A guy walks into a bank, covers his finger with a girlie handkerchief and then goes on to extort money from a very mesmerised bank teller. But hey, this guy is no low-life, okay? He's a working class hero, he puts in some change into a droopy kid's piggy bank on the way out with his booty. Walking nonchalantly towards his getaway ride, blissfully uncaring of the arriving police cars (which looked like classic-ish American cars if you ask me), he climbs astride his Bajaj Pulsar 220, and then is gone in the blink of an eye. The 'Fastest Indian' pops on the screen with a font borrowed from the Indiana Jones flick and that's that.
Yeah, so the ad isn't the most politically correct of them all, but neither was the one with the stunting Pulsars which we all liked, admit it. We thought it would be apt to pit the best-there-was with the best-there-is that claims to be. So, we chose to pit the new 220 with the venerable RD 350. Some might cry foul, with the excuse that the RD has twice the number of cylinders and half the number of engine cycles as the Pulsar, but look at it this way – Bajaj claims that this is the 'fastest Indian.' Well, we are guessing that Bajaj wants us to know that the new 220 is the fastest amongst all the bikes currently produced in India and the RD 350 was once manufactured in the country as well, so it fits the bill.
You look at the two and the RD has all the lines of an evocative classic muscle bike. The round headlight, the long tank and the two meter pods lend it the butch silhouette of a Jota – ah, I'd kill to own one of those. The 220 on the other hand, is sharper and knife-like. Extensions give the otherwise bulbous tank a very angular profile that goes quite well with the rear panels of the bike. I'm more inclined towards the RD in the looks department, but that's just me. I'm pretty darn sure that the Pulsar will seem like the better looker to many and the RD's lines would be as exciting to them as slipping one's feet into soggy socks. But being the fastest doesn't necessarily require you to be the best looker. In any case, if you're going like the blazes, people aren't going to see much of you anyway. The RD ruled the roost for more than three decades since it was unleashed onto our roads and there's no wondering why – check out the specifications to draw your own conclusions. Here's a 347cc two-stroke twin pumping out a little more than 30 horses to tug along a mere 143 kg. Compare that with the Pulsar's 220cc four-stroke motor that makes 20.8 bhp which hauls around a whole 152 kg and it will take anyone with the IQ higher than a cauliflower to know that the RD will run circles around the Bajaj. Actual performance figures of the RD 350 are steeped deep in mystery and although claims go as high up as 160 kph, it's more realistic to assume that the top speed of the twin is a smidgen more than 130 kph for the High Torque model. Strapping the Vbox onto a bike that has seen many more summers than I have, and then red lining it in every gear isn't the smartest of ideas, really. But the Pulsar was subjected to all of that, of course, and here are the results: 0-100 kph at 13.8 secs and an achieved top whack of 126.1 kph with the optimistic speedo reading 137 kph.
Yes, the RD was predictably way quicker than the Pulsar. In spite of Kartik gunning the engine and whipping every single horse the Bajaj mill had in its stable, the RD would leave him and the 220 gasping in a cloud of blue haze with a small blip of the throttle. Two-strokes, I tell you..
Plonking the most powerful of engines onto a frame suspended between two wheels isn't the only ingredient required to build a good motorcycle. A bike endowed with the acceleration of a laser beam but the agility of a slug on muscle relaxants is going nowhere. Here's where the Pulsar seems to hold out to the 350. The Pulsar is a better handler than its predecessor (the fuel injected 220) as well as Ol’ Smokey itself. The uber-soft MRF Zappers are light years ahead of the Nylogrip boots on the RD but then again, the RD 350 is a thirty year old machine and the obvious wear and tear on the swing-arm bushes and the like will certainly tell on its handling characteristics. Sigh, how I wish I could walk into a showroom and ride out on a brand new RD...
Bajaj will sell you a brand new Pulsar 220, though. Although it won't go as quick as that 350, it certainly stops better. A disc in your hand is better than two drums in the bush, they say. Despite having half the power cycles of the RD, the Pulsar will, in all probability, be ahead of the stock RD on a track riddled with tight corners – thanks to those discs up front and at the rear. Pull onto the right lever of the Pulsar and the feedback from the 260 mm disc on the front end is amazing. I just wish the 230 mm rear disc did the same, though. The pedal returns as much feel as a slice of bread and feels a little spongy as well but there's no doubt about it's capability to shed some serious speed. Ask even the most ardent of RD lovers about the bike's stoppers and he'll turn pale and start to tremble. It’s as if he's seeing a broken-down lorry bang in the centre of the road that he's charging straight into despite having summoned both the drums with all the urgency he possibly can. So yeah, that about sums the RD's brakes on the whole. The dual clocks on the RD are classic to look at, but the analogue rev-counter blended in with the digital speedo and fuel gauge on the Pulsar are brilliant. With regard to the switchgear, the Pulsar's buttons light up when you turn on the lights. Although that's kind of cool, I can't quite get logic behind it. If you're riding in the dark and you need to look down onto the handle bar to make out the horn switch from the indicators, you shouldn’t be riding the bike in the first place - it's dangerous and point blank stupid. The self-cancelling signals of the Pulsar take some getting used to but I wish all bikes came with those. Now that is a thoughtful touch, not switchgear that's lit up for Christmas.
On the whole, the new 220 has a lot to be proud about. Bajaj has done wonders with the new Pulsar, so much so that it's a significant step up from the older 220. It goes faster, handles better and the clincher is the fact that it’s cheaper as well. The build quality seems better but the gearbox is a big letdown. It just wouldn't go into neutral and kept fooling me into believing that the cog had shifted when it hadn't. Last month, the bikes that Kartik and I had ridden at the company's test track in Pune had far slicker gearboxes and so this niggle could very well be a one-off thing with the bike I tested.
The Pulsar 220 is a great buy for everybody who wants a bike that can commute effortlessly and tour tirelessly as well as scrape the sliders on occasional track-day shindigs. The build quality is pretty decent and the bike should hold out to most normal riding abuse. And for anybody else who's out to hit a bank, pay no heed to what the 'creative dramatisation' of the advertisement on the telly might tell you, go get an RD!