Pulsar: A Brand on the Wane?

Pulsar: India's first sports bike
In the last decade of the previous century, India's roads were dominated by
sub 125 cc segment motorcycles. At the turn of the century, however, the situation changed. The arrival of Honda's CBZ was a first in India's commuting history, as it gave
the nation some idea of what a sports bike was. The motorcycle had a 150 cc engine.
India was hooked on to the powerful bike. Bajaj- Kawasaki alliance instantly recognized the potential of sports bikes in Indian market. Despite skepticism from various quarters, including internal conflicts, Bajaj decided to
move ahead with the objective of producing an affordable yet powerful motorcycle for India. The project took 36 months to be realized and INR 100 Crore was spent. As a result of that, the Pulsar brand was born. The Indian motorcycling landscape changed forever. Side:
The first Pulsar came with a 150 cc air-cooled, single-cylinder engine which made
13 HP of maximum power and had a single spark plug to ignite the air-fuel mixture fed
from a carburetor. It was the first Indian bike to feature disc brakes. Impressed by its credentials, The Indian army placed an order for 1500 Pulsars in 2001. For the first decade of its life, Pulsar largely stuck to its initial styling. Nonetheless, it featured a host of changes in its engine and electrical systems. During that period of time, the tank capacity increased, the power output increased
and digital console made its presence known. In 2009 Bajaj made a downwards move in engine capacity as it released a 135 cc Pulsa
named 135 LS. The bike weighed 122 kg and had a fuel economy of 68 kmpl.
Despite its lower performance figures, the bike was given a very aggressive styling. The Pulsar range was challenged in the second half of last decade with the entry of
Yamaha into sports segment. Yamaha already had some presence in the form of the
popular and loud RX 100. They made their foray into sports segment by launching the
massively popular R15 and the FZ. The Pulsars were facing some heat from Hero Honda also in the form of Karizma.
Bajaj responded by revealing a brand-defining bike. 2012 was marked as a red letter year in the history of Pulsars. 200NS was launched
which was significantly more powerful than any of the other Pulsars built till then. It marks the beginning of the brand's association with the Austrian firm, KTM. The engine of 200NS was a revised edition of KTM 's Duke 200.
It was tinkered to deliver a better fuel economy than it's KTM cousin, without significantly
compromising the delivered power.The naked streetfighter featured a triple spark ignition
system. In 2014 auto expo, Bajaj unveiled two concepts with a much higher engine capacity.
The CS 400 was a naked bike which was stylistically inspired by Ducati Diavel and intended
to be a power cruiser. At the time the motorcycles were described as "near production "
and three years later the CS 400 spawned the Dominar. The leo- stanced Dominar sits above
the Pulsar range in terms of performance.
The other concept was code-named SS 400, which was styled aggressively
and was the first Pulsar to have a full fairing. Later in the year, RS 200 was launched,
which looked very similar to the SS 400 concept. The production of NS range was paused for a while. It was for adding an adventure sports
version to the stable. The response to the bike was mixed and this prompted Bajaj to rethink
its decision to shelf the NS range. In 2017, to the delight of Pulsar fans, the naked range made a return with the name of NS 200.
It featured a single channel ABS, which was also featured in the RS. The Pulsar range has upped the game whenever it mattered the most. Its alliance with
KTM might have put its ties with Kawasaki in jeopardy, but it has benefitted a lot by
sharing the engines of the powerful KTM s. The USP of the Pulsar range is that the performance they provide per rupee spent is
much higher than any other bikes in the same segment. For instance, NS 200 and Duke 200 are direct rivals. When the specifications are compared,
the Duke has a slight edge over the Pulsar. But, the price one has to pay for the extra horsepower and an extra Nm of torque is close to
50,000 Rupees! The similar bikes from Yamaha, Honda and Suzuki cost a fortune
when compared to the Pulsar, which makes it the most cost-effective sportsbike range in India. Flip Side:
Pulsar series has come under fire very often because of its various fails.
Pulsar 220 was one of the most popular of the lot. It gives 21 ponies at a very cheap price.
At the time of its release, it was marketed as "the fastest Indian bike". Nevertheless, it has been accused of instability at high speeds, rattling fairing and
laziness to start on a cold morning. Owners report that it "loses" power after a few thousand kms.
These are not exclusive problems of the range and is applicable to any motorcycle.
But, they are apparently conspicuous in the series. Some people feel that they don't have
the "premium" feel that other foreign manufacturers are able to provide. The Pulsar series may give a decent fuel economy when compared to similar bikes from
other manufacturers. However, they lose the plot when they borrow the engines from KTM. The KTM s are the toast of the performance craved youth. Bajaj adapts and tunes the
engines to have a better fuel economy, at a loss of power. That is something which makes no sense at all. If they want to build a performance bike, they should be doing everything necessary. Challenge the limits like how BMW S1000 RR did.
Of course, at a much smaller scale. Instead, they try to be both fuel - conservative as well as performance - oriented.
And the result? It ends up somewhere in between.The apparent reduction in power was
initially seen as a drawback because the youth took to KTM for its mean performance.
The arrival of V series and projection of Dominar as the flagship may make one think that
Pulsar is going down.

At least seven variants of Pulsar were available in the market in the beginning of the year, which has now
dwindled to four. India's first sports bike is facing a mid life crisis. Hopefully Bajaj will sort it before it's too late.

About author

Pranav PS is a third year engineering student from Trivandrum. An incurable petrol-head, Pranav worships anything which runs on IC engines. You can reach him at pspranav10@gmail.com


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