Back in the day when MotoGP ran two-stroke motorcycles, the 250cc class was rather special. It sat just below the 500cc MotoGP class, meaning most 250cc riders were ready to make the jump to the big class. Over the decades, the definition and positioning of 250cc road bikes has changed across markets and today, they are largely regarded as an entry-point to more performance-oriented motorcycles in most countries, including ours. That said, it’s only in the recent years that we’ve seen a steady influx of 250cc machines. Bajaj Auto somehow skipped the proper quarter-litre space though – the Pulsar 220 has been its largest displacement motorcycle, besides the Dominar 400. But the Pune-based manufacturer has just launched its first 250cc machine, the Dominar 250.
Why a Dominar 250 and not a Pulsar 250 you must wonder? Bajaj’s reasoning is that the Pulsar RS200 and 220 have all the juice fans of its popular street bike look for. But the Dominar 400, which has been gaining popularity as a sports tourer, especially after Bajaj launched the vastly improved version, has turned out to be a little out of reach for many. Moreover, Bajaj feels the step up to the D400 is proving a bit too steep for a lot of 150/200cc motorcycle riders. Be it its performance or heft, not to mention the pricing, the 400 has been a fruit that’s not really easy to pluck off the tree for many. Hence, the Dominar 250. In essence, you get the same motorcycle with a smaller, less powerful motor and of course, a lower sticker price. Does it deliver the goods though? Let’s find out.
Visually there’s not much to distinguish the Dominar 250 from the 400. The headlight is the same, ultra-bright all-LED unit and so are the mirrors. The upside-down forks look identical to the 400’s 43mm units but are all-new, 37mm tubes. The instrument cluster, fuel tank, seat, double-barrel exhaust, rear cowl and tail lights are the same though. And this is a fine-looking motorcycle. The fuel tank and extensions, contours of the seat and rear cowl all make for a muscular looking machine and give the Dominar 250 lots of character. One visual change is that the 250 uses skinnier tyres – 100-section at the front and 130-section at the rear – which affects its appeal a bit, especially from the rear.
Moving on, the Dominar 250 is powered by the same 248.8cc, liquid-cooled single pot motor as the KTM 250 Duke. It also gets the same goodies like the 4-valve, DOHC setup but has traded some of the punch. The motor offers 26.6bhp here at 8,500rpm (the KTM offers 29.5bhp at 9,000rpm) along with 23.5Nm at 6,500rpm (the 250 Duke’s torque output is 24Nm at 7,500rpm). Bajaj has also softened the power delivery and made the bottom end and mid-range grunt meatier, unlike the KTM which is tuned for more aggressive power delivery and a stronger top-end punch. Bajaj has retained the Duke’s ratios on the six-speed transmission and you also get the slipper clutch meaning you get the same setup as the more expensive KTM, for less.
The motor also feels refined. But while it is quick to build revs and offer good grunt at low to mid revs, the top end left me a little wanting. Sixth gear is good only for cruising and any need to accelerate in sixth calls for a downshift. The idea behind the setup, Bajaj tells us, is to ease inexperienced riders into the 250cc segment. The impressive bit is the engine is happy cruising at triple-digit speeds and holding 100kmph in sixth is a cinch, with the tachometer displaying about 7,000rpm. The engine tends to have a bit of vibration above 8,000rpm, but that’s not what this motorcycle is intended for. It is intended for mile-munching and it does a fairly good job of it. Even after nearly two hours in the saddle, my hands were not buzzy and my backside wasn’t making me squirm in discomfort, telling me the D250 is a competent touring machine.
I’ve not been a fan of the fully-digital instrument cluster – it looks a little dated and is not clearly legible in bright sunlight. There’s a set of tell-tale lights on the fuel tank but they’re not really in your line of vision and I’d rather have them sit in the main display itself. Moving on to ride and handling, the skinnier tyres do affect the Dominar 250’s visual stance at first glance but do not disappoint on the handling front as they allowed me to go fast around corners with confidence even on wet roads. Bajaj also tells us the tyre sizes and profiles are exactly the same as the Pulsar RS200, but these MRFs have been developed specifically for the Dominar 250, using a better compound. The relatively longer travel forks mean it isn’t very quick to change direction, but the suspension does offer lots of confidence. The bike also feels stable at highway speeds while ride quality is firm, but not stiff. The seat is easily among the most comfortable ones in the 250cc class, meaning the Dominar 250 will certainly make a good touring machine.
So priced at about Rs 1.60 lakh ex-showroom, the Dominar 250 retails at about Rs 35,000 lesser than the Dominar 400 and roughly about Rs 40,000 lesser than the 250 Duke. And that is a big difference, especially for somebody investing as much money on a motorcycle. In that sense, the Dominar 250 is certainly good value for money though I would have liked it to be slightly lighter and offer a bit more performance. But overall, if you’re looking for a sub-2 lakh rupee motorcycle that’s comfortable for riding distances, this is a motorcycle you could look at.