Dominar. In all these years of motorcycling, never have I ridden a name. Though I’ve always ridden motorcycles which had names. What I mean to say is that a name never maketh a machine. Though it can easily be the other way round. The Bajaj Dominar 400 is an interesting name carried proudly by an equally interesting machine but since the proof of the pudding is in the eating, that’s exactly what we did from Akurdi to Panchgani. We rode the Dominar 400 through a wide range of road and traffic conditions to find out what it would be like if you owned and rode one.
Bajaj created a unique market segment in the Indian motorcycle milieu with the Pulsar. And it was a trendsetter too, raising the pulse of the youth and the veteran riders alike. A decade and some years hence, the machine has evolved into something so new, state of the art and functionally advanced that it yet again seeds a new indigenous product class which has the potential of turning the tables in times to come. So much so that it deserves an entirely new identity.
The Dominar 400 is impressive – as much from far as from up close. It is like a large, ready-to-lunge brutish beast that would demand as much from its master as it can give in return. A solidly built bike what with those beefy fork tubes, the stout perimeter frame and that muscular swing arm. The robust theme in fact defines the whole bike and so inspires confidence. The long and low profile, said to have been inspired by the Gir lion, is not just good to look at but also affects the bike’s geometry in just the right manner. Even though there’s a certain edginess to the design, yet it flows into a shape that wraps the entire machine into one sleek and strong element. In a nutshell the Dominar 400 is impressive when introduced. Time to find out what it is like to shake hands with it and get acquainted.
The 373cc single cylinder, SOHC 4 valve, triple spark plug DTS-i engine powering the Dominar 400 is the biggest and the most powerful engine ever built by Bajaj for any of its bikes. Liquid cooled and fuel injected, the engine produces 35 bhp@ 8000 rpm and an equally impressive 35Nm of torque @ 6500 rpm. Good healthy figures for an engine this size that also indicate a bias towards mid-range usability rather than outright peak performance. The Bajaj R&D people are not new to the triple spark plug head having first introduced it with the Pulsar 200 NS. But a higher power output also means more heat rejection from the engine. So it is vital that this heat rejection is contained within tolerable limits and managed well because the bikes will mostly be ridden in our country where temperatures at most places can go upto 45 degree Celsius in peak summer. A lot of work is said to have been done on the thermal management of the engine, with better flow of air through the engine, improved fuel burn and optimal utilisation of the cooling fluid that also cools the engine head. They’ve had the heat rejection issues with the KTM 390 engine as a reference point and did not want the Dominar user to face the same. Fuel injection makes the bike ‘altitude independent’, meaning that one can ride it right up to Khardungla Top in Ladakh and the engine will self adjust the air fuel ratio. The bike’s engine will not miss a beat whatever the altitude above sea level.
Swing a leg over the saddle and settle on to the bike. The low and long stance makes it feels good to sit on. The handlebars and the controls fall naturally underhand. Switch on the ignition and the LCD display goes through the usual full display check. The reverse backlit numerals and graphics are pretty visible even in bright sunlight. The bike starts with a short stab at the start button and idles in a very stable manner. Throttle response in neutral is enticing and clutch pull is light. Shift into gear with a muted thunk and you’re ready to roll. The bike pulls cleanly off idle and the engine builds up RPMs nicely. The engine response is not sharp like with the KTM’s but there’s a steady flow of power and torque that satisfies the experienced rider and doesn’t overwhelm the novice. In fact everything about the bike’s performance has been rounded off, the sharp edginess removed in the interest of allowing the average rider to upgrade or adapt to it without any problems.
Fueling in general is clean and the throttle progressive. There’s this slight tendency to surge or hesitate when one tries to hold throttle at low rpm and in low gear. Try riding at a steady crawl in second gear and the slight engine instability becomes apparent. Nothing as troublesome as in the KTM 390, at least it’s initial lots. That the bike we rode was spanking new having done time only on the dyno probably also contributed to this. Things should improve as they do when the engine has run through a couple of thousand kilometres. NVH is also pretty well contained, the slight bit of vibration we felt when accelerating through the RPM range was not intrusive but will be good if it sorts itself out as the bike gathers miles on the road. The claimed mileage is in the 30 to 35 kmpl bracket, giving the 13 litre tank adequate but not exceptional range. Remember Bajaj only spoiled us with the 18 litre tanks in the early Pulsars! Of course the throttle hand usually decides the actual mileage and range more than anything else.
The Dominar 400 is a 70 to 100 kmph bike. My saying that doesn’t mean it cannot go faster than a hundred or that there’s some problem at higher speeds. It just that the engine and the bike feels that happiest cruising at those speeds. And on the fringe of triple digit speeds, you have the option of dropping down a gear or even two for that burst of acceleration. Through the gears acceleration is good and without drama. The bike should be able to attain its claimed top indicated speed of 148 kph with an average weight rider in the saddle. The gearbox and the clutch are impeccable. Bajaj is finally there with the clutch with the best in the trade. The 6 speed gearbox and the slipper clutch make for the perfect transmission setup. And yes the slipper clutch works. We deliberately downshifted without any attempt at rev-matching to see that it does do its job. Glad to see such goodies that not just improve performance but also add to safety percolating down the model range in our country now.
The suspension on the Dominar 400 is quite sorted. Compliant enough to make it comfortable and yet stiff enough to make the bike handle well. The robust perimeter frame, principally the same as that on the NS except for strength imparting reinforcements and both the steering head and swingarm ends, in tandem with the pressed steel swingarm gives the bike great torsional rigidity contributing largely to its composed and predictable handling. The wide 150 section rear and the 110 section front radial tyres compliment the bike’s good road manners. As do the solid 43mm Dia front forks and the 77mm Dia dual spring mono shock with its Nitrox damper. The front fork ideally should have been a tad stiffer though for better braking and handling road imperfections when cranked over in a turn. Braking is good though the front with its massive 320mm disc could have been sharper in response. Bajaj has intentionally softened the front brake response to make it less intimidating and more user friendly for those upgrading from lower capacity bikes.The twin channel ABS both up front and at the rear doors it’s job well adding decisively to the safety equation on the Dominar.
The full LED lights on the Dominar 400 are as much a novelty as they are functional. Brightness and focus are both good, the inherently low power demands of the LED’s add further to the advantages. Built to ‘dominate the night’ as is depicted in the Dominar tvc, it is not just the lights but the entire bike as a package that allows the rider that vital extra bit of security and performance for peace of mind even while riding after dark. The horn sadly is puny and almost apologises for the bike’s presence! We wish Bajaj brings back the standard dual horns from the Pulsars. Switchgear is what is now standard backlit Bajaj stuff and does it’s job well. The split LCD display with kick-stand and hi-beam indicator and the Bajaj logo in blue on the fuel tank. Touch of the Diavel? Maybe, but Bajaj says not really.
The seat is well upholstered and well contoured allowing almost every rider with a range of body height to find a comfortable stance. The foam felt a little soft when considered in context with long 8 to 10 hour days on the saddle. The pillion perch is also nice, though no motorcycle seat anywhere is really comfortable for everyone. Even Goldwing owners go about customizing their seats for comfort on long days.
We finally have an alternative to the Enfield in the 350cc plus category. Targeted as a Power Cruiser, the Dominar 400 is pretty capable for the role it has been built to perform. This is a truly utilitarian bike that will be as much at home being ridden to the market for one’s daily shopping chores or doing 400 kilometre days out on the open road. Wherever be that road. If there was one word to describe the bike it would be that it is a very sensible bike. Yes, exciting and sensible.