Friday, July 08, 2011

Is India ready for big bikes?

India is land of commuters. Majority of Indians use and think of motorcycles as sole means of transportation. They are quick, economical and can carry two/three people easily around. Lack of big roads and growing population compliments the need of motorcycles than other means of transportation.

Laws have favoured Indian manufacturers by imposing near 100% duty on foreign imports. This was done to protect Indian manufacturers and to help them grow. Unfortunately, this growth got limited to financial growth only. After two stroke era died, for years, Indian industry kept manufacturing tiny 100cc scooters and motorcyles till date. Later the manufacturers created higher segment by introducting engines bigger than that.

While rest of the world considers 650cc as beginer's bike, 220cc is still a power packed sports motorcycle here. Ther is a wide choice for a buyer for bikes between 100-150cc and manufacturer's boast increases of single digit power as a *huge* gain over competitiors :)

Recent time has been quiet exciting for Indian biking enthusiasts. For those looking beyond Pulsars, Karizmas and Bullets, few good choices are available.

Well, if you have enough green papers, you can now legally buy following machines in India. Pricing of these are still un-affoardable for the masses.
  • Honda Fireblade CBR1000RR
  • Kawasaki Ninja 650R
  • Hyosung GT650R
  • Hyosung ST7
  • Yamaha FZ1
  • Yamaha YZF-R1
  • Yamaha VMAX
  • Yamaha MT-01
  • Ducati 696
  • Ducati 1100
  • Ducati 1100S
  • Ducati HM 1100
  • Ducati HM 1100S
  • Ducati GT 1000
  • Ducati GT 1000 bicolor
  • Ducati GT 1000 Touring
  • Ducati Sport 1000S
  • Ducati Fighter
  • Ducati Fighter S
  • Ducati 848
  • Ducati 1198
  • Ducati 1198 S
  • Ducati 1098 R
  • Ducati 1098 R TB
  • BMW R 1200 GS
  • BMW S 1000 RR
  • Harley Davidson
  • Suzuki Hayabusa
  • Suzuki Intruder
  • and more...
People who buy or import such motorcycles generally prefer to keep it as a second choice. Daily commute on these are impractical because of the road conditions/jams and higher maintainance costs. They end up being ridden for 100-200kms on weekend around city and as a mental satisfaction in the garage :)
Hyosung and Kawasaki (through BAL) have introduced the 650cc segment and there is a sure buyer for them. Those who have got fed up of saving for superbike, those who were about to retire from biking and move into cage, riches who simply can, and the serious riders would flock to buy these. No wonder, first batch of Kawasaki 650R was a quick success. Intial bookings got closed within weeks!
650cc segment is best of both worlds. You get a powerful commuter that has enough juice if you want to go out for a nice tour. Its neither as expensive as a superbike, and not common as a commuter bike. Limiting the discussion to this middle segment created by Bajaj and Hyosung, are they really ready for these kind of machines?
Service network: Bajaj may score more points here because of their existing service network. It would be good to know that an authorised dealer is in the town but they would not be able provide consumables and other parts if you need them. It can be arranged through the network but if you are on a trip then its almost end of it. Garware motoros are aware of this and they are trying establish the network. It would take a while and hopefully they do not get into deadlock of service network-sales. People would buy less since service network is small and Garware might not be able to expand due to low sales.
Trained Labour: Even if you are able to reach to the nearest point, will you have a trained guy to help you out (forget about repairs, just consider routine maintainance)? At such point, a remote help over phone and prayers are only way out :) I am not undermining the experience of the mechs but just the fact that all that experience was gathered on different set of machines and problems.
Service attitude: Like all other Indians, the service engineers do not understand difference between a commuter and a more serious rider. Manufacturers have created specialised service bays or service centers for *their premium* models. Their premium models differ by just few handful digits of power, rest is almost same as their entry level model. These end up as sales gimmicks and different plastic stickers.
Routine service comprise of basic wash, chain cleaning, lights/horn check and oil change.
I was never happy with attitude of Bajaj service center near me. In my personal experience with Bajaj auto service, the mechs have always disregarded my comments, observations and requests. Speak anything more and you are an oversmart customer!
Perhaps, this was the reason for rejecting oil change on a new bike before its first service interval.
Despite advising that battery is dead and needs replacement (and not recharging, as I had already done that), my bike was returned by mere recharging. It failed to crank on post-service pickup. It was lying for two days with them with expectation to sort it out completely.
In the same service, I had asked them to check fork noise thoroughly. It was present since last few services and every time they the bike with simple nut adjustment. The nut was tightened this time again and mech was pretty confident that it was solved. He had not taken the test ride and I had to return the bike to them for next two days to get it fixed.
Now the same set of deaf mechs are going to work on foreign models. Its quiet likely that they are going to do a lot of things, alone on their own for the next few months. Perhaps they attended a small workshop. Is that enough for trusting them for the job? If they are going to ignore what customer says, will that help?
Choice to the buyer: What is logic of giving just one color to choose from? It may work well for them as free moving advertising across the streets. But for a customer, its just a bullying when he is ready to shell out money. Hyosung was nice to offer three choices atleast. But I hate the green Ninja. You are not going to loose your brand if you offer other colors!
What about accessories? None in sight. You are just giving the bike for the price and nothing else. The buyer wont get simple thing as an OEM slider or a topcase. It would have to be imported personally and the service mech would refuse to fit it for warranty reasons :)
There was another fiasco about the test rides. Initially the site offered email ID for requesting test rides. That was taken away in two days. While the potential buyers would be very few, it could still be offerred to previous customers? or offerred on Dynos? I recently got an invitation for test ride of Bajaj Discover as a customer of Pulsar 220F. Was Bajaj expecting me to dump 220F and buy Discover?
On the other side, Indian Roads continue to dissatisfy. Some highways are exceptionally well. But even major city roads loose themselves during monsoons. Coming home with damaged/scratched underbelly is not great :p Sometimes, if the road is good, there are ocassional speed bumps like mountains. If used properly, they can be used to launch cars into air like in movies :) I have heard Hayabusa owners getting down and manually push it over the speed bump to avoid damage. Cant keep doing it every few meters happily :)
Dhoom and Roadie effect: Nothing painted bad image of riders than these two stupid things. Every faired bike is now known as dhoom bike and I was even asked - "Are you a roadie?". With help of this and due to accidents involving motorcycles, Riders have become evil.
There are few highways and bridges denied for motorcyclists - reason cited as "accidents happen due to motorcycles". Its the stupidest conclusion to draw accordin to me. If statistics are true, 100% accidents that occur on the restricted roads involve cars/trucks :) Cars in which the passangers do not use seat belts, or have bald tyres can enter the highway, and drive their heart out, yet a safety concious 1000cc rider cannot! Differentiating between the two is not mechanical but then why does it go in favour of car owners?
Another road was closed due to accidents that happened at night. At times it involved speeding cars that went out of control, at times it involved motorcyclists who raced on empty patches. Result: blanket ban on motorcycles. Couldnt it be done just for night? How long indians will continue to have stupid beliefs about road safety?
Road sense and Common sense: Getting a license is easier than getting a passport or landline connection. Generations have been driving/riding without basic road sense. Anyone who can twist the throttle or drive can get it and consider himself an experienced one sooner. But we never follow basic road sense of yielding the right of way, lane driving manners. Such things do not have place in Indian upbringing at all. There is a good bunch of youngsters who believe superbikes are only for speeding. Hopefully these do not lay their hands on them and end up crashing. Which would further damage image of riders :) I remember in early days of Pulsar, it was considered by many as bad motorcycle. Failure of using disk brakes properly was major cause for that. One Bajaj showroom supervisor considered Ninja as most accident prone since he had three of them at once for full repair. People need to understand the technology and respect it.

Having said this, the change is pleasent. The pricing is much appreciated and this is sure sign of things to come. Hopefully this changes the perceptions and market over time. There should be more from the competition to keep things level. Many out of us are definitely ready for the change. Its going to be a dream come true moment ahead to lay hands on the machines and weaving memories with them in the years to come.
Let the good times come soon :)