The Ducatis, Kawasakis get India's bike culture revving

Ducati 1299 Panigale, Image credit: Thesupermat

If you’re a motorbike enthusiast, you’re in the right place at the right time.

The Indian market for higher-end bikes is teeming with choice. Yamaha, Suzuki, Honda, Ducati, Kawasaki, Aprilia and BMW are engaged in a stiff battle for Indian hearts, while local manufacturers are trying to up their game and introducing bigger bikes in the country.

Better roads, a growing used-bike market and financing options are driving a surge in interest.

Just over 2500 bikes, in the 800 to 1600cc range, were sold in the previous financial year in India. These figures have shown marginal improvement from the previous financial year but is only a very small percentage of the 1.2 crore bikes and scooters sold in the country overall.

This is a far cry from even 10 years ago, when the Indian motorbike enthusiast had to scrape together finances to buy one of a handful of bikes to ride on bad roads.

The Jawa, Yezdi, Rajdoot and Bullet were largely seen as commuter bikes. Apart from the odd few, people were hardly interested in biking as a pastime. Scooters were preferred since people just needed a mode of transport.

One of the first powerful bikes to hit the Indian roads was the Rajdoot 350cc. The twin-cylinder, two-stroke motorbike gave the biking enthusiast something to cheer about. It was like a tiger cub tasting blood for the first time. Bikers wanted more such bikes, but it did not happen.

And at that time, it was extremely difficult to import one of the big litre-class bikes. Huge customs and import duties ensured that the bike could be bought only by affluent people. Even if you owned one, there was every chance of getting flagged down by the traffic police for document checking.

Cut to the present. If one has the cash, buying a superbike is as easy as buying vegetables. In fact, the Indian consumer is so spoilt for choice that finalising a bike could be a task indeed. And the good roads, while still rare by Western standards, are in much better supply than earlier, so you can get maximum value from your 250 bhp steed.

“Yes, the bike culture is growing,” said Chennai-based racer Sarath Kumar, who was the first Indian to race in the 125cc class of the World Championship.

“Youngsters see fancy bikes and races and want to own them. Five to 10 years ago, there was no access to these bikes. But now, manufacturers have introduced a lot of models in India. Many of them are imported as completely knocked down (CKD) kits and assembled here. Therefore, bike prices are falling,” he said.

One of the most iconic sprint bikes ever built, the Suzuki Hayabusa, can be bought for close to Rs 16 lakh (ex-showroom). The famed Yamaha YZF-R1 will set you back almost the same price.

Yamaha YZF-R1, Picture credit: PekePON

Honda’s incredible performance in the MotoGP class may have won the Japanese company some fans. Their CBR Fireblade is just over Rs 15 lakh, while the legendary Kawasaki Ninja H2 is priced around Rs 30 lakh.

Among the Italian offerings, the Aprilia RSV4 is priced at about Rs 21 lakh, while the MV Agusta F4 is about Rs 24 lakh. The Ducati 959 Panigale is about Rs 14 lakh, while the Panigale V4 is Rs 21 lakh. The Ducati 1299 Panigale is Rs 52 lakh.

These bikes have one litre engines (barring the 1299 Panigale) and can put out between 175 and 200 horsepower.

One can also buy the big bikes without having to spend so much. The Kawasaki Ninja 300 is priced about Rs 3 lakh, while the Honda CBR300R is similarly priced.

Something in between would be the Ninja 650, priced at around Rs 6 lakh.

In fact, there is a huge selection in the across price segments. In the 300cc or sub-300cc displacement category, Indian manufacturers are also competing hard. For instance, the TVS Apache RR 310 is price around Rs 2.25 lakh.

“Since loans are available, people are willing to buy the bikes. When it comes to the affluent people, they might buy a new bike for about Rs 15 lakh and use it for about three years. They might then sell it for about Rs 10 lakh. These will be picked up by people who cannot afford to spend Rs 15 lakh. This is a cycle really,” said Sarath Kumar.

“The common man can afford a motorbike today. So, a big bike is very much within the reach of the middle or upper middle class. There is also stiff competition and manufacturers are trying to reduce prices because they need to sell the bigger bikes too,” Sarath observed.

Suzuki Hayabusa, Picture credit: PekePON

Rahul Bhojanna, whose family owns the Pacer Yamaha dealership, said: “Sales are improving by the day and brands like Kawasaki, Benelli, Triumph and Ducati are being very aggressive.

“The good thing is that these bikes can be bought legally and at proper showrooms. This trend will only grow in the future, but it might take up to a decade to see a mature Indian superbike market. One problem is that premium fuel is not available everywhere.”

However, the biking trend is here to stay. “Driving out of the city on superbikes in a group is a big trend now because the city is too choked for riding these big machines. There are several groups that go out on rides regularly. These groups have strict rules about riding gear and following the law. There is a section of reckless riders who bring a bad name to all superbike riders, but that is a very small number,” said Bhojanna.

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