It wouldn’t make any sense to wear our running shoes and sprint down memory lane to relive the legacy that the Pulsar moniker has built for itself in the past two decades. I would even stick my neck out to reckon the fact that the Bajaj Pulsar has sort of revolutionized the Indian motorcycling scenario. Almost 20 years after the first breed of Pulsars started ruling our streets, we have yet another new Pulsar in town. When Bajaj dropped the Pulsar 250 twins like a set of nukes on its rivals, it was evident that the new platform will also trickle down to the smaller Pulsars. Enter the Pulsar N160!
Will the NS160 feel like a neglected child now?
C’mon! It’s Bajaj we are talking about! The homegrown bikemaker kept the Pulsar 220F on a ventilator for quite some time before pulling the plug on it only recently. The reason why they keep selling dated products is that we keep buying them.
You don’t have to necessarily be John Maynard Keynes to understand the basic economics behind this model. For the exact same reason, the two 160cc motorcycles from Bajaj’s stable will co-exist together. Bajaj still sells the NS160 in good numbers in some particular markets and we can understand why! If given a choice solely based on aesthetics, I would pick the NS160 over the N160 any day but wait! There’s more to the N160 than what meets the eye.
On paper, the NS160 might seem a bit more specc-ed up in terms of underpinnings because it gets a perimeter frame that we usually see on performance-oriented motorcycles but you don’t ride the spec sheet. The N160 shares its platform with the N250 and is built around a simpler tubular frame. The N160 does a fine job of masking the NS160’s flaws as it gets chunkier tyres, more features, better braking equipment and not to forget, a brand new engine!
If there’s one manufacturer who has mastered the art of carrying the visual genome forward, it has to be Bajaj. It would take surgical eyes to contemplate the visual differences between the N160 and its quarter-litre sibling, with the only difference being the exhaust unit. The N250 gets a side-slung unit while the N160 gets an underbelly exhaust.
Blame the single LED projector headlamp and the housing, the front end looks eerily similar to a particular Japanese naked streetfighter which displaces almost the same! But truth be told, the front end looks better in person and the Brooklyn Black colour scheme particularly looks sinister. This stealthy attire is reserved for the dual-channel ABS variant only. The N160 continues the Pulsar family tradition of muscular fuel tanks and twin vertically stacked tail lamps because as they say, at the end of the day, Family matters!
The overall build quality leaves no room to turn our cynical mode on and go on a nitpicking spree. The switchgear’s quality is decent and be it the panels or the quality of the paint, the N160 comes out as an impressive proposition especially for the segment it has to compete in.
Engine and Performance
The NS160 begged you to grab it by its neck and squeeze all the juice out of it because most of the useable performance was reserved in the top-end but that has changed with the new powertrain that sits in the N160. The 164.9cc air/oil-cooled engine is based on a SOHC, 2-valve architecture which again, is sort of a downgrade from the 4-valve construction of the NS 160’s heart. But then again, when push comes to shove in the real world, it’s the N 160 which comes out as a livelier and gruntier proposition. During the briefing, special emphasis was laid upon the strong low and mid-range. The officials were confident enough to go as far as saying that the N160 is better than the NS 160 in every department and that you’d have to ride it to believe. And ride, we did!
Pressing the ignition is followed by a deep and bassy exhaust note at idle. The clutch action is light and the N160 sets off nicely, purring in the first gear like a sweet kitten it turned out to be! As soon as you get going and start understanding the character of the engine, it doesn’t take long to realize that Bajaj’s claims were right! The strong low and mid-range is hard to ignore as the engine provides a strong and pronounced pull after the tacho needle crosses the 3000rpm mark. The underbelly exhaust deserves a special mention here because it’s loud! I would even go as far as saying that it makes you believe that you’re riding much faster than you actually are. Stealthy livery, not-so-stealthy exhaust.
The linear power delivery doesn’t taper off that much even when you’re sprinting towards the 9,500 rpm redline. We also rode the N160 on wide open roads to factor in its comfortable sailing speeds. As it turned out, the N160 can do 90kmph comfortably with the engine thrumming at 6000rpm in the 5th gear. Since the gears are well spaced out, you don’t necessarily feel the need of a sixth cog. Another department where the N160 shines is the overall refinement. It is definitely smoother than the NS 160 and one can only feel mild vibrations while inching closer to the redline, which is perfectly fine and not bothersome at all. The 5-speed gearbox is a breeze to work around with as it offers precise and slick shifts.
Agility is its ally
The N160 might use a simpler tubular frame as compared to the more rigid and performance-oriented perimeter frame in the NS160, but Bajaj’s claim of the N160 being better than the NS 160 stands true in this regard as well. The N160 borrows its underpinnings from the N250 and hence, retains the same suspension setup as its quarter-litre sibling. Up front, the dual-channel ABS variant gets 37mm telescopic fork and the single-channel ABS variant gets 31mm fork while at the rear, we get a gas-charged monoshock performing the damping duties. Since it is no track tool or your average commuter, the compromise between agility and suppleness is downright commendable.
We rode the N160 in less than perfect conditions with the rain gods unleashing their wrath and the tarmac being disintegrated with each raindrop falling from the sky. But somehow, these unideal circumstances revealed the composure that the N160 rides with. Bumps are absorbed well, without the motorcycle throwing you off the saddle. The front end feels agile enough to meander through our pothole-ridden roads. It feels like it knows exactly what it’s doing and does that with finesse. While the handling might not be razor sharp but the lightness with which it changes direction really makes the N160 an able handler in its class.
The combination of chunkier hoops and a potent braking system also make the N160 feel confident on its feet. The grip offered by the tyres felt adequate enough for wet surfaces but we would have liked to push the motorcycle a little more. Only if we were at the mercy of the rain gods, which we absolutely weren’t. The NS 160 had some flaws, skinny tyres being one of the major ones but with a 100-section front tyre and 130-section rear tyre, the N160 is a job well done.
It’s also the first motorcycle in its class to boast of dual-channel ABS and in an understandable manner, Bajaj is playing this as its trump card. The dual-channel ABS variant gets a 300mm disc up front and a 230mm disc at the rear. The braking prowess at our disposal felt more than adequate for the amount of thrust this motorcycle packs. The front brake has a good bite and even the feedback from the lever is quite nice. So the N160 not only rides better, it brakes better as well.
Feature-packed, well… almost!
The NS160 might still look the part with its cult-like design philosophy but when it comes to the features on offer, it is almost ancient. The N160 carries the baton ahead with LED projector headlamp, USB charging port and a newly designed instrument cluster. If you are a sucker for all-things-analogue, you will appreciate the semi-digital layout of the instrument cluster which also shows a host of information like distance to empty meter and a gear position indicator.
But the thing is, motorcycles of the modern era are loaded with gizmos which the N160 clearly lack. It doesn’t offer anything ‘extra’ over its rivals. Even though Bajaj took its own sweet time to develop this platform, the absence of Bluetooth connectivity feels like a major miss. Not that I want to know live scores on my screen while riding but connected features like turn-by-turn navigation and geo-fencing do add some convenience.
What strikes as a stark realisation is the fact that the N160 is a definite upgrade over the NS 160. It feels more planted and agile, it’s more refined and comes with more features than the archaic NS160. Now with the N160, Bajaj seems prepared to don its boxing gloves and pin its rivals in the corner. If you wish to include a 160cc motorcycle, the N160 demands strong consideration.
The only thing which might hold back the buyers is its price tag because it commands a premium of around 10,000 over the TVS Apache RTR 160 4V. You know what would be interesting? These two age-old rivals brawling it out in the modern era.