First ride: New Bajaj Pulsar 200 NS
Within the first few minutes you will clearly know that you are on a vastly improved machine with the new Pulsar.
What is common to the Duke 200 and the Pulsar 200 NS?
Think of the 200cc engine as a platform for clarity. Bajaj say the gearbox and the crankshaft are virtually identical but from there on the two engines take different paths. It's sort of like how the Volkswagen group uses the same engine across brands. But instead of the same engine in both the Duke and the Pulsar, the top of the engine is different. It's a big difference, one that clearly defines the different roles that the two motorcycles are supposed to take on.
The Pulsar engine has a pent roof combustion chamber which allows Bajaj to plug in three spark plugs, four valves and a single camshaft into the engine. The centre plug is the primary, mounted in an inclined manner but entering the chamber at the top-centre. The other two are mounted below, diametrically opposite each other, with one of them vertically underneath the master. The slaves fire a bit after the master and the ECU varies the timing of the master and the slaves depending on the load, throttle opening and engine revs as usual.
Bajaj say the biggest benefit of the three plugs lies in part-throttle and low-rev riding where the economy is excellent, Bajaj say as much as 10-13kmpl more than the KTM is possible in similar conditions at low speeds. The difference is less significant higher revs.
What is the Pulsar engine like to ride?
KTM comparisons aside, within the first few minutes you will clearly know that you are on a vastly improved machine with the new Pulsar. The refinement on offer is excellent, the engine revs freely as usual, gets to its 10,800rpm redline without fuss and is generally a mechanically happy sounding engine. It's matched well to a six-speed gearbox which offers longer gears than the KTM which makes for a less frenetic, more street-friendly platform. This calmness and performance (the Pulsar claims to be, and feels, only marginally slower than the Duke) is the big difference in the engine from the KTM. The gearbox is also vastly better in the feel to the previous Pulsars and shifts are neither too light nor notchy. Slick, positive shifts make you quickly forget the gearbox and get on with riding.
Ride and handling?
The ride quality is probably going to be stiff but it's hard to tell at the Bajaj Chakan plant track where we rode the motorcycle. Handing on the other hand is eye-opening. Gone is the long, slow-turning feel of the old Pulsar and in comes a new weightless and agile feel that keeps the stability intact but speeds up response to inputs noticeably. The bike seems to drop to lean angles without any hesitation, almost too quickly and feels nearly weightless in direction changes. The KTM is similar and to Bajaj's credit you cannot really feel the extra weight. The riding positing is spacious, almost too spacious I think, which means riders of all sizes and statures should be comfortable on the motorcycle. Brakes as usual are excellent, though the Pulsar does not receive the braided hoses of the KTM.
What I did notice was that the stiff, light frame and the smooth power make the tyres feel a bit hard, especially since the motorcycles I've ridden recently - the R15 for instance - have significantly softer compound tyres. Bajaj say they are aware of the potential of the chassis with softer rubber, but are also convinced that most customers won't be interested in paying the premium for this rubber and thus, softer rubber will be available at the showrooms as an optional extra.
Does it look good?
I think it does. This is a busy design and there are a lot of lines, planes and slashes on it. But some of the roundedness of the old Pulsar is there, a lot more definition is visible in the lines and it's a distinctive, extroverted design to be sure. Our bike being a pre-pilot model (one generation before the set that is used for actual production quality fine-tuning), there were rough edges, some places where you could spot masking issues with the paint and stuff, but this is no indicator of the final quality which I expect will be better than class par without a doubt.
Availability and price?
Bajaj have said earlier that the motorcycle should see light of day in April and that the price will be under Rs 1 lakh. No further information has been revealed at this point.