Bike India

Royal Enfield Meteor

The wait has been worth it, as the Royal Enfield Meteor 350 is a giant leap from what its forebear had to offer

- Story: Sarmad Kadiri Photograph­y: Sanjay Raikar

The next coming of the everyday cruiser

Far away from the maddening crowd, across the hills and streams is where it dawned that the wait for the meteor 350 has been worth it. this new model isn’t just appealing to royal enfield aficionado­s, but also to people who love the thrill of motorcycli­ng and adventure. i’m not even a traditiona­l royal enfield enthusiast and yet i say so. why? Let me explain. this, as you know, is the replacemen­t for the much-loved thunderbir­d 350 and it is evident in the silhouette. But the meteor is a completely new motorcycle and there’s plenty to set them apart. Based on the newly developed “J” platform, which promises to underpin several other new royal enfields, this has a completely different rider geometry. the foot-pegs are pushed towards the front, there is a brand-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.

thanks to the alloy wheels, the meteor now has tubeless tyres: a 19-incher at the front and a 17-inch one at the rear. you’ll also notice the round headlamp sporting halogen lights with a ring of Led drLs, a distinctly circular tail-lamp positioned on the all-new rear fender, and a blacked-out engine. in fact, everything appears new, including the retrotype rotary switches, instead of the usual buttons, which 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. even the fuel-tank is designed well and 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.

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, wider handlebar means that the overall width is increased by 55 mm. interestin­gly, the height (without mirror) 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. this weight loss is a by-product of the terrific weight distributi­on the engineers have managed to achieve. and you can feel it even before you get astride the motorcycle — simply by putting it on the centre stand. it feels lighter, easier, and far more well-balanced than the thunderbir­d 350.

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 topend Supernova which we got to ride. the fireball gets an all-black treatment with a black exhaust and handlebar, while the mid-variant Stellar gets chrome treatment on the exhaust, efi cover, and handlebar, apart from sporting premium badges and a pillion back-rest. our 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.

complement­ing the classic design are modern technologi­es like the twinpod 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 gets kilometre and mile markings and it is easy to read. the smaller console on the right, named “tripper navigation”, connects to your smartphone via Bluetooth and gives turn-byturn navigation guidance. a pretty useful feature for touring and city riding alike.

mechanical­ly, all the three variants are the same and generation­s ahead of the old 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 chassis, as you know, is like the skeleton of any motorcycle and is vital for its strength and characteri­stics. the new chassis has hugely improved the strength and rigidity, which can be felt during manoeuvrin­g the meteor 350. the designers have used the engine as a stressed member while the lower half of the chassis has been created to mount the foot-pegs.

Speaking of which, the engine, as expected, is also all-new. compared to the older Uce engine that employed push-rod actuated valves, the fresh offthe-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 an efficient single spark-plug set-up which means fewer parts to replace during service. to think of it, there seems to be some inspiratio­n from its parallel-twin siblings. Look closer and the left-side crankcase cover does resemble the 650-cc unit a lot, not to mention that the final drive is now on the left side of the motorcycle. and it’s all good because, like the 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 fivespeed gearbox. i’m happy to report that not once in the over 100-km-long ride did it throw a faux 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 (some of my trueblue re fanboys use this all the time). without a care in the world, you can easily cruise at 50 km/h in fifth gear. Just twist the wrist without bothering to shift down and sail ahead, riding on the strong wave of torque, with all of the 27 nm being available at just 4,000 revs. overtaking now is a breeze.

Performanc­e is brisk and the meteor 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 speed, though not as pronounced as on the older 350 royal enfield. this new-found relaxed and friendly, yet exciting to ride character is the highlight of the meteor 350.

the other strength is the balanced ride that the motorcycle offers. the setup 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 or that soggy suspension feel while cruising on undulating road surfaces. 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. not cumbersome, nor

The finesse with which this bike delivers the performanc­e is what really sets it apart from its predecesso­r

intimidati­ng but impressive­ly composed and entertaini­ng. Just what the joy of riding is all about. 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, 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.

this motorcycle does live up to the promise of being a sub-rs2-lakh cruiser which is easy to maintain and live with. you can use it for your daily commuting and also take it for longer tours. it cruises comfortabl­y at 100 km/h and without the rear-view mirrors doing the shimmy. which says a lot about the meteor 350’s improved noise, vibration, and harshness. the finesse with which this bike delivers the performanc­e is what really sets it apart from its predecesso­r. i believe a bike which makes you hum your favourite song while riding is the one you should buy. you should test-ride one and see if it tugs your heartstrin­gs. Born to be wild, is what the meteor 350 remains for me.

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 ??  ?? ABOVE: The Tripper Navigation display on the right offers turn-byturn navigation
ABOVE RIGHT: The 350-cc longstroke unit has a thumping exhaust note, much to the relief of the purists
LEFT: The vintage style aluminium levers go well with the old-school theme RIGHT: These retro-type rotary switches give the Meteor a proper classic bike feel
ABOVE: The Tripper Navigation display on the right offers turn-byturn navigation ABOVE RIGHT: The 350-cc longstroke unit has a thumping exhaust note, much to the relief of the purists LEFT: The vintage style aluminium levers go well with the old-school theme RIGHT: These retro-type rotary switches give the Meteor a proper classic bike feel
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 ??  ?? BELOW LEFT: Split-seat with a pillion back-rest are comfortabl­e on long rides too
BELOW LEFT: Split-seat with a pillion back-rest are comfortabl­e on long rides too
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 ??  ?? BELOW: Surprising­ly, the engine seems to be jutting out to the left
BELOW: Surprising­ly, the engine seems to be jutting out to the left
 ??  ?? ABOVE: Wish the gear and the rear brake pedals were better executed
ABOVE: Wish the gear and the rear brake pedals were better executed

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