Bajaj Dominar 400 hyperbiking-worth the hype?

I rode new Bajaj Dominar 400 for about 254 kms last weekend, rented from Royal Brothers. This post is my review of the bike, based on this short usage.
Above: Bajaj Dominar 400 at Thimmappana Betta near Ramanagar

The Looks
It is subjective. I got a blue coloured one, which almost felt like black in the basement from were I collected it. On a cloudy day the colour difference was hard to spot. Only on day 2 when we headed out and got some sunlight, I could get proper feel of the colours.  Dominar retains lots of design cues from Pulsar family and some inputs borrowed from KTM range. The fuel tank, Engine compartment, exhaust, rider seat and headlamp assembly blend perfectly to give a neat, muscular mean machine look. No specific style elements here, Dominar is pure business. Even the headlamp is aerodynamic to cut through air (many bikes get flat headlamps which offer resistance). Turn indicators are too small to be noticed, but with powerful LEDs, they can't be missed when switched on. If Indicators could be incorporated within headlamp and tail lamp, it would have saved some cost of ownership (indicators break apart very easily, easy money for bike companies and dealers)

How does Dominar feel to ride?
When you sit on Dominar and feel it, its overweight can be immediately felt. (Dominar is as heavy as Classic 350, at around 180 kgs+) But as you start moving, the raw surge of power makes you feel as if you’re floating- the same feeling I got in HD Street 750 and Kawasaki Versys 750. But nothing to worry, Dominar’s heavy weight and low centre of gravity will keep it planted to the road. Dominar has very good acceleration (compared to RE, Avenger and 200 NS, I haven’t tried KTM) and each gear has enough range to sustain even if you’re off by a gear for the speed you’re in. I felt the suspension is a bit hard to my liking- most pothole impact were directly transferred to riders. But this was a rented bike. Suspension can be adjusted- if you buy one, you can get it set to your comfort level.

Dominar is not designed to top in any specific department such as speed, agility, fuel economy, comfort etc. (There're different bikes for each of the single objectives- if you need a cruiser and long distance comfortable riding, there's Avenger, if you need high mileage city bike there's Pulsar, if you need extremely light and powerful bike, there's KTM, if you need big cruisers there's Kawasaki Versys and Ninja series). Dominar is a bit of compromise on all departments and is packaged as a Power cruiser- an all in one bike that can be used for city, highway, long rides, adventure etc. If you don't have a single point expectation from your bike and need it to do a bit of everything- weekday office ride, weekend long rides, occasional high speed performance and so on, then Dominar is a contender.

Slipper Clutch is said to be a cool thing in Dominar400. With slipper clutch, you can downshift 2-3 gears at a time, brake little later and achieve quicker cornering. If there's significant mismatch between engine revvs and actual speed of the rear wheels (happens as you enter a corner-you've stopped accelerating but rear wheels are still rotating in high speed due to momentum, if not managed well by either braking and downshifting or accelerating again, the difference in forces can create trouble (stalling, or wheels losing traction etc). Slipper clutch will manage this difference well by letting rear wheel spin freely without trying to push power back to engine chamber and ensuring that slower revving engine doesn't try to slow the wheels (Engine braking). I am not really a cornering expert to put this to test and comment on it. Despite the slipper clutch advantage, Dominar is heavier and has lower ground clearance- cornering in KTM/200 NS might be more agile, but please cross check on this.

I had to comply with Royal Brother’s 100 kmph speed limit, so I can’t comment much on bike’s top speed or high speed performance. Dominar has a designated top speed of about 167 kmph, around 30kmph less KTM 390, whose engine is used in Dominar after tweaking it for riding comfort than top speed. One seldom gets to reach such top speeds in India on a bike and even if bike allows, the risk of a stray animal or a bad pothole or a pebble upsetting your ride is too high. So for all practical purposes, we don’t need that kind of top speeds in India. The bike I got had logged 12000+ kms on the odo and felt like a service was due. The central lock was not very smooth- had to struggle a pit to engage lock position, the engine noise was not very refined, the chain had lots of play- not firm enough. Engine coolant level was at halfway point (which is above the minimum mark and was good enough for my 2 day use, but for longer rides, you would prefer it to be closer to max position). While these things didn’t prevent me from enjoying the bike ride, it prevented me from getting the most optimal experience from the bike. If you’re used to Pulsar 200 NS then Dominar 400 will be a similar experience, only more powerful.

In terms of agility, Dominar being HyperAgile is not entirely true. 200 NS, KTM bikes will probably give better maneuverability, cornering experience. But if we talk w.r.t Royal Enfields, then yes, Dominar is Hyper Agile.

One I rode was without ABS- Even then, braking is extremely precise and powerful. Headlamp is also one of the most powerful and whitest I have seen and experienced.
Will Dominar be able to upset Royal Enfield Markets? No. Bajaj hopes to disrupt Royal Enfield market with Dominar, trying to convince RE buyers to consider Dominar. There’s a specially made ad, #HaathiMatPaalo comparing Royal Enfield to Elephant (Expensive to maintain, not fast and agile and heavy). Equally interesting is the reply from RE fans to this ad (watch here). It is very much true that Dominar has more power, top speed, agility than any Royal Enfield bike. But then, Royal Enfield buyers seldom make their decision based on any rational factors. Royal Enfields are booked not because of speed, fuel economy, agility or any other such parameters- people book bullets because they want to join the cult- because their dad or someone in the family owned one, because one wants to buy a bullet and join bullet riding clubs or because one likes the roar of the engine or how macho the bike feels and such emotional reasons. If “I need to get from Point A to Point B in least time with least fuel” was the criteria there are many other contenders. Thus Dominar is not likely to disrupt Royal Enfield’s popularity, despite being better and more reliable, practical and agile.
Above: Dominar in company of other bikes with whom I had a Sunday morning breakfast ride.

Dominar 400 vs Pulsar 200 NS: Dominar costs about 60-70k more than Pulsar 200 NS. Dominar is 30 kgs heavier, gets some extra stuff like slipper clutch, more power, bigger disc, wider front tyre and so on. Is this difference worth? This is something you need to take a conscious decision about. If your usage is like 80% city and only 20% long rides, it might make more economical sense to stick with 200 NS or CS- save on upfront cost, save on fuel, with only marginal compromise in top speed/performance. Dominar is slightly taller, longer, wider than 200 NS but the difference in riding posture, comfort are almost negligible. But if you want your bike to be bigger and powerful than most other bikes in 200-250 cc range, then Dominar is good consideration. It is competitively priced and has lots of things in its favor.

Also I liked the Honda CB400X that I rode in Thailand. That bike, if introduced in India could have been a good competitor for Dominar 400. Honda is more fuel efficient and agile.
Fuel economy of Bajaj Dominar: Poor. 35 kmpl is the declared official fuel economy for Bajaj Dominar 400. I got around 21. When I collected the bike, it had just 1 bar fuel. I had to add fuel just as much as I needed- if I added more, I won’t get any reimbursement. So during next 2 days, I added fuel multiple times, in small installments like 200 Rs, 100 Rs etc. Reading would increase by a bar or two but will soon drop to single. In total I had to add about 850 Rs worth of fuel, before I returned the bike at same 1 bar fuel reading. 850 Rs is about 12 litres of fuel, at around 70 Rs per litre. 12 litres for just 254 kms of usage is a fuel economy of 21.6 kmpl.  Which is too bad for a bike. But I need to declare that analogue fuel gauges are not very precise. Only full tank to full tank will give clear idea on fuel consumption. Because of this, if I give some benefit of doubt that about 1 litre of fuel I added was not really consumed and was still left in the tank, then the average mileage for Bajaj Dominar 400 comes to 23 kmpl which is still bad. Add to this, I wasn’t really riding for fuel economy. But then no one who buys this kind of bikes likes to ride them at 40-50kmph because that saves some fuel. If going at 40-50kmph is fine one can simply buy a Hero Splender, 3 times cheaper, 3 times more fuel efficient. Plus of course the bike I rode felt like it needs a service badly. Properly serviced bike will give slightly better fuel efficiency. But that can’t be an excuse. A good bike should give decent fuel economy without expecting frequent servicing. Servicing costs several thousand rupees- if servicing is the only way to increase fuel efficiency then it is not worth it, as cost of service need to be factored in per km running cost and it won’t be worth it. (Any minor increase in fuel efficiency won’t help you recover money spent on servicing). So all in all, I guess you should expect a fuel efficiency of around 20-25 kmpl from Bajaj Dominar 400.

With 13 litre tank, your range is limited to around 275-300kms, which is very low by touring standards.

Tail lamp is not clear lens- I guess it is kept for future enhancement.
Review summary of Bajaj Dominar 400 (non ABS)
What I liked
  1. Superb brakes and grip on the road
  2. Bright white headlights
  3. Great combination of power, speed, riding comfort
What I didn’t like
  • 21 kmpl fuel economy & 300 km practical range.
  • Hard suspension
  • Weight

For my 2 days, 254 kms usage, I spent Rs 3000 on rental + 850 on fuel. That is almost as expensive as renting a small car. But no regrets. Dominar was worth the try.

Similar: Bajaj Avenger Street 220 review * ONN Bikes vs Royal Brothers

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