With truckloads of KTM-derived updates, the Bajaj Dominar UG can actually take the fight to the class toppers - 390 Duke and G 310 R. Or are we expecting a bit too much?
It won’t be wrong to call the KTMs as the Che Guevaras of the Indian motorcycling scene. They brought power to the people, especially the 390 Duke. Sure, it was overwhelming for first-timers and teenagers, but it was definitely aspirational. The G 310 R has brought the BMW dream closer to those aspiring to own one of the most coveted brands in motorcycling. You may point fingers at us and call us fools, but the Bajaj Dominar UG, with its bagful of essential updates can finally be termed as a power cruiser. And definitely aspirational. It is the most affordable of the three, yet it packs almost all the essential features and then some more. But if you are looking to upgrade from your 200cc motorcycle, which dealership should you head to?
” The Ducati Diavel influence continues with twin clusters and all-new cast alloy mirrors which look almost as delicious as the ones on the X Diavel”
You must be aware that the Dominar is essentially KTM’s dish with Bajaj’s condiments. However, with the 2019 variant, which Bajaj has christened Dominar UG (UG stands for upgrade), the Dominar has gotten even closer to the 390 Duke, at least on paper. The liquid-cooled, 373cc motor now gets twin cams instead of the old SOHC setup along with a new cylinder head that retains the triple spark plugs. The compression ratio too has gone up from 11.3:1 to 12.1:1, resulting in an additional 5 horses over the previous iteration. With 39.5bhp being generated at 8,650rpm and 35Nm of twist being developed at 7,000rpm, there is enough punch now, at least on paper, making it the second most powerful machine of the three.
Next up is the new double barrel exhaust and premium 43mm WP USDs sourced from KTM’s inventory. The Ducati Diavel influence continues with twin clusters and all-new cast alloy mirrors which look almost as delicious as the ones on the X Diavel. The tank-mounted cluster is now an LCD unit, displaying time and trip meters along with the gear position indicator. User feedback along with criticism from auto journos has led to the rear suspension being softened. Other than that, there are subtle cosmetic changes to the headlamp and the seat which now gets a D moniker. You can’t ignore the new green shade that makes it look like a Kawasaki, which isn’t a bad thing at all.
In fact nothing feels bad or cut-price on the Dominar UG, unlike its predecessor. Switchgear remains the same and so do the body panels, but everything feels well put together. Of course, you still cannot put it on the same page as the Beemer, but it’s definitely up there with the Duke. Riding position is neutral with mid-set pegs and a wide handlebar while the seat is comfortable with a lot of space for the pillion as well.
Start the engine and you’ll be surprised (although you shouldn’t) to know that the Dominar now sounds almost as similar to the 2017 390 Duke, especially when you rev it past 6,000rpm. The moment you let go of the clutch, all the horror stories of the past seem to fade away as well. It’s simply quicker on the go with the engine rarely feeling out of breath. We could barely ride the motorcycle for a few hours but Bajaj’s claimed figures suggest a dash to 100kmph in 7.1 seconds, which is quicker than the old Dominar’s by 0.6sec. Even 60kmph is clocked in just 2.7 seconds (claimed figures); an improvement of 0.2 seconds.
The power is delivered higher up the range but without compromising on tractability. 100kmph comes in the sixth gear at 5,000rpm and the Dominar doesn’t run out of breath past 8,000rpm, so the top speed has gone up by 19kmph to 156kmph! This not only gives the Dominar the long legs it always deserved but also allows for easier overtaking on highways. The 390 Duke comes alive past 4,000rpm but the Dominar is comfortable lower down in the rev range as well, thus keeping you comfy without requiring a lot of downshifts.
The handling was always predictable but with the USDs, there is even more feedback from the front end. The brilliant perimeter frame finally gets the power it always deserved. Calling the Dominar sharp may be an overstatement, but it is fun to tip into corners for sure, despite its bulk. Yes, at 184kg, the Dominar is the heaviest of the three, but that also makes it stable on the highways. Cornering abilities are at par and you’ll never feel any lack of composure.
My only grouse is the low ground clearance that leads to the feelers grinding quite easily. Even the ride has been sorted now with a softer setup at the rear. With my weight (84kg), the setup felt almost perfect while the lighter riders felt it was still on the stiffer side. The setup allows for a comfortable ride over bad roads as well, where the Dominar is expected to spend most of its time. The only chink in the armour has to be the brakes which not only lack bite but also don’t offer enough confidence to the rider. But other than that, the Dominar feels extremely sorted as a power cruiser.
At the end of the day, we were really impressed with Bajaj’s efforts. The Dominar UG’s pricing wasn’t revealed when this issue was sent to press, but if priced below Rs 1.9 lakh, ex-showroom, it definitely makes for a strong contender for the best naked motorcycle out there, especially for our conditions, in the sub 3-lakh range.
” The G 310 R is a proper hooligan and loves to pop a wheelie or two. And even when you are on one wheel, it never intimidates you, unlike the KTM.”
The G 310 R too received a lot of flak for being overpriced but if you keep the price tag aside, it’s one of the finest machines out there. Ride them back to back and the Beemer feels underpowered. We managed to clock 60kmph in 3.9 seconds; almost 2 seconds slower than the 390 Duke. The 100kmph figure is clocked at 7.8 seconds, a full two seconds slower than the 390 Duke, again. Even the Dominar UG feels faster than the BMW, despite carrying an extra mass of 36kg. While the 310 R may seem like a slow motorcycle in this company, but as a standalone motorcycle, it’s quick, and definitely the best handling bike of the three, no second thoughts about that.
The handling is so good that the 390 Duke simply can’t keep up with the 310, especially when leaned over. The KTM feels twitchy and unpredictable, whereas the Beemer simply picks up its line and sticks to it, without any drama. We know that Chris Pfeiffer was involved in the making of this entry-level Beemer and it shows. The G 310 R is a proper hooligan and loves to pop a wheelie or two. And even when you are on one wheel, it never intimidates you, unlike the KTM which always seems to want to bite you. You feel bad for the chassis though. It surely can handle 10-15 extra horses and will be a hoot if it finds the correct match.
Even the ride quality is the most sophisticated of the three, thanks to top- drawer components. Never does it lose composure, even when you show it the worst of roads. The chassis is a proper chatterbox but the Michelins give way too soon. If you are planning to get yourself a G 310 R, the first thing you must do is upgrade the rubber. Another problem is the wooden feel from the brakes; they have sufficient stopping power but need to be sharper. Even the ABS kicked in too early for my liking, especially at the rear and it cannot be switched off.
The Beemer doesn’t have the swagger of the other two. Its angular lines are simple and would appeal to a mature audience. Everything on the Beemer, except the flashy golden forks, is meant to be functional and not ornamental. And it all works if you are someone who prefers things underplayed.
You know that you’re paying money for the quality, as soon as you swing a leg over the low saddle (785mm). The G 310 R feels solid and is in it for the long term. The cluster, though, feels dated when compared to the 390’s TFT colour unit, but displays a plethora of information. The 11-litre fuel tank gives it good range and comes with nicely designed recesses that are easy to grip. Obviously, the leg room is slightly limited, but the slightly forward-set pegs make for an extremely comfortable position when on the go.
Hence, the BMW is a gem of a motorcycle marred only by its hefty price tag. Had it been priced a little conservatively, the G 310 R would have definitely sold like hot cakes. But I’m sure BMW Motorrad isn’t focusing solely on numbers. In fact, during the ride out, passers-by wanted to click pictures with the big BMW badge, if not the complete motorcycle. And that is what you’re clearly paying money for. Knowing that your machine will be serviced alongside an S 1000 RR is a bonus!
“Once you’re past 4,000rpm, she’s ready to go racing. In fact, after 6,000rpm, no other sub-400cc naked comes close to the KTM.”
If you are into hoonery or if you care about living in the moment, there is nothing that comes close to the 390 Duke. If you could quantify fun and there was a ratio for fun-to-price, the KTM would be at the top. Even when it comes to price-to-performance, the KTM remains unbeatable. You get Metzeler tyres, WP USDs, slipper clutch, a ride-by-wire throttle, a full-colour TFT dash with Bluetooth and the most powerful engine of the three.
The 373cc motor churns out 43bhp at 9,000rpm and 37Nm at 7,000rpm. With a superbike-like compression ratio of 12.6:1, this doesn’t come as a surprise. The high-revving motor has been lauded by KTM fanboys for years, but the introduction of ride-by-wire in the 2017 model means the throttle isn’t snatchy unlike on the first iteration. The 390 isn’t as tractable as the 310 R; it’ll ask you to work through the ‘box to get going. However, once you’re past 4,000rpm, she’s ready to go racing. In fact, after 6,000rpm, no other sub-400cc naked comes close to the KTM. You’ll end up revving the engine to the limiter and grinning from ear to ear. There is no other way you can ride the 390 Duke, it’s the only language she understands. However, all this does add to a lot of stress once you’re done with the ride.
Even the aggressive, supermoto-like riding posture takes a toll on your back. If you aren’t someone willing to relax and enjoy the wind-in-your-face experience, look elsewhere. On the KTM, it is all about wind blast on your face and a proper workout for your legs, thanks to its limited room. Staying true to its sporty character, KTM has given it the perfect set of pogos. The WPs at the front are tremendous and are perfectly set up for corner carving. However, this dedicated preference to handling equates to a firm ride. With a rake of 24.5deg, the 390 is always willing to change direction but the same cannot be said about its stability.
She is properly twitchy in corners and thanks to the firm setup, even a small rut can unsettle the KTM. The 390 Duke also packs in impressive kit with ABS at both ends, which can either be switched off completely or only at the rear (in Supermoto mode) for maximum fun. After riding the Dominar and G 310 R, the brakes on the KTM feel super sharp. There’s instant feedback at both ends and she stops on a dime.
At Rs 2.40 lakh, even the price tag is excellent for the kit that the KTM offers. You’ll end up saving more than a lakh of rupees over the Beemer, when you consider taxes. But at the same time, it is definitely going to be more expensive than the Dominar by over Rs 50,000. Well, if you’re looking for a practical option, look elsewhere. But if you have the heart of an 18-year-old and are looking for a new toy to play with, get yourself a 390 Duke.
If you are a biker, you must have aspired to own a BMW some day. The G 310 R fulfils your needs in that sense for sure. It definitely has the German genes with its poised and sophisticated manners. The angular lines may not appeal to many, but definitely add to its understated nature. Under the skin it is still a hooligan, but definitely lacks power. I feel for the brilliant chassis that is capable of handling so much more! If the asking price wasn’t so high, the BMW Motorrad would have been a great buy but it’s hard to recommend it for now, unless the price doesn’t matter all that much to you.
The KTM, on the other hand, is the bike that wears its heart on its forks, erm, sleeves. It comes with the most features and has the most power too and if you love living life on one wheel, the 390 Duke is definitely the one for you. You’ll inherently sign up for Saddlesore challenges and the canted-forward riding position will definitely make you friends with your chiropractor. But if you aspire for The Thrill of Riding, then nothing comes close to the 390 Duke.
However, what if you want the best of both worlds?
Then the Bajaj Dominar UG is definitely the best motorcycle for you. If priced at
Rs 1.90 lakh, as we expect it to be, the Dominar would appeal to both your heart as well as the head. It looks handsome, especially in the matte black shade (to my eyes), packs in almost the same kit as the 390 Duke and is quicker than the G 310 R. It will not only keep you happy in the canyons but also on long rides thanks to its comfortable riding position and a brilliant chassis. Of course, Bajaj’s affordable spare parts and brilliant after sales service would simply add to your peace of mind. And with the money saved, you can always get yourself a pair of saddlebags and better rubber and you’re all set. So, take a bow, Dominar, because, ladies and gentlemen, we have our winner!