Review: Bajaj’s 400-CC Dominar’s a ‘Please-All’ Kind of Motorcycle
Ever since Bajaj took the wraps off the Pulsar CS400 concept at the 2014 Auto Expo, I’ve been asked about this motorcycle more than I’ve been asked about when I’m getting married! At 34, that equation sure is surprising!
India’s first home-grown motorcycle to sport all-LED front lights delivered well, and for me, that summed up my first impression of the bike that the entire nation had been waiting for with bated breath – for 3 whole years.
First things first then – Bajaj Auto, take a bow – you’ve built an exceptional motorcycle. But here’s my dilemma with the Bajaj Dominar 400 – I can’t put my finger on why it’s such an exceptional motorcycle, and here’s why. Motorcycles are simple machines (as I always keep saying), but they have extremely strong individual characters.
For example – the KTM Dukes are raspy, the RE Bullets are laid back, the Yamaha R15 is sharp, so on and so forth. When it comes to the Bajaj Dominar though, it’s tough to find one word that truly describes it, and that according to me is a good thing.
The first time I swung a leg over the Dominar on that cold winter morning in Panchgani, it was instantly clear that this was going to be a very likeable machine. The riding position does that to you – it’s neutral – not too aggressive and not too laid back. No matter what you’ve been riding all your life, you’ll be comfortable perched on the Dominar’s 800-mm high seat.
With the foam firm enough to be comfortable over really long distances, soft enough to deal with traffic-laden city stints and wide and long enough to have room to move around in, the Dominar feels like that old living room couch that you’re so used to sitting in everyday.
Fire it up and the bike’s 373cc liquid-cooled single-pot thrums to life in a content big cat’s purr sort of way. Yes, as is the case with the Bajaj Pulsar 200NS, this is essentially an engine derived from the Duke – the 390 in this case.
While power figures are detuned to 35PS as a result of this and many other little changes in the engine, the Dominar never feels under-powered for what it’s supposed to be as a motorcycle.
Then there’s an exactly equal number for the torque figure as well – 35Nm and that helps keep things exciting no matter how you’re riding, which ever gear you’re riding in. All those figures get laid down to tarmac through a 6-speed transmission, slipper clutch and chain drive to the rear wheel.
Upshifts and downshifts are probably the best I’ve seen on any Bajaj motorcycle so far – slick and confident, no matter whether you’re the kind of rider who shifts early or waits all the way to engine-screaming revs.
Now we come to the most juvenile question in motorcycling that everyone asks – is the Dominar 400 fast?
Yes, and no – because ‘fast’ is relative. Yes, it is fast if you’re more used to riding around on 250cc machines or less, obviously. No, it’s not as fast as you feel on your KTM 390 Dukes or 600cc supersports motorcycles, obviously again. Point is, that the Dominar is fast enough for what it’s intended to do – being your everyday motorcycle. The 0-100 km/h sprint is irrelevant for me – what matters is 0-60 when you’re trying to make it ahead of every other bike at a traffic light and the Dominar does that very well.
I managed to see close to 140km/h on NH4 before I had to roll off the throttle, way before the bike showed any signs of losing breath. I really wouldn’t be surprised if it touches 160km/h with a lighter rider and that means a cruising ability of around 120km/h without breaking a sweat and with enough room to accelerate hard further for those overtakes.
What’s even more important is the fact that this motorcycle is so stable at those speeds – even with a whole lot of crosswind. That itself is a function of a lot of things, but the long wheelbase, 182kg kerb weight and its well-balanced distribution play huge roles here. Heat management is superb and the engine really does a great job of transforming this able-tourer into an equally capable, but powerful commuter.
This is one bike that is equally at home on the highway as it is in the hills – changes in direction may require some effort, but not too much and long sweeping corners are as easy as nursery rhymes.
Full Power LED
With four different modes of illumination, the Dominar’s LEDs are truly a revolution. However, they can be a tad confusing to understand too. So here’s how it works:
- With the engine off, the headlamp switch on pilot and the ignition turned to ON, the pilot lamps light up.
- With the engine turned on and the headlamp switch on pilot, the DRLs kick in.
- With the engine on and the headlamp switch ON, either the low beam or the high beam comes on depending on which position the low/high beam switch is in. Simple, effective and very, very bright.
The Dominar’s lights offer enough encouragement for people to move out of your way, and the bike’s weight stays absent while on the move, even if you’re dragging along at single-digit speeds.
The Real Deal?
The Dominar lives up to its reputation – it is a motorcycle that is as calm as you want it to be and has the potential to be as brutal as you’d want to make it too.
Despite the tuning down of its engine, the 35PS-35Nm equation is enough to get you into trouble, but this is also a motorcycle that is just as forgiving too. From many angles, and at passing glances, the Dominar resembles a Pulsar NS a tad too much.
Even from the rear and in the dark, the twin-streak tail lamp design looks too familiar. It’s only when you look closer that a regular person will realise that this is something new, and big. While I wouldn’t call it loveable, I’d definitely put it in the Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde column on my list of motorcycles, which means it exists to appeal to a huge range of buyers.
The Dominar offers enough performance to keep them interested and is comfortable enough as to make them use it every single day without really getting bored out of their skulls.
With the non-ABS version priced at just Rs 1.36 lakh and the ABS one at Rs 1.5 lakh ex-showroom in Delhi, the changes on the Dominar compared to the 390 Duke have also greatly affected the price – making it that much more affordable for everyone looking to get themselves a decent performer.
(Muntaser Mirkar is one of India’s renowned automotive journalists and the Co-Founder of MotorScribes. He can be reached on Twitter: @BullSpeech)