Royal Enfield has launched a Meteor! The new 350cc retro cruiser features an all-new design and Royal Enfield’s new generation engine.
It looks like RE has gained some stiff competition in the 350cc modern classic segment. Italian manufacturer Benelli and Japanese bike maker Honda have brought in two wonderful products, which they hope will allow them to grab a slice of the sales pie of the 350cc retro segment in the Indian market. But the iconic Indian manufacturer won't just allow them to walk right in and grab what they want. So, it has now created a powerful weapon that could obliterate the competition, and it’s a Meteor!
The Meteor 350 is an all-new motorcycle designed from the ground up. While it does look almost identical to the Thunderbird X, which it has now replaced, it has its own unique identity. It’s not just the name that we like but the product as a whole, which, I must say, has impressive styling cues. It’s a modern take on a retro cruiser, which looks pretty good. The low-slung body, which is crafted around a new twin downtube spine frame, looks smooth, while the 15-litre fuel tank, 41mm front forks, and alloy wheels with disc brakes, on the front and rear, make it look muscular. It also has modern elements, such as LED taillight and LEDs placed around the halogen headlight. It also features dual instrument pods, including a fully digital pod for connected navigation. The overall build quality is really impressive. And frankly, it looks like the best-build 350cc we have ever seen from Royal Enfield.
Royal Enfield told us that the Meteor 350 will be a global product and that it has been designed and built with the same standards of quality as the 650 Twins. Even though the quality levels are a huge improvement compared to the previous motorcycle, it’s still not on a par with the Twins. What really stands out is that the detailing and finishing touches are well thought out. The clutch and brake lever are longer, the handlebars are chunkier, and the switchgear pays tribute to the REs of yesteryear, with the round dials.
There are three variants of the Meteor 350, and they only have aesthetic differences. We had the top-of-the-line Supernova variant, which gets metal finish rims, a back-rest for the pillion, and an incredibly plush seat for the rider, as well as a decently sized windshield.
There is a lot of good stuff to say about the Meteor 350, but what left a lasting impression on me was the fact that it’s an incredibly comfortable machine. The ergonomics are set up for relaxed riding. The seat height is lower, and your feet are positioned just a little bit in front of you. The handlebar placement is not too high, and while there is no weight on your wrists, I still feel that the bar could have been just a bit wider. The seat is the best part for me. I have never sat on a Royal Enfield with such a comfortable seat. You can cruise for hours without any stress on your body.
The ride quality of the Meteor 350 has also significantly improved. The engine, which we will talk about later, no longer feels rattly. Instead, the bike feels smooth and well planted on the road. On the highway, you can cruise at 100km/h easily without being bothered by high vibrations. To make highway riding feel pliant and stable, the Meteor gets a stiffer suspension setup – a bit too stiff for my liking. The front-end is fine but the rear is much too tight for damping. On the highway, it makes sense, but in rural areas or on bad roads, it doesn’t feel good at all. As long as the roads are good, the Meteor rides beautifully.
The Meteor is also comfortable enough for everyday riding. The slight foot-forward seating still allows you to handle the bike easily in the city. Riding in traffic is no big deal, and the front-end feels light and nimble – definitely not sports bike nimble but certainly impressive for a retro cruiser, with an RE badge. The turning radius is also very good, and parking and pulling the bike out is really easy. It’s 6 kilos lighter now, which feels great. The new chassis also is a big step up for RE. The bike feels stable, strong, and well-built all the time.
The engine is obviously the most important update, and we will now see this engine on all new RE 350cc models in the future. Royal Enfield has done a great job in making it a much more refined unit compared to the previous UCE. To make the engine feel smoother. Royal Enfield has included a primary balance shaft, altered the fuel and air calibration, increased the bore, reduced the stroke, and tweaked the clutch, amongst many others things. What you get is a much more refined, smooth, and torquey engine.
Royal Enfield also wanted to retain that classic low-end grunt, and to do that it used the two-valve setup and overhead cam to increase the revs. This means that even though on paper the torque is now down to 27Nm, it still feels just as powerful as the previous engine. Obviously, this affects top-end power, and you can feel that the engine runs out of breath as the speed increases. But you get more power now with 20.2bhp at a higher rev count of 6,100rpm. So, while the accelerating power decreases as you go faster, you still manage to get a higher top speed. We did try and push the bike as much as we could, and it seems that 120km/h is its top speed. Even then, the vibrations were enough to be problematic.
In terms of overall engine performance and refinement, it’s a massive improvement. The five-speed transmission also feels reassuring, and it is a much better build now. Gear shifts are slick and click right into place.
There still are a few problems with the Meteor, besides its stiff suspension. The brakes could be a bit more responsive, for instance. They seem a bit week, even though the ABS system works well. And the digital tripper still has a few bugs, which need to be fixed. During the test ride, the navigation wasn’t responding at all. But in all honesty, I would never ever connect my phone to a motorcycle because I find it distracting. The tyres also are pretty decent on the tarmac. I know a few people who did not like the tires on the bike, but I think they are adequate enough for what the bike is built to do.
The Meteor is a great package, but it will be aimed more towards people interested in touring on the highway. The alloy rims and seating position do not make it an ideal bike for adventure riding on a Himalayan odyssey. Of course, you could take the bike anywhere you wish, but be prepared for the bumpy ride.
There is also the matter of dealing with the two other premium bike offerings in this segment. The Imperiale 400 and the Highness CB 350. Both bikes are great products, but they do not have the dealer network and reach as Royal Enfield. This obviously means they will never be able to grab as many sales as RE. Are they better products though? I think not. It really depends on what you like more. The Meteor 350 really is a global product, with impressive quality and the most affordable price point in the segment. I also think that as a cruiser, it’s by far the most comfortable.
If the 350cc modern-retro segment is a kingdom, Royal Enfield, undoubtedly, sits on its throne. And while it didn’t have a product to contend with the new foreign competitors earlier, it has now got a wonderful product to fend them off. The Meteor 350 really is fantastic! It looks good on the road, is incredibly comfortable and smooth to ride, and, yes, it still retains that iconic engine-thump character. It also gets phone connectivity and dual-channel ABS across all the variants. Out of all the Royal Enfields I have owned, borrowed, or tested, it is by far the most comfortable to ride on the road. Royal Enfield has allowed us to keep the bike for a few months, so make sure you come back in a few weeks and read our one-month long-term review. Until then, go out and test ride the Meteor now!