With the ongoing winning streak of Bajaj’s quirky taglines, they had to come up with the best one for their most powerful offering yet : “Only babies sleep at night”. And I found out why because I couldn’t sleep the night before I was to ride the most powerful motorcycle by any Indian manufacturer, the Dominar 400.
How does it look?
It looks exactly like a power cruiser should, bulky and brute. The most astonishing visual aspect being the front end which houses the futuristic mosaic LED headlamps.
Tank looks huge and gels well with this proportionately large motorcycle. What makes it more muscular from the front is the 43 mm telescopic forks and the large 320 mm disc. Alloys had my heart too, they’re diamond cut and look absolutely gorgeous!
The short and stubby exhaust compliments the side profile very well while the rear looks kind of bland as compared to the other viewing angles of the motorcycle. It does draw inspiration from a certain Italian motorcycle brand famous for its red, fast, L-twin motorcycles, like the Diavel inspired tail lamp and the secondary instrument cluster housed on the tank.
You can’t use compact and Dominar in the same sentence, but you can use beautiful and brute, because that’s what it’s.
Engine and performance
Let’s get away with the numbers first, the most powerful Bajaj displaces 373cc and produces 34.5 bhp @ 8000 rpm and 35 nm torque @ 8500 rpm paired with a 6 speed transmission. The single cylinder unit is fuel injected and is liquid cooled. Yeah, these aren’t street scorching figures especially when you take the weight (182 kgs) into consideration but what impresses is the usability of the power in real life. As much as 28 nm of torque is available to the right wrist from a reasonably low 3700 rpm which means that it has got a very meaty mid range and that’s where a cruiser is supposed to be most of the time. All the 35 horses are delivered in a nice linear fashion with a mild gush of power after you cross 4000 rpm.
This behemoth cruises happily in the range of 100-130 km/hr but the vibrations kick in as early as 4500 rpm and play a little spoilsport. They’re apparent at 120 km/hr but become bothersome after crossing 130 km/hr. Now they aren’t in the league of a Royal Enfield but the engine isn’t refined as the Mojo either.
For those who are obsessed with the top whack of a motorcycle, this baby won’t disappoint you. I managed to hit 155 km/hr on a highway stretch and it could go even further but the notorious Indian roads didn’t allow me to. The exhaust note and the growling engine compliments the engine rather well. Make the tachometer dance over 5000 rpm and listen to the symphony this baby produces. Another impressive aspect of the engine is that even after riding the bike extensively for two days, there wasn’t even a slightest hint of drop in performance. Heat dissipation was quite impressive too, especially compared to the KTMs. The radiator doesn’t kick in that often and when it does, throws away the hot air away from the rider’s legs.
Sure, the performance is detuned as compared to the Duke 390 from which the engine is derived but it’d still make you grin and the power is enough according to most of the Indian road conditions.
Ride and Handling
When bajaj first revealed the weight of the motorcycle, I thought that it’d be a bit hard to manage in real life but once you take off after slotting the bike in the first gear accompanied with a loud clunk, it masks its weight rather well. Though when the bike isn’t moving, the bulk is apparent.
I won’t lie, I was a bit skeptical before tipping the bike into corners because of its hefty weight but it turned out to be an enjoyable motorcycle in the twisties. Not as involving as the KTMs, neither it was meant to.
The fuelling on the bike is far from snatchy and I absolutely love the on-off throttle transition. Dominar uses the same beam perimeter frame borrowed from the RS and NS siblings and it works well in this beast too. It enters the corner pretty confidently, holds its line and the smooth fuelling assists a fast way out.
Though in tight chicanes, it isn’t razor sharp but for a bike which tips the scale at 182 kgs, the handling is commendable.
Suspensions are set up on the stiffer side but aren’t too hard on the spinal chord. Small potholes are disposed without any drama but the large ones do make the riding experience a bit jarring.
It wasn’t meant to hustle with the urban jungle but thanks to the light clutch, smooth gearshifts, comfortable saddle and good heat dissipation, it deals with the infamous indian traffic conditions without breaking a sweat.
Ergonomics are spot on, they are sporty but not too aggressive. The saddle is designed to accommodate the rider for the long hauls on the highway. Flat handlebar further enhances the comfort quotient of the motorcycle as the rider sits in an upright stance. The pillion seat is comfortable enough for the short stints, for the longer ones, pillion’s butt might protest. While the seat height is 800 mm, it slots somewhere in the middle. Shorter riders might find it difficult to place both the feet on the ground.
The best braking setup offered by any Indian manufacturer. Period.
The front has the largest disc in the segment (320 mm) while the rear has a 230 mm disc. Dual channel ABS developed by Bosch is offered as an option while the brake lines are steel braided which guarantees that there isn’t any drop in braking performance while dropping the anchors hard for extensive period.
The front brake is full of feedback, bite and progression while the rear does its job just fine. The optional ABS is a boon under wet riding conditions and hard braking. It isn’t switchable though, like the Duke 390. I tried locking the rear wheel a couple of times but the ABS worked flawlessly. Take this for an instance, we were doing stupid speeds on the highway until a series of unmarked speed breakers came unannounced. We had to brake hard and the bike stopped confidently without any useless drama. It stops as fast as it goes.
Other manufacturers should take a note and offer ABS at least as an option. Kudos to Bajaj for providing such a phenomenal braking setup to match the performance of the motorcycle.
Instrument cluster and switchgear
Like I pointed out earlier, there are some bits where Bajaj drew inspiration from the Diavel, the secondary instrument cluster housed on the tank being one of them. You can find all telltale lamps here. Bajaj’s logo takes a center stage surrounded by ABS, check engine warning, engine overheat warning, low battery and a side stand indicator while the primary instrument cluster looks attractive with a black background and is white backlit. Surprisingly, visibility in the sunlight is good. It does miss out on some vital bits, a gear indicator for example. The notorious trait of inaccurate fuel gauges from the Pulsar is carried over in Dominar too. The switchgear quality is decent enough and is backlit like all its siblings from Bajaj’s stable.
You were waiting for this point to come, right? You price sensitive Indian consumer! Haha, well, it will surely burn your pockets but not too much. One can expect figures close to 30 kmpl when ridden sanely. Be generous with the throttle and see the figure dropping down to 22-23 kmpl.
Does it really dominate the night?
When the Dominar was first unveiled in the 2014 auto expo by the name CS 400, the futuristic LED headlamps were no doubt the most talked about feature of the motorcycle. Bajaj carried them over to the production version too and Oh Boy! Do they look spectacular! The LED DRLs make the Dominar look like a predator on its prowl. It makes the bike visible from a distance of 1 km, says Bajaj. And it isn’t a lie.
We got the chance to test the illumination of headlamps in the dark while cruising on the NH-8. Do they live up to the hype? Yes. Could they have been better? Another yes. But I’m really nitpicking here because this is the best illumination setup offered in this price segment. We were comfortable cruising at 100-110 km/hr even after the sun was long gone. A stretch of 150 kms was disposed in just close to 2 hours. So yes, it really does dominate the night.
The safest motorcycle in the sub 2 lakh price bracket?
A big yes! When it comes to safety, the Dominar 400 punches well above its weight. The best braking setup accompanied with the safety net of ABS. LED headlamps make those night highway rides a bit less scary and a bit more enjoyable. The tires offered as stock (MRF Revz C1) are pretty good too, for most of the riding conditions. Bajaj made sure to throw in every bell and whistle while still keeping the price in check so in comes the slipper clutch. Now what it does is, prevent rear wheel lockage under aggressive downshifts. A definite boon for the racetrack aficionados and for the riders who rely on engine breaking to slow things down.
Things that could have made it a perfect power cruiser
I’d have killed to see this iteration of the Dominar making it to the production. One with adequate protection from the windblast, a bigger tank capacity opposed to the smaller 13L tank, some additions to the instrument cluster like a gear position indicator, distance to empty etc and most importantly, lesser vibrations. Now don’t get me wrong, there aren’t a hell lot of vibrations but when you’ve set on a cruising speed of 110-120 km/hr or above and you’ve to ride the whole day, they start getting to you. This isn’t something which you’d expect from a power cruiser.
It does come with its flaws but for the price you’re paying for it, makes it phenomenal value for money. It looks gorgeous, is powerful than most of the vehicles on the road, will take you to far off places in style while you surf on the meaty torque band, is the safest motorcycle in the segment and comes with a fuckton of features. Best 1.8 lakh rupees spent on a motorcycle, I’d say.
Photography credits : Pradeep Khatri and Harsh Sadhnani.