Since '02 xBhp is different things to different people. From a close knit national community of bikers to India's only motorcycling lifestyle magazine and a place to make like-minded biker friends. Join us
Is this new Bajaj Pulsar NS160, a proper progeny of the NS200 or is it a watered down version which resembles the commuterish Pulsar 150 more than the Naked Sports series? Let’s find out!
After the lacklustre sales of the AS150 and AS200, Bajaj realised it needed to get a little less adventurous and a little sportier with their product portfolio! So the two adventure twins were discontinued and the previously successful NS200 was brought back this January. But that left a gaping hole in the 150cc sports commuter segment, since the original Pulsar 150 is left with no sport but only commuter genes. Bajaj had nothing in response to the Suzuki Gixxer, Yamaha FZ and Honda Hornet, or even the age old Apache 160. TVS will soon be bringing a new 160 based on their Apache 200 as we saw in the pictures clicked by an xBhpian.
Which brings us to the recently launched NS160. A motorcycle meant to fill the void of the newer generation Pulsars and take on the three competitive Japs. A bike targeted at the urban young, who want a good looking bike, which isn’t too heavy on the pocket to purchase or at the petrol pump!
Visually the bike looks much like the 200. Which should work in favour of the 160, but will it be at the cost of the bigger bike? If you liked the 200, then this will be equally appealing. The skinny tyres are the visual giveaway of the smaller size of this motorcycle. Though Bajaj has tried to hide this by using a chunkier tyre hugger!
From upfront the bike has good road presence with its big headlight dome visually flowing nicely into the plastic tank extensions. Though the skinny forks remind you that this isn’t the 200. The bike we rode was grey, which looked quite subdued, the other option of red should be far more appealing to the target audience we believe. Build quality of the motorcycle is satisfactory and the switchgear is the same as used on the 200. Which isn’t perfect, the turn-indicator switch doesn’t feel natural to use if you are used to any other bike in the market. You need to re-work muscle memory; else you push the switch, take the turn and realize the indicator light hadn’t got turned on in the first place! An anomaly in the bike we rode was on the oil-cooler plastics, which was loose enough to be pushed off with the strength of a single finger. A stark contrast to the rest of the motorcycle which possibly means this was a one-off with our bike.
The differentiation from the older Pulsar 150 comes in the form of new technology. The engine is not all-new, but it isn’t from the old generation Pulsars either. The new engine is the bored out version of the one employed on the now discontinued AS150. The 160.3cc 4-stroke 4-valve oil-cooled twin-spark engine produces a decent power of 15.5 PS and 14.6 Nm of torque. Power is down from 17 bhp and torque is up from 13 Nm in comparison to the AS150. Bajaj has understood that these bikes are commuters at the end of the day. More torque by sacrificing the top end is a positive trade-off when riding in the city. The 2mm increase in the bore makes the NS squarer than the AS, which translates into better rideability for a commuter.
The gearing employed on the bike is also commuter friendly; one can trundle through traffic at 22 kmph in third gear without lugging the engine. In fact, it is easier to ride the 160 than the 200, as the latter forever wants to be revved. The NS160 will happily chug along without protest even with a pillion in traffic. We didn’t get an opportunity to test the top end on the narrow semi-urban roads, but the bike did pull strongly till 80 after which some effort was required. Though this was with a brand new engine which hadn’t been run in. The company claims a top whack of 115 kmph.
The new engine feels nothing like the older generation Pulsars and refinement is a big step up. We rode the bike during the second half of the day after it had been thrashed around by the media in the morning. Even after being meted out with some punishment the engine was smooth, the idling stable and throttle response is crisp. The gearbox is slick, with both upshifts and downshifts causing no trouble at all. The bane of the older bikes, finding neutral when stationary also seems to have been resolved as we found out in peak hour Hinjewadi IT Park traffic!
The frame is the same perimeter unit found on the NS200. Which helps greatly in improving the handling dynamics of the bike, but comes with a weight penalty. It is essentially over-engineered for the 160cc mill, which somewhat explains the up to 10 kg difference over the competition! As with most things engineering, there is a trade-off. Even though the wheelbase is the exact same as the NS200, the swingarm isn’t the same as per Bajaj.
How does this new technology translate into the ride on the road? Throw a leg over the rather high saddle, 805mm, and it feels immediately like the NS200. Press the self-start button and the engine immediately comes to life before falling into a steady idle. Fortunately the bike comes with a kick-start lever as well, so you needn’t depend on the battery in cold high-altitude conditions!
The clutch isn’t the lightest out there at first touch, but it has a nice smooth progressive feel to it. Slot the bike into first gear with the toe-only shifter and the bike cleanly pulls off, even with an incline and pillion. The shorter gearing and better torque are the heroes here. Once in motion, the distinction between the 200 becomes apparent. The missing power and the 10 kg less weight gives the bike an entirely different character as compared to its larger sibling. Much easier to throw around without any fear, but try stretching the revs in an overtaking manoeuvre and you are brought back to stark commuter reality!
The area where the bike shines is its handling. It manages to walk the tight rope of urban comfort and sporty handling. The suspension is substantially softer than its larger sibling but can take a reasonable amount of aggression, provided you don’t forget that it is a commuter at the end of the day. Bad roads are no barrier, as the softer suspension capably absorbs all the bumps thrown at it.
Brakes on the NS160 are a mixed bag. The front is sharp, with sufficient bite, but it isn’t progressive. First time disc brake users, of which there will be many, will have a tough time adjusting to the front brakes. More so considering, that the junta is generally scared of using front brakes. The rear employs a drum which ideally should be extinct along with dinosaurs. Unfortunately it isn’t and Bajaj says that a disc should be available at the rear as an option soon. We look forward to that.
What about the skinny tyres? That might be a major downside in the looks department, but once rolling, you just won’t notice. The handling and grip are sufficient for the target audience, without the higher rolling resistance which a 140 section rear tyre brings.
We rode the bike in daylight and therefore aren’t in a position to comment on the headlights efficacy, but with a 55W bulb and the same dome as the 200NS, the result should be consistent with the bigger brother. Fuel consumption as claimed by the company is between 40-45 kmpl, 2-3 kmpl less than the old Pulsar 150.
A question which many of us have is, will this bike be the death knell of the Pulsar 150 and 180? In the grand scheme of things, probably yes. But not as of now. All the Pulsars will be sold simultaneously. A bike with newer and better technology will surely sell more than an out-dated motorcycle right? Not always, as Bajaj found with the Pulsar 220 still outselling the 200NS by a decent margin.
The NS160 sits some INR 3000 more than the 150 and INR 1500 less than the Pulsar 180. Would most prospective buyers go for the 20cc more at a marginal price increase? This is going to be a tough sell for the Chakan based company to the average buyer who walks into its showroom.
How does it stack up against the 3 Japanese and the Apache 160? We need to wait for the update of the latter as it is at the end of its lifecycle. Compared to the Gixxer, FZ and Hornet, the bike sits pretty. It takes the fight to the Japanese, though the Gixxer is at par or slightly better, the FZ has a completely different character and the Hornet has sales numbers which is far ahead.
The biggest drawbacks for the NS160 are its highest in-class weight and saddle height. Neither is the bike the cheapest of the lot, a 1000 rupees more than the Apache and Gixxer, but significantly cheaper than the Hornet and FZ Fi. In terms of pure motorcycle, the Gixxer is the biggest competition, in terms of sales; the Hornet poses a stiff challenge. Will the NS160 manage to rattle the segment? We eagerly wait and watch!
Photos: Thulashi Dharan J / Holy Biker
Technical Specifications provide by Bajaj