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Honda Unicorn: Gone, But Not Forgotten

The Unicorn was Honda’s first motorcycle and the one to bring the previously exotic monoshock into the mainstream

I could do a book on all the rubbish I’ve been fed over the course of my motor-noting career with some of the finest bullshit being about the Unicorn’s monoshock suspension, on how it is completely unsuitable for our country! How the rough and tumble of Indian roads need two shock absorbers, one being insufficient. How, with two shocks, if one fails there’s the other as backup – with a monoshock failure how will you get home? How the front forks have two legs so shouldn’t the rear too? Such utter nonsense.

“The monoshock gave the Unicorn delightfully neutral and stable handling that was a significant step-up from the Pulsar.”

Launched in 2004 the Unicorn was the first motorcycle to have only the Honda wing adorn its tank. This is significant. HMSI, till then, was busy re-introducing India to scooters, but the Unicorn was the start of Honda taking on Hero Honda. This was Honda typically taking it slow and steady with an eye on the future – first a 150; two years later a 125; eventually the 110 that also marked the parting of ways of the two giants; then an explosive growth in volumes. Today Honda has an installed capacity of 6.4 million units from 11 assembly lines in 4 manufacturing plants with India accounting for 31 per cent of Honda’s global motorcycle production. As this issue went to press, the 35th million Honda two-wheeler, an Activa that’s now the best selling Indian two-wheeler, rolled out of the Tapukara plant, the significant bit being 25 million of those rolled out in just the past five and a half years. And despite this, Hero is still the market leader!

“Dads bought Unicorns while the kids stuck to their Pulsars.”

Anyway, back to the Unicorn. Though the CBZ accounted for a very, very small portion of overall volumes, the Unicorn – which essentially was the CBZ update that Hero Honda were never given – had to offer something different. Hence the monoshock. It gave the Unicorn delightfully neutral and stable handling that was a significant step-up from the Pulsar. While the ride was on the stiffer side when tipped into a corner, it dealt with bumps way better than any of its rivals. Of course that meant it didn’t ‘feel’ exciting, in the same way that today’s Apache RR 310 doesn’t feel as exciting as a KTM RC, but the Unicorn did a much better job than the Pulsar. It had better ergonomics, better quality and better reliability. The engine was smoother. The gearbox was slicker. But it didn’t look as cool as the Pulsar and slowly but surely it became the ‘mature’ 150. And you know what that means – dads bought Unicorns while the kids stuck to their Pulsars. No matter who bought it though, I wish I had one more rear shock absorber to get me home was a comment posted by no Unicorn owner, ever.

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