A lot of people in my circle think that I hate Royal Enfields. Heck, a few tell me that even the good chaps at RE India were under the impression that I dislike their motorcycles. Therefore, once and for all, I’ll give a disclaimer: No, I do not hate REs. In fact, I do no hate any motorcycle. The reason is quite simple: No true motorcyclist would ever hate a motorcycle, especially if he grew up enjoying the distinct symphony of the Jawa/Yezdis, the deep bass of the cast iron Bullets, and the intoxicating roar of the RD350s. He’s wired properly for life, and hate is just not a signal processed by his ECU (read: “brain”).
My argument is with the owners/fans of these motorcycles who think their steeds are the best in the world, which is still okay until they start being vehemently vocal about it. Even THAT is okay, until they start belittling other motorcyclists. In fact, this holds true for fans of every motorcycle out there. It’s just that the RE fans are more in number and/or more stringent in their disapproval of other motorcycles. Hence, calling them out gets noticed more as well. So, again, I do not hate REs. As a motoring journalist, it’s my duty to check imprudent behaviour around anything and everything automotive. Period.
Also, everyone needs to understand that the “perfect motorcycle” just doesn’t exist. The perfect sportbike, the perfect cruiser, etc., may exist; the perfect motorcycle doesn’t. Because to be perfect, a motorcycle will not only have to do it all, but do all of that better than others. That’s impossible, unless the motorcycle has supernatural powers that allow it to become the perfect cruiser on one day, the perfect sportbike on another, and so on and so forth.
A motorcycle is just like us humans. Like us, it also has its positives and negatives; you just have to find the one whose negatives you can live with for all the joyous times its positives are destined to bring in your life. Is the Meteor 350 one such motorcycle? Even if you’re not an RE fan? Well, I’ll answer that, and a lot more in this review. I rode the top-end Supernova variant, which costs Rs 1.90 lakh. The mid variant, Stellar, costs Rs 1.81 lakh, and the base variant, Fireball, costs Rs 1.75 lakh. All prices mentioned are ex-showroom, Chennai.
Royal Enfield Meteor 350 Review: Design and Ergonomics
Ian Wride (how’s that for a last name for a biker!), Head, Industrial Design at RE, says that “the Meteor 350 has the cruiser characteristics, but it’s got the proportions and geometry to work on Indian roads.“
And that brilliantly sums up the design theme of this motorcycle. If you didn’t understand, I’ll break it down for you. The Meteor 350 is definitely a cruiser, but one that has primarily been designed keeping the Indian conditions in mind. That’s why, despite a beautifully low seat height of 765 mm (there’s also a 745 mm option!) the ground clearance has not been compromised. In fact, at 170 mm it’s way better now as compared to the Thunderbird’s 135 mm.
Another India-centric design feature is the placement of rider’s footpegs, which, unlike traditional cruisers (that have them almost kissing the front axle), are placed at a not-so-forward position. It’s been done for two reasons:
1) To make the riding triangle spot-on for everyone who’s between 5’0″ and 5’10”. For example, to ride the Thunderbird comfortably, you had to be at least 5’6″. This is the first RE that shorter riders won’t find intimidating. But if you don’t like the idea of forward-set footpegs, you need to understand that had RE placed them like on the Thunderbird, it would have rendered the bike unrideable for tall riders. Had they placed it further ahead like on conventional cruisers, short riders would have found it impossible to ride. Therefore, they’ve struck the right balance to make the new bike rideable for a wider range of people now.
2) Also, while the typical cruiser riding position is great for the American highways, it can be spine altering in our conditions.
I would also like to quickly add one point each for both shorter and taller riders. Shorter riders (anyone below 5’4″) will feel that there’s a slight reach to the handlebar, which is okay in the city but can be uncomfortable on longer rides. The handlebar can be adjusted and the Hex wrench (also known as the Allen key) provided in the tool kit is all you need to adjust it. It helps (yes, I did adjust it for myself), and I would recommend that you first see if the adjustment range is good enough for you, before getting the ‘bar risers.
Taller people, say, those over 5’10”, on the other hand, would have no complaints with the handlebar reach, but I would recommend them taking a longer test ride to determine whether their lower extremities would be okay on long hauls.
The same can be said of the distance between the pillion seat and footpegs. It’s perfect if your pillion is Kylie Minogue. Cameron Diaz on the other hand would break up with you. Let her ride the bike to save the relationship.
The backrest, against my expectations and lower back, proved to be quite comfortable while I was riding pillion (to test the pillion comfort, obviously). The seat is brilliant too; however, while both the aforementioned ladies would like the seat size, Kim Kardashian won’t. Therefore, if you intend to tour with your better half a lot, I would suggest taking her along for the test ride.
Before I move on to the next section, I would like to highlight a negative and a positive. Let me start with the latter first. RE has thoughtfully provided a metal section on the brake pedal which will keep your foot from hitting the hot exhaust bend pipe in case of a fall and even otherwise too if you have a restless right leg.
Therefore, it is quite baffling that they missed providing a similar metal extension on the side stand (side stand hook/retriever).
The lack of it makes it inconvenient to engage the side stand. If my ’83 Yamaha RD350 has it, there’s no reason for any motorcycle manufacturer to not provide it in 2020. It’s a piece of metal and not Corona vaccine. You’ll get used to it, but initially, you’ll look like a novice, who’s just learning to ride, to the onlookers.
Royal Enfield Meteor 350 Review: Performance, Handling, Ride Quality, and Fuel Efficiency
As you might already know, the Meteor 350’s engine is also absolutely new, just like the rest of the motorcycle. It still has a two-valve head (and I am absolutely okay with that), but now those valves are managed by a SOHC (Single Over Head Camshaft) setup. The pushrods have been pushed off the cliff. Finally. Expect to see this engine sooner or later in the Bullets too. Here are the power and torque figures: 20.2 bhp at 6100 rpm 27 Nm at 4,000 rpm.
It’s still mounted as a stressed member, but the chassis is all new. Martin Necoj, Chassis Design, RE, says that the Meteor 350 “has got a more rigid frame, which is better for the stability, and it means we can be a bit more generous with the geometry of this bike, which helps keep it very nimble while still stable at high speeds.” [sic]
Now I can pretend to sound “cool”, and say that you just can’t call a stock RE “nimble”, but you have to understand that he is saying that in comparison to the outgoing motorcycle—the Thunderbird. That’s why I agree with every word he said. What does that mean for you, the end-user? It means that the Meteor 350 is comparatively easier to ride in traffic than the Thunderbird, and is also easier to manually push/pull, which would be a boon for people who aren’t into bodybuilding.
I must add here that its easier to put the Meteor 350 on to its main stand (aka double-stand / center-stand) as compared to the Jawa 42 I had borrowed recently from a friend. The Thunderbird was easy too. But the lighter Jawa is easier to manage in the city. The Meteor isn’t bad by any measure; it’s just that the Jawa is better in this aspect. Most will also find the clutch pull of the RE to be a bit on the heavier side. But it’s the RE that needs less number of gear changes in traffic! The fuelling on the RE is better too, so if this were a comparison review, it would be a tie in this round.
Still, I would give you the minimum speeds from which you can pull the RE without lugging the engine:
20 km/h in 3rd
30 km/h in 4th
40 km/h in 5th
But you don’t buy an RE to just ride in the city. Some say that the bike will go to Leh by itself if you don’t take it there within the first year of ownership. I am happy to report that the bike’s brilliant highway manners will compel you to take that long pending trip now. The Meteor 350, like all REs, is super stable on the highways, and while the “happy cruising spot” has moved only marginally from 70-80 km/h to 80-90 km/h, the new engine’s refinement allows you to hold even 100-110 km/h for longer durations without getting a full body vibrating-massage.
In fact, it doesn’t complain even at 120 km/h (which is its top speed) and I kept it pinned for quite some time to see if anything conks off or blows, and NOTHING happened. You can hammer it all day, and nothing would come off loose, nothing would rattle, and you won’t find any leakages too. I can stick my neck out and tell you that this would definitely prove to be a reliable motorcycle even in the longer run. The oil change interval of 10,000 km for this motorcycle confirms that RE too are absolutely confident this time. The ride quality is great too, but lighter riders like me (60 kg) might find the rear shock absorbers to be a tad stiff even at their softest setting.
Now though the buyers of this segment aren’t interested in zero-to-hundred times, I shall still give you the numbers because this would be a motorcycle that even non-RE guys might contemplate:
0-60 km/h in 4.1 seconds
0-80 km/h in 7.3 seconds
0-100 km/h in 12.5 seconds
But what about the vibrations? Though I did touch upon it earlier, it might have been too subtle for most. Here’s the lucid explanation, then. The vibrations in the latest Royal Enfield are almost zero by single-cylinder standards, which means that although the bike is not completely devoid of them (no single cylinder bike is), they are not prominent enough to be a concern. Please also note that the bike hasn’t even had its first service yet, and the already minimal vibrations should reduce further after the first service.
`The fuel efficiency should increase a bit as well post service. In these 500 km, the bike returned 30.9 km/l.
This was including the acceleration and top speed runs. Therefore, expect around 32-35 km/l in the city, and over 38 km/l on the highways after the first service. The brakes are fantastic as well, and the bike stopped in a straight line every time I dropped anchor. The timings are as under:
60-0 km/h in 1.8 seconds
80-0 km/h in 2.4 seconds
Royal Enfield Meteor 350 Review: Four things which no one will tell you
People who have ridden the Thunderbird extensively would know that its rear brake had a propensity to fail under heavy usage. The proximity of the master cylinder to the exhaust pipe was the culprit. Even Harley Davidson Street 750 had the same issue. The Meteor’s unit has a good enough gap between it and the exhaust, so you have no reasons to worry.
Another feature which the tourers will love is the headlight-beam-adjust screw that allows you to adjust the headlight throw according to your need and preference.
For example, in the city, you may want to leave it at its default setting where the headlight beam falls right ahead of you, and while touring you would tighten the screw which elevates the beam throw enabling you to see farther ahead. The throw, spread, and brightness will not give anyone, except the auxiliary lights sellers, a chance to complain.
The windshield is adjustable. However, the tool kit does not have the Hex key needed to adjust it.
As mentioned earlier, it has one to adjust the handlebar, and the same can be used to remove the rear seat and backrest, but the one needed to adjust the windshield height is missing. RE should have provided that as well. Again, that’s the only tool you require to adjust the windshield, and it’s just a five-minute job.
I won’t talk about its Tripper navigation system much because everyone else has, so you’d already know. Still, for those of you who don’t, it’s an app-based feature (you connect via Bluetooth, and you have to keep your data pack / Internet and location switched on, obviously) that enables turn-by-turn navigation in the TFT display you see next to the speedometer, and yes it works. Do remember to disable the “battery optimisation” setting in your phone, else it won’t work even if your phone’s battery charge is over 50 per cent.
That also reminds me to tell you that RE has thoughtfully placed a charging point on the handlebar itself, which would be quite convenient to use if, despite the Tripper feature, you still mount your phone on the handlebar.
Royal Enfield Meteor 350 Review: Verdict
It’s very easy, and naive, to say that RE should have given this motorcycle more power, which would have enabled a better top speed. I might have succumbed to that line of thought too if I didn’t have the Jawa 42 during the same period. The latter produces a lot more horsepower than the RE, and also has an extra cog. But, guess what, the aforementioned “happy cruising speeds” of both the motorcycles are similar. And I cross-checked it with the Jawa’s owner, whose 6,500 km odo reading at present is mostly due to touring.
So there you have it; the Meteor 350 is good for city use and excellent for touring, but, most importantly, if you’ve read every line of the review properly, it is the first “traditional-looking” single-cylinder Royal Enfield motorcycle that I can now recommend to non-RE fans as well. Yes, it’s that good.