Words – Sirish Chandran
Photography – Gaurav S Thombre
If there’s one bike that needs no introduction it’s the Apache RR 310. In the making for a good long 22 months, TVS Motor Company has finally launched the sporty, race-inspired, fully-faired motorcycle that made its first appearance at the 2016 Auto Expo. It was called the Akula 33 back then, after the Russian shark that the designers took inspiration from, but the final production bike wears Apache badging, building on the success and strong reputation of the Apache RTR 200 that won the 2017 Indian Motorcycle of the Year (IMOTY) as well as the Bike of the Year at our own awards. In fact Apache is the second largest brand in the premium motorcycle segment, after the Bajaj Pulsar, and has been growing at three times the industry average, tripling volumes over the past five years. Make little sense to introduce a new brand then especially with the 310 having a very clear focus, and that is racing.
Of all the Indian manufacturers TVS has the longest association with motorsport, having started with its 50cc moped in Sholavaram. That was 35 years ago! And since then the outfit has participated, without interruption, in every single form of Indian bike sport – racing, rallying, dirt track, motocross, super cross, raids, scooter rallies, you name it – and with every moped, scooter and motorcycle it has ever made.
Event organisers have stayed in business because of TVS, racers have found opportunity and fame because of TVS, Indians are in the Dakar because of TVS, even the Chennai race track owes its continued existence to TVS, the company leading the consortium that bailed out the track when it went bankrupt nearly two decades ago. TVS’s chairman Venu Srinivasan still heads the trust that runs the MMRT and the 35 on the new Apache’s tailpiece is a statement of pride, of a legacy that nobody in India can come close to, a “summation of 35 years of our racing experience,” as TVS people spare no opportunity in reminding you of. In fact the 310 does not have a single TVS sticker on the bike, it’s all TVS Racing including on the crankcase.
You can’t talk about the new Apache RR 310 without referencing BMW Motorrad. The G 310 R and the off-road-focused 310 GS are both built at Hosur, on the same assembly line as the Apache RR 310, but BMW Motorrad’s focus right now is on meeting (very good) global demand for the 310 while building a premium positioning in India with the big GS bikes, before moving down the order. BMW Motorrad has already confirmed that the 310s will come in the middle of next year, and so we get introduced to the son before the father!
Behind the (very sexy) fairing the 310 Apache is identical to the Motorrad bikes. The single-cylinder, liquid-cooled motor displaces 312.2cc with bore and stroke dimensions of 80 x 62.1mm and is uniquely reverse-inclined with the exhaust having no bend pipe. TVS R&D people are playing up the advantages of the cylinder head canted backwards – of the weight moving closer to rider leading to better mass centralisation, of the intake positioned in the air stream and delivering a ram-air effect, of the down draft port in the cylinder head getting an eight per cent better volumetric efficiency due to the gravitational effect. However we did learn, on a recent visit to BMW Motorrad’s Munich facilities, that this engine was designed by Husqvarna (that was owned by Motorrad before being sold to KTM) for a baby off-road bike and, like most Huskys, has this reverse cylinder layout as it suits off-road bikes really well.
The motor puts out 33.53bhp peaking at 9700rpm while peak torque is 27.3Nm at 7700rpm. These figures are similar to the BMW bikes but the tuning of the Apache’s motor has been done by TVS’s engineers to give it a sporty feel to suit the (sporty) positioning of the RR. Uniquely TVS runs a Bosch fuel injection system while BMW runs a Magneti Marelli ECU, though to meet the next emission norms BMW too will move to Bosch. It revs to 10,800rpm and is mated to a 6-speed gearbox. TVS uses a taller final drive for a higher top speed while the ratios in the gearbox remain the same for all the 310 motorcycles.
Dry weight of the Apache RR is 169.5kg. The trellis frame is a split chassis with the rear subframe bolted on to ensure better accuracy in manufacturing. The wheelbase is 1365mm and it runs on 17-inch Michelin Pilot Sport rubber, 110/70 at the front and 150/60 at the rear. These are off-the-shelf tyres but TVS claim the compound and construction have been tweaked based on feedback from their engineers. Braking is via a 300mm petal disc at the front and a 240mm rear disc with ABS provided by Continental. The ABS cannot be switched off, though the calibration is such that you can pull stoppies.
Kayaba suspension is used on all the 310 bikes but with unique damping for the Apache RR, again considering the sporty positioning. In fact Kayaba engineers worked with TVS Racing’s riders to fine-tune the suspension – 41mm cartridge-type, gold-finished USD’s at the front with a hydraulic stopper and a mono-shock at the rear.
Fittingly our first experience of the Apache RR 310 was at the Chennai racetrack where most of the development work on the Apache RR was conducted, logging over 3000 laps. This track is TVS Racing’s second home where they have their own permanent workshops and pit garage.
First impressions are of a smooth and very tractable motor with great bottom and mid-range punch. Out of the pit lane, right for C2, across the track to line it up for the C3 left-hander and then open it up as you go up through the gears flicking through the short-loop kink and then brake, dropping two gears for the C4 left-hander. The RR is quick, as quick as you’d expect a 310cc bike to be (no more, no less, to be honest), but it doesn’t feel maniac, hyper and over-stressed. Some might equate the calm demeanour to be at odds with the sporty/racy positioning but truth be told it lets you focus on the riding without worrying about when the bike will bite back.
Then there’s the ease with which you can flick the Apache RR from side to side. At 169.5kg kerb weight, this isn’t a light bike but it feels light with easy flickability and quick and very willing changes of direction. Through the back end of the circuit, my favourite part of the MMRT, the RR displays excellent cornering grip – a factor of both the grip from the Michelins but even more the suspension setup. Successive resurfacing has smoothened out the MMRT but it still has interesting bumps; the RR though takes it all in its stride, in fact aboard the new Apache the track has never felt smoother from the back of a bike.
Exit the long D on to the back straight, the longest on the track, and then brake hard for C8 also called Anand’s corner. The strong bite and excellent ABS calibration makes itself felt here as you end up shedding more speed than necessary. As you get used to the capability of the bike you discover there’s great feel and progression to the brakes so you can not only lean on it hard for C9, the slowest corner of the track, but also modulate the pressure very accurately. You also discover the benefits of the slipper clutch allowing you to bang down the gearbox without worrying about the rear locking up.
Sighting laps done I go faster, braking later, carrying more speed through the corners, accelerating harder out of the corners and reminding myself of what I learnt at the California Superbike School I attended two years ago. One of the tips was pushing the outside knee into the tank recess and using that to grip the bike letting your hands remain loose and not holding hard on to the bars. Turns out the tank is designed with knee recesses that lets you do exactly that. Carrying more speeds through corners doesn’t ruffle the 310’s feathers nor does it catch out the suspension. The bike stays planted while leaned over and always feels like it has 10 per cent, maybe even more, in reserve. I also learn that the Apache works best when you go into corners with a higher gear else it runs out of breath before you get to the exit.
Major work also went into perfecting the aerodynamics of the Apache RR with extensive wind tunnel testing leading to a Cd figure of 0.520, claimed to be the best in its class. On the track, particularly on the straights, you really can feel the aero at work – tucking inside the fairing cuts out the wind blast and turbulence around the helmet, even the noise, and it is aligned to really good ergonomics.
As I hammer this test on the flight back home, after a day riding on the track, my body isn’t aching or groaning (at least not yet!) and that speaks volumes of the ergonomics of the bike. There’s a fair bit of space to move around on the bike, the fairing doesn’t need an aggressive tuck in so I can get inside it despite the pounds having piled up around my waist. The cooling down lap also reveals that the ergonomics aren’t purely race-focused and you can ride it upright without all your weight loaded on your wrists. It strikes a rather good balance between street and sport riding and I think it will be a good bike to go touring on. And the way the suspension worked on the track it should be a comfortable road bike.
All in all the RR’s dynamics marks a very big step up from the RTR that we rated very highly – it’s more comfortable, easier to ride fast, more forgiving if you make a mistake or go in too hot into a corner, works with you to shave seconds off your lap time (which is recorded on the on-board lap timer, as is acceleration time and top speed), has a wider breath of ability and is more stable on the brakes. All the TVS Racing riders who we spoke to cannot wait for the racing version of the RR to be introduced, and, make no mistake, there’s a race-spec in the works. Getting rid of all the emission-related constraints will really transform the bike. And the Apache RR 310 could really do with an aftermarket end can, the stock pipe just doesn’t sound sporty enough.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about how the Apache RR 310 looks. Done completely in-house the final production bike stays true to the Akula 33 concept with the shark-like detailing evident in the fins on the side that draws inspiration from the pectoral fins and the split tailpiece evoking a shark’s tail. I’ll not mince words here – the new Apache looks excellent. In a hush-hush preview a few weeks before the ride at the Hosur plant, there was a collective gasp and then spontaneous applause when the wraps were pulled off the 310. Before you even take in the detailing the meaty proportions of the bike, the sharp lines and the stance – low nose, high tail – makes you go wow. Physically this is a big bike, it doesn’t look or feel like a single-cylinder. And in its class it is definitely the best looking, no question. The nose has twin LED projector lamps that is claimed to be the brightest than you can get in this class, along with DRLs. The rear LEDs are quite cool with the brake lights completing the sweep of the graphic when it lights up. As of now there are only two colours available – the (very flashy) red with white racing stripes and the (understated) matt black. If you ask me I think they need an in-between colour.
The fit and finish is excellent with consistently tight panel gaps, very neat fasteners, and an excellent paint finish. Some of the detailing like the aluminium triple clamps looks very high quality. And then there’s the attention to the small but crucial details – like the heat extractors in the side panel that push the hot air from the radiators down and out of the way of the rider so unlike other bikes that roast the thighs here I didn’t feel the heat at all.
The instrument console is vertically stacked and fully digital. While the design is cool I don’t like the vertical tacho that is quite small and doesn’t really register when riding hard, the rider instead relying on the shift light. Also when rivals have moved to a full-colour dash this does look dated.
And to the all-important numbers. 0-60kmph takes 2.93 seconds. The claimed top speed is 163kmph. The lap time around the MMRT in Chennai is 2 minutes 9.2 seconds. And as of publishing this piece the prices weren’t announced but we expect it to be around Rs 2 lakh. If TVS can hit that price point they’re on to a winner with the Apache RR 310.