New Delhi: There is much that catches the eye in the 1985 Hero Honda CD 100 bike commercial — a wonderfully uncrowded India Gate in Delhi, a young, dapper Salman Khan in a tie, yet to make his Bollywood debut with the 1988 film Biwi Ho To Aisi, or hit stardom with Maine Pyar Kiya the following year, and of course the bike, “the finest-looking bike in town” as claimed by Khan in the commercial.
The ad narrative was simple enough, Salman and another model, riding around town, impressing the girls, all the while singing praise of their Hero Honda CD 100, “The finest bike you ever saw. Just one look is all it takes,” says one, as the other chimes in “I ride it, I pride it.”
May be the bike’s look did work its magic, or probably it was just the way it functioned, but Hero Honda CD 100 indeed was the bike many rode with pride during those days. The bike ticked all the boxes that most young bikers would consider — it looked good, it was considered fuel-efficient and affordable.
No wonder then, that even today many on social media recall the Hero Honda CD 100 to have been their first bike, and one that remains close to their hearts even decades after its launch and eventual phase out in 2004.
The Hero Honda CD 100 took India’s two-wheeler market by storm and ruled the roads for at least two decades. It laid down the foundation of the success story of the Hero Honda two-wheelers, launched as a joint venture between the New Delhi based Hero Group and Japan’s Honda Motor Co.
In 2001, Hero Honda became the largest selling two-wheeler manufacturer in India, thanks to CD 100’s successor Splendor, launched in 1994, which grew to become the world’s largest selling motorcycle in 2000. In 2002, the company became the largest two-wheeler seller in the world, before the Hero Honda joint venture, which had started in 1983, ended in 2010.
A bike known for many firsts
The Hero Honda CD 100 had to its credit many firsts. When it was launched in 1985, the CD 100 was India’s first bike with four-stroke engine that could give an average mileage of 81.7 km per litre, while delivering a top speed of 87km per hour.
“At one given time almost everyone in India who owned a bike had this”, a Twitter user commented on a photo of the CD 100, shared on the microblogging site in 2020. “Honda” was to a bike what ‘Activa’ is to a scooter now,” he added.
At one given time almost everyone in India who owned a bike had this… “Honda” was to a bike what “activa” is to a scooter now
— Nirav Akshay Oza (@NiravAkshay) March 24, 2020
With the catchy tagline “Fill it, Shut it and Forget it”, the ad campaign aimed to highlight and capitalise on the bike’s capacity to achieve “milestone in mileage”, recalled an article published in the magazine Down To Earth in 2001.
“Mileage was framed and cleverly presented in this campaign. Instead of using numbers, such as kilometers and litres, they only drew focus on attaining peace of mind, to showcase the benefit of unbeatable mileage,” said Satish Pai, a doctoral student in marketing at IIM-Kozhikode.
Many recall that it was the company’s focus on mileage and fuel efficiency that made the CD 100 stand out among rivals such as Yamaha’s two-stroke motorcycles, the Yamaha RX 100 and Yamaha RD 350, and the Kawasaki Bajaj RTZ, although in terms of speed the CD 100 was much behind the other three.
“The 4 strokes in the CD gave more mileage. A lot in fact — 87 km/litre with 8.5 bhp,” recalls Dipesh D. Sharma, a baker based in Noida, whose uncle owned a CD 100. “The RD 350, meanwhile, was a twin cylinder two-stroke 350 cc bike, which was one of the fastest bikes in the world at that time,” he claimed.
One of the factor that helped make the CD 100 fuel efficient was the fact that it reportedly weighed the least among all four-stroke bikes of the time.
It would seem the manufacturers knew the market, or at least its target buyers well — comfortable, durable bikes were the lifelines of the middle-class officer-goer in the ’80s.
“Looking into the rear view mirror today, the choice of a four-stroke bike in the 1980s may sound providential, but we knew that buying a product is one thing and running it for a long time quite another. That is why we wanted the running cost of our vehicle to be low”, Brijmohan Lall Munjal, the founder of the Hero group was quoted as saying in an interview to India Today in 2001.
The commercial too was aimed to target this young, middle class market. But in hindsight some feel the packaging and communication could have been better.
“The two characters in the advertisement, called Sunny and Bunty, were about addressing two different segments of bike riders: formal office goers as well as leisure riders. But in my honest opinion, it was a rather poor attempt as this did not come out as cleverly and was only communicated through the dressing styles of the two actors — while one wore a suit and tie, another was dressed in a T-shirt,” said Pai.
The language of the ad too could have worked against it, he felt.
“The ad was made in English, which may not have been the language of choice for the target audience. Bajaj’s ‘Hamara Bajaj’ campaign was a refreshing change and had a better connect because of the use of Hindi,” reasoned Pai.
A print edition of the Salman Khan ad claimed — “Sunny insists that his red bike is the finest looking bike in town. Bunty feels his Hero Honda easily commands more attention (especially with the girls in his colony). But we can’t really blame the two. It is so easy to be fiercely proud of your Hero Honda that you’d never let another bike steal the show — even if the other bike is also a Hero Honda CD 100 — What a bike!”
Whatever be the success level of the ad in the ’80s, there is no denying that both the bike and the ad enjoy major recall on Instagram today, in part perhaps for Salman’s presence. The actor may not have been a known face then, but today the commercial has major throwback value for his fans, with one commenting, “Bhai always handsome” and another adding he is “still a legend”.
But as then, the bike still enjoys prime focus.
One of the comments about the bike on Instagram recalled, “This was my Dad’s first bike which he bought from his savings back in 1990s (sic) so many memories!”.
Another user commented, “I still have it in running condition, 24 years old!”, while a third wrote, “My Dad still ride one….35years and counting”.
(This article has been updated to reflect a change in one of the company names.)