and this can become quite uncomfy. These factors also make it difficult to take them touring, as you will need frequent pitstops.

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“Technologically advanced, aerodynamically superior, and capable to deliver thrills in truckloads. These bikes call racetracks their home”

Pros

  • Stylish, sporty
  • Lots of power and technologically advanced
  • Delivers thrill in bucketloads
  • Can get your knee down on a racetrack
Aprilia RSV4
Crouch and ride!

Cons

  • Not practical
  • High cost
  • Aggressive riding position not suitable for city and highway runs
  • Stiff suspension
  • Can’t exploit the full potential in city or highway; you need a racetrack for it
  • Cost of plastic parts high
  • Adventure /Dual Sportbikes
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These are the bikes that feel at home when you show them a bit of a rough patch or a dirt track or any off-road terrain. These bikes can go where other bikes dare not venture. You can explore the less trodden path with these bikes, literally. That’s why they are called adventure bikes. You do not bother about the bike falling or damaging it because you know they are built tough and are super capable of enduring the worst of terrains without breaking a sweat.

Triumph Tiger 1200 front view
Big, intimidating, and go anywhere machines

You also don’t bother about the weather, because come rain, shine, or snow, they can tackle any terrain with ease. These bikes tempt you to go continent crossing and make you feel like an explorer on a mission. It can be quite dangerous if you have a day job and a girlfriend/wife waiting to see you after a long day. That is the seduction power of these bikes. On a lot of occasions, it comes down to the rider’s capability rather than the bike’s capability – that is how capable these machines are.

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side view of a Benelli TRK 500X
Designed to go continent hopping

What makes them so tough and reliable, you ask? Strong underpinnings designed to take on the harshest of terrains.  In some cases, lots of tech wizardry adjust certain parameters to aid comfort and tame the bike and terrain. These bikes have long-travel suspension, higher ground clearance, higher seat height, raised handlebars. These translate to a rider triangle with an upright riding position, where you sit tall compared to a naked or sportbike. This also means that you get a commanding view of the road ahead to make quick decisions. You can stand and ride and this feels very natural on these bikes, lording over obstacles easily.

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BMW R 1200 GS
Life is an adventure, isn’t it?

Pros

  • Go anywhere ability in comfort
  • Sturdy and tough
  • Ability to flatten anything that comes it’s way
  • Commanding view of the road; road presence
  • Able mile muncher
  • Long travel suspension

“These bikes tempt you to go continent crossing and make you feel like an explorer on a mission”

Cons

  • Handling can be a bit wheezy
  • Directions changes are not very quick due to its big dimensions and weight
  • Can be intimidating
  • Higher seat height can be a put off for some
  • Not everyone will be attracted to its styling
  • Cruiser bikes

These are bikes that like to go from point A to B in a relaxed manner. Take in the sights, soak in the scenery, and cruise without being rushed. These bikes are more for riding pleasure, than for outright acceleration and top speed. Cruiser bikes are torquey in nature and have most of their grunt at the bottom and mid-range of the rev-counter. The riding ergonomics are also relaxed with low seat height, high set handlebars, and footpegs that are positioned forwards, which lend the laid-back riding style for these bikes.

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Side view of a UM cruiser

The suspension settings for these bikes are set towards delivering a comfortable ride (secondary ride) rather than for handling and corner-carving. Having said that, cruiser bikes have evolved and they strike a good balance between ride and handling. You cannot lean too much into corners as the footpegs or the exhaust pipes might scrape. While the exhaust pipe is set low, the hero blobs are set forward and will be intrusive when you lean. These are very capable mile munchers but as they weigh more and have a long wheelbase, agility and nimbleness are not their forte. As a result, city riding can be cumbersome.

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Pros

  • Laidback and relaxed riding style
  • Able mile muncher
  • Styling along with modern tech
The best choice of wheels for a super-villain

Cons

  • The turning radius is big due to the long wheelbase
  • These bikes can be heavy

Conclusion

So what kind of rider are you? Do you prefer the coolness (or hotness) of a naked or the acceleration and thrill of a sportbike? Do you like to ‘cruise’ into the sunset on a bike that is laidback and relaxed or do you like to take the long road home into the unknown on an ‘adventure’? Whatever it is, I hope that you have got some basic ideas of how the bikes differ in terms of build. Due to the difference in build and some technicalities, each segment brings in some unique qualities to the rider and it is up to the rider to decide what bike fits his/her needs most, once they know what each bike is capable of. Test riding these bikes with the knowledge of the characteristics and nuances will give you a whole lot of perspective and will come in handy when you buy your bike. Stay tuned for the next part where I list out the best bikes in the above segment that you can get your hands on for under Rs 2 lakh.

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