The Indian manufacturer gives an iconic styling to its most successful motorcycle and delivers a classy alternative to the Splendor crowd.
Hero’s Splendor is one of the most successful and important motorcycles in the Indian two-wheeler industry. Sold in millions, the Splendor forms the lifeline of Hero MotoCorp. It’s so massively successful that if Hero wanted, they could survive on it. I would even say that producing the Splendor is as natural to the company as breathing is to a human being. They would be making it without even realizing, at times, that they are!
Launched first in 1994, the motorcycle continues to be a solid seller and remains relevant even after 2 decades when the commuter segment has expanded well beyond 100cc category. Other manufacturers have competed and more or less failed to dethrone the Splendor as the king of its segment. Hero is a cunning manufacturer, it understands the mass market very well. While the Splendor has remained virtually the same motorcycle all throughout, Hero has kept it alive and fresh with subtle improvements here and there. The trick here is probably the number of variants of a single motorcycle which leads customers to believe that they are getting something different in each variant.
Continuing on this trend, last year Hero displayed some new variants of the Splendor at the Auto Expo and one in particular did manage to attract more attention than any Splendor has done in the last one decade at least. The Splendor Pro Classic – the Café Racer.
Now this is where the tricky part begins. Splendor thrives on the mass market and has literally been a household name for years. This also includes the rural segment which has been a major part of its success. People in this segment require a motorcycle that has unparalleled reliability, extremely cheap spares, has almost zero maintenance and the fuel efficiency is high enough that will virtually make them forget about the need to refill petrol. Splendor does all these things. Most people in this segment would definitely have no any idea about what a Café Racer is and in all likeliness they wouldn’t even care. They just need a motorcycle to do their daily chores (and commuting). The ones who do understand the concept of a Café Racer wouldn’t make a big deal out of it either considering the motorcycle they are in for.
The thing is, people in this market segment don’t care where the design inspiration comes from as long as the motorcycle ends up looking good. And this is exactly what seems to be happening with the Splendor Pro Classic as far as its primary market is concerned.
I must admit, this is by far the best looking Splendor Hero has ever produced. Look at it from any angle, and it manages to steal the show from almost all motorcycles in competition. It’s attractive enough to lure even an enthusiast for a ride and that is a first for any Splendor.
The Pro Classic is indeed a classic looking incarnation from front to the back. The headlight is a basic round shape along with the rounded dials showing speed and fuel level primarily. All the dials are analog including total kilometers done which is appropriate given the overall style statement. Other than this, it has regular tell-tale lights for neutral, high beam, individual left/right turn indicators and surprisingly a side stand indicator as well. It doesn’t come with a center stand though. Rear view mirrors are round and finished in chrome adding to the classic design appeal.
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The interesting part begins now. The regular upright single piece steel handlebar is replaced with a low and narrow single piece handlebar giving the rider a much more demanding lean-forward riding stance. Yes sir, like on a Sportbike! This gives an entirely different identity to the Splendor like never before. And if I may, it looks like a motorcycle for the young and active! The fuel tank is unchanged other than the graphics, but move further back and you’ll come across another drastic shift from the typical design language of the Splendor. The seat is smaller and is a single seater only on the Pro Classic. The rear section, where the pillion sits, is covered by a rounded body panel. The tail light is also round (similar to the ones seen on Royal Enfield Classic models).
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The footpegs, however, are the same as on a regular Splendor which are set forward for a non-sporty stance. Given that Hero has went for a much sportier riding position with the low handlebars, I believe that slightly rear-set footpegs would have been ideal. With the current setup, the rider ergonomics are a bit strange since you lean forward but the legs remain positioned in a commuterish stance. Essentially, all the changes that make the Pro Classic different from a regular Splendor have been done around the aesthetics and the riding position. Under the skin, it is still the same old motorcycle. The chassis is same double down tube as is the front and rear suspension. The engine, in all variants of the motorcycle, HF Deluxe and Dawn is same as well displacing 97.2cc producing 8.36PS @ 8000RPM and 8.05NM torque @ 5000RPM. What it means is that the Pro Classic would return the same high level of fuel efficiency.
In a nutshell, this particular variant is all about style, which is absolutely fine as it still comes with the legendary reliability that a Splendor is renowned for. Although, the changes in rider ergonomics and aesthetics have turned the Splendor Pro Classic into a relatively less practical motorcycle in its class. Due to it being a single seater, a pillion can’t be accommodated. For the same reason, no stuff can be put on the back side either. The handlebar is low and narrow which also makes it difficult to hang and carry any stuff. The rider is left with the option of a backpack for this purpose. For all the reasons above, the Pro Classic has a limited market in its segment and is definitely not for people who use motorcycles as a utilitarian vehicle for carrying things.
Also, the demanding riding position is naturally more tiring than the upright riding stance. It actually feels quite fine while navigating and flipping through traffic because in this situation the rider is constantly shifting his weight; however, the fact that the Pro Classic builds speed quite slowly, such a riding position can get very tiring quite fast on a traffic-less straight roads. Lastly, the seat isn’t wide enough and the padding definitely needs some improvement.
At the same time, the refreshing styling might attract the younger section of the crowd, the college goers and young executives. This includes people who are pretty tight on budget and are looking for a no-nonsense motorcycle but are easily put off by the basic design of the Splendor in general. They will find the Pro Classic quite an interesting proposition. No Splendor, so far, has ever looked this… attractive. It is quite an attention magnet at traffic lights, likely because it’s a Splendor being given a sportier treatment. I have been asked a few times if it’s a modified one but it’s a positive impression on Hero when I tell people that it’s like this from the company itself.
Interestingly enough, such reactions have also come from people in middle age groups to slightly higher age groups as well. It’s commendable on Hero’s part that how a change in styling can get people excited about a motorcycle which is, almost entirely, 20 years old.
I do feel that for the first time Hero has tried to move out of their comfort zone with the Splendor giving it such an interesting treatment, if not entirely intelligent given the platform. And this is where we will now talk about the true essence of a Café Racer. After all, Hero MotoCorp itself says that the Splendor Pro Classic is their first Café Racer. Even their television advertisement is targeted at people who look at a motorcycle more as a leisure tool than a mere mode of transport.Splendor Pro Classic… the Café Racer!
If you are a motorcycle enthusiast, there’s little doubt that you understand what a Café Racer is. A Café Racer, essentially, is a motorcycle stripped off its body work in order to make it light weight. The handlebar is low and narrow (it could be a clip-on/two piece unit like on a sportbike or a single piece handlebar as well, also called clubman or ace bars), the rider footpegs are set rearwards for an overall sportier riding position. The seat is a single rider seat only and the back portion is covered by an extended body panel. The engine is tuned to deliver more performance compared to its original state of tune.
The Pro Classic falls short primarily on two counts as a Café Racer. First, the footpegs are set forward to keep the legs in a typical commuter stance. As an enthusiast, I disapprove of this. You just cannot have footpegs set like this on a Café Racer. It’s against its very essence. Secondly, and the biggest of them all, the engine is same as on any other Splendor. It makes the same horsepower and torque and builds speed slowly enough to keep you reminded of the fact that the Splendor never left! While I wouldn’t make a big fuss about it being a 100cc engine (though I wish Hero had used a more powerful engine), but as mentioned above, the engine in a Café Racer is tuned to deliver more or maximum performance which simply isn’t the case here. It is supremely efficient though and will keep youngsters (on a shoe string budget) happy.
Drum brakes at the front and rear are fine for a Splendor like ride; yet, you can be sure that you will hit your target (that you wanted to avoid) if you had to brake in emergency from speeds at 80kph and above. For any spirited riding, the front drum brake fails to inspire any confidence and by nature, it feels spongy and doesn’t have enough bite in certain situations. The rear brake works as it is meant to, and Pro Classic being pretty light weight, the rear tyre can be easily locked up under heavy braking. The top speed should be around 90kph.
Handling characteristics are primarily defined by the low weight and minuscule dimensions of the motorcycle. It is naturally easy to ride and can be put through virtually any gap in traffic. The chassis, along with front and rear suspension, provides a fairly decent ride at all operating speeds the motorcycle is capable of. Especially in a straight line, with slight crosswinds, the Pro Classic stays true to its course even at its top speed limit. At crawling speeds, the front end has a tendency to be a bit wavy if the rider isn’t using his feet to balance the motorcycle. However, high speed turns (or cornering) as in 80kph and above is not its forte. Thin tyres, along with their pattern, aren't designed for any enthusiastic lean angles although the overall grip is quite decent.
As I have said, it’s a brave move by Hero to make a Splendor look like a Café Racer. The spoked wheels add to the character as well. And I wanted to applaud them for their effort, but as an enthusiast it just fails to excite me any further than a quick short ride. But I would like to believe it’s a great start for Hero to step out of their comfort zone and take some much needed risks to get performance seekers looking back at their motorcycles again. 2004 is long gone, it’s 2015 now and motorcycle lovers today in India have just too many options in varying price brackets that they would hardly settle for a compromise.
Personally, I am absolutely positive that Hero will receive much better response if they would use at least their 150cc platforms for a Café Racer, better still their 223cc engine. After all, Café Racers are indeed for motorcycle enthusiasts, aren’t they? Bring it on Hero!
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