Auto focus

On the right trajectory: Royal Enfield’s new cruiser is built to kill

S Muralidhar | Updated on November 12, 2020 Published on November 12, 2020

Some of the Meteor’s design elements in are a node to the REs of the past

The Meteor 350 sets a new benchmark for refinement and build quality in the mid-size cruiser segment

Riders of the previous generation Royal Enfield Thunderbird fell neatly into two categories. There were those who bought it starry-eyed and later hated it, convinced it was the reason for their nagging backache. And then there is the second category of buyers, who were aware of and bought it despite all the negatives of the bike. RE has had four cruisers in its portfolio — two during the last two decades. The original Thunderbird, and the Thunderbird X of later, had their cruiser charm. Many buyers customised their Thunderbirds, and many were older riders trying to make a lifestyle statement. The upright yet laid-back riding style and the possibility of covering long distances at an unhurried pace with only the characteristic RE thump to keep you company was quite a draw.

The Interceptor and Continental GT 650 twins completely altered the perception of RE and its ability to create bikes that meet global quality standards. It is time for the brand’s cruisers and other motorcycles in the lower 350cc displacement class to also get similar levels of reliability and build quality. Royal Enfield has just launched the Meteor 350, the replacement for the Thunderbird X. The new cruiser is a bike that has been built on a completely new chassis and engine platform. The name itself is a resurrection of an old RE brand from the 1950s.

At the heart of the Meteor’s story is the engine. After extensively testing the bike last week, I believe this power unit possesses the power to transform the experience of a RE cruiser. But, while it is the hinge on which the Meteor’s appeal has turned towards greatness, the construction of the bike itself has set a new benchmark for mid-size cruisers. RE designers and engineers have done a commendable job making every component of the bike special and carefully constructed. There are a few that seem like they may not age well, like chromed plastic parts, but the rest of the Meteor is both fresh and capable.

Design

The Meteor’s design bears typical RE lineage lines and classic cruiser styling. At first glance, the cruiser trademark feet-forward riding position and the larger front wheel reinforces the design influence. Swing a leg over and other ergo features like the rider saddle being lower; the large but sleek teardrop profile of the fuel tank being set higher than the seat; and the handlebar position for that upright, relaxed riding posture give you the feeling of how the design has been carefully thought through. The rider saddle height at 765 mm is perfect for keeping the centre of gravity low and for not-so-tall riders. Visually, most of the Meteor’s bulk is in front of the rider and its 1,400-mm wheelbase helps in further boosting its cruiser stance. Wider section tyres both at the front and rear, and the large rear mudguard add to the sense of solidity. Once I soak in the design elements of my test mule Supernova variant, the attention to detail and the attempts to retain the RE heritage in many of the smaller features becomes apparent. The paint job on the tank and side panels is great. All the machined aluminium parts have been given a clean, flush finish. The engine block — complete with its clean-cut fins and its matte-black finish — stands out, and already inspires confidence in its reliability. The new-retro theme for the glossy black circular headlamp and tail-lamp housings with their chrome rings are meant to hark back to RE designs of the past, while also being cruiser classics. A LED character ring with halogen main bulbs for the headlamp, circular LED elements for the tail-lamps and yellow circular optics for the turn indicators round out the lighting.

Other small design elements in the Meteor are also part of the flashback to REs of the past. The rotary click switches are unique; designed and constructed to look sturdy and with a lot of attention to detail. They were mostly convenient to use; I just had to get used to the ‘pass’ high-beam’s new position; for which you’d have to now use your thumb instead of the forefinger. In the passing switch’s position is the toggle switch for the digital info display at the centre of the instrument console. My top-trim test mule came fitted with the tall touring screen, though I’d have preferred it without one, giving out a naked bike vibe. That would’ve also helped show-off the gorgeous new speedo pod, with its floating LCD info panel in the middle and the ‘dancing’ needle that points to the ‘velocity’ of the Meteor. The compact LCD screen delivers quite a lot of info including gear selected, three tripmeters, fuel gauge, eco indicator (rpm-based), time and service reminder, in addition to a number of warnings at the bottom. But, it doesn’t feature a rpm-meter. The smaller pod to the right is the Tripper screen; a new addition to RE bikes, which is likely to be rolled out progressively for other bikes and is possible to be retro-fitted in a few already. When connected to a compatible smartphone, the tripper screen displays turn-by-turn navigation with matching voice prompts via Bluetooth.

Engine and performance

The Meteor’s engine is brand new; it will replace the earlier Thunderbird X’s UCE mill. The new unit is a similarly sized 349cc engine with mild variations to its bore and stroke dimensions. The air-oil cooled, two-valve, single-cylinder engine features a long stroke design with a single overhead camshaft. Essentially, all of that is designed to contribute in making this a more refined unit compared to the UCE. The engine delivers 27Nm of torque and a peak power of 20.2hp. There is also a primary balancer shaft that evens out vibrations at high speeds and higher revs.

RE engineers say that the gear ratios have been selected for a ‘lively performance’ through the gears. The gearbox itself is a five-speed unit with a seven-plate clutch. The clutch feels just a tad bit firm while shifting frequently in city traffic; but on the highway, the clutch is progressive and the throttle also feels linear. Throttle response of the EFI (electronic fuel injection) has also been optimised for dependable starting. During my test rides, the engine fired up at first crank every time, and settled into a measured thump. Gear shifts were clean and there was not a single instance of false neutrals.

RE engineers also pointed out that the carefully calibrated exhaust note is meant to give it the characteristic thump. It is also claimed that a certain amount of vibration at the foot pegs and handlebar, even during idling, is part of the plan to give the Meteor some cruiser character. I didn’t find the vibrations to be intrusive till the speedo crossed over into three-digit territory. Overall, the vibes are not unsettling and didn’t leave me feeling sort of ‘buzzed’ even after many miles of full throttle on open roads. Also, loads of torque in the lower half of the rpm band, and a fairly flat torque curve meant that I could simply stay on third gear even in city traffic.

The Meteor has been constructed ground-up, and its new chassis features a twin downtube spline frame. Suspension set-up includes 41-mm forks at the front with an adequate 130-mm travel, and twin tube emulsion shock absorbers at the rear with six-step adjustment. The specially developed wide section tubeless Ceat tyres, including the 140/70 17-inch at the rear, offer good grip. It is still a heavy bike, tipping the scales at about 200 kg with all fluids filled. But, thanks to the new platform, the Meteor feels sure-footed and handles confidently around corners. Over bad sections of road, the wider patch of rubber does send up some feedback, but the suspension does a much better job than the predecessor. Braking is better too, with 270-mm and 300-mm discs at the rear and front respectively. Dual channel ABS is standard across variants.

Bottomline

With the Meteor, RE has launched a unique new customising tool in the form of an app called ‘Make it Yours’. Buyers can choose from eight special colours and multiple genuine accessories even while ordering their bike. RE’s global ambitions are nicely captured in the Meteor’s speedo, which displays miles per hour too; as does a lot of the new bike’s promo videos which have been extensively shot in Wales, the UK. The Meteor does feel like it can go global.

The passionate RE buyer never needed convincing, but, with the Meteor, neither would first-time buyers and novices. Prices for the Meteor start at ₹1.75 lakh and go upto ₹1.9 lakh (ex-showroom) for the three trim variants.

Follow us on Telegram, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Linkedin. You can also download our Android App or IOS App.

Published on November 12, 2020
  1. Comments will be moderated by The Hindu Business Line editorial team.
  2. Comments that are abusive, personal, incendiary or irrelevant cannot be published.
  3. Please write complete sentences. Do not type comments in all capital letters, or in all lower case letters, or using abbreviated text. (example: u cannot substitute for you, d is not 'the', n is not 'and').
  4. We may remove hyperlinks within comments.
  5. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name, to avoid rejection.