The Bajaj Dominar 400 has this charm which will either make you love it when you first see it, or fall for it when you ride it. I belong to the latter category of people and fell for it when I rode it recently in and around Panchgani.
Now when we first saw this bike, it was badged as a Pulsar CS400 at the 2014 Delhi Auto Expo. Back then it was loaded with upside down forks up front, a DOHC mill, an aluminium die cast, lightweight swingarm, LED headlamps and taillamps and dual instrumentation. The latter two draws obvious inspirations from the only other power cruiser in the market, the Ducati Diavel, a connection which Bajaj does not deny entirely but the Bajaj is a completely different animal in comparison to the belt driven Italian beastie.
It aims to be an everyday ride for the mass market Indians despite the fact that the Bajaj Dominar 400 price starting at INR 1.36 lakhs (ex-showroom, Delhi). Bajaj wants you take the Dominar 400 to work every day and that’s something which will not be a problem. Yes, the machine’s heavy 182 kg kerb weight may sound like a lot on paper but that did not stop me from flicking the bike like a cat on the busy streets of Panchgani, which despite being a small hill station had heavy traffic crawling in its narrow streets.
Design and Ergonomics
When you look at the Bajaj Dominar 400, it is easy to see that the motorcycle has been designed with a purpose in mind. Yes, it does promise to give you the comfort level of a traditional cruiser but the sporty factor of a street naked isn’t left very far behind. The footpegs are slightly rear set giving the rider an upright yet sporty stance, perfect for acing that corner. And as the Dominar 400 images suggest, it looks equally attractive in flesh.
The Bajaj Dominar 400 design language has been inspired from the lions of the Gir forest. Right from the stubby head comprising of the beautiful LED layout to the curved back with the fuel tank and the seat and ending with a light tail the Dominar 400 speaks of elegance. The fit and finish is premium. In fact, it would not be wrong to say that the Dominar 400 is not just the most powerful product by Bajaj, but also their best-built machine.
The big tank though can store 13 litre of fuel which might not be an ideal figure for touring enthusiasts. In fact, I would have liked the Bajaj Dominar 400 mileage to stretch to at least 450-500 km. The centre of gravity sits just at the right point, neither too low nor too high. Perfect for everyday riding as well as weekend rides. The paint finish is also pretty good and gets three coats with chip resistance. The glossy finish adds to the high-quality look. The seat cover has been made from materials imported from Germany and prevent the rider from sliding. The tank curves help to perfectly wrap your legs around the tank.
Availability of the Bajaj Dominar 400 colours include three options, Midnight Blue, Twilight Plum and Moon White.
Engine and Performance
Okay, time for some numbers. The Bajaj Dominar 400 is powered by a 373.3 cc liquid cooled, closed fuel injection mill. Yes it is based on the KTM Duke 390 but it has been given Bajaj’s patented triple spark treatment. During the product presentation, Bajaj was quick to point out that only the engine base has been borrowed from the KTM, while the rest of the powertrain, including the piston and the counter balancer shaft, were developed for the motorcycle.
The Bajaj Dominar 400 specifications too are reduced when compared to the Duke 390. Coupled to a 6-speed gearbox, the Bajaj Dominar 400 engine is capable of producing 35 PS of maximum power and 35 Nm of peak torque. The figures have been kept equal to give a balance of performance. Sounds good on paper right? But how does it perform in the real world?
While acceleration is not supersonic but she does know when to pick up her skirt and sprint. And that she does pretty well. The throttle response is immediate and there is no lag. Overtaking a car while you are cruising leisurely at 70 just needs a downshift and a twist of the wrist. Unlike the brute hooliganism in the Duke 390, the Bajaj Dominar 400 possess a sense of maturity and provides a linear and gradual rise in pace.
High cogs with low rpm is not exactly the Dominar’s forte and traffic will have you downshift. In fact, the engine starts knocking right from 40 km/h in 5th gear. The bike finds itself at home between 3,000 to 6,000 rpm, however, that’s not without the obvious issue of vibrations. Exactly at 4,000 rpm you can feel a faint buzz at the clutch lever which shifts to the front brake lever at 5,000 rpm. At around 8,000 rpm the tank as well as most of the bike starts vibrating. Now this might be an issue with the initial lot and hopefully, Bajaj will rectify it soon, else riding the Dominar 400 for an elongated period of time may leave an unpleasant sensation.
The pace from stand still rises steadily. That’s primarily because the engine produces 28 Nm of torque at just 3,000 rpm. The Bajaj Dominar 400 also gets a slipper clutch, a feature which I tested by intentionally performing clutchless downshifting without any sort of rev matching. And it performs brilliantly, every single time. I did not lose the rear even during mid-corner downshifting.
The Bajaj Dominar 400 top speed is claimed to be 148 km/h and while we could not test that, I am sure that the number will be achieved easily and will go beyond that.
Frame and Suspension
This brings us to the frame and the suspension. The Bajaj Dominar 400 gets a perimeter frame made of precision pressed high strength steel. Now this does trace its lineage to the Pulsar AS 200 and Pulsar 200NS but is strengthened to accommodate the bigger and more powerful mill. Torsional rigidity has been kept in mind while developing the frame. The contoured swing arm adds to the fun factor.
The Bajaj Dominar 400 gets 43 mm right side down telescopic, hydraulically damped forks up front while the rear gets a dual spring mono shock which gets 10 levels of adjustable presets. The factory setting is at level 4 and seemed perfectly comfortable to me, a balance between stiffness and suppleness. Bajaj says that two springs have been used in the rear. One of them is for potholed roads while the other is for keeping you comfortable during high paced rides.
And boy did the suspension setup surprise me. The Bajaj Dominar 400 gobbles up almost every bump. Even the really huge lunar craters are dealt peacefully in a no-nonsense manner. I even managed to find a few mid-corner bumps but the bike went over them without unsettling me at all.
Now to keep the price attractive, Bajaj had to obviously cut costs somewhere and tyres have been a key area where money has been saved without compromising the safety of the rider. The MRF RevZ rubber in the Bajaj Dominar 400 has been designed specifically for the motorcycle. The front is a 17 incher with 110/70 specification while the rear is a 150/60 of the same diameter. The tyre has been rated for a top speed of 180 km/h while the Dominar has a claimed top speed of 148 km/h. While I did not get to test that but in the trigger-happy manner I attacked the corner, I lost the rear only twice, once during a panic braking and the other while being a bit too enthusiastic with a particular corner, both the occasions while going downhill. While the latter was quickly corrected by a quick action by the throttle but the former needs to include a talk about the brakes as well.
Braking and Tyres
The Bajaj Dominar 400 gets a large 320 mm front disc which is the same size as the one in the 2017 Duke 390. The callipers too have been sourced from Bybre, Brembo’s low-cost arm. The rear gets a 230 mm disc. ABS is available as an option, which unlike the Pulsar RS200’s single channel setup, is present in both the wheels. It, however, is not switchable but does not kick in every time. The front brake does not feel sharp enough and I would have definitely liked more bite in it to get you out of sticky situations. That’s not the only fact which created a hair-raising experience during the panic braking experience while going downhill. The front suspensions dips quite a lot during hard braking. Something which may not go down pretty well with newer riders.
Now let’s have a quick look at some interesting things which I liked or disliked about the Bajaj Dominar 400:
The LED headlamp is daytime running and is on high beam all the time. To prevent you from blinding the riders (or drivers) coming from the opposite direction, you can change it to low beam by using the traditional headlamp on/off switch on the right handlebar and low beam on the left side.
The reverse backlit instrumentation is brilliant and can be read easily even under harsh sunlight. The figures are easy decipherable and the addition of a small clock is a handy addition. The second instrumentation is not easily seen while riding but the readouts on this one are not something which you will need while riding. The absence of a gear position indicator is a big miss, something which I believe should be available in all motorcycles displacing above 150cc.
Pillion comfort has been kept in consideration. The seat is plush and ride quality is pretty good, especially if you compare it to a Duke 390. Small bumps are gobbled easily and won’t leave the pillion with an unpleasant sensation.
The exhaust note is pretty interesting once you reach the border of the mid-range but not the four-pot roar claimed but the manufacturer and present in the television commercial. Rest assured, you would not be disappointed by it.
So should you buy it? At INR 1.36 lakhs for the disc brake variant and INR 1.50 lakhs for the ABS trim the bike redefines the meaning of value for money. Not only is it more powerful than the direct competition but also gets more features, especially the optional ABS. The premium build quality as well as the compelling looks aside, the Bajaj Dominar 400 is one of the most interesting machines I have ridden in recent times. The high 157 mm ground clearance was even more apparent when we tried taking it to mild off-roads.
And with the KTM Duke 390 set to get even more expensive thanks to the added features, the Bajaj Dominar 400 is the new knight in shining armour for performance lovers who want an affordable motorcycle which can attempt to be a jack of all trades.