Bajaj has brought its Pulsar sportsbikes a long way. It started over a decade ago, when Autocar India tests of the first-gen Pulsar saw us grumbling about heavy handling and imprecise gear shifting on these early bikes. A tipping point came quickly though, with the twin-plug engine or DTS-i-equipped Pulsars, that breathed fresh life into the series as well as our relationship with Bajaj. Thereon, smaller wheels made the Pulsars nimbler, from where, there has been no looking back as newer models soared higher, making these the sportsbikes of choice for the masses.
Which brings us to the new RS 200 the Pulsar Bajaj spent plenty of time perfecting before placing in dealerships. It’s been worth the wait, for the RS is a thoroughly developed bike, apparent from the instant you thumb the starter. Yes, this Bajaj offers a more refined, and smoother engine than the KTM RC 200 it goes up against. The feel-good factor is all the more apparent should you be lucky to get around a race track on the Pulsar. Here’s where the Pulsar RS 200 really tells you how far Bajaj has come.
The race track and pit lane are home turf for the RC 200, KTM’s aggressive, track-focussed, entry-level single. With Bajaj owning half this Austrian off-road and sportsbike specialist, there’s a lot this duo have in common, including the basic engine blueprint.
Yet, there’s a lot to differentiate the bikes as well. The KTM deploying several more premium elements, such as upside-down front forks and an alloy swingarm for its chassis, where the Pulsar sticks with its more affordable mantra, shunning these trick ingredients to stay more practical with price as the priority.
We’re at the Sriperumbudur race circuit for this story, focus being on cracking the whip behind both bikes to see how they stack up ridden hard, back-to-back in this adrenaline-inducing environment. It’s common knowledge that bikes built to excel on track lack the comfort riders look for in daily use. And so, you forgive the RC 200 on this front, where the Pulsar RS 200 does somehow manage to deliver on, to an extent, with its more upright, clip-on handlebars, and more forward-set rider footrests. Exactly how much performance does the new Pulsar trade in on-track, however, is the question.
In terms of power, the RC 200 holds the edge, 24.7bhp availed at 10,000rpm, where the Pulsar RS 200 makes 24.2bhp at 9,750. Torque on tap is similar, 1.96kgm for the KTM and 1.9kgm at 8,000rpm on the Bajaj. Both bikes have 199.5cc engines, with liquid-cooled single-cylinders, but the numbers that make a difference to this story are the KTM’s 154kg weight; significantly lighter than the Pulsar (by 11kg) to hand over a crucial power-to-weight ratio advantage you feel when pushing around a track.
Heading out at Sriperumbudur, what is immediately felt is how smartly Bajaj has tuned power delivery on the single overhead camshaft-equipped Pulsar RS 200. Both bikes come with four-valve heads. The single-plug RC 200 feels the thoroughbred it is, revving quickly to its top-end to reach its electronic rev limiter unless you shift in time; you have to keep the motor on the boil. In contrast, the triple-plug fired RS 200 excels with potent enough acceleration anywhere from mid-range, with top-end power delivery that’s not too far behind the KTM. On the back straight, the maximum speed the Pulsar RS 200 attained was 132.1kph, impressively 2kph up on the RC 200’s 130kph.
The Pulsar responds with crisp throttle response to virtually keep pace with the similarly fuel-injected KTM. This makes things easier when pelting out of low-speed corners or mid-corner when it doesn’t bother you to downshift for power on corner exit. Its flexibility proved valuable at the race track. Yes, the RC 200 is the faster bike, but the difference isn’t quite as much as you’d think, data showing really close cornering speeds, between 1kph-3kph separating the duo anywhere on the track; the RS 200 even managing a faster exit speed from the second corner at the track.
In the end, the fastest lap achieved by our guest pro-rider, K Rajini, was 2 minutes 13.63 seconds on the Pulsar RS 200, and 2min 10.56sec on the RC 200. Interestingly, my personal quickest lap time (2m 23.46s) came from the Pulsar, compared to (2m 25.42s) on the RC, going to show how little there is to choose between the two.
Now here’s where the KTM justifies its higher sticker price to steal a march on the Bajaj, with the better chassis, suspension and brakes, and wider tyres, all in place. The RC 200 comes with a steel trellis frame, where the RS 200 is packed into a perimeter frame. While the KTM offers upside-down front forks, the Pulsar makes do with standard telescopes, and lacks a rear alloy swingarm to support its monoshock, which is present on the RC. The RC also uses a larger diameter front disc, and a slightly lower profile rubber from MRF. Attacking corners, the lighter RC clearly turns in faster, with sharper, more accurate feedback, going exactly where you want it to, when you want it to, as proves invaluable at a race circuit.
The RC 200’s taut set-up comes into its own here, eclipsing the Pulsar RS 200 with its aggressive, weight-forward riding position making it the bike you want under you on- track. It’s quicker when tucking into corners or exiting them, and stops with confidence before them. MRF tyres on both bikes are impressive, providing ample, reassuring grip throughout this test.
Two to tango
Yes, the Pulsar RS 200 isn’t quite the bike the RC 200 makes, on track, but the duo isn’t separated by quite the margin you might expect. And that’s with the Bajaj making a more practical bike to ride daily, where the KTM falls behind. Going racing, with the Indian circuits of Greater Noida, Sriperumbudur or Coimbatore located nearby? Rent a garage in the pit lane to park your KTM RC 200 for those adrenaline-packed weekend thrills. Need a quick, comfy ride through traffic to get to the track? Take along your Bajaj Pulsar RS 200.
|On the racing line|
|Lap time||Top speed||Exit C1||Exit C6||Exit onto straight|
|Pulsar RS 200||2m13.63s||132.1kph||107.89kph||105.10kph||93.62kph|