Photography by Rohit G Mane
Congratulations! You have finally decided to take the plunge and get into the world of big motorcycles but you want something that does not intimidate or overwhelm you, yet it should be your passport into big bike festivities and help announce your presence as you ride through traffic. You want the feel of owning a big motorcycle. You want a motorcycle that has a rich heritage and aura around it. The brand should be tempting for you. However, you are confused and don’t know which one you should buy. You also do not want to splurge on a bike that will make you look like a poser rather than a biker.
Well, we have narrowed it down to three options – the Triumph Street Twin, the Harley-Davidson Street Rod and the Ducati Monster 797. Each of these brands has a rich history, Triumph beginning operations in 1902, Harley a year later and Ducati, having started in 1926, being the youngest! Each one of them has gone through troubled times and more than just survived. They have racing pedigree and continue to be the revered brands in motorcycling.
But which is the ideal ride for you? More importantly, which one lives up to our code of embodying The Thrill of Riding? Allow us to help you out.
Harley-Davidson Street Rod
Back when the whole Indo-American trade-off took place, where we got our taste of V-twin nirvana and the Americans got a real taste of mangoes, the Harleys offered were quite out of reach for a new-age motorcyclist. The rates were close to a mid-size sedan and for a rational Indian, the four-wheeler made more sense. Thus, the dream of having a Harley in the garage remained a distinct dream for many.
Enter the Street platform with the Street 750 in 2014, a motorcycle specifically designed for emerging markets such as ours. This year, the platform expanded to accommodate the Street Rod – Harley’s ploy to entice young buyers into the family. And it worked!
The Street Rod by far has to be one of the most dynamic Harleys out there. Had it not been for the new Fat Bob, it would be the most dynamically capable one from the Milwaukee outfit. That is the funda behind Harley’s new products and development – make it more cornering friendly and sporty. The ‘Rod’ name made a reappearance in the H-D portfolio after the old V-Rod and Night-Rod were discontinued.
The styling was done by an Indian – Chetaan Shedjale, who decided to create a modern rendition of the old school muscular drag bikes. Hence the stock bike gets a flat wide drag bar, not too forward set footpegs and you are perched higher than the Street 750.
The position is a bit awkward at first and gets tedious in stop-and-go traffic situations. The chassis too has seen modifications. The steering geometry has been sharpened and suspension bits are also switched to sportier options (USD front forks and dual shocks at the rear with an extra reservoir). The rims too are different and you get an extra brake rotor upfront. Even the 749cc Revolution X V-twin liquid-cooled motor has been reworked and the Street Rod’s motor gets modified cams, individual air intake manifolds and a larger airbox. All of this translates into a ten per cent bump in power and the torque as well, up to a max of 62Nm from 59Nm.
Take the Street Rod out on to twisties and the dynamic capabilities that I told you about earlier, come to life. I swear, the first time I took to the Lap of Mutha (one of our favourite riding roads around Pune) it was surprisingly light-footed for a motorcycle that weighed 238 kilos! As the corners crept up, the Street Rod gobbled them up like a hungry hippo longing for more.
You also get the option of Michelin rubber and while the standard tyres are good for city and highway cruising, holding their own in panic braking situations as well, vigorous cornering and sprightly throttle delivery meant the bike’s rear stepped out on numerous occasions.
Speaking of aftermarket accessories, Harley offers an extensive list of parts so that customers can personalise the rides to their tastes. The motorcycle you see featured in this spread has a more conventional leisure-oriented handlebar, a pillion backrest and the Screaming Eagle slip-on exhaust. The riding posture did throw me off initially but that bike did not have the drag bars but was customised by our good friends at Two Rivers Harley in Pune. And that’s the thing about all the bikes built on this platform, no two Street Rods will look or even feel the same.
Ducati Monster 797
Naked motorcycles never looked cool until Ducati rolled out the Monster 900 way back in 1992 at the Cologne show. The departure from tradition on their part was the Bolognese motorcycle maker had unveiled the bike not in typical Italian Red but in a Ducati Yellow shade. Both the Monster and I have turned 25 last year. We have gone from being tantrum-throwing babies to rebellious teens and now are settling into this new found state of adulthood. And many more like me are sailing in this very same boat.
Up until April 1, when the BS IV emission norms kicked in, Ducati had the 1200 and the 821 in their Monster line-up for India. The 821 had to be pulled off the shelves as it did not adhere to the norms and the updated one just made its global debut a week prior to the 2017 EICMA. The BS IV compliant1200 is a serious motorcycle; still giving the experienced goosebumps and costing a fortune. Thus, the logical Monster for consideration is the 797.
It retains all the favourite Monster DNA bits – a trellis frame, chunky round fuel tank, a circular headlamp, USD forks et al. The swingarm is still a gullwing design and not a one-piece unit like the 1200. The engine is purely Ducati – a Desmodromic L-Twin motor that is also featured on the Scrambler.
However there is a slight issue. It is the least Monster-esque Monster yet. Here the X-factor is seriously lacking. It has become like a regular big capacity naked motorcycle. Extremely unintimidating and super friendly. It is more like a Rottweiler who loves to play fetch and is friendly. The foot-pegs are slightly mid-set instead of rear-set. The seating posture is comfortable, as you sit at 805mm. As a result you are spreading your legs wider than usual (typical Monster fare) to grip the massive 16.5-litre fuel tank. It’s the lightest of the trio though, tipping the scales at 193kg.
The engine also feels too civilised to carry the Monster tag. Nestled in the trellis frame, it has the 803cc L-Twin Desmodromic air-cooled motor. The output figures too are identical at 72bhp and 67Nm of torque. On the electronics front, the 797 gets switchable ABS; missing out on ride-by-wire and traction control. It gets a six-speed transmission with a slipper clutch.
Suspension setup feels pliant, capable of taking corners in its stride. The 43mm Kayaba USDs and Sachs monoshock are setup for more relaxed riding than corner attacking. Thus you will find the bike wallowing when ridden hard. Time and again Pirelli’s Diablo Rosso IIs have amplified the motorcycle’s riding characteristics and it is no different here.
As a standalone naked motorcycle, the bike is a fantastic offering in the category. But as a Monster, it does fall short.
Triumph Street Twin
It is hard not to bring up the name Bonneville when one talks about a typical British motorcycle. It is one of the biggest reasons behind the revival of the Triumph brand after John Bloor took over. And with the new range of motorcycles, the new Bonneville range is a winner. Easy to ride yet involving and there is just something soulful about a British parallel twin. The entry point to this very heritage is the Street Twin.
It bears the Bonneville silhouette and every single detail on the motorcycle has been designed to look as retro as it could be. Take the instrument cluster for instance. The single round unit looks like it has been lifted straight off the Bonnies of yesteryears. Yet the only analogue element is the speedometer with the likes of the tacho, trip, odo and other such data displayed on a small LCD screen. The headlight unit is round and has a brushed steel finished ring around the outer edges. The front forks get rubber gaiters, seat piping and stitching is neat and overall the bike is the perfect representation of what a modern Bonneville should look like.
Seated on the motorcycle, the rider has a commanding view of the road ahead with a relatively relaxed foot-peg position. The flat wide handlebar gives you good leverage to control the motorcycle in the city and touring conditions. You will not feel any discomfort when munching miles or even when heading to do grocery shopping. The 12-litre fuel tank is too slim to grip with your thighs and is not very touring friendly considering the quantity of fuel it can hold in one go.
The tubular steel cradle frame incorporates the 900HT engine. The 900cc parallel-twin liquid-cooled SOHC heart makes 54.25bhp and 80Nm. The torque surge is present throughout the rev band as the five-speed gearbox optimises the mid-range delivery of the engine. Believe it or not, the Street Twin is the most technologically advanced motorcycle of the three here. It has got ride-by-wire and two riding modes – Rain and Road. It also has ABS and switchable traction control.
Dynamically speaking, the Street Twin is not the most corner friendly motorcycle that you would encounter. The 198kg dry weight is focused at the front and hence it takes time to lean in. It will hold line through the bend and there will be no fuss once the taps are opened. The suspension being on the softer side does inhibit you from taking corners at higher speeds.
The same setup is perfectly in tune for highway cruising. The motorcycle’s long wheelbase makes it feel extremely stable at illegal speeds. I could nitpick regarding the brakes as it takes slightly more effort on the levers for it to bite.
Triumph projects the Street Twin as a blank canvas for your customisation needs. While it may not have as extensive a list as Harley, there is the presence of ‘Inspiration Kits’. These kits help you transform your base Street Twin into a café racer, brat tracker or scrambler. These kits are available in India and each one of them gets its own signature accessories and slip-on exhaust system from Vance & Hines. The Street Twin here did get the Vance exhaust and that heightened the aural experience of the parallel twin to another level.
So how does one go about determining which one of these three you should go for? Firstly, the Ducati Monster 797 does give you a licence to go around town calling yourself a Ducatisti. Still the aspirational value of owning a Monster will be lacking despite it having everything that a Monster should have. It is also the most dynamic motorcycle of the three here, yet it does not live up to expectations.
The Harley-Davidson Street Rod helps you get over the fact that the Street family was anything but cheap. The build quality is far better than the Street 750 and you are getting one of the most enjoyable Harleys out there. Yet somewhere in the back of your mind, this is not the Harley that awed you. Nevertheless, it is the next gen of Harley motorcycle riders that the company wants to target and for that it fits the bill. It is also the cheapest of the trio by a good lakh to the next motorcycle.
But the Street Twin comes closest to heritage. The experience and awe factor remains intact and you would feel at home at a Triumph rider’s meet. Sure it is the baby Bonnie but she does live up to the feeling of owning a British parallel-twin motorcycle. If you ask me, it is a no brainer what I would go for, the Bawa-British love coming through strongly.