Back when the onslaught of new, better-looking 4-stroke motorcycles and the use of stringent emission norms made the simpler, more evocative 2-stroke bikes wither away, the bike enthusiast showed his keen will to adopt something that’s larger than a 100cc commuter but smaller than a heavyweight (in Indian reference, of course), say, something like the Royal Enfield 350 – Machismo or Standard. And then came the Pulsar, in two flavours – a 180cc followed by a slightly less powerful 150cc engine version. It reigned, overshadowing its competitors and even vehicles from a segment above and below it. Now, 14 years hence, it still continues to do so. We take a look at how the segment has changed, and how the segment leader evolved, especially with the presence of the 200NS and a multitude of versions based on it.
To start with, the current Bajaj Pulsar 200NS is what the doctor (no Valentino Rossi reference here, mind!) ordered, for the 180cc segment. In comparison to the older and ertswhile models (DTS-i and multiple UG versions), it’s not only an improvement, it has successfully proved to be the base for the next generation of Pulsars.
The 200NS was launched in 2012, a few months after the KTM Duke (KTM, the Austrian company, is also a part of Bajaj’s stable – with the Indian bike major having a 48% stake in the company) was introduced. Since then, amidst hugely competitive rivals, the 200NS has made a mark for itself. While nowhere as omnipresent as the previous Pulsars, the 200NS is a much more rounded product.
The 23.5PS, 18.3Nm producing triple-spark 200cc engine offers a linear power delivery, with the kind of refinement that might make one wonder whether it’s a Honda powerplant fitted in the 200NS. It comes mated to a 6-speed gearbox, which again, feels like a huge improvement over previous units.
The chassis (in conjunction with the suspension setup – monoshock at the rear and conventional forks up front), unlike the Pulsars of the fore, endows it with better cornering skills, easier turn in, and makes the bike more nible, as a result. In terms of looks, the naked bike is easily better styled than previous Pulsars but isn’t as ‘look at me’ as the KTM Duke.
Talking of looks, much like how the Duke has spawned two variants – the naked Duke and the fully-faired RC – the NS Is now the base for a couple of new Pulsars. Sitting in the exact same price bracket is the Pulsar AS200, a semi-faired tourer, which offers better wind-protection (obviously) and better lighting (projector headlamp’s standard affair) than the NS. And in doing so, it proves to be the spiritual successor to the hugely respected Pulsar 220. There’s also a new AS150, which uses a twin-spark engine, slightly thinner tyres, and smaller discs, but gets all the benefits (chassis, suspension, projector headlamps, dual disc brakes) as the 200cc version. The 149.5cc engine makes 17PS and 13Nm while the 199.5cc unit makes identical power and torque figures as the 200NS - 23.5PS and 18.3Nm.
Moving up the range, and we have Bajaj’s only fully faired bike on sale at the moment – the Pulsar RS200. With the adoption of fuel injection – Bajaj’s previous attempt with the Pulsar 220DTS-Fi didn’t go as planned – the RS200 makes 24.5PS and 18.6 Nm, both figures showing an improvement over the 200NS. And while Bajaj has kept the tyre size identical, the brake discs are bigger, and the looks meaner – thanks to the twin projector headlamp up front, mainly.
With these set, Bajaj Auto is also reported to be looking at introducing an Avenger with the same engine, and of course, a smaller 150cc version of the NS. There will also be larger, 400cc offerings in the segment, as given the huge success that the KTM Duke 390 and RC390 twins enjoy, Bajaj isn’t likely to leave a stone unturned there, too.
Drawing comparisons, it’s clear that the 200NS is what the 180 DTS-I was, around 10 years ago. It was aspiring, had enough power to satisfy the tourer in you without having to compromise on commuting abilities, and could be serviced across any Bajaj dealership across the country. And while the KTMs have overshadowed the 200NS, and the RS and AS range of bikes might continue to do so, it’s the 200NS that still hits the sweet spot in Bajaj’s range.
Eariler, Bajaj’s range consisted of bikes of the same style but with with increasing capacities – the 135LS was slightly different, but the 150DTS-i, the 180DTS-i, the erstwhile 200DTS-I, and the 220 DTS-i belonged to the same category albeit with different engine capacities. But now, both the market and brand seems to have matured. The bikes, if you notice, might be based on the same platform (and most offer the same engine) but they belong to different genres now, catering to a wider base of bikers.
Motorcycling, both as passion as well as the market, is growing, and with new models coming at an unprecedented pace, the competition is bound to increased. But even with all that, Pulsars still look cool, and without compromising the slightly commuter-friendly approach, treading the fine line between being practical and being boring. And all of it while being sporty!
If that’s not definitely male, then what is?