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  • Both use drum brakes, but the CT100’s are significantly b...
    Both use drum brakes, but the CT100’s are significantly better.
  • The XL’s engine is simple, yet seemingly unstoppable.
    The XL’s engine is simple, yet seemingly unstoppable.
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As Low As It Gets: TVS XL 100 and Bajaj CT100 feature

10th Mar 2020 7:00 am

The TVS XL 100 and Bajaj CT 100 are India’s most-affordable petrol- powered two-wheelers. We set out to celebrate the feats of frugal engineering before the inevitable BS6 price hike arrived.

At Rs 30,490, the TVS XL is the most affordable two-wheeler on sale in India, and maybe even the world. But this is the situation as of today, and once the BS6 update comes in, that magic price point will no longer exist. What about motorcycles you ask? Well, for just Rs 3,500 more, you get the BS4 Bajaj CT 100, which happens to be the cheapest geared motorcycle on sale. By the time you read this though, Bajaj will have already launched the BS6 iteration of the CT 100 and it costs over Rs 6,000 more than the bike we got to ride. Incredibly, even at this new price, it is still India’s most affordable motorcycle – that’s just how amazing the pricing is!

The XL and CT 100 represent the genius of the affordable, yet dependable engineering that India specialises in, and we simply had to do something fun to celebrate these two special machines before they were taken out of production.

Slow and steady...

...wins the race, wasn’t it? Well, before sunrise on a Monday morning, I was out on the highway riding towards Dahanu, a small coastal town about 130km from Mumbai. I left home telling myself I was going to take it easy, and, for once, I actually did. The CT 100 can get you to 90kph (and for the most affordable bike there is, that’s mighty impressive), but I was quite happy riding at a meditative 60kph. Rishaad apparently wasn’t having any of that. Just a couple of kilometres before our scheduled meeting spot, the XL 100 buzzed past me, its little 99.7cc engine sounding like it was hammering out all the 4.3hp that it was capable of. Wearing a smug grin, Rishaad turned around to check if it was me and then continued on, clearly amped up on way too much morning coffee.

You can crouch all you like, that little XL isn’t getting past me!

With the two bikes and the camera car all caught up, we stopped for a quick breakfast. Immediately, we got to expressing how our respective two-wheelers felt, and before anything came of our conversation, Rishaad said, “This thing weighs just 80kg!” and he proceeded to bunny-hop the front wheel around the parking lot. That’s how easily these little machines can trigger the juvenile in you.

Shortly after, we were out on the highway getting passed by all kinds of vehicles. My Bajaj was comfortable cruising at 70kph, and Rishaad in a full race tuck was in my slipstream, with his XL quite unbothered even sitting at its top speed. Just as amusing is the fact that the XL’s speedometer needle oscillates like it has a mind of its own; you never really know exactly how fast you’re actually going. The Bajaj’s unit, on the other hand, feels significantly more premium, and so does its switchgear.

The XL also suffers from the fact that it uses very weak brakes. Tight situations demand that both levers be pulled in completely to slow down as quickly as one hopes to. However, none of this seemed to matter when I switched over to the TVS for the second half of our journey. All the notions I’d conceived on the Bajaj of this being a meditative, emotional experience were realigned. I still can’t pinpoint what it is about the XL, but I’m almost certain that it’s the fact that it’s so simple and far from perfect that makes it so easy to fall in love with it. There really isn’t much to do on the XL, and while I had to keep reminding myself about the Bajaj’s all-down 4-speed shift pattern, the XL was just twist-and-go, thanks to its centrifugal clutch. Since there are no foot controls, you can literally put your feet up on
the engine guards and enjoy a lazy cruise down the highway. With all that relaxed cruising in the left lane, getting to Dahanu took a while, but it wasn’t half as bad as we thought it would be, and we were all set for what lay in store for these two machines.

Chikoo run

Dahanu is a small coastal town where the warmth and humidity are perfect for the cultivation of what is a significant part of its revenue – chikoos. Firoze from our team happens to be a part of the local chikoo cartel and he had a fun little thought: Which one of our little steeds could transport the most fruit from his farm to the local chikoo auction house before sundown? This included weighing the gunny sacks of fruit, securing as many as possible onto our bikes, and making the journey with the least amount of damage.

Rishaad and I discussing the different types of chikoos. I knew two – raw and ripe.

All loaded up, we were raring for a race on our little ponies. But as soon as we started moving, we realised this wasn’t going to be easy. Rishaad strapped about 70kg of the fruit onto his XL, and I managed a little less, but we complicated things for ourselves by how unevenly we distributed the weight. To make things even more interesting (and to avoid any awkward run-ins with the police), we decided to ride through the farm instead of taking a much nicer road through the town. The going was extremely slushy, with rocks that we had to urge the vehicles through with our feet down, and there was also a little stream to ride through.

Rishaad, yet again, passed me very enthusiastically, and I heard him cackling under his helmet, celebrating like he’d won something that mattered. That XL has some surprising pulling power once it gets going, but in less than 30sec, he promptly got stuck in a rut and blocked my path. Luckily for me, the CT 100’s conventional gearbox and far more (relatively) generous power allowed me to pop the clutch and get around him without much trouble. The XL, on the other hand, has a pretty lazy power delivery at low speeds; I had a good laugh watching him rock his moped back and forth trying to break free. See you later, boss!

70-odd kilos of fruit, 70-odd kilos of rider, but the XL just kept chugging along!

Fruits of our labour

After an unstable, drama-filled and absolutely joyful few kilometres, we pulled into the auction yard, much to the amusement of everyone around us. I cannot fathom what the locals thought of these two grown men, fully kitted in riding gear on ridiculously, precariously overloaded motorcycles that were now covered in chikoo juice. The fact that we couldn’t contain our laughter while taking off our helmets probably didn’t help our case.

Well, the results were a no-brainer – Rishaad had won our little competition. With some rope and some gunny sacks, you can probably carry more on the XL than you could on all the panniers you can mount onto an R 1250 GS. But in the grand scheme of things, there really isn’t a loser.

You see, most motorcycles today are complex, technological marvels of modern engineering. They tend to set your standard of expectations so high, you often dismiss the simpler machines. This experience taught me how big a mistake that is. The Bajaj, for instance, was particularly impressive because it came across as a refined, good-quality product, and neither of us could fathom how it carried such a low sticker price. On the other hand, the TVS felt far more simple and rudimentary but it didn’t disappoint, and it was the one Rishaad and I gravitated towards.

Having said that, the biggest takeaway is that there is no bitter ending here. Both these machines will continue into the future, perhaps a little less elementary and a fair amount more expensive, but they will continue nonetheless. Doing so, they will continue to improve life for hundreds of thousands, if not millions around the globe. And that’s the real celebration.

Easily the strangest fruit delivery ever witnessed at the Dahanu chikoo auction house!

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