First Ride: Bajaj Dominar 400
We ride one of the most anticipated bikes of the recent past - Bajaj’s most powerful motorcycle yet
If you crawled out from under your rock at some point in the last year to have seen pictures of Bajaj’s new flagship model, you must admit that, if anything, the Dominar 400 certainly is photogenic. When Bajaj launched the power cruiser in Dec 2016 with a pricetag of Rs.1.36-1.5 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi) attached, it made the bike look all the more a better prospect. Sure, it’s not V-Max or Diavel brawny or level of imposing, but it’s got that long-sweeping, low, muscular, forward-biased design that I think looks great. ‘It’s shaped after a Lion,’ is what I’m told at the Bajaj media ride brief. Who would have guessed? But now come to think of it, it could well be an Italian lion, or rather a pair of them, that the Dominar draws inspiration from. The shape of the headlight unit as well as the tank and the design of the LED taillight looks a little familiar, no? But whatever it is, it works.
Hop onto the bike and you’ll find the riding stance to be very similar to the Yamaha FZ, so it’s very comfortable, assuring that long stints in the saddle won’t be very tasking. The footpegs are rear-set, but not pushed back as sporty-aggressively as on the Duke. Thumb the starter and it’s not the exhaust note, but the striking full LED headlamp that will attract the most attention. The headlight of Bajaj’s new flagship has three different LED clusters and four levels of adjustability with two separate switches on either side of the bars. The instrument cluster displays white numbers on a black screen, which can be a little hard to decipher at certain times in the day. The cluster is split into two screens – the all digital one on the bars displays speed, revs, time, trip and fuel level, while the other art that’s mounted on the tank displays warning indications and check lights. The Dominar has this air of premiumness about it. Bajaj has outdone itself with the quality of switchgear on this motorcycle. And apart from being neat and tidy appearance with all the wires tucked away nicely, we took a particular liking to the cut of the alloy wheels too.
The Dominar is powered by the KTM Duke 390’s 373.3cc single-pot powermill, but is tuned to produce a lower 34bhp and equal 35NM of torque to back its power cruiser credentials. The throttle of the Dominar is responsive, but power delivery isn’t as explosive as that with the Duke. It’s been dialled down a bit to be smooth, progressive and more user friendly – suiting the design and nature of this motorcycle perfectly. The engine isn’t a direct lift off the Duke either. The entire head is new and the Dominar gets Bajaj’s triple spark plug layout. Bajaj also have opted for a more cost-effective SOHC four-valve set-up which the company claim has bettered low-end torque. The piston isn’t a forged one and the cylinders aren’t as well coated as the Dukes – once again to keep cost in check. The midrange of the motorcycle’s powerband – from 5,500 to around 7,500 rpm – is where it feels at its lively best. But it’s around this time when the bike feels a bit gruff with the engine sounding stressed while tingling vibrations progressively increase the higher you ascend toward the rev limiter which is around the 9500rev mark. 100kph comes up at 6000rpm, but the engine doesn’t sound the most relaxed at this time. If I have to nitpick, it’s this thing with the vibrations that’s a bit of a let down. Bajaj says that it has had to cut down on using some high quality materials in the Dominar to keep the overall cost low. But if it were up to me I’d put more effort into the engine refinement aspect rather than put my money on an expensive headlight unit. But this is what gives the bike a unique character in a way. Also, not everyone is bothered by a ride that isn’t butter smooth at all speeds. Equipped with dual channel ABS, the 320mm disc out front and the 230mm disc at the rear don’t instantly kill speed, but offer a rather progressive bite.
Usually, a wheelbase of 1453mm and a raked out front end would usually imply that the bike isn’t going to be the best handler at low speeds. But the Dominar chucked that theory clean out the window. On the go, the bike disguises its 182kg of heft really well. The Bajaj doesn’t require the rider to put some shoulder into turning or change direction, which is always a good thing. The beefy 43mm front forks up front are the same diameter as the KTM’s but are installed conventionally, not upside down which, once again lowers costs. The front, along with the Nitrox monoshock at the rear are set up on the stiffer side, which allows the Dominar to hold onto its line in corners very nicely. But you will want to steer clear of sharp undulations, because they’re all there to be felt. Stability out on the highway is really good too. What deserves a special mention is the fact that even after a good three hours on the bike at all speeds, the heat of the engine didn’t prove to be as bothersome as it is on the Duke.
All said and done, Bajaj’s cost saving methods are far from making the bike appear as being cheap. With a good list of features, sound ergo and a killer pricetag, there’s only so much you can argue about this motorcycle. Overall, a very impressive package from Bajaj.
Bajaj Dominar 400
Price (ex-showroom, Delhi):
Rs Rs.1.36 (non-ABS) -1.5 lakh (ABS)
373.3cc, single-cylinder, liquid-cooled, 34bhp, 35N, 182kg, 6M, tank: 13l,
Verdict: A very premium look and feel about it. The Dominar 400 is neat, quick, feature packed, ergonomically sound and most importantly aggressively priced and fun to ride. Could use a bit of refinement in the engine department, but still, a winning formula from Bajaj.