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If you think it’s hard to read a woman’s mind, spare a thought for the product planners in automobile companies who are tasked with figuring out what the customer wants and pricing it accordingly. Here’s a quick example: Indians love to travel as a family, love packing their cars with people and luggage and seem to have an insatiable appetite for the Innova and its ilk. Stands to reason that for those on a slightly more modest budget an estate (or station wagon) would make terrific sense except, we Indians will not touch an estate with a barge pole. We will settle for a sub-four meter sedan that neither has a decent boot or a proportional silhouette. Go figure.
Same goes for on/off road bikes. With our road conditions being on and off, you’d think they’d build a bike with more ground clearance that can crash into potholes without cracking spinal cords thus setting sales charts on fire. But, no sir, we’d rather have a sports bike that’ll take the wind out of the rider on every speedbreaker and pothole. Long ago, Bajaj tried to get us to see sense with the SX100 Enduro based on the KB100 but found no takers. Hero gamely plugs on with the Impulse even though you hardly see any and yet, we now have not one but two adventure tourers, this time with Pulsar badges – the Bajaj Pulsar AS 200 and AS 150. Has the Indian motorcycle market evolved since the days of the SX?
On the face of it both the Bajaj Pulsar AS 200 and AS 150 are practically identical. Both have inherited the Pulsar NS’s pressed steel perimeter frame and have identical dimensions save for ground clearance where the AS 150 is 3mm higher than the AS 200’s thanks to a smaller exhaust. Both also come with raised clip-on handlebars true to the Adventure Sport theme and without a doubt the twins are incredibly handsome small bikes. The tastefully done quarter fairing, extends into tall clear visors, which are surprisingly effective in shielding one from windblast even at high speed. Both come with projector lamps as standard, which makes sense for long highway jaunts. Deep grooved tanks with soft snug thigh grips make long rides easier on, well, your own twins. All the design cues are in exactly the right places and hardcore adventure sports bikes or not, the AS twins look the part.
Engine-wise, the AS 200 gets the same motor as the NS, and the fact that they chose to eliminate the fuel injection entirely, which featured on the RS, is mildly disheartening. Although the engine does make some headway in the refinement department it isn’t as smooth and creamy as the RS’s mill. The 200 makes a respectable 23.2bhp at 9500rpm and 18.6Nm of torque. This is sufficient. Bajaj claims a 135kmph top speed and we expect 100kmph to take between 11 and 12 seconds.
In the 5000rpm-ish range, the AS200 settles into a sweet spot, ideal for mile munching. Poke it and the 200cc motor shoots happily for the red line. With no real vibrations or rattles to be reported the AS 200 is all-in-all a very potent touring machine.
Riding the 200 is practically effortless, thanks to a wonderful balance of comfortable suspension that doesn’t feel soggy or spongy. Bad roads or smooth twisties, the AS glides through without so much as a whimper. We trudged through a rivulet, filled with a combination of slippery mud, rocks and knee deep water and the AS 200 managed the task even on its stock, tarmac-specific tyres. Add in the fact that the brakes and handling are sharp and precise, and there is very little keeping this bike from being a well-rounded small capacity tourer. One could ask for ABS, at least as an option, and fuel injection.
The AS150 gets the all-new 150cc engine which Bajaj have been teasing for quite some time now. The air-cooled unit puts out 16.8bhp, alarmingly close to the R15’s liquid cooled single. The power boost comes courtesy a longer stroke (56 x 60.7mm bore and stroke), while a slightly sedate compression ratio keeps the engine from feeling too high strung. Not to mention the new AS 150 is one kilo lighter than its naked predecessor thanks to light weight alloys and the significantly lighter frame.
If you ride the 150 straight after the 200, you get the immediate sense that the 150cc motor sounds coarse and gruff, in comparison to its larger displacement sibling. Spend some time in the saddle and you’ll notice the gruffness does fade with the miles. More so, even when pushing the limits on the engine, vibrations are barely noticeable. Power kicks in smoothly in the lower revs and only gains momentum at around 6000rpm, before gasping for the next gear by the time it hits the 9000 mark. Overall, the 150 could easily hold its own against its more premium rivals like the R15 and the CBR150 as far as acceleration goes. However Bajaj have said that the AS 150 is capable of a 110kmph top speed which is a fair bit slower than the rest.
Budget in mind, the AS 150 does miss out on a lot of trim. The tyres are a size smaller than the 200’s with 80 and 110 section front-rear combination. The 150 also gets lower quality stoppers, a smaller 240mm disc in the front and 130mm rear drum which means that the brakes are not quite adequate and are even slightly spongy under aggressive braking.
Handling is not as sharp as we’d expect, especially considering the benchmark the machines from Bajaj have set over the past month, but that is also down to the fact that the 150 is tuned more for city commutes and thus gets a softer suspension set up. At lower speeds, you’d barely notice the problem but as the numbers climb, the 150 feels sluggish and reluctant. Saving grace comes in the form of the MRF Zappers which never lack for grip.
Now forget everything I just said because Bajaj have focused entirely on making the twins comfortable touring bikes and they really do excel at it. The AS won’t be on the plate for somebody torn between a Pulsar RS or Duke RC, but the AS is actually a very tempting prospect if your bucket list has riding to Ladakh scribbled out prominently on page one. Of course, being a Bajaj, pricing is very competitive starting at `79,000 for the 150 and going up to `91,550 (ex-showroom, Delhi) for the 200. And “this is only the beginning” says Eric Vas, president of new projects at Bajaj Auto. Could that mean an AS 400 based on the 390 motor and aimed straight at Raid-de-Himalaya wannabes? Unless the Indian customer throws another inexplicable googly, I can bet that it is only a matter of time.