Rebirth of a legend

It is hard not to comprehend the reasons behind Bajaj Auto’s decision to resurrect the Chetak brand as it steps into the realm of e-scooters

Nostalgia is such a powerful feeling; it can bring back fond memories of a time gone by. All you need is a trigger. Case in point: the Bajaj Chetak — a name so iconic that it instantly reminds you of the time when a horde of these humble two-strokes buzzed down the road, leaving a thrummy exhaust note and a plume of smoke in their wake.

Fast forward to the present, and it is hard not to comprehend the reasons behind Bajaj Auto’s decision to resurrect the Chetak brand as it steps into the realm of e-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 is the product’s attributes that could either make or break it. A short spin on this reanimated classic should give us a fair idea.

How does it look?

Forget the marketing spiel for the moment; because as steeped in history as the Chetak name may be, the new e-scooter’s design is chic and contemporary. It is, by far, one of the most gorgeous scooters to hit Indian roads besides a Vespa, and this factor alone will pique interest. Elements such as the LED DRL inside the headlamp (also LED), faux grille on the front apron and a single-piece rear section, result 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. I feel Bajaj has really upped the ante with the Chetak’s build. The paint finish is immaculate too — another area where the Chetak shines.

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 visual senses.

Does it perform like a normal scooter?

Don’t go searching for the same feeling you experienced aboard your dad’s noisy, old machine; this Chetak is all about the future form of mobility — electric. It obviously does not produce the mechanical sound, so some of that emotion is lost in the move to electricity.

The electric scooter is powered by a 3.8kW/4.1kW (continuous/peak power) motor that develops 16Nm of torque. 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 is the interesting thing: the ICU or Integrated Control 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. 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 between 75-80kph, in line with the 125cc scooters here.

The IP67-rated Bosch lithium-ion pack is capable of powering the motor for 95 km in ‘Eco’ and 85 km in ‘Sport’. It is quite a practical range for everyday use, and we would like to put it through a thorough test when we get the scooter for a couple of days instead of a couple of hours. Speaking of time, it takes five hours to charge the Chetak’s battery from 0-100%, while 80% becomes available after 3.5 hours. 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, making it convenient to leave the scooter unattended. At present, there’s no provision for fast charging.

What is 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 a few speed breakers that we encountered in Pune, 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 ends.

What is in the name?

Quite a lot, actually. After all, the Chetak name has a huge reputation and a deep emotional connect with the Indian populace. While our time with the scooter wasn’t enough to make conclusive verdicts about the overall performance, first impressions are mighty impressive — that the Chetak will make the transition from fuel to electric mobility feel natural and quite premium. The much bigger question of what it is like to live with can only be answered by a proper long-term test, which we can’t wait to get to!

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