It’s been four years since the Yamaha YZF-R15 drew first blood in 2008, a world class motorcycle to hit Indian shores unheard of by the masses. Just as the old generation blue-smoking 2-stroke Yamaha bikes did, the new YZF-R15 too brought back cool to Indian motorcycling. Last year the YZF-R15 received its first update with more aggressively styled bodywork replicating a true blue supersport-like demeanour in its new 2.0 guise. Undoubtedly this Yamaha has been the most able track scorcher amongst the current crop of motorcycles in the country.
This year though, Honda slipped in the CBR150R to challenge Yamaha’s potent track tool in a rather low key and subtle manner. Priced a little higher than the Yamaha YZF-R15 2.0, the Honda CBR150R is well matched on paper with regard to the power and performance, the only aspect where it fails to match the Yamaha being the features. Here the Yamaha YZF-R15 2.0 clearly takes top honours, with the Honda CBR150R making do with poor quality switchgear, cheap footpegs and lacking an important feature like a pass switch, which though minor is much needed on Indian roads.
These track-bred pocket rockets are to be ridden and raced hard. But with just two race tracks being accessible (barring the BIC due to its costs and more importantly due to the impracticality of running 150cc machines on it!), the Indian biking junta will be riding these machines on public roads. It was our cue to take the two machines to on one of our favourite mountain roads near Pune, with corner-carving veteran Abhishek Nigam astride the Yamaha YZF-R15 version 2.0 and the Honda CBR150R was straddled by Ravi Ved, a regular tourer who is new to the thrills of knee-downs and cornering. But before we get to their ride experiences, let’s talk a bit about the design and style of the two motorcycles.
On the outside
The Yamaha YZF-R15 2.0 clearly takes the cake with its ultra gorgeous Yamaha YZF-R6 inspired design endowing it with striking track tool poise. The revised fairing is neatly crafted and the raised tail section with LED tail lights compliments its overall racer bearing. The Honda CBR150R tries to replicate its elder sibling, the CBR250R’s design albeit with sportier overtones while its curvy mass is skillfully hidden thanks to its snazzy three-tone graphics. The Honda is certainly more subtle in form but lacks the razor sharp look which is a hallmark of race pedigree motorcycles. Sophisticated and elegant, the baby CBR looks chic but fails to charm the average racer, while the Yamaha has the pizzazz to make an average Joe feel like a MotoGP star.
Both bikes are almost identical in their engine specifications, the only major distinction being the Honda employing an advanced double over-head camshaft (DOHC) while the Yamaha has a conventional single over-head camshaft (SOHC) set-up. The benefits of running a DOHC are plenty but the key is that it allows easy implementation of the 4-valves-per-cylinder configuration and efficient operation of the valvetrain resulting in better performance at higher engine speeds. The benefits are not significant in a small capacity engine however, which is why there is not much difference in performance between the two motorcycles. While the YZF-R15 pumps out 17PS of power at 8,500rpm, the CBR150R produces 17.6PS of power at a rather peaky 10,500rpm. To really tap into the CBR’s outright performance, one must keep the revs above 8,000rpm. But the high revving Honda engine ensures the CBR150R strong performance, the 0-100km/h dash taking 11.87 seconds, which is over a second quicker than the Yamaha YZF-R15 2,0’s 0-100km/h time of 13.15 seconds.
That said, the Yamaha’s SOHC set-up does offer some interesting benefits as the less complex single camshaft configuration is lighter than DOHC and its lower weight makes for better low end torque than the DOHC set-up as a result of which the Yamaha churns out 15Nm torque at 7,500rpm while the Honda only managing 12.66Nm at a higher 8,500rpm. Better low end torque helps the Yamaha on crowded city streets as well as in in-gear acceleration by a huge margin at that, the R15 taking just 10.75 seconds in the fifth gear 30-70km/h roll-on, while the CBR150R limped across in a dreary 17.52 seconds!
Drop it like it’s hot!
While the YZF-R15 is perfectly balanced between road and track, the CBR150R outshines it on a race track. The Honda engine’s high-revving power delivery and the frame’s neutral handling helped by well drawn ergonomics not only make it easier to ride, which is paramount for mastering race craft, but also allows the rider to push the envelope in a more confident and approachable manner. After riding both machines on the Kari circuit near Coimbatore and with feedback from professional racers who rode them back to back, it’s the CBR that posted quicker lap times than the R 15, both bikes running stock set-ups. For the large part, the baby CBR’s ability to outrun the R15 comes from its extremely friendly ergonomics which allow the rider to get comfortable and explore the bike’s absolute potential quick time. Meanwhile the R15’s focused approach, razor-sharp handling dynamics and supersport-derived ergonomics mean that the rider needs serious track time before he can fully exploit the Yamaha’s prowess.
Abhishek, who has a race win to his credit at the Kari circuit, was very happy as he was able to pull off cornering capers on the Yamaha. Ravi, who has clocked oodles of touring miles, was instantly at ease astride the Honda, thanks to its rather less track-focused seating posture and road-friendly stance. It’s clear that riders familiar with supersports or race replica machines will have no trouble coming to terms with the YZF-R15 version 2.0, but newbies to corner carving will find the Honda a lot easy to ride and tractable. The experienced Abhishek used the R15’s racing dynamics to a great extent, and Ravi was able to keep pace courtesy the Honda’s compliant chassis set-up. When they swapped bikes, Ravi’s nervous air on the R15 was evident, while Abhishek zoomed off on the baby CBR, and was sporting a mile-wide grin on his return.
End of the sprint
Abhishek’s smile said it all. The easy to ride Honda will enable expert riders to post faster lap times on the race track. That is why the CBR150R scores high marks, in our opinion. Make no mistake, the R15 is no slouch and it runs pretty close with the Honda; in fact, the R15 proves to be more rider-friendly in the city thanks to the torque available lower down the rev range, but its ultra-focused super-sport riding stance is not for any and everyone. But for newbies who are yet to figure out the dynamics of a race pedigree machine and how to handle it around corners, the Honda CBR150R is ideal to get started on.
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