Altius Scimitar? Whats that? Well, its Chennai-based Altius Automotive Technologies first product. Set up recently and spearheaded by former Hyundai Motor India chief B.V.R. Subbu, it has entered into a partnership with Californias Hayes Diversified Technologies (HDT) to manufacture various types of engines at its spanking new plant spread over 7,500sq m, north of Chennai. HDT is the technology leader in lightweight gas and heavy fuel/ diesel-powered engines, supplying motorcycles to the US armed forces since 1982. The initial India plan is to manufacture small displacement, 400cc-700cc multi-fuel motorcycle engines, which can also be used for power generation or construction. Altius commences production in the first quarter of 2012.
Now that the ice has been broken, lets move on to Altius first bike — the 670cc on/off-road Scimitar — named after the lethal sword.
Based on the Kawasaki KLR650, the Scimitar looks like the typical multipurpose, on/off-road motorcycle. It stands tall on a long-travel suspension with a broad, floppy mudguard, set high over its front wheel. A basic fairing surrounds the rectangular headlamp and theres an IR light to boost night vision.
A sturdy bar wraps around the handlebar protecting its controls, with nice quality switches and levers. The Scimitar also has a good set of palm grips. The bikes compact, illuminated speedometer includes a bar-type tachometer, odometer, tripmeter and engine temperature gauge. Everything about the Scimitar looks built to last, including its large rotation moulded plastic fuel tank and side and tail cowls. As if the engine isnt already located high enough, a solid drilled metal plate guards its sump, while the footrests are spring-returned jagged metal units, common to off-road bikes. A heavy-duty pannier attachment is optional and the bike comes with seating for two.
UNDER THE TANK
Hayes Diversified Technologies fourth-generation heavy fuel motorcycle engine powers the Scimitar. To simplify fuel logistics, all NATO and US military machines from power generators to Stealth bombers run on JP8. Here, this will become the only Indian motorcycle to run on diesel, or on a choice of JP8, JP5, JP4, AVTUR, JET-A1 and even bio-diesel, thanks to its multi-fuel technology.
The Scimitars 670cc, single-cylinder engine is liquid-cooled, breathing through a triple-stage foam air filter element. Its a four-stroke, wet sump unit that relies on indirect injection. You get 5.4kgm of torque produced low at 3300rpm.
I was surprised to hear the Scimitars exhaust note, for it sounds just like a big single, perhaps slightly louder. While its not refined, it is without the bothersome clatter I expect of a diesel. The ride, however, confirmed that this is no petrol powerplant. The engine feels heavier, the revs building gradually with a predictably tardy throttle response. Acceleration and performance feel sluggish for a 670cc-33bhp-at-5700rpm bike but it pulls with a steady perseverance, the revs gradually rising as power feeds through in a stout, linear wave.
But the Scimitar is never going to be your bike of choice on a drag strip. Its smooth as long as you dont rev it hard, which gives it unpleasant vibes. Clutch feel is positive, surprisingly light, well-weighted and the gearbox shifts smoothly without undue effort once you master shift timings. However, the gear ratios feel too closely packed and the Scimitar didnt quite feel up to Altius 150kph top speed claim. The bike also needs to pass emission norms before going on sale in India.
This is a big motorcycle. A single downtube reaches down from its steering column to grab the engine, supported from below by a sturdy cradle. The rest of the frame is welded, high-tensile steel, with a removable rear section. Needle bearings support the swingarm pivots and tough wire spokes hold the alloy rims together.
Most riders will struggle to sit on the Scimitar — even my six-feet-tall frame strained to keep both feet planted on the floor together, despite Altius having grooved the saddle. However, on the go, its this and the wide handlebar that lend a commanding feel and nice leverage, while feeling light and steering with ease.
The suspension on my test bike seemed set a bit stiff, although the ride was too short to form a firm opinion on ride quality. The dual-purpose tyres offered tenacious grip on dirt roads but lacked confidence when cornering on tarmac. Altius needs to consider this while introducing the bike in India since most users will take their Scimitars more on-road than off. Adventurers will be happy to know that the Scimitar is capable of wading through two-feet-deep water. Brake feel is decent. Id be satisfied if the Scimitar returned 25kpl at routine speeds in tough Indian conditions.
Several questions remain unanswered. What alterations are required to the American-built HDT engine to meet Indian emission norms, and how will this affect the Scimitars performance? How reliable will an Indian-made Scimitar be? Will Altius be able to provide its bikes good retail and service backup as well as adequate quality?
But it seems that the tough-as-nails Scimitar does have great potential in India, where our pothole-ridden roads beg for a pair of sturdy wheels. Altius has indicated an attractive price tag for this unique bike — rural India too could do with a solid, fuel-friendly motorcycle like this. In all, the Scimitar presents good potential and good value in an unexplored segment. Now, we just wait for it to hit the market.
Price: Rs 1.5 lakh to Rs 1.75 lakh (est)
Ground clearance: 211mm
Engine: Single-cylinder, liquid-cooled, four-stroke/ indirect injection (IDI), diesel/ 670cc
Power: 33bhp at 5700rpm
Torque: 5.4kgm at 3300rpm
Gearbox: 5-speed; 1-down, 5-up
Suspension (F/R): Telescopic forks/ linked monoshock, dual side swingarm
Brakes (F/R): 280mm petal disc/ 240mm petal disc