The Royal Enfield Meteor 350 — the replacement for the much-loved Thunderbird 350 is finally here and it is a completely new motorcycle
Story: Sarmad Kadiri
Photography: Sanjay Raikar
The Royal Enfield Meteor 350 is based on the newly developed “J” platform, which promises to underpin several other new Royal Enfields, and the Meteor 350 has a completely different rider geometry. The foot-pegs are pushed towards the front, there is a new split-seat with a pillion back-rest, and, of course, a raised handlebar. The bike feels a lot more roomy and relaxed, even for taller riders.
The round headlamp gets a halogen bulb and a ring of LED DRLs, while a distinctly circular tail-lamp is positioned on the new rear fender. The retro-type rotary switches give the Meteor a proper classic bike feel. What could have been better executed are the gear and the rear brake pedals, though the vintage style clutch and gear levers go well with the old-school theme. The fuel-tank shape gels well with the cruiser design; however, it can hold 15 litres of gasoline now, five litres less than what the Thunderbird could. Hopefully, improved efficiency should ensure that the riding range would not suffer too much because of this. Surprisingly, if you look at the bike dead-straight from the back, the engine seems to be jutting out to the left. Maybe, this could have been balanced by extending the cylinder finning on the right side. Thanks to the alloy wheels, the Meteor 350 now has tubeless tyres: a 19-incher at the front and a 17-inch one at the rear.
There’s a vast difference from the outgoing model purely in terms of the dimensions, as the wheelbase is now longer by 50 millimetres for better stability. Overall length has gone up by 80 mm to 2,140 mm, and a wider handlebar means that the overall width is increased by 55 mm. Interestingly, the height (without mirrors) has been dropped by 65 mm, the saddle height is a friendly 765 mm (lower by 10 mm) and the Meteor 350 is lighter by a whole six kilograms. It feels lighter, easier, and far more well-balanced than the Thunderbird 350.
The bike now ditches the single downtube frame for a completely new double-cradle frame designed by the UK-based chassis specialists, Harris Performance. The new chassis has hugely improved the strength and rigidity, which can be felt during manoeuvering the Meteor 350.
Complementing the classic design are modern technologies like the twin-pod digital-analogue instrument cluster which now also indicates the selected gear, apart from showing the time, fuel gauge, and odometer. There’s a button at the back of the left switchgear to toggle through the trip meter. The retro-style needle for the speedometer is easy to read. The smaller console on the right, named “Tripper Navigation”, connects to your smartphone via the Royal Enfield App and gives turn-by-turn navigation guidance. (Also Read: Honda H’ness CB350 – All You Need to Know)
Compared to the older UCE engine that employed push-rod actuated valves, the fresh off-the-line oil-cooled 349-cc single has an SOHC (single overhead cam) set-up that breathes through fuel-injection to meet the stringent emission norms. It gets a single spark-plug set-up which means fewer parts to replace during service. Like the Royal Enfield 650 twin, this 350-cc single is refined and smooth. Yes, it is a long-stroke unit and continues to offer a thumping exhaust note, much to the relief of the purists. Apart from that, the new engine is also more powerful, not just because it churns out one hp more than before, but the way it produces the 20.5 hp and 27 Nm of torque.
The power is transmitted to the rear wheel through a heavily revised five-speed gearbox. And not once in the over 100-km-long ride did it throw a false neutral. In fact, the lighter clutch-pull and smooth gear-shifts ensured that there was barely any ride fatigue. This new-found, light, and easy demeanour is even more important if you plan to ride the bike predominantly within city limits. For a 350-cc it feels quick enough and you’re not really compromising performance for character. You can easily cruise at 50 km/h in fifth gear and just twist the wrist to sail ahead riding on the strong wave of torque. Overtaking is now a breeze.
Performance is brisk and the Meteor 350 hits the 60-km/h mark in a jiffy. It comfortably thumps at 80 km/h without any annoying vibrations. Wring the throttle and it blazes past the 100-km/h mark and even crosses 125 km/h on the speedo. However, vibrations do start to creep in as it approaches three-digit speeds, though not as pronounced as on the older 350 Royal Enfields. This new-found relaxed and friendly, yet exciting-to-ride character is the highlight of the Meteor 350.
Ride and Handling
The other strength is the balanced ride that the motorcycle offers. The set-up consisting of a 41-mm front fork and twin shocks is impressive, to say the least. The Meteor 350 brushes off the usual potholes without fuss and with the extra 35 mm of ground clearance, there’s no heart-wrenching scraping of the underbody either. The set-up is comfortable and yet on the firmer side, which eliminates the usual bobbing while cruising on undulating roads. The rigid new frame keeps everything nice and taut, which really boosts the rider’s confidence. The pace you can maintain around bends will surprise you. For touring, when you have some luggage strapped on at the back or even with a pillion, it doesn’t buckle down either.
Having spent hours in the saddle, I can vouch for its adequate support and the pillion feels secure and comfortable, too, while the small turning radius ensures convenient U-turns in the tightest of spots. One small niggle is that the exhaust is a little low and while crawling may come into contact with your right heel.
The Meteor sheds speed with equal ease, using the large 300-mm front disc with twin-piston and floating caliper and the 270-mm rear disc, equipped with a single-piston and floating caliper. The bite is sharp, but it could do with some more feel. With the safety net of a dual-channel ABS, you won’t break into a sweat during hard braking.
To give the bike a greater reach and the buyers more choice, Royal Enfield are offering the bike in three variants: Fireball, Stellar, and the top-end Supernova which we got to ride. The Fireball priced at Rs 1.75 lakh, gets an all-black treatment with a black exhaust and handlebar, while the mid-variant Stellar costing Rs 1.81 lakh, gets chrome treatment on the exhaust, EFI cover, and handlebar, apart from sporting premium badges and a pillion back-rest. Priced at Rs 1.90 lakh (ex-showroom prices), the Supernova gets all of these along with a dual-tone paint job, premium-looking machined alloy wheels, a windscreen, chrome indicators, and a different seat-cover. Mechanically, all three variants are the same and generations ahead of the old Thunderbird 350.
The important aspect about the Royal Enfield Meteor 350 is this sub-Rs-2-lakh cruiser can be used for the daily commute and also on longer tours. It cruises comfortably at 100 km/h and without the rear-view mirrors doing the shimmy. The finesse with which this bike delivers the performance is what really sets it apart from its predecessor. This indeed is a meteoric rise for the Royal Enfield 350s!