Behold.. After decades of flying high in the sub-500cc motorcycle segment, Royal Enfield now finally faces a direct competitor. Sure, there have been plenty of motorcycles in the same price range which we pit against, say the Classic 350 or later on, the Thunderbird 350. However, none ever matched the gargantuan popularity the likes of Bullets and Classics have enjoyed. This is, in fact, the very first time Honda has launched a classic roadster in India. Ever since we heard about the Honda H’ness CB350, we’ve known and we’ve been writing about how will it take the fight directly to Royal Enfield, but is it something that can sway an RE fan into considering a Honda? I and my colleague Pradeep Shah took the Royal Enfield Meteor 350 and the H’ness CB350 to figure out just that.
Earthly royalty versus stellar material
So, the Meteor 350 and the CB350 essentially aren’t even the same motorcycle category. While the Meteor is a traditional cruiser, the oddly named H’ness is a classic roadster but they both promise touring capabilities and they’re both super refined. Back in the day of Royal Enfield’s 350cc UCE engines, it would’ve been difficult for it to compete against a Honda, which is known for its refined engines. But now, with the new generation 350cc engine that powers the Meteor, it very well can.
Royal Enfield surprised us with how refined the new engine is and so is the overall fit & finish on the Meteor. Ever since the launch of the Interceptor 650 a couple of years back and then the BS6 Himalayan, and now the Meteor 350, Royal Enfield has introduced a brand new finesse to its products.
Honda, on the other hand, continues to deliver its age-old refinement with the CB350 which promises a smooth disposition throughout the rev range and boasts a solid classic roadster appeal.
Royal Enfield Meteor 350 specifications:
Engine – 349cc single-cylinder, 4-stroke, air-oil-cooled
Power – 20.2 bhp at 6,100 rpm
Torque – 27 Nm at 4,000 rpm
Front suspension – Telescopic, 41mm forks, 130mm travel
Rear suspension – Twin shock absorbers with 6-step adjustable preload
Wheelbase – 1,400 mm
Ground clearance – 170 mm
Seat height – 765 mm
Kerb weight – 191 kg
Fuel tank capacity – 15 litres
Tyres – 100/90 19″, Rr 140/70 17” (tubeless)
Brakes front – 300 mm disc
Brakes rear – 270 mm disc
Price: Fireball – Rs 1,75,825, Stellar – Rs 1,81,342, Supernova – Rs 1,90,536
Matters of the heart
They’re both new engines. Royal Enfield developed the 349cc unit specifically for its new cruiser and it is nothing like the Thunderbird 350 which the Meteor 350 succeeds. The displacement is slightly larger with a larger bore and a shorter stroke, and it now has a SOHC two-valve head. But, it retains the long-stroke architecture and there’s a teeny bit of bump in power as well.
The Meteor 350 offers far better refinement and has a very even torque spread across the rev band. The new engine ensures a true blue cruiser disposition for the Meteor with the capability to remain composed at speeds as low as 30-40 km/h in the fifth gear. It will do a top speed of 120 km/h but has its sweet spot at about 80-90 km/h where it feels most effortless for long durations. Past 80 km/h though, vibrations do become far more noticeable.
Gearshifts are smooth and what improves them is the comparatively lighter pull on the clutch lever, however, a slipper clutch would’ve been nice since it is a substantial workout during bumper to bumper traffic. Despite its 181 kg of kerb weight and larger form, the Meteor is a nimble handler.
Fire up the CB350 and it is apparent that the exhaust note wants to pip that of Royal Enfield’s and it rather does. While the CB350 feels a wee bit more sprightly compared to the Meteor and would demand more downshifts as well, it is still a very laid back ride. There’s never a moment when there isn’t much feedback on the handlebar and footpegs on the Meteor 350, but the CB350 remains butter-smooth even past 100 km/h.
The CB will do a top speed in excess of 130 km/h which is faster than the competition, but it is known that flat-out speeds aren’t really a defining factor in this segment. But then, the CB is also a full 10 kg lighter, feels more agile, has a tighter turning radius, and it is equipped with a slip & assist clutch which makes the pull on the clutch lever very easily much lighter than the Meteor – a tad too soft actually.
Honda H’ness CB350 specifications:
Engine – 348.36cc single-cylinder, 4-stroke, air-cooled
Power – 20.78 bhp at 5,500 rpm
Torque – 30 Nm at 3,000 rpm
Front suspension – Telescopic
Rear suspension – Twin hydraullic
Wheelbase – 1,441 mm
Ground clearance – 166 mm
Seat height – 800 mm
Kerb weight – 181 kg
Fuel tank capacity – 15 litres
Tyres – 100/90-19M/C 57H, Rr 130/70-18M/C 63H (tubeless)
Brakes front – 310 mm disc
Brakes rear – 240 mm disc
Price: DLX – Rs 1.85 lakh, DLX Pro – Rs 1.9 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi)
Other significant matters
The riding position on the Meteor 350 is that of a traditional cruiser with wide handlebars and forward-set footpegs and is clearly super relaxed. It would’ve been great if the footpegs and levers pivoted a little towards the rider or if they were a little closer. But then that really isn’t a problem once you get used to it. The CB350, on the other hand, offers better control with its upright roadster form.
The rider seats on both the motorcycles are spacious and it is rather difficult to pick which one offers more comfort. The suspension setup on the two is also similar but it certainly isn’t plush on either of them.
The two get disc brakes at both ends and dual-channel ABS, which has been calibrated well and causes no intrusion. The Honda has an additional feature, the Honda Selectable Torque Control (HSTC) which works like traction control. To be honest, during our run on highways and back roads of Noida, it didn’t really come in handy. It would perhaps only trigger if you aggressively whack open the throttle on dirt. While it’s nice to have, it’s not really necessary with about 21 bhp.
The switchgear on either motorcycle doesn’t account for any complaints at all. In fact, Royal Enfield has given the Meteor rotary switches which are easy to use. The instrument cluster on the CB goes very well with its overall personality but the Meteor wins this little skirmish on the instrument clusters because of the Tripper as it gets a dedicated screen just for navigation.
Royal Enfield’s tech for turn-by-turn navigation – Tripper – works seamlessly. It is very easy to use and accurate as well perhaps because it’s been developed with Google and who else do we turn to the most so we don’t get lost. Honda’s Bluetooth-enabled Honda Smart Voice Control (HSVC) system needs Bluetooth earphones to work so it can speak directions in your ears and there is no visual aid. Moreover, if you don’t have a way to connect your helmet via Bluetooth, you can’t use the system.
Who wins then?
If you’re in the market for a 350cc classic and you have your heart set on bringing home a Royal Enfield, the Meteor 350 is by far the best 350 in RE’s lineup. And if you want a classic that is not a Royal Enfield, the CB350 is the one to go for. But if we’re asked which is a better motorcycle, the answer would have to be the CB350.
Sure, in the end, it will all boil down to personal preferences and you’d decide after you’ve test ridden them both and see what fits your build and riding styling the most. If you’re concerned about long-distance riding, they’re both capable and comfortable. But the Royal Enfield gets a load of brownie points for its navigation Tripper and the fact that it is available in all three of its variants, even the base Fireball, plus the fact that it is more affordable than the Honda. The H’ness’s (see the trouble with this name) voice control system isn’t offered in the lower DLX variant but considering that it isn’t really as handy as it could’ve been, you could avoid the DLX Pro variant and save some bucks.
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