2011 Altius Scimitar Review
Going on a Diesel Diet
The Altius Scimitar is a diesel-powered dual-sport motorcycle based on a Kawasaki KLR650 platform, and it boasts proven credentials as a US combat comrade. Can victory on the front-line help this rugged, soon-to-be-made-in-India motorcycle gain favor on US roads?
Altius Automotive Technologies is a new Private Limited company based in India, spearheaded by former Hyundai Motor India chief, BVR Subbu. Altius is in partnership with California’s Hayes Diversified Technologies (HDT) to manufacture engines that sip on various fuels, including diesel, at their new manufacturing plant located at Chennai, India.
HDT is no spring chicken, the technology leaders for lightweight gas and heavy fuel/diesel-powered engines, they supply motorcycles to the US armed forces since 1982 when NATO began converting vehicles to operate on one standard fuel, Jet Propellant 8 or JP8.
Altius plans to begin by manufacturing 400-700cc multi-fuel motorcycle engines, which are also used for other applications such as power generation and construction. Altius will start production in early 2012, aiming for a high percentage of indigenization from the word go.
Ice broken and details dispensed with, let’s grab the handlebar of its first motorcycle, the 670cc on/off road Scimitar – christened after a lethal, thin and curved South Asian, Middle Eastern sword – to tell you how this unique motorcycle rides.
Based on the proven Kawasaki KLR650 platform, a Scimitar looks like any multipurpose, on/off-road motorcycle, standing proud and tall on long-travel suspension with a broad, floppy mudguard high over its front wheel.
A sturdy bash bar wraps around the handlebar to protect the controls in the event of a crash. The Scimitar comes with solid feeling switches, nice levers and comfortable palm grips. Its compact, illuminated speedometer can be read in a choice of kph or mph and includes a bar-type tachometer, odometer, trip-meter and engine temperature gauge.
Everything on the Scimitar feels built to last, including its large rotation-molded plastic fuel tank, side and tail cowls. And as if the engine doesn’t already sit high enough, a solid drilled metal plate guards its sump. There’s the option of a heavy-duty pannier attachment and seating for a pillion.
On to the interesting bit, HDT’s fourth-generation heavy fuel motorcycle engine that powers the Scimitar. All NATO and US military machines, from power generators to stealth bombers, run on JP8, simplifying fuel supply logistics. On road, this becomes one of few motorcycles to sip on diesel – or your choice of JP8, JP5, JP4, AVTUR, JET-A1, even Biodiesel thanks to multi-fuel technology.
The Scimitar’s 670cc, single-cylinder engine runs liquid-cooled, breathing through a triple-stage foam air filter element. It’s a four-stroke, wet-sump unit relying on indirect injection (IDI) of heavy fuel. You get 39.0 ft-lb of torque produced low at 3300 rpm.
You may be surprised to hear the Scimitar sounding close to any other big-single, perhaps slightly louder. No, it’s never refined, but still runs without much of the bothersome clatter you would expect from a diesel.
Twenty minutes in the saddle, however, confirm this is no petrol bike. The engine feels ‘heavier,’ taking its time to build revs and with tardy but predictable throttle response that takes some time coming to terms with. Acceleration and performance somehow felt disappointingly sluggish for a 670cc, 33-hp motorcycle, but the Scimitar pulls with steady perseverance, and its power feeds through in a stout, linear wave. The Scimitar is never going to be your bike of choice at the drag-strip, only offering a decent measure of smoothness as long as you don’t gas too hard, for doing so sends unpleasant vibes to the rider.
The gearbox is a conventionally toe-shifted five-speed unit, operating in a one-down, four-up configuration. Clutch feel is positive, surprisingly light and well weighted, and gears shift smoothly after you learn when to time each shift. The gear ratios, however, seem too closely packed, and we’d also have to wait before we can confirm the company’s claimed 93-mph top speed, which the Scimitar didn’t quite feel up to.
The Scimitar is big, a single downtube reaching downwards from its headstock to grab the engine, this supported from below by a sturdy cradle. The rest of the frame is high-tensile steel, with a removable rear section. Up front is a rubber-protected, long-travel fork, supported at the rear by a multi-link, adjustable rear monoshock. Needle bearings support the swingarm pivots. Alloy rims are held together by tough wire-spokes, and the Scimitar uses petal-type disc brakes at front and rear.
A rider sits comfortably upright, but this is not a motorcycle for short people, as even my six-foot plus frame strained to keep both feet planted on the floor, despite Altius having grooved the otherwise flat saddle on my test bike. It’s this and the wide handlebar that provide a welcome commanding feel and nice leverage on the go, when the motorcycle feels light and steers with ease.
The suspension felt stiff on our test bike, although our ride was too brief to pass concrete judgment on ride quality. The Scimitar’s dual-purpose on/off-road knobby tires offer tenacious grip on the dirt but lacked confidence when cornering on tarmac, something Altius needs to consider, as civilian users need a bike they can also use on-road as well. Adventurers will be happy to hear the Scimitar is capable of wading through two feet of water. The brakes feel adequate.
Altius claims the Scimitar is good for 110 mpg when ridden at a constant 55 mph, but we would be satisfied were it to return 60 mpg at routine speeds.
Several questions remain. What engine alterations are required before the Scimitar meets emission norms, and how much will these affect performance? How well built and reliable will an Indian made Scimitar be? Will Altius provide its bikes good retail and service backup as well as adequate quality, all of which could not be more essential?
At the outset, however, the tough-as-nails Scimitar does have great potential for India, as well as export markets such as the U.S. Altius has indicated a truly attractive price ($3360 to $3920) for its really unique motorcycle in India. Rural markets around the world could surely do with a solid, fuel-friendly motorcycle like this. And we can think of several urban buyers who would like one to stash one away at their ranch as quick local transportation and for the odd shopping trip.
Good potential and good pricing, there’s certainly more to look forward to from this quarter. It could be just a short while before you start seeing these Indo-U.S.-built motorcycles on American roads.
|Altius Scimitar Specs|
|Price (Ex-showroom, India)||150,000 to 175,000 Rupees (approx. US$3360 to $3920)|
|Curb Weight||388 lbs|
|Engine||Single-cylinder, liquid-cooled, four-stroke, indirect injection (IDI), diesel|
|Power||33 hp at 5700 rpm|
|Torque||39.1 ft.-lbs at 3300 rpm|
|Front suspension||Telescopic fork|
|Rear suspension||Linked monoshock|
|Front brake||280mm petal disc|
|Rear brake||240mm petal disc|
|Tires (front-rear)||Dual purpose 90/90 x 21; 120/90 x 17 inches|