‘The analogue way is a little too outdated, let’s put a 7-inch touchscreen instead of a instrument cluster.’ ‘Keys? Keys are a little too old school, let’s make everything keyless.’ The recent influx of Chinese motorcycles in our country have had us believe round-table discussions that happen while developing a Chinese motorcycle unfold like this. But you see, when you’re going the retro, more analogue way, gimmicks should take a back seat and make way for unadulterated riding experience. So where does the QJ SRC 250 stand in that regard? Expectations were high from this most accessible twin-cylinder motorcycle in the country but it became a little harder for the rookie when a veteran, a decade-old stalwart stepped into the scene. (read RE Classic 350.)
While the SRC 250 has gotten the basics right of cooking up a retro motorcycle – round headlamps, teardrop-shaped fuel tank and minimalistic bodywork. Everything’s there, except finesse. It looks barebones, especially from the front where the void around the headlamp cluster looks like an eyesore. Scan your eyes towards the back and things start to look a bit better. A pinch of Scrambler here and there, thanks to the spartan rear end and dual-purpose tyres, add some flair to the otherwise plain design. Once you start getting a little more personal with the motorcycle, it starts revealing its chinks. Or read gaping holes in its armour. The SRC 250 showcases build quality of a barn-built motorcycle, not a mass-produced one. The fuel tank for instance, moves around a little too much. The switchgear looks and feels industrial. And then there’s the other rattling parts like the number plate holder which should have been something else, given how much it vibrates.
Things start looking even more bleak for the SRC 250 once you park the RE Classic 350 alongside. The Classic 350 used to be one of the flagbearers of build quality issues in the Indian subcontinent but times have changed now. The new Classic 350 is leaps and bounds ahead of the SRC 250 in terms of fit and finish, despite being the cheaper alternative here. Everything feels more solid and built to last, unlike the SRC 250 which feels like a bespoke motorcycle. Looks might be subjective but the Classic 350 definitely feels like a more complete motorcycle here.
The riding ergonomics are pretty sorted though, because the SRC 250 strikes a nice balance between being upright and being aggressive given the rider footpegs are set further behind as compared to the Classic 350. The latter, however, should be your choice if comfort is held high in your priority list.
One of the major highlights of the whole ride experience of the SRC 250 is the sound it lets out while idling. A bassy, twin-cylinder growl sets the precursor just right, promising an enthralling ride experience. But it all becomes thin vapour once you gas things up. Vibrations are just on the cusp of getting unleashed after firing the engine up and barge into the scene, staying there like an irritating tenant. The 249cc, inline-twin engine that puts down 17.4HP @ 8000rpm and 17nm @ 60000rpm, is a whole different experience. It never settles into a rhythm, always showing restlessness even under constant throttle. Give it some revs and it feels like you have awaken a whole swarm of wasps as the SRC 250 starts sounding like an autorickshaw and it does a better job at that as compared to a KTM. The wasps sting too! Given its light kerb weight of 163kg, the SRC 250 has a sprightly pickup, good midrange and some top end surge as well. The top speed which I saw was somewhere around 115kmph and I didn’t want to push it further because of some very particular reasons. One being the love which I have for my life. This engine could have fallen on the good side of the border, given the performance and character but it is severely brought down by a buzzfest and snatchy fuelling everywhere in the rev range. The engine is harsher than it should have been while the gearbox is smoother than it should have been. You never realize which gear you’re in because there’s no tactile feedback.
The Classic 350 feels almost surreal after riding the SRC 250. The vibrations are kept at bay, only appearing while you’re actually ripping it and the fuelling is close to immaculate as well. But when it comes to outright performance, the SRC 250 legit smoked the Classic 350, given its high-revving engine and low kerb weight. That being said, at least the Classic 350 doesn’t feel like it is going to drop some CCs on the streets in protest.
The SRC 250 is one nimble motorcycle as its front end is reactive and the tyres grip well too. The setup inspires enough confidence to have some fun with it when the corners arrive. On the other hand, straightline stability is when the gaping holes become wider because the SRC 250 is far from being sure footed. It waddles a lot over small and frequent undulations, egging you to clinch the motorcycle tight with your legs and take it slow. Above 90kmph is when the wobbles start feeling a lot more threatening. It gets telescopic forks up front and coil springs at the back. The setup soaks big bumps well and helps the motorcycle maintain its composure while taking corners. But frequent bumps tend to unsettle the SRC 250 a little too quickly… and violently. Same can be said about the braking setup as well because it doesn’t inspire that much confidence either so you’re always left wanting for more. Wanting for more refinement, stability and braking on offer. While the front brake (300mm) lacks bite and feedback both, the rear brake is the performer out of the two as it has a good bite. Overall, the braking performance on offer only feels adequate at best. At least there’s something that both these motorcycles share.
The Classic 350 almost feels a little too burly as compared to the SRC 250. It requires more efforts in doing everything so be it tight U-turns or cornering, the Classic 350 finds itself on the heavier side of things. That being said, the suspension setup of the Classic 350 goes well with the intent with which it was built. It gobbles up potholes and undulations like a hungry predator. Around twisties, I have every reason to believe that it is the SRC 250 which will come out winning… and rattling.
The SRC 250 is a slightly unique proposition which also brings a different riding experience on the table but understand this fact, this is India and the competition is cutthroat to say the least. Even more so in the segment in which the SRC 250 will find itself. The SRC 250 is the cheapest twin-cylinder motorcycle that you can get in the country. On paper, it sounds like a huge promise but in reality, the promise seems unachievable. When you factor in the cheaper alternatives like the Jawasa, Yezdis, Royal Enfields or even Hondas for that matter, it becomes even harder for the SRC 250 to justify its price tag. And then there’s the lack of after-sales network, which you might need given the build quality. But not everything is negative about the SRC, because it has enjoyable performance and it definitely feels more agile than the Classic 350. But still if I had to describe the SRC 250 in a DoP's language, it's just the first cut without any changes and corrections. Give it some time and it might evolve into something more liveable and durable. For now, I'll just cherish this unique riding experience that I had with the SRC 250.