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Bajaj Caliber: Gone, but not forgotten

As the Kawasaki-Bajaj partnership gets dismantled let’s get astride the most successful example of the three-decade old partnership

We got the Caliber Croma,” says Abhishek, tasked with sourcing decade-old bikes for your correspondent to write 200 words on. “Huh? What’s that?” “Umm… it’s got a sticker that says Croma.” “You sure this guy hasn’t stuck it on himself?” “No, looks original-ish.” “Okay, bring it.” It looks nothing like the gazillion Calibers still running on our roads so I dig out my old magazines (actually, made an intern do it) and found the road test I’d done in 2001.

“Till the Caliber Croma road test, we’d never printed a proper panning shot in India’s biggest auto mag”

And, while this has no bearing, it immediately brings back memories – it was the first road test where we experimented with the shutter priority mode on our office Nikon! It was the first story where we printed a proper panning shot of a bike with the background blurred out. It’s hard to believe but back in those days, we testers also used to wield the cameras. We used to get the films (remember film?) printed at the Fotofast below the office and then send those prints to be scanned. And till the Caliber Croma road test, we’d never printed a proper panning shot in India’s biggest auto mag.

“In its prime, the Caliber made 7.6bhp and was the performance-commuter with 14 more cee-cees than its main rival, the Splendor”

To the bike then. I go for a spin and it feels exactly like a Caliber, but one that has had a really hard life. In its prime it made 7.6bhp and was the performance-commuter with 14 more cee-cees than its main rival, the Splendor. Today it has lost half its power and feels dreadfully slow. The Croma edition came in response to dipping sales, adopting the fairing from some limited-edition KB125 and a set of stickers with chrome piping (which faded long time ago).

“In the road test, I called the styling “fan-tas-tic”, god knows what we were on in those days”

In the road test, I called the styling “fan-tas-tic”, god knows what we were on in those days. The engine, in those sticker-job update days remained absolutely unchanged but the big improvement to performance was on the braking front. Disc brakes were a very, very big deal in those days and flipping through the pages I even found a picture taken by me!) of our chief road tester doing a tiny little stoppie.

“Disc brakes were a very, very big deal in those days and flipping through the pages I even found a picture (taken by me!) of our chief road tester doing a tiny little stoppie”

Of course eco-misers didn’t care about disc brakes or chromed stickers and continued to buy regular round-headlamp Calibers, and of course many more Splendors. But the Caliber and all its variants – Caliber 115, Wind 125, and a dozen more that I don’t remember – did perfect Bajaj’s motorcycle game to the extent that they’re now partnering with a venerable British brand to replicate the success they already have with a luridly orange Austrian brand. And it all started with a virulently green Japanese brand.

Read our Bajaj M80 gone but not forgotten blog here. 

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