To start with on a personal note, I have always found a substantial difference in what’s written in most of the bike reviews and my personal experiences. Similar was the case here. Plenty of manufacturers and magazines have shown us drool worthy shots of knee-downs by rider on the puniest of the machines. But it won’t take a genius to guess that a similar attempt in the real world would easily bring your heart between your teeth. This would be courtesy some of our roads. It’s for the biker’s skills to battle it out against the arrangement that Municipality would like to call roads.
We decided to get out of what manufacturers call as ‘ideal riding conditions’ to have a real taste of some of the very popular bikes. This was a test ride with a difference as none of these bikes had been provided by the manufacturers. Our weaponry for the day consisted of the recently launched Bajaj Pulsar 200NS, Bajaj-KTM Duke 200 and the very popular Honda CBR250R. The riders summoned to test this assortment of ‘premium’ Indian bikes consisted of Hanoz, a Pulsar 220 DTSi owner who can even ride a bicycle to its limits and beyond, Glen, a HH Karizma owner who is equally adept on long straight highways and on corners and yours truly, proudly astride the red CBR 250R, the love of his life since past 6 months.
Before we start with talking about our experiences on these boys’ toys, let me mention that we aren’t comparing apples with apples here. Instead, what we had with us was something akin to having canines from three different pedigrees. Also necessary to point out here the fact that the CBR being 25% more on the cubic capacity is nearly 70% more expensive when compared to the 200NS. Instead of wishing to know if Honda justifies a higher price tag, we wanted to know how well the NS fares against the more expensive rivals.
So Gentlemen, the picture starts.
Bajaj Pulsar 200 NS- the Rookie
The 200 NS is solely responsible for the commencement of a new era of the fast ageing Pulsar brand. A quick glance at the spec sheet is sufficient to note that the new Pulsar is no less than a rabbit that the blokes at Bajaj have managed to pull out of the hat. Stunning looks coupled with an equipment list that stretches all the way to South Pole, deliciously topped up by a killer price tag, makes the new Bajaj an impeccable offering across the table. Amply tested by the press and online media, the NS has received generally a thumbs-up by most.
KTM Duke 200- the new lord of the streets.
If Decepticons were to attack this planet and had to take form of a motorcycle on sale in the subcontinent; it almost goes without saying that the Duke 200 it would be. Handsome but wicked, with loads of attitude to boot and the eagerness to pounce on anything that comes its way, the Katoom is the bike to own if street cred is priority no.1 on your wish list. Impish, vocal and restless to the core, the bike brings out the boy racer in you. It’ll stare at you till you blink your eyes in defeat. The Orange storm sent everyone into a dizzy thinking on the most appealing Rupee vs Performance graph that has been offered to the Indian biking scene till date.
Honda CBR250R- the Samurai Slash to the performance segment
Big, broad and bulgy- the baby CBR is Honda’s answer to the performance players in the Indian bike market. It is then, no surprise that the mini-me version of the behemoth VFR1200 made everyone rush to the nearest Honda dealership. Ample power and torque, a trademark Honda engine, linked monoshock, fat tyres and the full fairing that we Indians are suckers for, the Honda has almost everything that makes it every high school kid’s dream. Versatile and the long legged engine made it an instant hit with the touring junta.
PULSAR 200 NS
No matter howsoever Bajaj claims the NS to have a completely different motor than the Duke, the reality is that it isn’t. The basic hardware remains the same with tweaks to make it sound sweeter and smoother. But rev it high and it’ll sing in the voice of KTM. In fact even at idling it hums in a mellowed Duke tone. “Twist that wrist” and you can feel the grunt – but once it settles down at a constant rpm the vibes smoothen out. Throttle response is crisp and precise and the bike feels quick and light footed though not as punchy and peaky as the Duke. The power build up on the carbureted bike is very linear with better bottom end in comparison and gradual unlike the KTM which post 8000 revs gives you that quick-throttle punch. Gear shifts are good (finally) and affirm the slot process. The smoothness stays till 80 kph after which posting more numbers on the dash brings along some vibes to the grips. Not bad I’d say and nothing to bother really, there’s a motor spinning down there and it’s not an electric one- it’s almost a sin to hope any motorcycle to be completely vibe free. Go past 100 kmph and you could feel some vibes though. Some of my friends who have been using the bike for a long time now, report lesser vibes – this includes a bike nut who rode all the way to Ladakh and back. I cannot be sure, it may have been the specific bike I was riding, but I found the bike slightly vibey beyond 100. However, jump to 200 NS from the earlier generation of Pulsars, say from the hugely popular 220 DTSi and it won’t fail to surprise you- it’s a big leap forward in the history of Pulsars – at least a few light years ahead of the Pulsars of yore.
KTM DUKE 200
I wonder what should I say about the Duke. An absolute maniac and hooligan to the core, the motor loves revving to the moon and even beyond with the power coming high up the rev chart. Though higher on the acoustics graph, the smoothness is something everyone today would be well aware of. The authority and rush with which it surges gives you a feeling as if it has a life of its own and at times it’ll be like you taming it rather than controlling. Ever had a pet dog that pounced on as you came back from work and you found it hard to control him? The Katoom is a mechanical analogy of your pup. Throttle is spot-on crisp and even a millimeter of movement of your wrist would return a precise rise in rpm. The gear shifts are a delight and the coarse growl would make you smile every time you take it out for a spin. As mentioned above, I found the vibes to be less when compared to the NS in the peak rev range, the only thing on the rise is the exhaust note. Then again, I have been contradicted by plenty of my friends who think the the Pulsar is more refined of the two. Loud and outspoken but a smooth operator to simplify.
And finally, we come to the Honda. Honda is synonymous with smoothest of all powerplants but the CBR’s engine takes a slightly different trail to Honda’s philosophy in refinement. I don’t say it’s not smooth, but it’ll make you know that it is working hard. I recollect that during my first test ride of the CBR, I was expecting it to behave like a Unicorn engine with more displacement. However, unlike the “Silent Killer” (that is what I generally refer to the Unicorn as), this one sounded brash and loud in comparison. But compared with the baby Duke the CBR sounds tacit. The engine is buzzy and the needle precision FI system can be felt working, be it at idle or on the move. Gear shifts are typically Honda in shift quality. One cannot exactly call the buzz on grips below 3000 revs as vibes but again, this is something very unexpected from a Honda. Its back to being a Honda motor once you head north of 3k mark on the tacho though. On one hand where the screaming Duke would loudly announce the numbers building up on the speedo, the CBR would do the same in typical Honda style. The surge that you get on the Duke post 8000, would be felt at a full 3000 revs less in comparison. The fun and play factor lies between the 5000 – 8000 rpm range where the torque reserve lies in slumber to be awakened. Even in top gear it’ll start pulling away with no fuss- and with the numbers building up, it’s only the engine that’ll be talking about the speed and not the vibes. Similar to the Duke, the vibes don’t get on the high with rise in speed. Though the CBR’s engine betters the Duke’s composure character even at speeds where the Duke seems running out of breath. The mid-range you experience on the CBR is something neither the NS nor the Duke can match. I’d say the engine is the biggest USP of this motorcycle and I would give it an extra point over both the NS and the Duke.
PULSAR 200 NS
Another aspect that carries the reincarnated Pulsar legacy into the Kaizen orbit is the handling. Regulars on Motoroids might remember how mighty pleased our bike testers were the first time they sampled the NS. Nervous and twitchy characters associated with Pulsars are tales of the past. The 200 NS is a light but surefooted athlete aided with decent soft compound shoes that can change directions at speed of thought. I was surprised to see the not so popular Europgrip rubber turned out to be a good gripper well in both dry and on wet tarmac. Being a Pulsar owner once upon a time, I was curious as to how the rear holds up. Traditionally Pulsars being forward weight biased had their tails shedding weight during cornering and that creepy feeling of the rear tyre trying to overtake the front was afresh in my mind. The 200NS though, turned out to be a total surprise package as the NS can corner and how! We never had a knee down in our mind but on an occasion of trailing Glen’s NS with my CBR, the NS just shot ahead from a corner where I had to slow down. The only place where CBR scores above NS in this department is the straight-line confidence at 100 kmph and above. Mid corner braking too is a no brainer, the suspension being on the stiffer side holds up well and doesn’t waiver from its determined track. Braking in the straight-line is good and sharp and brakes provide ample stopping feedback. A few of the many instances that this bloke can keep up or leave behind the best of bikes available in the similar bracket at present. It handles like a fine tipped pen moving around in a stencil. So finally, we have a Pulsar that handles well too.
KTM DUKE 200
If the NS is fine tipped pen, then I’d say the Duke is a gramophone stylus. Want to play a track, show it the line and it won’t budge an inch. The aggressive riding position makes cornering extremely fun and impulses you to stick your knee out and literally hang off the bike (nope, we didn’t do that). It feels so light and planted- with each passing corner you feel you can go faster than the previous one. Similar as the NS, the Duke holds up well during mid corner braking and correction. If I had the guts, and happened to correct my line mid way into a corner, I’d straighten up the bike, tap one or maybe 2 gears down, whack the throttle- let the rear overspin, a fishtail, the rubber trying to bite into the tarmac once again and back onto the line- all in a flash…. talk about having fun! It feels more planted than the NS in straight-line at higher speeds, but still not as stable as the CBR. The braking is fantastic- better than the other two. No doubt that with a punchy engine, the handling of the Duke doubles the thrill factor on every occasion you swing your leg across. Once in momentum, you cannot help treating this bike as a toy- a big one, that you can play with, throw around, go sweeping the ‘S’ curves, drift, skid, just anything! It has the ability to make a boring day an exciting one in a matter of 5 minutes. The tyres are great in dry and the low profile makes for extreme cornering. Won’t be wrong to call the Duke an Ice-Skate- the heaviest skate in the world to call, but it’ll reciprocate with more grins every time you head out on a run.
Imagine a nice stretch of tarmac, devoid of any bumps or pits and some lovely wide twisties- the CBR is bliss to ride. With great mid-range in hand, you will be flowing like a river….till you see an uneven patch mid corner. The bike will twitch, shiver a bit and even run wide of your desired line and you’d be putting in all your might to bring your baby back to normal. The paradise that you were floating on like a cloud some moments back has suddenly transformed into a scary experience. Well that’s the CBR for you- the extra weight and the longer wheelbase makes for terrific straight-line stability but the soft suspension setup (particularly the front) and average compound tyres kill the fun factor into the corners. Unlike the Duke or the NS, it’s not a bike that you can sit for the first time and go wedging the corners. You will be all at sea than home. The rear monoshock at a softer setting on a bump during a lean will give you a camel ride experience. The CBR doesn’t like tight cornering at higher speeds and moreover has a disliking for certain kind of surfaces, for example layered asphalt. You have to be cautious even in dry on such surfaces, when wet make sure you cut down by 50% of your speed that you would generally go dry. Though surprisingly the braking system on all the three are from the ByBre stable, all provide different degrees of performance and feedback. On the CBR, the brakes are typically Honda – spongy and gradual. Also to add, the front suspension being on the softer side dives on hard braking resulting in a lighter end and what you get is a staggered feedback from the rear as you try to calibrate and balance the braking input. The braking is decent when applied gradually, but sudden and panic braking is something that’ll make your hair stand up. Have the money? Go C-ABS! As mentioned earlier on the straight-line ability- you won’t feel a nudge even at 140, it’s that assuring, though you would be ducking in to avoid the wind chopping of your head. If a multiple laned highway and you had to switch lanes in a hurry at that speed, the CBR shows amazing poise. In the end you win some, you lose some.
A QUICK AND COLLECTIVE TAKE ON THE COSMETIC FRONT
In the order of superiority, it’s the Duke that takes the honours on the build quality. It’s a fantastically well put together motorcycle that, even on close scrutiny, won’t give you an opportunity to crib about quality (we’re disregarding the mirrors and the switchgear here). The Orange shade looks deep finished and is a delight to look irrespective of the background it’s placed at. Everything is just perfect about the Duke and it looks worth every penny that you have shed on this classy motorcycle.
The Pulsar looks great from a few metres. Get close and the painted surfaces look good, but the plastics which have been polished to look good and upmarket still don’t look like one. Have a closer look on the inner side of the tank extensions, even the small bikini fairing over the headlamp- it’s just not upto the mark and the cost cutting evidently shows up. In the end, what you get a bit more plastic than desired. No one should not be complaining in the end, after all its still a hell lot of bike for the money.
The CBR disappoints on this front- though not much. However, if you have something like a flawless Duke in the lineup and moreover that is nearly 30 grands (big money that) cheaper than the CBR- it should have been an obligation on part of Honda to justify the retail price. The plastic of the CBR is of good quality, unfortunately the finishing is not. The CBR used in this comparo was from the second batch, and though the third batch of CBRs post better quality points- still I’d vote for the Duke.
The territory (suspension) where the CBR lost points earlier to the duo, equalizes the score on comfort. The soft suspension that snatched away the smile from your face will be bought back on bad and broken roads- particularly the monoshock is fabulous when in operation. The Pulsar might have a more upright riding position, but the stiff suspension will ensure that you share the suffering and sorrow the tyres and the suspension are going through on bad roads. The Duke betters the Pulsar (on suspension) but not by much- thanks to the weird sitting stance and it’s the CBR that takes the cake on comfort. I have graduated from a Karizma to the CBR and surprisingly on long rides if I have to recollect my Karizma riding experience on similar stretches, it’s the CBR that causes less fatigue despite the forward biased riding position. I’m not sure how it works, but I believe the riding position itself distributes your body weight and doesn’t concentrate your weight on your butt and back. Another point added to the CBR’s table.
Habituation, without a doubt, is a bad trait. Before the Karizma, I had a Pulsar 150 DTSi that I used to tour on. I never knew what protection from wind drag/blast was. Even with the Karizma later, it was still an alien term. All this changed as soon as I bought the CBR. Riding it for the past 6 months, I’ve realized the importance of wind protection. Commuting and short bursts are still acceptable on any motorcycle- in fact the breed of bikes that we have been feeding on all these years with riders doing long distances on smallish naked motorcycles. But we didn’t have a choice, did we? Now with an option of choosing a faired bike, it adds up an advantage. Wind-drag tires you- there’s no disagreeing on this fact. The CBR protects rest of your body from the blast, though the inclination of the bikini fairing could have been slightly more upright to cut down the helmet drag. Anyways another point to the CBR’s tally.
SUMMING IT UP
There were a lot of other points that could have been juggled into the comparison, but I tried to emphasize on the performance factors.
Before I wrap up with my conclusion, I’d like you to read what the other two riders had to say:
“OH”! The 2 lettered expression when I first saw the NS. I must say I was pretty excited about seeing it. To start off the bike does look much bigger in pictures. The first thing that strikes is the mixture of the 135 and the new sporty look. The seat and the ride posture is great and would be fantastic for long cruise experiences and city missions. The plastic is of good quality but it’s still plastic! The plastics on the Duke are however of better grade. Comparing with the Baby Duke, we do have some striking common sights. Nevertheless, Bajaj has done a fantastic job with the build quality on the 200 NS. There have always been complaints of similar looks across the range of the 150 to the 220 and the 200 NS exactly takes care of that aspect. From the rear you think it’s a Pulsar (from the legendary look of-course, and no I ain’t complaining). The bike from the front does have an aggressive look, but at a glance appears a mutated enlarged 135. I tried to see the people reaction on it and rode in-front and behind a couple of vehicles to take notice of the bike and it did not attract too many eye-balls. However, I took it to the side to let it get a nice glaring side view and suddenly seemed like eye-balls had been glued all over. The look is muscular and appealing. You really cannot ignore is the wind blast. The sitting position / posture is nice and upright, but once you start harassing the throttle you know the wind is going to get on your chest ! Yes, part and parcel of the ‘naked’ truth. The engine is smooth for sure. The only thing I can think of here is – Will it sustain? I found the mono suspension on the bike absolutely brilliant during the ride and when cruising around the curves. I found the brakes very responsive. So much so that I think that’s a great improvement over my 220’s braking system. We all know how the 220’s rear breaking thresholds and the NS did not feature that trademark. In fact the breaking was so responsive, I had to be extra cautious when braking as habituated. The gearing was very much like the Baby Duke, but I have to say- the Duke did pack in some aggressive grunt and pull. The 200 NS is not far behind. I was running out of gears soon after starting and at times, I did search for the gear higher up there after being in the top gear.
What do I compare this with ? What are the competitors in the given price range? There is nothing really in the price range and this is where a buyer has to really sit down and either do the math or go with their personal preferences. Do you want the looks, the performance, the overall package, the brand, the features, the upgrades, the spares, the maintenance, the initial cost ? All that really matters. Would I recommend the bike to a new buyer looking at the 200NS- Yes, overall package is good. Duke or the NS ? – This is tricky indeed. For 35k extra, I can get the Duke, the KTM brand name and the extra power and a complete different setup. So, if finance is an issue – then the NS it is, if not than the Duke it is. But as soon as you start looking at the Duke, the CBR comes in next and that killer loop is never ending we all know. However, the 200 NS is at a decently sweet spot to barge into potential market. Any user upgrading from a 100/110/135/150/180 segment can look at the 200 NS as a good upgrade option. The closest rivals are its own 220, Duke and the Yamaha R15. But, again the R15 is a different genre by itself. This being a review of the bike we really cannot and not going to compare the performance aspects across the bikes. Many might wonder – What happens to the CBR after this? I say – It remains untouched on the performance front, but the NS would save you a lot of money, if you can do with a little less. The Bajaj Pulsar 200NS is feature rich, it gives the end rider – the feeling of a Duke, good power, the technology, the adrenaline and overall a good feature ready street bike. But would I consider it an upgrade from my 220? Probably I wont.
Glen had a very few words to offer:
“The NS is a surprisingly quick bike for its class and stature. The crisp revving engine responds instantly to the throttle. The bike has a good upright riding posture and provides a good view of everything around you. The bike feels light once you sit on it and is flickable in traffic. The only thing you can think of doing on the NS is riding it fast and hard between traffic. The revving engine gives you the adrenaline to thrash this bike hard. Braking and handling is quite spot on and the bike leans into corners with ease. For me, it lacks the mid-rev torque of the 220 though. The bike can shoot quickly to a 100 clicks. You may use it for occasional short weekend getaways. However if you plan to use this as a commuting bike and a tourer, let’s assume your longest tour was a minimum of 3 days with a lot of luggage and riding, then this bike doesn’t fit the bill for me. For someone like me, coming from the 220, and wanting something more, it wouldn’t probably be a big enough upgrade.”
And finally my conclusion and I’d agree with both Hanoz and Glen. It all boils down to individual preferences based on need. Let me at the outset state that this comparison was not projected to pick an “overall” winner. I would say these three already are winners in their own rightful ways. The comparison was intended to highlight the relative strengths and weaknesses of these three motorcycles and what trait appeals the most to you for making a choice.
The CBR trails the two on handling and well, a bit of build quality when compared to the Duke. Also the extra pricing over the NS by a huge margin and substantially over the Duke might imperil its candidature- but in the end it’s indeed a well put together and a very versatile motorcycle. It can do nearly everything you throw at it – from daily commutes to relentless highway touring- it’ll accept all with humility. The Honda engine can take a lot of thrashing and still won’t mumble.
The Duke on the other hand is exuberance personified. Bold and handsome, it can tear through traffic like a surgeon’s knife and will attract stares whether still or moving. It’ll keep you engaged and thrilled whatever time you spend with it. Though it’s a no match to the CBR on the highway, it’ll still make a great companion for weekend trips if the riding position doesn’t bother you much.
Speaking of the NS, the new Pulsar is a mix of everything one would wish to have and at a palatable sticker price. It can do nearly everything the KTM can at a discounted cost. A good upright position makes it a good outing means, though again a no match for the CBR on the highways. In the end one really cannot disregard the shattering value for money the Pulsar offers to its buyers.
If still in a dilemma of what to go for, I’d say:
If you do not want to compromise on any aspects of the fun that we call biking and money isn’t your concern- go blindly for the CBR. It’ll compensate and account for the extra money in straight line performance reliability and built. Don’t expect it to score over its rivals as regards handling though.
If you are slightly constrained on a budget and street biking is your forte, the KTM is a hoot at an unbeatable price. .
And that finally brings us to the Pulsar- the most economical option of the three. As has been the case with the earlier generation of Pulsars, it’ll give you more bang for your hard earned money and still offer performance on par or even better than it’s more expensive rivals. With a Rs 1 lakh budget in mind, there is absolutely no way in which you could go wrong with the NS. Its also a terrific option for those buying bikes in the Rs 70-80k bracket to save up a little more, and get a substantially better product.
Note of thanks: Yogesh Gehlot for this Duke, Sameer Naik for his 200NS, Glen and Hanoz for their valuable time and feedback.