S. Muralidhar

With signs of the 125cc bike segment coming of age, manufacturers are adopting divergent strategies to tap this market. TVS Motor, for instance, has taken an aggressive approach with the launch of Flame which has the potential to set a new benchmark even for bikes higher up the engine size hierarchy.

In the past, the 125cc segment of the motorcycle market has been a case of being neither here nor there. While manufacturers have, for obvious reasons, thought of filling up the gap between the entry-level 100cc segment bikes and the performance-oriented 150cc plus category, bike buyers themselves have been relatively less enthusiast of the positioning.

Would it be less fuel-efficient than the 100cc bikes, thereby making entry-level bike buyers hesitant to upgrade. On the other hand, the average 125cc bike couldn’t hope to satisfy the performance bike buyer’s need for performance, young new-age looks and features.

A maturing market

But two aspects of the market have changed and those just could be the signals that the 125cc bike segment is coming of age as a strong, independent category.

First, the Indian bike buyer has evolved to point where he has a clear idea of what he wants in the bike and how much he is willing to spend while, of course, continuing with his fixation for fuel-efficiency.

Second, and as a consequence of the first, research and development by manufacturers has focused on new technologies to maintain the fuel-efficiency of the bigger engine 125cc bikes and on imploding the cost of the bike so that affordability is not an issue for the entry-level bike buyer who now wants to upgrade to the next category.

Why the 125cc bikes didn’t quite succeed or meet the manufacturers’ sales expectations, with the exception of the Bajaj Discover, could be that most of them were either clearly an extension of an existing entry-level bike or felt like one.

A mere redesign of an entry-level bike with a bigger engine probably was not going to be a very attractive proposition for the 125cc bike buyer who has already acquired an attitude before walking into the showroom.

A new focus

Both Bajaj Auto and TVS Motor recognised the need for building new bikes from the ground up for this emerging segment, but have now adopted divergent strategies to address the potential buyer for 125cc bikes.

Bajaj has repositioned the Discover — previously its only offering in the 125cc bike segment. By moving it up to a slightly bigger, marginally more powerful 135cc engine slot, Bajaj has tried to retain its uniqueness. Then came the launch of the 125cc XCD, which attempts to take a relatively conservative, cautious upgrade approach for attracting the 100cc bike owner’s attention.

On the other hand, TVS has adopted a more aggressive design and performance positioning for the Flame. The Flame was unveiled in August last year and is being launched by TVS in a phased manner; currently it is available only in Chennai.

TVS’ previous 125cc bike was the Victor GLX, an extension of the original Victor, which just didn’t manage to get the same level of buyer acceptance. With the Flame, TVS has gone the whole hog, developing an entirely new bike, loaded with technology and addressing all the core attributes that the typical buyer who is upgrading from the 100cc segment will look for.

Futuristic Flame

The 125cc Flame, is in our opinion, the second bike to carry the design signature of TVS’ new generation of two-wheelers, the first being the TVS Apache. Futuristic, very precise and very young, the Flame’s design and overall finish quality has the potential to set a new benchmark, even for bikes higher up the engine size hierarchy.

TVS says that the ‘DeltaEdge’ styling of the Flame has been inspired by the Delta Wing design found in the latest fighter jets. So there are a number of design cues that point towards a triangular or pointed theme. TVS engineers have taken the design theme forward and have consistently and symmetrically integrated it into so many aspects of the bike that from any angle the Flame seems to have a sort of design continuum.

Novel design

So, starting from the large headlamp that is shaped like a pointing down arrow and the sharply styled faux scoops mounted on either side of the fuel tank, to the triangular silencer and the pointy front mudguard, the design theme is very evident all around.

To add to the novelty of the Flame’s design, the turn indicators at the front (trafficators as TVS calls them) have been integrated into the tips of the boomerang-shaped fuel tank scoops, instead of the usual stalked indicators. The new-style indicators are equally visible for oncoming traffic and compliment the overall design of the fuel tank.

The stickering and dual tone colour theme that has been chosen for the Flame also complements the design direction. At the rear, a new design matt-black alloy grab rail and a dual lens tail lamp attempt to add further uniqueness to the Flame’s looks.

To increase the bike’s upper segment style feature list, the Flame gets a new analog-cum-digital instrument cluster, with a LCD display showing the fuel gauge, time and odometer.

Seating position is good with deep knee recesses, thanks to the faux scoops and lean fuel tank that seems squeezed in between, means that even tall riders can find a comfortable posture. There are quite a few aluminium bits all around also, with a matt-finished handle bar, alloy grab rail, alloy sub-frames and alloy wheels being part of standard fitment.

Easy handling

The TVS Flame uses a single down tube frame with a box-section swing arm. The bike’s wheelbase of 1,320mm and ground clearance of 165mm gives it a good set-up, in terms of manoeuvrability, for handling the average traffic and road conditions in most Indian cities.

The suspension set-up for the Flame includes telescopic hydraulic fork at the front and 5-step adjustable twin tubes and gas-filled absorbers at the rear. As for the brakes, 130mm drum brakes are standard both in the front and the rear, rear discs are offered as an option. With a refined engine and other NVH dampeners such as rubber mounts and handlebar end weights, vibrations in the Flame have been contained well, though at speeds of over 75 kmph, vibrations at the handle bar and foot peg start becoming a bit distracting. That brings us to the point of the four-speed gearbox. In the fourth gear and at a speed of about 80 kmph, the engine seems to have enough juice left in it to justify another gear slot.

The Flame has been priced at Rs 45,000 (ex-showroom, Chennai) for the drum brake version and Rs 48,000 for the disc brake version. In comparison, similar variants of the Hero Honda Glamour are about Rs 1,000 more expensive and the Bajaj XCD is about Rs 3,500 cheaper than the Flame.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated January 6, 2008)
XThese are links to The Hindu Business Line suggested by Outbrain, which may or may not be relevant to the other content on this page. You can read Outbrain's privacy and cookie policy here.