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Sunday, Dec 19, 2004

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A tempting Discover-y

S. Muralidhar

IT WAS bound to happen sooner than later. The market leader was not quite there in what was said to be a burgeoning `upgraded' 125cc commuter motorcycle market with its first offering not a hit. The competition had better offerings, but surely knew the leader would try a come back.

What's more, the Chinese are headed here and getting popular too. But more than their bikes and consumer electronics India likes a particular Chinese actor and martial arts exponent who even has fan clubs in this country.

So, would it not it be a winning strategy to get this popular Chinese to promote an all-new, `entry-level-plus' bike? We are of course talking about the new Bajaj Discover — Bajaj Auto's new super commuter bike and its talk-of-the-town advertisement featuring Hollywood actor Jackie Chan.

Joining the spate of new 125cc bikes, the new Discover comes in after detailed market studies and meticulous in-house design and engineering by Bajaj's team, which only a couple of years ago discovered its strengths in giving a refreshingly new perspective to build quality of global standards.

So, after the spectacular success of the Bajaj Pulsar twins in the performance biking segment and the CT 100 in the commuter bike segment, the company is now hoping to replicate the achievement in the emerging 125cc bike category.

The success of the Pulsar gave Bajaj the booster dose of morale that gave it the confidence to develop and produce a 125cc bike completely in-house, without any help from its technology collaborator, Kawasaki of Japan.

Bajaj's earlier foray into the 125cc segment with the Wind 125 did not meet with much success, at least not to the extent that some of the company's other bikes have seen.

The bike was manufactured in collaboration with Bajaj's Japanese technical partner and was touted to be Kawasaki's world bike. New features and all, the Wind 125 was not just passed by, worse, it was constantly compared to its smaller, cheaper sibling — the Caliber 115 — due to a few resemblances in design.

Maybe the Wind 125 was put into the market too early or perhaps its design was too bland. But the competition has moved on and we now have the TVS Victor GLX 125, the Yamaha Fazer, LML Freedom Prima 125 and the Kinetic GF 125. With such worthy competition as the stylish Fazer and the frugal Victor GLX 125, Bajaj had had to work hard on the new bike's looks and performance. And that extra effort does show on the Discover.

The new Bajaj Discover DTS-i has been moulded out of the same design theme that made the Pulsar DTS-i twins much-coveted bikes amongst aficionados.

So, to that extent, Bajaj hopes to evoke the same levels of aspirational qualities in design, engineering and performance that the Pulsar managed to do amongst buyers in the higher priced executive/power bikes category.

However, Bajaj has managed to avoid some of the frills and bits of burnished steel around the bike that could have added to the price of the Discover. Yet, the Discover is stylish and oozes almost the same level of refinement as the Pulsar twins.

At a first glance, the Discover surprises you with its lean, seemingly low slung, yet muscular styling. We were expecting to see a more chunkily built bike, especially after all those `up close' angles that the Jackie ads came up with. Once astride, even the Discover's fuel tank looks smaller, thanks to its tapering design.

But the Discover's overall design seems to be purposeful and the flat board seat's drive position is only deceptively tall due to simple straight lines of the bike.

At the front, the Discover comes with an optoprism headlamp with twin pilot lamps that are housed in a broad new fairing design that is intended to maximise lighting on dark roads.

The oversized headlamp and fairing is crowned with a tinted visor that covers the twin-pod instrument cluster housed within the cowl. For a bike in this segment, a powerful halogen bulb at the front is big plus. The fuel tank can hold up to 10 litres with a reserve capacity of about 2 litres.

Unlike the Pulsar, the Discover's design does not lead to a seating position that is cradled on both sides by the rising fuel tank and the sloping up of the pillion seat. As a result, the flat seat and the rear grab rail and lights are pretty much on a level with the fuel tank.

But the well-balanced handle featuring vibration cancelling, epoxy coated bar-end weights offer the rider a comfy hold during long rides. At the rear, the smart tail lamp features a wrap around design joining the rear body panel neatly just below the shapely aluminium die-cast grab rail.

The turn indicators are the same long stalks found in the Wind 125. Switch gear and knobs are on a par with the competition with the only additional feature being the blue ride control switch that Bajaj first featured in the CT 100.

The Discover's chassis and frame is another feature that Bajaj seems to have wanted to leverage for both promoting the bike's design theme and at the same time keep its contribution to the bike's costs to a minimum.

The exposed, black frame chassis adds to the bike's rugged looks and features a tubular dual cradle structure, in addition to a rectangular, box section swing arm. A thoughtful add-on is a protective plate on the dual cradle frame that shields the gear sump and the electric start components from loose gravel.

The box section swing arm is aided by the Discover's extra-long wheelbase of 1,305mm in providing the bike a higher level of stability. The bike's wheelbase is longer compared to all the other bikes in the segment except the Yamaha Fazer, which come close at about 1,300mm.

These stability features are complemented by the new telescopic front suspension of 31mm with anti-friction, Teflon-coated bushes that also come up with a class leading longest travel of 135mm. At the rear, the Discover's suspension set up features a trailing arm with coaxial hydraulic shock absorbers and coil springs.

The Discover's four-stroke, naturally aspirated, 124.52cc DTS-i engine develops a maximum power of 11.51 PS at 8,000 rpm and a peak torque of 10.8 Nm at 6,500 rpm. Both the parameters have been optimised for a bike in this class.

The Discover features two of Bajaj's tried and tested technologies that have done their jobs in two different bikes to eventually improve their fuel efficiency numbers.

By combining the two in-house technologies — Digital Twin Spark Ignition (DTS-i) and the ride control switch — in the Discover, Bajaj is hoping to bring to this bike the essence of the economical performance that these simple, new-age aids could give. As a result, the Discover's engine block is designed to feature dual spark plugs positioned in an opposed manner to improve the fuel-air swirl and enable complete combustion within the engine chamber, thereby improving power delivery and fuel efficiency.

The engine's DTS-i technology also incorporates a eight-bit microprocessor-controlled digital ignition set up ensuring optimum ignition timing for any given engine rpm level. Combined with this Bajaj's own third generation Throttle Responsive Ignition Control System (TRICS) that via a magnetic reed valveand a ride-control switch deter excessive throttle flex while accelerating, gives the Discover the ability to come up with a mileage of about 52 kmpl in city riding conditions. Our test bike also managed a neat 60 kmpl on the highway.

For more details about these technologies refer to the profile of the Bajaj Pulsar DTS-i that appeared in these columns (Business Line, November 30, 2003).

Bajaj has also managed to boost the Discover's low-end torque characteristics with an innovative approach. `Exhaust TEC' is a new device incorporated in the exhaust system of the Discover's engine. `TEC' stands for `Torque Expansion Chamber'. This new technology developed by Bajaj Auto improves the `scavenging' process of exhaust gases.

This exhaust system dramatically improves engine torque at low revs without compromising anything at mid or high engine revs. The silencer also has a characteristic tonal quality to it and gives out a healthy-sounding low-frequency grunt.

While meeting the mandatory current noise norms, it gives the Discover an identity, which takes it closer to the bigger performance bikes.

The benefits of this new technology were obvious in our test bike and the adequate availability of low-end torque could be felt through each of the four gears of the Discover. The bike's four gears felt adequate for city riding, but on the highway, a fifth slot was sorely missed. Another point we felt Bajaj could improve upon was the feel of the gearbox. We still heard the gear clonking into place as we shifted and there was a surprising amount of play for the gear shifter even after reaching neutral and fourth, giving the rider the impression that there is one more slot to go. Brakes on the Discover are 130mm drums for both the front and the rear.

The top-end version comes with discs at the front. The bike also comes with 2.75-inch tyres at the front and broader three-inch rubber at the rear. At about Rs 43,700, the Discover ES model comes with an electric starter. Paint work and fit and finish quality are on a par with the best in the class.

As such it is a good bargain for bike shoppers in the entry-level plus segment.

Price versus package, the Discover is a good buy for someone looking for a easy riding, stable and economical bike. What more can we say? Keep Discovering!

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