S. Muralidhar

With the touch and feel of a big bike, Hero Honda hopes to capture the imagination of the 150cc+ segment buyer with the new Hunk. And the company sees in this bike a possible challenger to the Bajaj Pulsar, the market leader in this segment.

If it were just the first mover advantage that determines who captures the market, then the 150cc+ performance bikes market should not belong to Bajaj Auto. Hero Honda had the CBZ 150, TVS had the Fiero and there were others too.

Obviously Bajaj got it right with the Pulsar’s overall macho, performance look and feel. And that helped it clinch the market for buyers who were looking for size and style, and were even willing to make a few compromises in refinement. The 150cc+ market has changed dramatically since the time it started to coalesce, but the leader continues to be Bajaj and its Pulsar.

One more to the trio

Hero Honda had three bike brands in the category — the Achiever, the CBZ X-TREME and the Karizma. While, of late, the CBZ X-TREME has seen a pick up in sales and is bringing in the numbers for Hero Honda in this segment, the other two, including the 225cc Karizma, are selling steady but in smaller numbers.

Bajaj has one brand but four engine variants of the Pulsar, and this alone manages to rack up the numbers for the company. One of the reasons for the success of the Pulsar is its appealing design and the way Bajaj has kept refreshing it to help the bike stay ahead of the competition.

For Hero Honda, though the CBZ X-TREME has managed to give buyers the feel of a big bike, the two-wheeler market leader still did not have a challenger strong enough to take on the might of the Pulsar.

The bike which Hero Honda has probably been looking for and which could help it capture the imagination of the 150cc+ segment buyer is the new Hunk.

With design lines that allows for generous proportions and sharp features, the new Hunk, launched late last month, should be able to give users the touch and feel of a big bike. What the seemingly clichéd name conveys is just what Hero Honda hopes will be the new bike’s USP.

The Hunk has a few traditional design lines in places, but to a large measure depicts a new approach for Hero Honda. While the headlamp of the bike looks very familiar, the fairing has been given a fresh design. Unlike the CBZ X-TREME, the Hunk gets stalked turn indicators.

Big on looks

To give the Hunk big bike looks, Hero Honda engineers have chosen a relatively thin base fuel tank in metal. But with the addition of chunky, fake air scoops to either side of the fuel tank, the tank, overall, gets a big bike profile.

The arrow-shaped scoops also get faux air fins that add to the novelty of the feature. Further, with the tapering fuel tank and the chunky scoops, the bike gets deep knee recesses that should enable it to offer a comfortable riding posture for even the tallest of riders.

The Hunk also comes with a sporty seat. Steeply stepped up and with a reinforced middle section that offers added support to the rider’s lower back. In general, the riding posture and seat comfort is good, with a set-forward, straight handlebar.

Instrumentation in the new Hunk is relatively simple with an analog speedo and odometers, an engine rpm-meter and a fuel gauge. Neutral, high beam and turn indicators and a tripmeter are the other features that are part of the tri-pod instrument cluster. Chrome surround for the circular speedo unit and a red-coloured dial are only attractive bits here. But more novelty in the form of digital gauges will be sorely missed for a bike in this segment.

Aluminium-alloy rear grab rail, brake lever, side panels and sub-frames are all well finished and the quality of the electricals are similar to Hero Honda’s other bikes in the segment. Five-spoked, 18-inch, matt-black alloy wheels are standard, as is a 240mm disc brake in the front.

All the mechanicals, the chassis and engine of the Hunk have been carried forward from the CBZ X-TREME. So, it shares the same tubular, diamond frame type chassis and the same 149.2cc engine that is also used in the CBZ X-TREME. The Hunk is marginally heavier than the other bike.

The 149.2cc air-cooled, four-stroke engine’s characteristics are also similar, with peak power at 14.4 PS kicking in at 8,500 rpm and the maximum torque of 12.8 Nm on offer at 6,500 rpm. The Hunk comes with both kick-start and electric self-start options. The engine is also teamed with the same five-speed constant mesh gearbox as is offered in the CBZ X-TREME.

Refined engine

For the suspension set-up, the Hunk features telescopic forks in the front and a new Nitrox gas reservoir suspension at the rear. And as is typical of any Hero Honda bike, the engine refinement is good. Vibration levels are low and well contained, becoming evident at the handlebar and foot pegs only at three-digit speeds. The top speed of the Hunk should be in the region of about 120 kmph.

We liked the styling of the new Hunk. And during our test ride, its sporty but comfortable riding posture, and straight-line stability at high speeds were features that were particularly noteworthy. Hero Honda has priced the Hunk at the same level as the CBZ X-TREME, with the latter being slightly more expensive.

A section of the buyers in the performance bikes segment is likely to view the Hunk as a good bet, since it features a tried and tested engine and the chassis has been borrowed from the CBZ X-TREME.

However, there is also likely to be a section of buyers that could view the Hunk as the same bike with new clothing. With the number of novelty features (a key USP for this segment) also being low in the Hunk, the impression that the bike has fewer differentiators could get promoted even further. But surely the young performance bike buyer will now have more options to choose from the Hero Honda pack.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated November 11, 2007)
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