What is performance motorcycling? Does it really have takers in a commuter-oriented market like ours? Is an indigenously developed and built larger capacity motorcycle possible?
For Indian motorcycle manufacturers, the answer to the first question so far, has been, "Who cares?" and the other two has been, "No way." Which is why the new Bajaj Pulsar DTS-Fi is a milestone.
The Indian motorcycle enthusiast's lot has been a tortured one. His demands have been swamped and diluted in a swarm of 60 kpl machines and in the entire history of Indian two-wheelers, only six or seven machines are memorable on performance terms. And of them, maybe two are on sale right now.
But with 124 kph showing on the orange-lit LCD speedometer of the new Bajaj Pulsar 220 DTS-Fi I'm on, I really should be doing other things. Like figuring out how to get the motorcycle to slow down for the uphill left turn that is coming up quickly.
It really isn't a concern, as the brakes are the best I've used. If my visor were dry and my raincoat was still in my kit bag, I'd probably be seeing closer to 135 kph on the speedo right now.
On my umpteenth fast-but-not-pushing-it lap of Bajaj's Chakan plant test-track, I'm impressed with the motorcycle and what it represents. Since the Yamaha RD350 (Yamaha RX100 and Suzuki Shogun lovers please excuse), we haven't had this classy, this fast, this good a performance motorcycle at all.
It takes corners with a delightful, eager poise, is accurate like a surgeon's scalpel and can brake hard with easy confidence. The throttle is superlight and crisp and I can already see all sorts of careless riders using it to scare themselves silly. More importantly, I can see hordes of serious riders grinning in delight.
And why not? Bajaj's design brief for the DTS-Fi was to create a no-compromise machine for the performance motorcycle enthusiast. This, they have achieved.
The motorcycle boasts a highly refined (low noise, no vibes, slick shifts and all) 220cc motor that makes a heady 20 bhp and 1.95 kgm of torque. And it is effortless, free-revving and can roll along at 50 kph in top gear should you feel the need. And return 50 kpl while you are doing that. It's almost like having your cake and eating it too.
I could, at this point, go into a 3,000-word discussion of all the various features this bike sports, some of which have never been seen on Indian motorcycles. But that would be missing the point.
In any case, you will be spending a lot of time in Bajaj's Pro-Biking showrooms listening to the harried sales guy who will be hard-pressed to remember all of them.
The big ones are tubeless tyres (one of the reasons for the great handling feel), 55-watt projector low beam headlamp (even, no-glare illumination), slick digital dash (feature packed and easy to read) and new styling package with distinctive LED taillamps. But the biggest of them all is fuel injection, which has allowed the DTS-Fi to get that linear power curve, crisp feel and instant throttle response.
A bike like the Pulsar DTS-Fi is significant because this is the first nod from a major manufacturer to the Indian performance enthusiast in years.
The Bajaj Pulsar 180 and to some extent the Hero Honda Karizma have been the staples for us, but in one stroke, they're both passe. Here is a motorcycle that's more sorted, faster and more effortless.
And while Bajaj won't say it, the DTS-Fi is not going to be outrageously expensive either. They confirmed a five-digit price tag and our sources are hinting at an on-road price of Rs 92,000 or thereabouts. Yes, fully loaded. Which is outstanding value for money.
In EMI terms, the increment over a Pulsar 180 or a Karizma would be next to nothing. In value terms, it would make a great purchase. Again, Bajaj won't say it, but we believe Diwali or during that festive period, you will be able to walk in and buy the fuel injected Pulsar from any Bajaj Pro-Biking showroom.
With these many features, obvious performance and a smart, high power price tag, the Pulsar 220 could actually change our manufacturers' answers to all the three questions we posed right at the outset.
The motorcycle will be commercially successful, there is no question about it. Obviously, it won't beat the 60 kpl commuter. But then, it doesn't have to. For the enthusiast, it would be the perfect tool to forget about those appliances.
For the manufacturers, especially rivals, it would signal the opening of a new market at the very top of the pecking order. A market all of us enthusiasts are milling about in, but the shelves have been empty so far.
The Pulsar 220 might actually cause competing products to fill the shops. We already know that TVS is working on an Apache 180. A successful P220 might even prod Hero Honda (or Honda, or both) to upgrade, re-arm or replace the Karizma with something more serious.
It might actually engineer separate market spaces for enthusiast-centric product strategy, which so far, does not exist. For us, it would be the beginning of an era of machines we've been forced to only dream about so far.
There is, of course, another perspective. I personally wish the motorcycle had been a storming 25 bhp 250cc demon. That would have elevated the price tag, but it would have represented a cleaner break with lower displacement machines.But then, the enthusiast will always want more. And therein lies the market. Usually, the enthusiast will be more likely to put his money where his mouth is. And so far, only Bajaj seems to have realised this.