When I first read about Fawkes the Phoenix, Albus Dumbledore’s animal companion (I refuse to call Fawkes a ‘pet’), I was fascinated by the mythical creature’s magical powers. It could mend injuries by shedding tears over the cuts, burst into flames and be born again from the ashes, give feathers of its tail to be made into magic wands.

But then for me, the best ‘feature’ of this creature was that it could carry immensely heavy loads over long distances when all other modes of transport failed. That, to me, is an awesome way to commute. Just grab the bird’s tail, flash, and you’re gone – no gridlocks, no honking, no refuelling, nothing. Ah, if only!

So getting back to commuting, or rather commuters, I got to check out TVS’s new 125cc ‘executive commuter’, the Phoenix. Much can be said about the name itself -Flame, the last 125cc commuter, well, er…flamed out. And I can’t help but be dramatic, by saying that the Phoenix has been born again from the ashes.

But, really, has it? Because the competition, the Honda Shine has the segment in its clutches. Does the Phoenix have anything magical about it to pose a threat to the likes of the Shine, Hero Ignitor (also Honda Stunner) and Bajaj Discover 125? To find out, I landed up at TVS’s Hosur factory on a rainy day to ride the hatchling, sorry, bike, on the company track. I wanted to ride the bike on city streets, though, for that’s where it actually belongs.

Styling and build

At first glance, the red Phoenix that I rode looks like Hero MotoCorp’s Passion Pro, because of the graphics. The decals run all the way from the broad, bikini faring to the tail, which, in my opinion, is a slight overdose of stickering. A huge ‘125’ sticker plastered on the tank loudly announces the engine capacity.

But overall, the graphics add a certain sense of appeal to the bike, for without them the Phoenix would’ve looked a little skinny. The front fender comes in a dual-colour scheme (body colour and black) and has some decals on it too. The rear mud-guard, engine, chain-guard and the 17-inch, six-spoke alloy wheels, all come in matte black. The grab rail and parts of the side panels come in metallic grey.

The headlamp comes with twin LED pilot lights which add an Apache-like touch to the styling, and even the tail-lamp is quite big and noticeable. As a safety feature and a first in Indian bikes, TVS has added hazard lamps to the Phoenix. While this might be considered a good safety feature for riding in foggy and dark conditions, I don’t really see a good use of this in main city traffic unless the rider is in the logistics or delivery business where frequent stops along the road-sides have to be made. The hazard light switch is placed and looks just like an engine-kill switch and had me confused for some time.

Another Apache-like feature is the 240mm front petal disc on the disc brake version. The speedometer console is an amber-backlit all digital one, with a service reminder, digital odometer/tripmeter, low battery reminder and digital fuel gauge. The switches look quite premium for the segment, and have crisp responses to soft touches.

Performance

The Phoenix runs on a single-cylinder, air-cooled, 124.5cc four-stroke engine, which TVS claims to be a new one. This motor churns out pretty decent numbers for its segment - 10.85bhp at 8000rpm, and a peak torque of 10.8Nm at 6000rpm. As this bike intended to be in the commuter segment, it has good low and mid range power delivery, but I found it to be lacking in muscle for longer, more open stretches of tarmac.

The carburetted ‘Ecothrust’ engine is married to a four-speed, all-up gearbox, which registers the gears quite smoothly. The clutch also feels very light and comfortable, and this might be very good for riding in heavy traffic for long periods. I am assuming that the slightly smallish 1265mm wheelbase would also be quite good to weave in and out of traffic.

Although I agree that ‘city-riding’ conditions require a bike to have a short gearing system like the Phoenix has, and should offer good low range power delivery, I also feel that the near-perfect commuter should turn out better numbers on highways too. In many metros and large cities, professionals live up to 20 kilometres (or more) away from their work places. Many of them use public or company transport to commute, but those who prefer to ride (the ‘executive commuters’) to work, often pass through toll roads and highways. On roads like these, one would really love to have a fifth cog and a bike that pushes beyond 80-85 kmph without any roughness setting in.

The Phoenix’s digital speedo went past 90 kmph only after I pushed it very, very hard (struggled would be the right word) on the track and the old TVS problem with vibration and roughness could be felt a bit after the 80kmph mark. As the bike has a lower kerb weight (114kg for drum and 116kg for disc), it doesn’t feel reassuringly steady on higher speeds.

TVS claims that the Phoenix can deliver 67 kilometres to the litre under standard riding conditions, which can be a good incentive to buy this executive commuter.

Riding comfort

Cornering capability of the Phoenix is quite decent, with a good grip around the loops and curves on the track. Even when the track was quite wet, the Phoenix was quite sure-footed on the gradients and on a loop that would tempt any rider to lean deep into. The real test for this motorcycle would have been in city traffic, where cornering can be unpredictable.

Braking, too, was quite good. I got to ride the bike when the track was both wet and dry, and I was quite happy to see that rapid deceleration on straights and controlled braking around the curves were quite stable. Even when I locked up the rear 130mm drum brake on the wet straights, the rear didn’t step out, contrary to my expectations.

One thing that is new to this segment, and which TVS has incorporated on the Phoenix, is the inclusion of a ‘series spring’ on the 5-step adjustable rear hydraulic shocks. The ‘series springs’ are basically two springs of different number of coils and tension/extension ratings, for providing different types of compression of shocks on different terrains. Also, the Phoenix sports 90/90 tyres, which are on the wider side for the 125cc executive commuter segment and claim to offer more comfort on bad roads.

To test this, I rode the bike over an ‘urban simulation’ track with potholes, rough tarmac, bumps and breakers, and I can say the Phoenix passed the test. But then again, ‘urban simulation’ is not really the actual thing.

Overall, with a comfortable seat and improved upholstery, the Phoenix offers a very comfortable ride and I am guessing it wouldn’t be very tiring to ride this bike for up to an hour or two in heavy traffic.

Bottomline

Clearly, the Phoenix is a much better ride than the older Flame, with an engine that is not as rough and has a good ride quality. It is also packed with features that are not present on other bikes in its segment. But somehow, I don’t quite see it being an imminent threat to the Honda Shine or Bajaj’s Discover 125, for it still does not give enough reason or any compelling factor that would make it more appealing than the competitors. The mileage might be an inviting factor, but only to an extent. The Phoenix is offered in five dual-tone colours, in two variants. The ex-showroom (Chennai) price for the drum variant is Rs 51,000 and Rs 53,000 for the disc version.

sabyasachi.b@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on November 20, 2012)
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