Nostalgia is such a powerful feeling, no? It can bring back fond memories of a time gone by and arouse that familiar, fuzzy feeling. All you need is a trigger. Case in point is the Bajaj Chetak, a name so iconic that it instantly reminds you of the time when a huge number of these humble two-strokes buzzed down the road, leaving a thrummy exhaust note and a plume of smoke in the wake. It was the dependable workhorse that ruled the hearts of millions and struck an emotional chord that hardly any two-wheeler these days can manage. Fast forward to the present and it’s hard not to comprehend the reasons behind Bajaj Auto’s decision to resurrect the Chetak brand as it steps into the realm of electric scooters. It may be the marketing masterstroke of all time but a boardroom decision can only influence the fate of a product to some extent. Beyond that, it’s the product’s attributes, the Chetak electric's in this case, that could either make or break it. A short spin should give us a fair idea.
How does it look?
Forget the marketing spiel for the moment, because as steeped in the history the Chetak name may be, the new e-scooter's design is very chic and contemporary. This, by far, is one of the most gorgeous scooters to hit the Indian roads, besides a Vespa, and this factor alone will pique interest in it. There’s a natural flow to the design, an elegance to the way the lines curve around the primarily metal bodywork. It’s breathtakingly beautiful. Elements such as the LED DRL inside the headlamp (also LED), faux grille on the front apron and a single-piece rear section results in a design devoid of unsightly panel gaps. The tail-lamps with the integrated, dynamic turn indicators, à la Audi cars, look great as well. Bajaj’s decision to employ a trailing link suspension at the front and a single-side swingarm at the rear is also clever as it puts the alloy wheels on full display. The variant you see here is the ‘Premium’ version that gets you a disc brake at the front and metallic grey paint on the wheels and seats that looks...er...premium! For a little less money, there’s an Urbane variant that gets drum brakes at both ends and solid colours. What does remain consistent, in case of either variant, is the sense of quality. I feel Bajaj has really upped the ante with the Chetak’s build and you get a sense of that when you look at the way everything has been put together. The paint finish is immaculate too and is another area where the Chetak shines. It's this sense of familiarity that the Chetak evokes which will make it easier for people switching from conventional scooters to adapt to. There is no question though that it looks a little too familiar, and while it was perfectly understandable that the original Chetak looked just like a Vespa (because it was!) it would have been nice to see the reborn Chetak take a design direction of its own.
Nevertheless, features such as flush-style switchgear and a full-digital dash with Bluetooth connectivity round off the list, and on the whole, the Chetak appeals to the visual sense. But what we want to know is if it evokes the same kind of emotions when on the move?
Does it perform like a normal scooter?
Ok, don’t go searching for the same feeling you experienced aboard your dad’s/uncle’s noisy, old machine; this Chetak is all about the future form of mobility – electric. It obviously does not produce the mechanical sound that an engine and manual transmission generate, so some of that emotion is lost in the move to electricity. But contrary to what I had expected, the Chetak wasn’t as dead as a log!
The electric scooter is powered by a 3.8kW/4.1kW (continuous/peak power) motor that develops 16Nm of torque, which may not seem like a lot on paper but it's a completely different story in the real world. The scooter picks up pace quickly as you open the throttle, making it easy to keep up with city traffic. Two ride modes – Eco and Sport – alter the urgency with which the scooter surges ahead, but here's the interesting thing. The ICU or Integrated Charging Unit has a sensor that detects throttle position when the scooter is run in Eco mode. Every time the rider twists the grip past 85 percent, the system senses the additional demand for power and switches to Sport mode. This is great for making quick overtakes or while climbing a flyover, and it saves the pain of manually switching between modes. Bajaj has limited the top speed in the interest of keeping the range figure as high as reasonably possible, and we saw 69kph on the dash. While this wasn't an irritant on the roads we rode on today, a number of main roads in big cities like Mumbai and Delhi tend to host rather fast-moving traffic, so we wish the top speed was somewhere in between 75-80kph, in line with 125cc scooters here.
While the performance from the Chetak is decent, one mustn't expect it to be thrilling, especially in comparison to the Ather 450X. While the Ather is built for performance, the Chetak leans towards the practical side and should serve the role of a daily runabout quite well. That's what it's built for and it makes no bones about its orientation. This is also apparent when you look at the claimed battery range.
The IP67-rated Bosch, lithium-ion pack is capable of powering the motor for 95km in Eco and 85km in Sport. These claimed figures, says Bajaj, is what should be possible to achieve in the real world. Nevertheless, it's quite a practical range for everyday use and we can't wait to put it through a thorough test when we get the scooter for at least a couple of days, instead of a couple of hours.
Speaking of time, it takes 5 hours to charge the battery from 0-100 percent, while 80 percent becomes available after 3.5 hours of plugging in the Chetak. Bajaj will supply a home charger with the electric scooter (included in the price) and get a company technician to install it. The charging cable connects to a 5A socket under the seat, which can be kept shut while charging; that makes it convenient to leave the scooter unattended. At present, there's no provision for fast charging.
What’s the ride like?
The Chetak's suspension setup is like any other 110cc scooter, but the trailing link setup at the front does have its limitations. While the ride quality was pretty good over few undulations and speed breaker that we encountered in Pune city, the scooter thudded over large expansion gaps and sharp potholes. That aside, the suspension is quite pliant and the Chetak rides like any other petrol-powered, small-capacity scooter. It is also very planted around the bends, with a good grip from the MRFs shod on 12-inch wheels on both end.
What's in the name?
Quite a lot, actually. That Bajaj has christened its maiden electric scooter 'Chetak' is saying a lot about the faith it has invested in it. After all, the Chetak name has a huge reputation and a deep emotional connection with Indians. While our time with the scooter wasn't enough to make conclusive verdicts about the overall performance, the first impressions are mighty impressive. The first impression is that the Chetak will make the transition from petrol to electric mobility feel natural, and quite premium at that. The much bigger question of what it's like to live with can only be answered by a proper long-term test!