Bajaj revealed their new V15 "solid commuter" yesterday (February 1, 2015) with prices set to be in the Rs 60-65,000 region when sales start in March 2016. It is a motorcycle that challenges many ideas. And that means this motorcycle, the Bajaj V15, will create some strong opinions. Here are some things I think you will like about the Bajaj V15 and some things you will not.
Like: INS Vikrant
The idea of the Vikrant. Let's face it, if you were emotionally ice-cold, the whole INS Vikrant spiel is just that, marketing. However, as a proud Indian, I love the idea. I know that the V15's performance doesn't have anything to do with the steel used in its bodywork - primarily in the fuel tank. But the anchor logo on the fuel tank cap is a detail that does make me feel warm and fuzzy. As you know, Bajaj says that they have enough of the INS Vikrant's steel to ensure that if the Bajaj V15 becomes enormously popular - they certainly hope that happens - there is enough metal to go around. And lest you think you're about to find a battle-grey piece of metal somewhere, Bajaj issues ingots to the supplier who melts the Vikrant steel, refines it to the required metallurgical spec and this is mixed with regular steel used to form the tank's form.
Like: The design
The Bajaj V15's design is clearly, unabashedly un-commuter. This is very interesting and whether you like the results or not, it is a good thing. For long have we lamented the idea that commuters are becoming so narrow a space in headroom and customer expectation terms that most manufacturers do more benchmarking for this segment than innovation. Hell, many will tell you that whatever innovation you can bring to bear is cancelled out by customers who refuse to pay for it, or worse, refuse to bring it into their homes.
Dislike: The design
For dyed-in-the-wool motorcyclist like us, the Bajaj V15 is challenging to accept as a design. It pushes up against many envelopes and it's an uncomfortable feeling. The tank, for example, is a muscular cafe racer in shape. The side panels are of a regular commuter. The tail piece is overwrought with three different finishes and panels and ends with enormous chrome surround on a tail lamp that clearly comes off a cruiser. This makes it hard to me to accept this motorcycle as a tidy little design. Bold it is, interesting it is. But is it good-looking? Classically beautiful? Er...
On the other hand, I do get that most customers who end up with the Bajaj V15 will spend the money because there isn't anything else like it - that is a powerful draw and the styling, in that sense, is probably an asset.
Like: The new engine
The Bajaj V15 claims to have an all-new engine but it's a startlingly simple engine. The valve train is a bare bones SOHC two-valve setup and the engine itself uses a stroke that is slightly longer than the bore - something Bajaj hasn't done in years. Bajaj has also tuned this for torque rather than power, an interesting decision which is easy to understand and I am sure it will translate to effortless riding on the streets like Bajaj promises. The displacement choice itself is interesting. Bajaj says they could have gone down to 125cc or something but when they set you to have the V15 stand out, they didn't hold back.
Like: There's a lot of gut feel on the bike
We know that the Bajaj has spent a lot of time trying to break into the commuter market and create a sustained, persuasive position. This has eluded them for a long time. What the V15 says is that they changed tack and relied less on benchmarks and more on their intuition and sense of the market. This is something that ticks my box. Market-surveyed to death motorcycles can get very, very boring. In fact, one Indian manufacturer - deplorable - actually carried out a survey to establish how badly/cheaply you can make a motorcycle before Indian customers object to fine-tune their quality levels. I'm not going to say who - so don't bother asking - but it shows you the power of surveys.
Bajaj threw the idea together based on their own sense of what the market wants and that's very interesting. It's also a risky game - if the intuition is wrong, the V15 will bomb and the Vikrant glory will sink. On the flip side, some of the most fundamental of motorcycles have used immense amounts of intuition and almost no surveys.
Dislike: The bikini fairing
We know, we absolutely know, that the V15 would look smarter with a naked head lamp. But 'wind protection' I kid you not even the slightest bit, is dear to the commuter. Because the wind blast when stuck in traffic at 20kmph is a dealbreaker. The point is that the chrome on the fairing isn't my cuppa and if I got a V15, I'd chuck the fairing instantly. The problem is that the meters are integrated into the fairing and you'll have to get a set of those too, not just the round head lamp. Which is a lot of work.
These are of course my reactions to the first sight and the idea of the Bajaj V15. More details when we ride the motorcycle. Bajaj tells us to expect to test the V15 at the very end of February or early March. Stay tuned.