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Text & Photos: Sandeep Goswami/ Old Fox
11 BHP mobikes ruled the roost two and a half decades ago when the RX-100 made as much power. And it was a ‘performance’ motorcycle of its time. That similar power figures are found on a humble everyday commuter bike today is a glaring example of change that has happened to the motorcycling scenario in our country over the years. TVS renters the commuter ‘bread and butter’ motorcycle market with its all new Phoenix 125 this season. With happy memories of the Victor and not so happy one’s of the Flame, it is heartening to see them take this decisive step back into the main-stream market. Even though the Apache series has been relatively successful in its own right, the performance motorcycle market still remains a niche arena with the real volume sales persisting in the pure commuter sector. The Phoenix is thus a much awaited step in the right direction and time shall tell whether this motorcycle rings true to its mythical name and brings resurrection to the TVS brand in volume sales too.
The company has a solid R&D base, an area where expertise comes through experience and nothing but time can bring in that experience. Their sprawling facility at Hosur, just on the border between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, is spread over 400+ acres of a lovely mix of greenery, neat white-washed buildings and clean tarmac connecting them. The uniformed staff makes it appear as a small world of its own and exudes an aura of purposefulness all over. We were given access to the test track which is actually a series of test facilities spread over a large area and includes primarily a half mile straight followed by a loop for high speed runs. Three roads extend like spokes of a wheel from the loop, each descending at a different gradient angle (4 deg, 7 deg and 10 deg) to assess the gradability of the bikes. There’s an urban simulation track which is a narrow cemented track comprising of series of convoluted loops, U-turns and figure of eight’s ideal for testing low speed controllability and maneuverability of the bike. There also is a track with artificial pot-holes, one with a sinusoidal wave like undulations and a very rough cobbled path to test the bike’s suspension, handling and controllability on such surfaces. Rarely has a review ride been given access to such varied facilities for test-riding a new product.
The Phoenix 125 is, as the name suggests, a 125cc motorcycle which has been built to design specification generated through data inputs from not just TVS’s own experience over the years but also through an active country-wide customer aspiration survey. The result is a simple yet very functional design that is as feature packed as the best in its class and uses several new aspects of ideas and technological inputs. The Ecothrust engine (economical and yet with enough thrust) seems to be a pretty straightforward piece of engineering, sweeping 124.5cc with a bore and stroke of 57 x 48.8mm respectively. The Aluminum cylinder block has a moly-coated piston reciprocating inside with chrome-plated piston rings adding long operating life and reliability to the power-plant. Developing 11 PS at 8000 rpm and a peak torque of 10.8 Nm at a mere 6000 rpm needs just a 4-speed gearbox that proves sufficient to transmit the power effectively to the rear wheel. The engine has a very flat torque curve precluding frequent gear shifts which makes a typical commute through the urban/semi-urban dense traffic a stress-free experience. Just roll that right wrist when you need the ‘go’ and you get it without much ado. The engine has excellent gradability which I experienced as pillion (with a TVS rider at the helm) as we rode up the 10 deg grade, puttering along at 30 kph in 3rd gear, without a gasp from the motor! This bike will surprise a few in the hills with its climbing prowess alone.
Straight line acceleration feels brisk and even though there are perceptible gaps between the gears (with just 4 speeds to spread the entire rpm range through), the precise shifting box and that light responsive clutch allows for smooth and quick shifts to build up speed quickly. The CV carburetor is well matched to the engine respiration and there are no flat-spots whatsoever when pulling the engine through the revs. In fact the engine lineage goes back to the very sweet and successful Fiero power-plant of a decade and a half ago, with the bottom end components of the Phoenix engine having been derived from the same. No wonder it felt so smoothly tractable.
The suspension is an area of lots of new development riding piggy-back on conventional design. The dual rear shock set-up has the newness in the shock-absorber design. The ‘series spring’ is actually a set of two springs with differing compression/rebound response placed one above the other around a single damping unit. The lower spring is softer in response while the one on top is harder. The lower spring compresses quickly in response to small road undulations and once it reaches its limit of travel, the upper one starts compressing giving a very progressive compression feel. Of course there’s some overlap between the two spring compression’s and that’s what makes the feel so progressive. The damping is well matched to this two-spring set-up and also works well in sync with the front telescopic set-up. The veracity and efficacy of the suspension became apparent on the artificial pot-holed and the sinusoidal tracks at the test facility. The suspension is tuned as much for rider comfort as it is for superior road-holding with the dual springs improving tyre-to-road contact by an appreciable margin. The wheel doesn’t skim over undulations as is usually the case with most bikes with simpler suspension set-ups as this one but dips into the pot-hole or rides over the crest with more positive tyre contact which allows time for the suspension to absorb the vertical accelerations involved avoiding sudden transfer of those forces directly to the rider. Comfort and road-holding, both get a fillip thus.
The Phoenix handles well, not just as well as most commuters but a tad better than them though it does have its limitations at the edge of its performance envelope, again like its brethren in the segment. Like when leaning over as close to its top speed on even slightly rough tarmac, there’s a perceptible vagueness in the steering response. But then the segment this bike is addresses to and its usual utility blanket does not include such antics and so it really isn’t a short-coming in the truest sense. Braking is great with that powerful and gradable 240 mm disc up front and a good bite from the 130 mm rear drum. The specially developed tyres (90/90-17 rear and 2.75/90-17 front) also play a decisive role in the traction equation, the straight line stability under hard braking amply demonstrated when a reviewer over-shot his braking point after the long straight by a wide margin and came to a stop after an almost 40 ft slide with the rear brake locked and the tyre smoking away to glory! The poor rider froze on the controls and there were no inputs from him whatsoever in contributing to the stability of the bike. Not the best way to test the edge but the inadvertent demonstration freed the rest from the onus of trying such stuff ourselves. Verdict: the Phoenix is pretty stable even under very ham-handed hard braking.
The handlebar-seat-foot-peg relationship is spot on for a commuter and wouldn’t be bad for long hours on the saddle too. As is the seat with improved polymer compounding that reduces areas of high contact pressure on the seat, distributing the load better across the entire seat. Attention to detail like a dual-texture seat cover with a non-slip part for the rider and a perforated better breathing one for the pillion, the positive routing of cooling ram air over the engine and away from the footpegs reducing ‘heat-on-the-legs’, the hazard lights that blink all four trafficators for use in low visibility conditions, the better breathing and more efficient paper-element air filter and the modular engine layout that makes maintenance easy are elements that make a worthwhile product even better. The lights look good though all our riding was during those hours of bright sunshine but the 35w wide-reflector headlamp should be more than adequate for everyday use. The instrument console is also pretty uncluttered with a digital arced-tape speed display and tell-tale indicators for low battery, low fuel and service interval warning. The latter three show up only if there’s a problem, remaining invisible if the battery is well charged, the fuel level is above reserve and the service due is yet some appreciable miles away. There’s a trip meter too along with the digital odometer.
TVS bikes of the yore usually suffered from questionable build quality, especially with those plastic parts but things seem a lot better with the Phoenix. The side panels show a lot of gusseting and ribbing that leads to better rigidity of the components. The zero-gap dies actually leave zero-gap in the tailpiece and elsewhere where two panels meet up. The battery compartment on the left is open-able with the bike key while the air-filter side needs a 4-head screw driver to open up. The 5 Ah battery seems adequate for the purpose and the smallish self-starter motor just needs to whir for a moment before the engine kicks into life. The fuel tank fills up at 12 ltrs and expecting a real world mileage of anywhere between 50-55 kmpl, a range of more than 600 kms makes it a ‘fill-er-up-once-a-week’ bike. Even the inevitable trips to the distant Himalayas (Ladakh) will ensure enough fuel in a tank for a return trip between Tandi and Karu without refuelling!
The Phoenix looks promising and supremely functional as a commuter bike. The fit and finish befits almost a premium bike (just run your hand lightly along the fuel tank or any of the other panels and you’ll know what I mean), is robust, an unusual mixture of simplicity and technological advancement and comes from an organization that has a very focused set of resources, both materiel and human, which precludes the possibility of debilitating glitches in the product. At about Rs. 53,000/- ex-showroom for the disc brake version (some 2000/- less for the drum one), this motorcycle is a very well put-together one and owning one should be a good experience for any one.
|TVS PHOENIX TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS|
|ENGINE||TVS Phoenix Drum||TVS Phoenix Disc|
|Bore (mm) X Stroke (mm)||57.0 X 48.8||57.0 X 48.8|
|Displacement||124.5 cc||124.5 cc|
|Compression ratio||9.4 : 1.0||9.4 : 1.0|
|Maximum power||8.1 KW (11PS) @ 8000 RPM||8.1 KW (11PS) @ 8000 RPM|
|Maximum torque||10.8 Nm @ 6000 RPM||10.8 Nm @ 6000 RPM|
|Clutch Type||Wet – multi plate||Wet – multi plate|
|Transmission||4 speed constant mesh||4 speed constant mesh|
|Overall length||1985 mm||1985 mm|
|Overall height||1065 mm||1065 mm|
|Overall width||740 mm||740 mm|
|Wheel base||1265 mm||1265 mm|
|Kerb weight||114 kg||116 kg|
|Ground clearance||165 mm||165 mm|
|Front suspension||Telescopic oil damped.||Telescopic oil damped.|
|Rear suspension||Twin, 5 step adjustable hydraulic shocks with series spring||Twin, 5 step adjustable hydraulic shocks with series spring|
|Front tyre||2.75 x 17||2.75 x 17|
|Rear tyre||90 / 90 x 17||90 / 90 x 17|
|Front Drum / Disc||Hand operated, Internally expanding, 130mm dia drum||Hand operated, Dia 240mm disc|
|Rear||Foot operated, internally expanding, 130mm dia drum||Foot operated, internally expanding, 130mm dia drum|
|Ignition system||DC – Digital TCI||DC – Digital TCI|
|Battery||12V 5Ah||12V 5Ah|
|Head lamp||12V, 35/35W x 1||12V, 35/35W x 1|
|Tail lamp/Brake lamp||12V, 5/21W x 1||12V, 5/21W x 1|
|Horn||12V, DC||12V, DC|
|Fuel tank including reserve||12 litres||12 litres|
|Reserve||2 litres||2 litres|