Not inspired enough?’ inquired a concerned soul of me. Within seconds, the question had blown itself out of proportion. It was a monumental question. Was I not inspired enough? On the face of it, I disagreed. I’d had a field day riding the Pulsar on Bajaj’s test track and it was a proper generation jump over the existing Pulsar. However, as I allowed the near-blasphemous thought to settle in, a pattern began to emerge.
Pulsars, by nature, belong to the school of ‘technology’. They aren’t ‘once and for all’ motorcycles and I don’t mean that in an offensive way. Yes, I often wax eloquent (Who is Eloquent? – Anon) about motorcycles that outlast the life of an average male, but Pulsars, in their very design, are meant to be replaced. Every few years, there’s a new Pulsar that begs to be bought, thrashed, sold, on a repeat cycle. In terms of favourites, I’ll pick the first-gen 180 DTS-i for sheer madness, the first-ever for absolute novelty, and the now-defunct 200 for being a balanced, exciting motorcycle. Iconic, each one of them, on the map of Indian motorcycling and all in the enthusiastic mould, but I’d still be hard pressed to say I’m inspired by any of these motorcycles.
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So I’ll simply accept the fact that Pulsars aren’t meant to inspire. They are motorcycles, and they like to be ridden hard. Yes, Pulsars have a smaller lifespan than their equivalents but then the upgrade interval is also that much shorter, so it’s justified. You wouldn’t argue with Apple Inc for introducing iPhone after iPhone, relentlessly making each of the outgoing models feel utterly, utterly useless, right? It’s a step forward, and that must always be appreciated.
The Pulsar 200NS, while being a ground-up redesign on the aesthetic and mechanical front, is the perfect evolution of the previous Pulsar 200, from which it borrows heavily in terms of its basic outline. While, on the technological front, it would be fair to casually tag it as a ‘KTM Pulsar’, in essence it is everything the Pulsar 200 was, only better. No ‘premium’ or ‘niche’ pretexts, though. It’s out there to get you, and you better be guarded. Or like me, you can...
127 kph, gunning down the straight into the left-hander – the banking section – braking just a bit, and then a lot, making an absolute mess of anything that can be called a ‘racing line’. Went right on the inside (the lowest bit), brushed some shrubs with my virgin knee sliders and saw another rider pass me on the outside much, much faster. Right, deep breath, and on to the main straight, wringing the throttle’s neck, settled in a perfect racing crouch, reaching 135 kph with a little more to go. The fastest Indian this is not, but the rate at which it chewed up the first three gears was alarming.
To rewind a bit, the Pulsar fires up on a refined, borderline-bassy note. Nice. It spells Pulsar, alright, but in a more refined sort of way. I swung a leg over and settled ‘into’ the bike. It appears tallish, but once you’re aboard, doesn’t feel so. Good, because
top-heavy streetfighters stink! The riding position is comfy, forward-set, but not a wrist killer. A smooth shift into first, second passes by in a blur and then into third and you’re making good progress, in the meat of the powerband. Gear three is often a decider on whether a motorcycle is a handy commuter or not, and the Pulsar scores high on this count. Fourth and fifth sweep up the rest of the power cleanly and, for the first time ever on a Pulsar, you have a sixth gear to slot into. With a pillion on board, the Pulsar pulls cleanly, if not rapidly, from around 35 kph in sixth – and that’s commendable!
Nought to sixty is not an entity on the Pulsar 200NS. It’s not something you ask – you’re there before you can say 3.61. And 100 kph comes up in 9.83 seconds, eventually reaching an indicated top speed of 136 kph. However, beyond all the quick acceleration, the underlying context is that of effortlessness. It’s quick, rapid but won’t peel the skin off your face. At no point does the 200NS feel stressed, helping which is that typically-Pulsar light throttle action. The four-valve, triple-spark (more on that in the following pages) 199.5cc motor produces 23.1 bhp@9500 rpm and 1.86 kgm of torque at 8000 rpm. Also, unlike its KTM cousin, the 200NS employs a carburettor rather than fuel-injection. And while this may be part of keeping the eventual price tag low, I don’t think the Pulsar misses fuel injection in any way. Also adding to the package is the tried and tested ExhausTEC (short for ‘torque expansion chamber’) unit, which is more effective on the 200NS than it has been on any other Bajaj previously. The 200NS, I believe, has the low-end that the R15 misses and the top-end serenity that no other Pulsar has. Hence, having borrowed from two spectacular performers, the Pulsar has the right bits to make quick work of traffic, will up the tempo on the Sunday ride, while convincingly handing out the option of cruising in sixth, fuel-efficiently, to work and back.
Now on to my favourite bit – the handling. Ex-BSMer Kartik tells me the 220F is a dog to throw into corners, although once you’re in, it feels absolutely poised. The 200NS is the opposite. You need no aggression to throw it in at all. It feels light, and if you’re iron-fisted, you’ll shake up the bike a bit more than its (and your) comfort zone. Leaned over at speeds in excess of 120 kph, the Pulsar was confident and in no way suggesting anything unpleasant. Yes, mid-corner corrections need to be executed gently, because it responds in a rather unfiltered, ‘drive-by-wire’ sort of way – which is also a bit surprising, since at 1363 mm, the 200NS has the longest wheelbase on any Pulsar yet (the 220F is 13 mm down). The pressed steel perimeter frame, a Pulsar (and Bajaj) first, lends urgency and agility to the bike. And while I’ve safely ducked ‘fastest?’, ‘finest?’ questions until now, I am happy to report, the 200NS is the best handling Pulsar ever. However, there is scope for improvement on one count – the Eurogrip tyres. While the 200NS is shod with a 100/80 R17 up front and a 130/70 R17 at the rear, both tubeless, and perfect-spec for the bike’s dimensions, the tyre compound isn’t as soft as we’d have liked. This means that while the Pulsar isn’t short on grip, it doesn’t communicate as evenly as, say, the power delivery of the motorcycle. With a softer compound, the Pulsar will definitely add more confidence to the handling circus, although Bajaj may have a price point backing this step-back.
The suspension is tuned on the stiffer side and while this is always a good thing on a flat, fast surface, I’m not sure what it’ll translate to on the road you and I take to work. The front forks are 37 mm in diameter, same as on the current flagship Pulsar, and at the rear is another Pulsar (and Bajaj) first – a monoshock. With a Nitrox badged piggyback gas canister, the monoshock unit works in favour of the Pulsar’s agility, although over whatever little topographical irregularities I could find on Bajaj’s test track, the rear did seem to come across as less of a softie. You’ll appreciate it if you belong to the throttle wide open school of riding, though. Also, the 280 mm disc up front demands no entry in the complaint book, and while the 230 mm disc at the rear is equally effective, being coupled with hard-ish tyres means it warrants a fair amount of tyre squeal under pressure.
However, I don’t think this will reflect particularly strongly unless it’s a track-only purchase. On my commute, for example, I think the Pulsar is going to be a spectacular performer. Oh, and the ‘s’ word reminds me, (or do I even have to tell you?) the Pulsar is spectacular and how! I won’t say whether it is the best looking motorcycle in the country, because a) I think the KTM Duke 200 is and b) looks are subjective, but it is definitely the most striking Indian motorcycle, comprehensively so, ever. The headlamps, the panels, the various lamps – all are a drastic evolution of the Pulsars that have been and there is freshness to the design that will appeal to Pulsar loyalists, just as much as it will to someone who has never seen a Pulsar before. The headlamp unit is very CB 1000-ish and works for the overall aggressive design and the tank and its extensions (and the many minute details spread across the motorcycle) aren’t all that difficult to read as they might have appeared in the first pictures that were released on the Internet. Sure enough, the 200NS too, like all other Pulsars, will bear the counter-effects of its popularity – becoming too common a motorcycle for the design to stand out - but I’ll take the liberty of guessing it will uphold its design flair much stronger than its predecessors.
THE LAST WORD
A good motorcycle will sell in good numbers. Rajiv Bajaj’s vision of turning the Pulsar into a brand, devoid of any Bajaj labels, sounded pompous at first but I guess he’s picked the right line. With the Pulsar 200NS, Bajaj has managed to evolve the bike as a brand, and as a motorcycle per se, and as an end result, delivered a motorcycle that is excellent on almost every count. Okay, I don’t like the way the plastics around the speedo console feel and being prototypes, fit and finish wasn’t the best Bajaj has done, but that will surely be ironed out when the 200NS goes on sale by June. Bajaj has made it clear that it will wear a price tag of under a lakh, hence under-cutting every other similarly specced motorcycle currently on sale. So should you buy one over the KTM? Well, I suppose not if you’ve hung around in the premium segment too long already, in which case your gloves deserve the quality and feel of the Duke, apart from the badge value. But if you want an all-round fast motorcycle, with enough kit (and prod) to be able to brag your way out of the bar, the Pulsar 200NS could very well be your next motorcycle.
WHAT'S IT LIKE IN THE REAL WORLD, THEN?
Here's how the new Bajaj 200NS fares in the battle zone that we call the great Indian road.
I'll let the numbers do the talking. It goes from 0-60 kph in 4.8 seconds, while the tonne comes in at an early 11.9 seconds. With an indicated 136 kph and much more to go, the NS certainly loves to make those three spark plugs earn their keep.
What the numbers cannot convey is the way the Pulsar puts its power to the rear wheel. Its motor likes to make its power in a very linear fashion, and utilising those 23.17 horses are akin to a nicely stacked club sandwich – there's plenty of meat all through.
Then there's the free-revving nature of the engine. Although the tacho informs you that the redline begins at 10,000 rpm, the NS’ limiter only kicks in at 11,000 rpm. You'll also be happy to know that the bike will go at 35 kph in top gear, while also cruising effortlessly at an indicated 100 kph at a mere 6500 rpm.
The six-speed drum selector gearbox is the most effortless one that I have ever seen on a Bajaj motorcycle – a mere tap on the lever is all that it takes to shift to another gear.Gone are the days when going through the gears on a Pulsar was like a heavyweight boxing match.
The road begins to curve, and I'm wondering what sort of theatrics the NS will display. I'm doing close to 120 kph and I pick my line. I approach, shift my weight, dip the motorcycle and as if by a miracle, the NS does the rest. It holds its line near-perfectly, with just a minuscule hint of rear skip. That perimeter frame, coupled with the taut-ish suspension actually does wonders, I discover. Although the Eurogrip tyres are quite good, they aren't quite in the league of the soft rubber that's on the KTM Duke. So if you're buying a NS, you now know what to do the first thing after delivery.
With the Duke 200, quickly changing direction needs some heft, but the NS is much lighter to flick about through traffic, despite its comparatively long wheelbase of 1363 mm. All the makings of a fantastic city slicker, then.
The Pulsar's brakes are top notch stoppers. The 280 mm front disc sends a good amount of feel back to the lever and is very progressive in nature. The rear brake, a 230 mm disc, is a good worker too, always willing to aid you to stop in your tracks. Quite frankly, this was only to be expected, judging from the fact the brakes have been sourced from ByBre.
Even on broken roads, the Pulsar seems planted and you can feel the wheels tracking true on the surface, planted and sure-footed. The suspension does a good job in soaking up the bumps without jarring or seeming too mushy. It amazes me how well Bajaj engineers have tuned the suspension, managing a good amount of compromise between tarmac and off-road conditions.
Then, this isn't a mere step up like the 220 was to the 200. No sir! Instead, the NS has taken the high speed elevator upwards in terms of upgradation. No Pulsar has been this potent, this sinister or this perfect. What's more, this is only the beginning! - Kyle Pereira