One of the brands that we’re playing close attention to is Hero from India. It recently joined up with Eric Buell who has been working with them on the design of some of their new bikes and obviously gives them a big ‘in’ into the North American market.
Hero have also set up manufacturing facilities in Columbia, South America – a staging point from which to attack the Americas in general. Although I was given no precise timeline, I was told that North America was a priority for the company.
Being an Indian company, Hero tends to be focused on the smaller machines. A 250 in India is still a big bike (though the new middle class is looking at larger bikes), but in order to make any meaningful impact in western markets it needed to look at higher capacity machines.
EICMA is the perfect place to showcase this transition and front and centre it had three machines that fitted the mold …
Hastur 600 (prototype)
An obvious nod to KTM, the Hastur is still in prototype mode (it all looks pretty polished save for the motor that is roughly finished), but with a liquid-cooled parallel twin motor of 620 cc and about 80 horses, it’s Hero’s first foray into the mid-range market.
On paper and in the metal, the rest of the bike looks competent and the quality good, with a KTM style space frame and design. Hero claim a top speed of 240 km/h and a super low kerb weight of 160 kg, with USD forks up front and a pair of 4-piston radial calipers it appears to be a serious attempt to make a serious machine.
Not yet in production (expected in about a year) but certainly beyond the prototype stage, the HX250R, is a more traditional 250 with a liquid-cooled single cylinder motor, fuel injected and a curb weight of 139 Kg.
There’s nothing remarkable about this bike, but I did point out to the Hero rep that alas the 250 market has already popped up to 300 (and beyond) and they may find that by the time the bike is out, it’s already dated. He quickly moved me on to the ….
Karizma ZMR 225
The least sophisticated of the three with a 223 cc air-cooled single, but with fuel injection, a reasonable 20 horses on tap and a top speed of 130 km/h. Alas, at 157 Kg curb weight it’s almost as much as the Hastur prototype claims!
The most interesting element of this machine is the Buell DNA in the fairing. This bike is already in production, but if it’s destined as part of the NA assault, it will have to be as cheap as they come.
The Quality Conundrum
Of course, perhaps the biggest hurdle that a non-western motorcycle manufacturer faces is perceived quality and Hero were quick to address this. It’s the biggest seller in India and use that as a testament to reliability as the bikes are unlikely to get much pampering. It also sell them with a five-year warranty; something that they hinted heavily would come with any North American sale too, though if it wants to make a big splash, it will need to have a production-ready Hastur first.
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