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Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Living with a superbike in India


Riding a bike is more about passion, a cult, and a relaxation for some. But full stop here. It’s not true in the case of our country. While we can buy supercars like Lamborghini Gallardo, Ferrari F430, Porsche 911 Turbo and even a 400 lakh rupee Rolls Royce Phantom from showrooms in India or a BMW, Audi or a Merc in lesser cases. The same simplicity does not apply to a superbike purchase.
For some unknown reasons, the bike industry has not kept up with its automotive counterparts and the Yamahas, Suzuki and Hondas of the world seem content with selling 100cc economy motorcycles and now a day with little better 150cc ones. And for showing off, we have 200cc + offerings here from home grown companies like Hero Honda and Bajaj. Kinetic have taken a brave step forward and launched 2 quarter liter bikes with the alliance of Hyosung, Korea. The two offerings from them, a sports bike, the Comet GT 250 and its cruiser counterpart, the Aquila 250. Even though both the bikes are good, the service provided by the Indian counterpart is below average and the long waiting time for the spare parts kept people from exploring it in large masses. Finally Bajaj has painstakingly launched a true quarter liter or 250cc sports bike with the co-operation of Kawasaki in the form of Ninja 250r and priced it on stratosphere. For the enthusiast, however, this is hardly a deterrent as several grey market options are available. The options also come with their own disadvantages as the grey market is full of uncertainty and disorganization. While superbikes attract an import duty (customs) of 142% (used) or 88% (new), the market is very unpredictable. A correct and well-informed approach will go a long way in ensuring peace-of-mind with your superbike purchase.
The inputs show you the formalities in buying / living with a superbike, and the measures you must implement to ensuring a hassle-free ownership experience.

The most important part first: Paperwork!

1. A lot depends on how reliable the seller is, what condition the bike is in and how clean the paperwork is. Search within the biking communities in India for information on reputed superbike merchants and ask around in biker circles for recommendations. The reputation of a seller is very important.
2. An overwhelming 99% of import bikes in India are brought down via the “transfer of residence” route, wherein an Indian, living abroad for a certain period of time, is allowed to bring back the vehicle that he was using there (for a reduced percentage of duty). Under the “Transfer or residence” route, the vehicle cannot be sold for 2 years from the time of registering it in India.
3. Therefore, the first step is to verify the age of the bike and ensure that it is more than 2 years since it has been brought into the country. Remember, it doesn't matter how old the bike is; it is the date of registration in India that is to be considered. This important step ensures that the superbike can be registered in your name.
4. The second unspoken rule is to look out for where the bike has been registered. It is widely accepted that bikes imported and registered in Mumbai (MH-01/02) are considered as the cleanest imports. Bikes with “MP”, “TN” and “KA” registration plates are to be looked at very cautiously.
5. Different states and cities have different ways of registering vehicles. For example, Mumbai issues a proper RC book (Registration Certificate) which includes all details about the vehicle as well as the import document numbers, bill of entry details, bill of lading number, passport details of the original importer etc. The RC book also keeps a record of the number of buyers. The RC book will also make a note of the declared value of the bike, the duty paid and all tax charges that have been cleared.
6. Very often dealers/brokers/owners will tell you that the original bill of entry was submitted to the RTO at the time of registration. This is absolute rubbish. The concerned authority generates three copies of the bill of entry; one stays with them, one goes to the RTO for registration and the last copy stays with the bike owner.
7. Many superbike owners do not register the bikes to their name. They simply hold on to the transfer papers and ride the bike for a few months before selling it to someone else. Make it a point to try and buy a bike from a person who has transferred it to their name as this shows that the owner is not a use & throw kind of rider, and the bike would have been maintained in a better way.
8. In the case of an out-of-state purchase, insist on an NOC (No Objection Certificate) from the RTO where the bike was registered. Without this, you will not be able to transfer the bike to your name or sell it on to anyone else.
9. What you have to watch out for are the bikes that are imported as parts, and then assembled here. In some cases, you will find that the RC book data would not correspond to the bike's data (engine/chassis numbers, make of the bike etc.). Many “baggage bikes”, as these are popularly called, do have the correct details (colour, engine cc, imported vehicle information, etc) of the assembled bike on the RC. Therefore, the key points to look out for are the Passport details of the importer and corresponding bill of entry number being mentioned on the RC book.
10. Buying older bikes is inherently safer as these bikes are now too old for the officials to really bother about. Also, chances are that the bikes have already been through the system a few times between owners and any problems would have come to light earlier.

Inspecting a potential purchase

Ensure that the chassis and engine numbers tally with the RC book.
Google is your friend. Study the bike you plan on seeing. Note down the differences with each model year, the factory paint jobs (these vary from country to country) and small differences in bodywork. These will tell you the correct year of manufacture. Be advised that different bikes have different characteristics; Honda engines are butter smooth while Kawasaki engines sound as if there are a dozen loose parts inside. An educated buyer is a good buyer and one that the seller will take more seriously.
Check the date printed on items like the fairings (inners) and brake lines (if OE). The date of manufacturing will be mentioned and should correspond to the date stated by the seller. If the seller says that the bike is a 1997 model and the brake lines read 1994, something is obviously not right.
Check the front fork for pitting. This can lead to torn fork seals and costs quite a bit to fix.
Check the rear shock. Chances are the OE rear shock would be worn out. That’s normal as most OE shocks don’t last very long. New ones are expensive to buy though, and many OE shocks cannot be rebuilt.
Check the chain & sprockets. If they are knackered or worn out, that will drop the price you pay as a new high quality chain and sprockets can easily cost you a nearly ten thousand rupees plus the shipping charges.
Brake pads should have enough material left. The brake pads will cost you nearly three thousand rupees plus the shipping charges.
Brake discs or rotors should be within the minimum required limits. Check for disc warpage, when riding the bike, hold the brake lever slightly and if there is any pulsating feel coming back to the lever, the disc rotor is damaged, due to any reason and the braking will suffer with this. Fiddling with the rotor is a very costly affair, and can cost u around ten thousand rupees for a single disc rotor plus the shipping charges.
Tyres, if worn to the minimum, will cost a bomb and should be budgeted for. The rear tyre will be the first to get worn followed by the front tyre
Check the condition of the battery, if weak, we can’t replace with our Indian brands. The battery can cost anywhere from 5000 rupees for the normal ones to 7500 rupees for the maintenance free types plus the shipping charges. Check the horns, headlight, starter motor, indicators and the instrument panel for any malfunction. Take precaution if the original accessories and the wiring is tampered for aftermarket stuff’s like HID or security system etc. it won’t cost much for small fuses and wirings, but it will be hard to find smaller spare parts for an SBK.
Check the idling of the vehicle in cold condition. In pre Y2K bikes, the fuelling is done by carburetors and the last bunch came with auto choke function. check if its working properly. If the bike is coming with a fuel injection, check for rough idling, which can be caused by fuel pump or unclean injectors.
Now a days, its hard to believe the odometer reading of a vehicle, coz it can be turned back very easily or can be chipped to a pre defined reading. So only a skilled mechanic can say if it’s the genuine reading or not.
Start the bike and let it warm up. A properly heated up engine will tell you its inner-most secrets.
Insist on a proper test-ride. Ideally try and make it when the roads are crowded, as the stop/go traffic puts the bike to the ultimate test (parts get heated up). Any electrical problem will show up at this stage. Then go for a high speed run and check for any chocking or misfiring from the engine. The carburetor engine bikes are a little more painful because in a four cyl bike, the four carburetors should be in synchronization.
Check the body panels and shoddy paintjobs. check for any excess vibration from the body parts. Four cyl bikes won’t vibrate much due to the balanced nature of engine and found so, it might be anything from an improper engine mounting or internal damage.

How much to pay?

There is no real organised market for these bikes in India. You just have to use a bit of common sense here. There are bikes that sell for a pittance and others of the same make that sell for a lot more. A lot depends on the paperwork. Honda, and to a lesser extent, Yamaha usually commands a premium over the others due to the brand following they have in India. Dealers will usually quote you absurd figures, but will come back down to earth once they realize you are a serious buyer. Also, beware of the urban legend of the 2 year old 1000cc bike in mint condition that just sold for 2 lakhs. Everyone has heard this story, but the buyer in question is always the grandson of a friends, cousins, neighbors son who has now migrated to Zimbabwe and hence not reachable now to verify this.
Once you decide on the superbike, its best to make the full payment by cheque or demand draft. This is only for your own security. If possible, avoid handing over the full payment until the superbike has been transferred to your name.

Superbike Upkeep

Like any machine, superbikes too need their share of preventive maintenance. If you are buying new, you simply need to follow the guidelines given in the owners’ manual. Prices would be similar to that of an equally expensive car. Most modern bikes require only the most basic of care to ensure they will run well for years to come (Japanese reliability!).
The basic service would include:
• Oil change
• Oil Filter change
• Air filter cleaning/replacement
• Check brake pad thickness
• Check, adjust and lubricate the chain (this should be done on a weekly basis)
• Check accelerator cables (remember there are 2 cables, unlike the single one on Indian bikes).
Consumables for popular models are available at reasonable prices and off the shelf in cities like Mumbai, Bangalore and Chennai. Oil filters sell for approximately Rs.400-500 while brake pads begin from Rs.1,500 onwards. As you see, it doesn’t break the bank to run one of these awesome machines.

The largest repeat expense that you will have are the tyres. High performance tyres are not made to last as long as the MRF Zappers! Sport rubber on the rear tyres for 600 + cc bikes have been known to last as little as 6000 km’s, or about a year riding on average. There are wide range of high quality brands available. The cost of a new Bridgestone Battlax 180/55/17 tyre is approximately Rs.8,500/-. Now you know why burnouts are only for the seriously wealthy. Front tyres last a bit longer (about 10,000 – 12,000km) and cost about Rs.5500.
If your riding is mainly on city/highway roads and not race tracks, go for Sport Touring rubber. These will give you all the grip you need and will last longer than proper sport rubber. Dual compound tires by Bridgestone and Michelin give you the best of both world’s i.e. harder compound on the centre and softer compound on the sides.
Again study well the surface to be ridden coz some tires will prematurely crack or worn out due to our climatic and road condition.

Almost all superbikes have a compression ratio exceeding 11:1; hence the need to use premium fuel is a necessity toward getting the best out of the motor. The latest breed of replica-racers runs best on a diet of 97 octane + boosters. On long rides where you will not find 97 octane, remember to carry a bottle or two of an octane booster. Many of the older bikes (pre-Y2K) run just fine on 91 octane as well. However, each bike has its own preference, so this is something you will have to figure out after living with your bike for some time.

Contrary to popular belief, you can comprehensively insure your superbike. You need to get your bike evaluated by the insurance company, and that figure is used to calculate the premium. However, most bikes will run with the basic third party insurance, as making any sort of claim from the insurance company (in the event of an accident) can prove to be a nightmare. This is due to the lack of an organized market for parts and most insurance agents do not have the required knowledge about these machines.

Riding a superbike on a daily basis

Not many ride these bikes on a daily basis for commuting. For those who plan to, here are some real world tips and insights into commuting on a superbike.
• Plan each trip well. You need to know where you will be parking your bike at the destination. You cannot squeeze your superbike in the middle of a couple 100cc bikes by the roadside.
• Be ready to answer questions. Some sensible, other expected (what is the mileage?) or (you should have brought a car for this money) and yet some more that are downright hilarious (is this a diesel vehicle?). Answer politely. Given the opportunity, that person too would have loved to ride a big bike.
• People will fiddle with your bike when it’s parked in the open. Ask them in a firm but polite tone to back off as the bike may tip over and something might break and its very costly to fix.
• Traffic and summer are your worst enemies. The bikes heat up very quickly if they don’t have a flow of air over the radiator. In most cases, the small fans cannot cope with the prevalent conditions of an Indian summer. It can even cause minor burns to the leg which is kept very close to the engine. It helps to plan your commute just before or after peak hours. Plus, it will be a more enjoyable ride as well.
• Pedestrians! You have to keep both eyes open for jaywalkers. They have no idea of the approach speed of your bike, and will suddenly panic when they see you heading towards them in no time.
• Keep an eye on the rear view mirrors. Modern superbikes have awesome triple discs, with radial monoblock calipers on the front. Unfortunately the taxi behind you has 30 year old drum brakes which are probably not even adjusted! When you stop at a signal, always keep the bike in gear and a look out behind you for a wayward motorist (this applies to all bikers).

What bike? Cruiser Vs sports Vs touring

What type of rider are you? That’s the first question you need to ask yourself before you go out bike shopping. Do you want to cruise sedately on a large comfortable bike? Do you love carving the mountain roads on Sunday mornings? Do you want to tour India on the path less traveled? Or do you want a bit of sportiness along with the ability to cover long distances in comfort? Or what about beating everything on road with hyperbikes? There is a motorcycle out there to meet every mood of the rider.

For the first category, you have cruisers like the Yamaha V-star, Honda Shadow and a multitude of Harley’s. For cruising with a bit more oomph, you have the Harley V-Rod, Honda Valkyrie and the Triumph Rocket. The Honda Goldwing along with some BMWs are a different breed of tourers which give you all the bells and whistles found on cars (6 CD changer, GPS, reverse gear!). I heard goldwing is having a reverse gear, auto leveling rear suspension, Dolby noise reduction system, cruise control and intercom to say a few innovations.

For those who like a bit of adventure in their biking, the best choice would be a trailee like the BMW F650 (most expensive bike ever officially sold in India) or the massive BMW GS1200 (a favorite for those circumnavigating the globe). If you prefer Japanese, you have the Suzuki V-Storm or the Honda Africa Twin.
The learners can start with the miniature version of the SBK’s in the form of 250cc and 400cc bikes. These bikes can be very peppy in the hands of a learner and pose little threat to the rider. still it can clock near 200 kmph and can accelerate in sub 5 sec.

The most popular class of bikes imported in India are the sport-bikes. These range from engine sizes of 600cc to 1200cc and put out anywhere from a 100bhp to 180bhp with performance figures that shame supercars costing a 100 times more! However, the downside of owning these hyper performance bikes is that some of them have a riding position which makes a city commute feel like Chinese torture. They also heat up real fast in traffic. However, for that outright adrenalin rush, nothing comes close.

The all-rounder and a personal favorite is the Sports-Tourer category. A bike like the Honda VFR750/800 is the perfect example. These bikes take you and your luggage to the track and are almost as fast as the hardcore superbikes on the track. But the difference is that the sport-tourers are comfortable to ride every day all day, but with enough performance and ground clearance to enjoy the hills as well.
Naked or Standard bikes also make excellent real world bikes with the added advantage of better heat dissipation, having no plastic to break/scratch in our tight city roads and the raw appeal it offers. They are also easy to repair. But the main problem with the naked variety is the wind blast after a certain speed. The blast will become unbearable after the two ton mark. But even though they will be a great companion for city riding and occasional outing. The Yamaha FZ 1 and the Honda CB 1000r are good examples.
For the maniacs and who don’t consider other things can go for a hyperbike. The fastest and the meanest things on two wheels. it might not handle well like a superbike, but it can beat anything on a drag strip and in top speed department. One of the other virtues will be its touring capabilities together with mind blowing speeds it can achieve. The best example for a hyper bike is Suzuki Hayabusa which put out insane 197 B.H.P and kawazaki ninja 1400 zzr. Or in rare case a Y2K turbine bike, if ur nutty brain allows you. Err it uses a helicopter engine with diesel as fuel.

These are just the basic categories. As mentioned, there is a bike out there to suit anyone. If you are buying new, your choice is huge. If you are buying used from India, you have a limited choice which is mainly within the classes mentioned above.

Buying a 250 Vs 400 Vs 600 Vs 1 liter plus

In the nineties, a lot of 250 - 400cc bikes were brought into the country. These are mainly from Japan which has a huge demand for 400cc bikes due to licencing regulations. The most common of these are the Honda CBR250rr, 400rr and some ninja zzr 400. These bikes are tiny and great to learn on. They are extremely peaky though and rev to above 16,000rpm! The CBR 250rr revs to a stratospheric 19000 rpm. And some offered good fuel efficiency of around 20 to 25 kmpl for the conscious people. We even have our 2 strokes that are extremely light and, if in a good state of tune, can compete with the 600cc bikes. Some examples of Honda NSR are imported in the nineties. But be warned, a 2 stroke will be high on maintenance.
The 600cc class is again a popular class and there are loads of great used middleweights out there to choose from. These bikes give you almost the same acceleration as the 1000+ cc bikes, but are down on torque and lack the mid-range of their larger hearted brothers. If you like using a bike to its limits, this is the largest capacity sport bike you could buy to enjoy hitting the limiter in the higher gears.
Once you get on the 900cc + bikes, top gear becomes almost non-existent on our roads. Yes they are wildly impractical. Yes they can be (and have been) a quick way to cause serious bodily harm in the untrained hands. Yes we do not have the roads here to exploit that sort of power. But heck, a ride on one of them throws all the practicalities out of the window! You want to be practical, buy a Hero Honda Splendor. You want to experience the wildest acceleration and thrill of your life, just go ahead and get a modern day liter sport bike. It’s that simple!

Official superbikes

By this time, we are having official superbikes on sale here in our country. They people might be joking us quoting the official price of the superbikes. We now have some good brands here namely the Yamaha R1, MT 01, the Honda CBR 1000rr, CB 1000r, the Suzuki Intruder, Hayabusa, and the Ducati 1098r, 1098s. funniest part is their pricing. All the Japanese bikes costs from 10 lakh to 13 lakh and the Italian exotic ducati cost an eye watering 24 lakh. But the best part is the service, spare availability and the peace of mind from owning an official bike.Start saving up, the good times are almost here!

Riding gear

India being the crowded and tropical country that it is, most of us tend to do away with riding gear such as jackets, gloves and good riding boots. However, as far as possible, do try and get into the habit of wearing some basic protective gear. Cars have seatbelts, side impact beams and crumple zones to help you. On a bike, the only thing protecting you is the gear you choose to wear.


The most important bit of gear is a good quality helmet. If you are buying a bike worth a few lakhs, you can surely afford to purchase a good quality helmet that meets Snell/DOT/BS standards. You don’t have to break into your savings to buy a good helmet. There are many inexpensive brands that will sell you a helmet that meets the same standards as the expensive Arai’s and Shoei’s out there. Also, be smart, there are amazing deals to be found on the internet, so keep a lookout for closeout deals and end of season sales. Within India, the best helmets you can buy are AGV or Beiffe helmets which retail for Rs.1500 onwards.
Stay away from the South East Asian helmets that are invading the market. These carry no recognized safety certifications, and although they do look good, they may not be helpful when you really need it to be. Needless to say, but do not even consider buying anything from a guy selling helmets at the side of the highway!
Make sure you buy a full face helmet. If you ride in the city a lot, a flip up or modular helmet would be worth taking a look at. Leave the open face helmets and skull caps for the scooters.
Make sure the helmet is a good fit. Riding with a helmet that is two sizes too large for you is as good as not wearing one and could even be a danger in itself. It must fit snuggly over your head, and should not move when you try and turn it sideways. It will feel a bit tight in the beginning, but once it’s broken it, it will be perfect. Also try and get a helmet that had a double D ring strap and not the clip on type (though this is easier said than done.) the D rings allow for a more precise fit, and are also safer and less likely to come loose in the event of an accident.
Another pointer: If you are buying a helmet from abroad, be sure to pick up an extra visor, as you never know when you need one and you will not be able to find one in any shop here.

Riding boots

On all suberbikes, and most of the newer Indian “power” bikes as well, you shift gears with your toe only, and not the heel/toe combination found on the economisers. Hence, do not underestimate the benefit of a good riding boot. You get a wide range of boots - hardcore racing boots that allow very limited movement but compliment this with supreme protection and touring boots that allow you to use them on and off the bike, and also don’t make you look like a starship trooper from Star Wars.
If you can’t get purpose made riding boots, I would suggest a good pair of ankle length, steel toed shoes like Dr.Martins or Cats. Somebody recently switched over from sneakers to these boots and found that he could change gears more positively and the false neutrals simply vanished.


A good set of gloves helps you grip the bars far better than bare palms and will literally save your skin in the event of a fall or getting very dirty by road debris. You may need 3 pairs of gloves if you plan to ride in all weathers. Summer, winter and waterproof. The best for summer are gloves that have mesh on the upper surface and leather on the palm. Hard protection for the knuckles is beneficial and looks cool as well! If you ride in places that get cold, you will need a pair of good winter gloves. Usually leather outside with a lining inside. Look for the Goretex sign on gloves. These add weatherproof capabilities to your gloves and can be used in the rains as well.
Tip: If you ride in the monsoons, get yourself disposable surgeons gloves that you can wear under your summer gloves. This way your hands stay dry while you ride.

Jackets & suits

You will only really need a full racing suit if you plan on hitting the tracks often, or are a serious Sunday morning canyon carver. Full leather suits are expensive. They range from around Rs.20,000 onwards. If you can afford it, the kind to go for are the Kangaroo leather suits. These provide the same protection as cow leather, but are much lighter. The safety provided by these suits is unmatched, but be warned, these will be unbearable in the summer months in most parts of the country.
If you do not want to invest in a full suit, the minimum you should get is a good, high quality jacket, with built in CE approved armour for the elbows, shoulders and spine. A mesh jacket with a liner makes for a great all season kit, as it can be used in summer comfortably, and once you zip in the liner, you have a winter jacket as well.
A good jacket keeps the wind and sun from direct contact with your skin, and this makes a big difference on a long ride. You reach your destination far more relaxed as you are not buffeted around and pelted with small stones from trucks in front of you. Once you wear one, you will not want to ride without it.

Article redone with more and renewed facts helped by a prestigious Indian Automotive forum, Team-bhp and thanks to the author R-tech



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