Pulsar 220F - Why It Continues to Rule
It was almost a decade ago that I saw this school kid pass by in this black bike. It's rear looked massive to me.
It was a time when we had simple, slim, high-mileage motorbikes. But this thing had massive tires and a sporty silencer that I could never forget. I used to think 'how it feels to ride that monster?'
But today that monster is no longer a monster, and has competition that outshines it in every department. And that monster is the Pulsar 220F. It may be a 'simpleton' 220cc motorbike for most people from outside India, but it was and has been something special for me and like-minded guys in my country.
Someone once said, "The Pulsar 220 is to Bajaj, what the Nissan GTR was to Nissan a longtime ago."
I don't remember the year when I saw the motorbike. It was a long time ago and I used to think it was too expensive for me. Today, I own it and love it.
But that's not my story. My story is the saga and legend of the 220. It was touted as the "Fastest Indian" at one time, which has obviously been snatched away by other bikes. But the 220 continues to charm youngsters and many middle-aged men too.
Competition from Within
When Bajaj Auto thought of releasing the Pulsar AS 200 and Pulsar RS 200, it seemed that it would be the end of the road for this beast. These new, lesser-cc-higher-power, alternatives are even more complete sportsters, and stunners too. There's no denying about the refinements, looks and quality. Yet, the 220F is here and continues to sell in good numbers. According to April 2016 India motorcycle sales report, the company sold 6,490 units of Pulsar 220. Comparatively, Hero sold a mere 90 of its Karizma model and Honda sold 138 CBR 250R.
Bajaj Auto's plan seemed to be to replace the 220F with the AS 200. However, with an Adventure Sport 200 not performing up to the desired levels in the sales department, the company seems not to have yet found an alternative to the legend. And I would like to differ with the author here, who once said - Is it the end of the road for Pulsar 220F?
Despite Bajaj Auto's best efforts (and even with contributions from the R&D team at KTM), the Pulsar AS 200 is not what Bajaj could create in the form of the Pulsar 220F. The 220 is a class apart and something that will be cherished like the Royal Enfield even after years and years.
The 220 is here to stay and is most probably going to be still selling the same or even more numbers even after the AS200 has been upgraded to something else. In a recent report, Bajaj Auto has been claimed to re-align its production of the Pulsar RS 200 due to less than expected growth. The report also claims that the Pulsar 220 continues to remain a hot sell.
In another report, the Pulsar RS 200 model is struggling with sales. Pulsar 220F has been given preference by many buyers because of its subtle and more grounded looks.
That is the case even after almost a decade of launching this powerful motorbike.
Competition from Hero Karizma
Every few days I come across a new one with the brand new 'registered' sticker on the number plate. Bajaj still sells a decent 4,000 - 6,500 + units every month, and if I am not wrong they don't have any plans of discontinuing the 220F in the near future. The competitor Hero Karizma 223cc doesn't even have its sales in the triple-digits - even though it is a more refined tourer.
When we talk about the Pulsar 220F, a comparison with the Hero Karizma R and ZMR 2014 cannot be skipped. The Karizma, as already mentioned, is a smoother competitor. And the credit for that most likely goes to Honda and not to Hero because it was once a Hero-Honda product. This obviously meant that that engine used to have Honda elements, and we can also suspect that same or similar engine elements have still been retained.
On that line we may also suspect that the 220F has certain elements from Kawasaki.
The Karizma may have a slightly higher displacement, but the 220F is the quicker of the two. Although its slightly higher power-output comes at a higher RPM.
But when it comes to a better and more comfortable tourer, the Karizma is easily the winner. It is not a bike to be taken lightly. It may look too odd in design and proportion on paper, it is still a decent stunner when you come across it in person. And then there's its comfy touring capabilities. It can give you what none other Indian manufacturer can do. Take it to 120 Kmph and it will still be smooth. That seat may not look too sporty, but mind it because it is just perfect for those long hauls. It will keep you glued and comfy like none else.
Even with all this advantage, the Karizma has a dismal performance on the sales front mostly because of the lack of proportion. Eric Buell Racing contributed to the revamped design of Karizma v2.0. After some time the company filed for bankruptcy, probably for unrelated reasons.
Hero is the biggest motorbike seller in the country, yet they don't seem to have any formula to sell their flagship bike. Until now, they also don't seem to have any strategy like Bajaj Auto to upgrade the Karizma series.
Its likely that Bajaj Auto may find an alternative for this legend in the future.
So what is it that makes the Pulsar 220F so special that it continues to turn heads and click numbers (sales)? It's not as refined as its archrival, the Hero Karizma 2014.
For one, the 220F is faster than its archrival. The claimed top speed is a decent 134 Kmph. The unique thing about the 220 is that it is not a frisky motorbike like its brothers RS 200 and AS 200. They both are quicker than it in almost everything.
So how do the power figures compare between all the key players in this segment. The comparison is easy to see from the table given below.
The higher-cc Pulsar 220 and Karizma 223 have higher torque output compared to the 200 cc competitors. However, the smaller mills clinch away the title with their higher BHP output, but at extremely high RPM.
The story of the Pulsar 220F is that of the culmination of a variant that represents the Pulsar 150, 180, 200 and 220, all of which share almost the same platform.
Bajaj Auto moved on with the Pulsar series to the NS 200, but surprisingly the company discontinued the decently successful model and upgraded it to the Pulsar AS 200. However, most of the fans (both online and in public feedback) prefer the naked-bike street-fighter NS 200 more than the quarter-faired AS 200 that is nothing else but the NS 200 with fairing. The engine can be surmised to be exactly the same.
So where does our 'beast' stand among almost half a dozen of Pulsars, where it stands out as the motorbike with the largest engine yet the lowest power-output.
So Why the Masses Still Love the 220F
The Pulsar 220F doesn't cost as much as the other 200cc Pulsars.
The engine is not as refined, as the technology is almost a decade old.
The cost of maintenance is relatively lesser because the parts are cheaper (and even more easily available).
All the other Pulsars have a more or less racing-sports look and feel to them. However, the 220F stands apart with a unique look that's not of any world.
You can rev that engine all day and not have to worry about anything. I have taken it on 600 Km stretches and it doesn't bat an eye. Not even a single problem with starting or any awkward sounds.
Then there is the monstrous look to it that clearly says - "this is not just another sports-racing sprinter." He is a better tourer that loves pulling gradually from standstill and if those YouTube videos and reviews are true, it can take you at 163 Kmph on a day when the breeze is behind you.
220cc may not even be the entry-level displacement for bikes in the EU, US and Japan, still it represents the 'powerful' entry-level segment in India. So, if anyone compares this bike to the global sportsbikes, it would simply not stand anywhere close.
Considering the budget constraints of the lower-middle class youth in India, the Pulsar 220F is certainly the best value-for-money power-bike. The Kawasakis and Hondas in this segment cost 2 to 3 times the price or even more.
Mileage (fuel efficiency) is another plus to the 220F.
The Pulsar AS 200 is claimed to deliver efficiency of 42 Kmpl. The 220F is claimed to offer an efficiency of 38 Kmpl, but if you know how to ride it, it can give you upto 45 Kmpl. That is more than a decent figure for a 220cc Indian motorbike. Yamaha has 150cc bikes in India that gulp a liter of petrol to give just 36 Kmpl. Suzuki does better with around 50 Kmpl. So if a 21 BHP motorbike gives you 43-45 Kmpl compared to a 14 BHP bike with 50 Kmpl, it is easy to make a choice.
I get a fuel efficiency of 43 to 45 kmpl, unless it's time for service.
The NS 200 is claimed to offer 40 Kmpl and the RS 200 only 35 Kmpl.
The Pulsar 220F is claimed to have an aged design and it's easy to tell when it's compared to the better, new Pulsar 200 models.
When you ride it, it doesn't give you the initial drag. But if you can take that throttle to higher revs, you can almost feel terrified by all the torque with which it pushes you ahead. That is one sensational feeling, you cannot feel in the other Pulsar 200 models that seem to have higher power output.
However, what makes it a winner is that it continues to sell. The AS 200, which was probably planned as a replacement for both the Pulsar 220F and the NS 200, is not churning out the numbers that the company had thought of.
I wouldn't be surprised if Bajaj Auto continues to sell this 'monster' even after 10 years, when it has moved on from the current RS 200 and AS 200 to better and more powerful Pulsar variants!
If you ask me what will be my first upgrade, I am thinking of the Mahindra Mojo, KTM Duke 390 and the Hyosung GT650R in the next 2-3 years. I would love to talk on the Mahindra Mojo in my next review. It is another great tourer that stands out from the rest!