Royal Enfield’s new-age J platform finally makes it to the legendary Bullet design form. But does it still offer an authentic experience?
Story: Anosh Khumbatta
Photography: Sanjay Raikar & Apurva Ambep
The shape has endured for decades: the timeless form of a standard Royal Enfield is something that we all grew up with and learned to respect at a young age. We have known it by many names over the years — Bullet, Electra, Machismo and, most lately, Classic — but the enduring formula is unmistakeable. An easy-going, long-stroke, single-cylinder thumper displacing 350 cc, nestled within a simple steel frame. Throw in old-world British looks and top off with a generous helping of chrome and you have one of the most universally recognisable motorcycles in India. This year, Royal Enfield’s bread-and-butter product gets a long-overdue update, and the red and chrome machine you’re looking at is the 2021 Classic 350.
Not much has changed in the looks department over the last 50-odd years; after all, it is the nostalgia for days gone by that is Royal Enfield’s allure, and meddling too much with the age-old design would be considered blasphemy by brand loyalists. Consequently, the bike standing before me could be mistaken for an older model at a glance, but closer inspection reveals a few new bits and build quality that far surpasses that of any past Royal Enfield 350. The Meteor impressed us greatly with its ride quality and refinement when it was launched last year and, since the Royal Enfield Classic 350 is built around the same J platform as its cruiser cousin, I already knew that it is was going to be a great improvement on its predecessor. The motor fires up promptly with a quick dab of the starter and immediately settles into an even idle, while the long chrome exhaust lets out a deep thump that spontaneously brings a smile to my face. The round speedometer with its chrome bezel looks authentic enough, while the small LCD just below adds a modern touch and displays odo, trip meters, and a clock as well as a fuel gauge — a first for the Classic 350.
The riding position doesn’t feel any different from that on the outgoing Classic 350, although Royal Enfield claim that the handlebar has been moved slightly forward to positively affect weight distribution. I found the riding position, typical of old British bikes, natural and comfortable even after a couple of hours in the saddle. It must also be mentioned here that while the seats look unchanged, a lot of thought and effort have gone into their shape, material, and foam thickness, the result being an extremely comfortable perch that is supportive without feeling too hard and it still maintains its period-correct look.
Royal Enfield had organised a fixed route just outside Pune for us to experience their latest motorcycle and, with no traffic to contend with early in the morning, we were soon out on the highway with speeds rising. The new Royal Enfield Classic 350 pulls strongly from low down, while pushing the higher reaches of the rev-range no longer brings forth the vibrations that plagued the outgoing bike. I saw close to an indicated 80 km/h in second gear and just short of 100 km/h in third, but even bouncing off the limiter, this engine still manages hold on to its refinement; though that’s not how this bike is meant to be ridden. Long-stroke, single-cylinder thumpers are known more for their low-end torque delivery than for their performance at redline, and the Classic 350 delivers on this count, cruising effortlessly in fifth gear at as low as 40 km/h with the engine spinning along lazily. You do feel a slight buzz through the foot-pegs as you accelerate through the mid-range, but this soon dissolves and the bike goes on to hit an indicated 115 km/h in fourth gear without feeling one bit stressed. The motor is extremely refined when cruising between 80 and 100 km/h in the top two gears, and the bike can comfortably hold these speeds for hours while the rider will no longer suffer from numb fingers after a long journey. Gear-shifts are smooth and fuss-free, while throttle response and fuelling are spot on.
On the suspension front, the 2021 Royal Enfield Classic 350 gets a chunky 41-millimetre fork in lieu of the 35-mm fork on the outgoing model. While the 130 mm of travel up front remains unchanged, the new rear shock-absorbers provide 90 mm of wheel travel, which is 10 mm more than before. The bike does feel set up a little taut at first, but ride quality improves exponentially as speed rises. I was especially thankful for the excellent set-up when I hit an unexpected pothole on the highway at close to 100 km/h and the bike just continued on its way without so much as flinching. The suspension feels perfectly tuned to provide excellent ride quality over most surfaces, without sacrificing feel and control.
Our route soon took us off the highway and on to a narrow road leading into the hills, giving me a perfect opportunity to put the Classic 350’s handling to the test; I was not disappointed. When compared to its predecessor, this Classic 350 feels extremely well-balanced, and I was able to accurately navigate this section of tight corners without a second thought. The bike holds its line well and goes exactly where pointed, thanks in part to the new chassis and suspension layout and in part to the excellent Ceat tyres that are now broader than before. Whether going around fast sweepers or tight switchbacks, the Classic 350 felt confidence-inspiring and planted, impressing me greatly with its poise and dynamic ability.
We arrived at the pre-determined lunch spot to conclude our day with the new Royal Enfield Classic 350 and I can safely say that I came away mighty impressed. This iteration has seen massive improvement across the board in terms of performance, refinement, and ride quality, while still retaining the looks, character and sound that brand loyalists are in love with. The good news is that it still is an authentic Royal Enfield experience and the better news is that Royal Enfield have loaned us a Classic 350 for a long-term test, so look for regular updates in the future issues of Bike India.