• Special Feature: Break Away!

An impromptu weekend ride to escape from our routines

People find it puzzling that I ride on weekends, despite riding motorcycles for a living on weekdays. It’s a little hard to explain, but when I wake up early and ride on a weekday, that’s part of my job as an automotive journalist. But weekends are for me to enjoy my time in the saddle. It’s therapy. Weekend rides help me take my mind off work, refresh and recharge myself and prepare better for the onslaught of work the next week. Not to mention, hone my riding skills and sharpen my reflexes. So, “Isn’t it a better idea to ‘Netflix and chill’ on weekends?” is a usual question. But my answer always is “Not for me!”

And the Bajaj Dominar 400 has encouraged thousands to head out and explore. Launched in 2017 the bike was quick to distinguish itself as a motorcycle that’s comfortable and worthy of touring duties. A comprehensive update in 2019 saw it get better, as the upside down forks, better mirrors and factory-fitted luggage loops made it even more touring-ready. More importantly, revised engine internals and a DOHC setup bumped power output up from 35PS to 40PS. The past couple of years have also seen the Dominar 400 take on challenges like the Polar Odyssey. The expedition helped it enter record books and create history by becoming the first ever Indian motorcycle to be ridden from the Arctic Circle in the North to the base of the Earth in Antarctica, covering 51,000km in just 99 days!

Bajaj Auto has also been coming up with innovative additions that make the Dominar more touring friendly, like the new touring kit that’s part of the 2021 model update. It includes a tall visor for wind protection, hand guards that have a similar effect and protect riders’ hands, luggage carrier with pillion backrest, navigation stay and USB port and a bash plate to protect the engine. My personal favourite though are the saddle stays that help you mount saddle bags easily and also protect them.

Reason enough for us to hit the road on the new Dominar 400? You bet! When it comes to weekend rides, I like to plan them but admittedly, impromptu rides have an element of adventure that makes them exciting. So when it came to experiencing the Dominar 400 I wanted to explore places that aren’t far from Pune but are relatively unexplored. Geographically Pune is blessed with varied terrain, making for excellent weekend excursions. Such rides are best experienced with friends and I chose to call one of my best friends from the industry, Halley Prabhakar, to join. Halley and I share a great camaraderie and have been on numerous road trips together.

Of course, the best ones have been on motorcycles and to have him join me on this ride, planned at the last minute literally, was a no-brainer. The plan was to start early on Saturday morning and head to Shrivardhan beach. It is one of the cleanest and most clutter-free beaches in Konkan and is known for its tranquillity. This made it the perfect destination, giving us an opportunity to rid ourselves of everything but having a good time on a motorcycle and the joy of riding together.

Mounting our luggage onto the Dominar 400 was a breeze thanks to the saddle stays. Securing my tail bag was easy too, thanks to the factory-fitted nylon loops and also the luggage rack design. As we got going, the reassurance of having a USB port to charge my phone and navigation mount added to the Dominar 400’s sense of purpose. Each and every addition is thoughtfully devised – like the phone mount that sits perfectly in your line of vision, is sturdy and holds your phone securely. Then there’s the bike’s design itself. The Dominar has always cut a handsome figure with its muscular design. The side silhouette has it ape a lion given the beefy upside down forks, shapely fuel tank with extensions and double barrel exhaust can. The tall visor cuts windblast well and reduces fatigue on long rides too.

The roads were devoid of traffic, helping us explore the Dominar’s performance. Most roads in Konkan are well-paved albeit slightly bumpy, making them the perfect playground. With 40PS and 35Nm on offer from the 373.3cc, liquid-cooled engine, sent to the rear wheel via a slick shifting six-speed gearbox, rapid progress was a given. The road to Shrivardhan had us ride through some excellent twisties in the Western Ghats as well, which coupled with the Dominar’s sporty handling allowed us to carry serious speeds through corners. The well-sorted perimeter frame, 43mm upside down forks and monoshock also offer an excellent balance between ride and handling. The Dominar 400 thus takes on fast corners with aplomb and even soaks up mid-corner bumps very well.

This demeanour along with the sticky MRF tyres added to confidence, helping us descend down from the hills quickly. The bright LED headlamp lit up the roads very well early in the morning. The early start also ensured we avoided traffic and covered ground before temperatures rose. The sweltering heat meant we had to keep quaffing liquids though, taking a few breaks. This also allowed us to soak up the surroundings and the first view of the coastline on one such break was breathtaking. Maharashtra is home to some stunning-looking beaches and the Dominar 400 was proving to be an excellent companion, helping us explore what was uncharted territory for us. So despite the heat, this impromptu ride was proving to be satiating for us even before we got to the destination! Seat comfort was commendable too as cushioning is perfect, neither too soft not too firm.

The rider triangle is apt for touring too, as you sit pretty upright while footpegs are slightly rear set. The ride also gave me an opportunity to introduce Halley to local delicacies. It started with ‘Sol Kadhi’ a drink that has a cooling effect and is made from ‘kokum’, a local fruit that’s a powerhouse of nutrients and minerals, besides coconut milk, lime juice, salt and more. I wanted the ride to also be a culinary experience for Halley, who loves cooking and is a foodie. I’m a vegetarian, but I was keen on having Halley, who hails from Bangalore, experience some of the local seafood that Konkan is known for.

And the interesting bit about Konkan is that most small food joints are run by families and are not restaurants exactly. This ensures taste is authentic and it isn’t just food that tourists are served, but love as well. Our meal turned out to be excellent, with Halley sampling fish curry and prawns while I gorged on veggies. It’s the local ingredients that make a difference to the taste, something you won’t get in a restaurant. Back in the saddle post lunch, we were gunning towards Shrivardhan and while the sun was beating down, progress was quick and comfortable thanks to the Dominar’s able manners and engine performance. Bottom-end grunt is strong but as you close in on the 5,000rpm mark you feel a distinct surge which continues to the redline.

When we finally got to Shrivardhan, the bike was also quick to display its alter ego. It felt surprisingly nimble and easy negotiating through the tiny bylanes of the town. The access road to the beach was a rocky one and also included a gravel section, but with the bash plate taking care of things, we didn’t really have to worry about stones hitting the engine. What was also remarkable was that despite the air temperature of 41 degrees Celsius, the radiator fan was only kicking in intermittently. Our first view of the beach was stunning – the sun had lowered itself down and about to set behind the sea, while the waves were crashing onto the shore marking the onset of high tide. Shrivardhan is one of the most pristine beaches in the region and the sand was clean, adding to the beauty of the place, not to forget, pretty looking palm trees that lined the beach.

This was my first trip to a beach in a while and the sea breeze seemed to have a soothing effect as Halley and I watched the sun go down. We had taken a few detours in the day, exploring the country roads and in the end, it was all worth the effort. The Dominar 400 seemed to complement the purpose of our ride well, helping us decompress and ease off from the world and enjoy the moment too. A weekend spent riding to new places is one of the best ways to get away from the clutter and enjoy motorcycling and the Dominar 400 had helped us accomplish that. This, especially with it being a touring-ready motorcycle that needs no aftermarket accessories and lets you strap your luggage on, swing a leg over and ride into sunsets, impromptu. Just like we did!

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