Royal Enfield feels that the global mid-size motorcycle market is under-served and wants to dominate the segment. The 300cc to 750cc category of motorcycles has traditionally had fewer players since most manufacturers have either positioned themselves as ‘mass’ or ‘niche’.
Watch | Royal Enfield Hunter 350 video review
Many brands have moved in, sensing a rising class of young riders who are aspiring for bigger displacement bikes but have limited skills and access, and want it to be a daily rider too. Royal Enfield has traditionally had a strong foothold in the segment. From being a niche player, it has progressively leveraged the strength of its brand’s history and heritage, and extended the signature retro charm of its bikes. Now, with a completely refreshed range of motorcycles, many that have filled previously undiscovered gaps in its portfolio, RE has become a juggernaut in the segment, not just in India, but also in 64 other countries.
After launching a crossover adventure bike in the Scram 411 earlier this year, Royal Enfield has now launched the Hunter 350 a new roadster built from the ground up. While RE already has roadsters in its portfolio, including the Classic 350, the Hunter 350 promises to be different (as you can make out even from the pictures). It is more compact, promises to be more agile, is lighter and even more accessible with that aggressive, less than Rs 1.5 lakh entry price tag. To experience these attributes first-hand and to find out if the Hunter 350 continues to be a RE at heart, I travelled to Thailand’s capital Bangkok earlier this week, where the official first rides had been organised.
Design and Build
The Hunter 350, as the nomenclature suggests, shares the same J Series engine that we’ve experienced already in the Classic and the Meteor. This updated, reliable and refined engine has helped RE clock big numbers both in India and overseas markets. In fact, RE says that more than half a million of this 349cc engine have already been made. But, it must be pointed out that the Hunter is not just a modified version of an existing bike, every part other than the engine is new and developed specifically for the Hunter. All the mechanicals, the 17-inch rims and even the tyres have been specially developed and manufactured for the new roadster.
The first impression I get when walking up to the Hunter is that this is more compact (1,370mm) than any other RE model. In fact, it is also the lightest (wet weight is 181kgs). Looks tauter too, with a short tube exhaust and the engine having been packed tight with no unseemly gaps. Even though it is not as stocky as the other REs, the Hunter 350 still has sufficient presence even when standing still.
The Royal Enfield signature circular elements for the headlamps and turn indicators, a fuel tank that still has the brand’s design identity, and a roadster style flat seat and riding position.
The Hunter 350’s frame is completely new; it is a twin downtube spine frame, with the engine sitting bolted at the bottom. The frame is said to be stiffer than other conventional chassis and it does deliver a stable ride on road. It also works with the combination of a sharp 25-degree rake angle for the front forks and the compact wheelbase of 1,370mm. This also allows for lighter steering. The test of the frame’s suitability and the assistance coming in from the 17-inch light alloys was the way I could manoeuvre the Hunter 350 through the notorious evening traffic of Bangkok. It is easy to flick the bike through narrows openings, in between cars, step-thrus and tuk-tuks. While the chassis geometry focuses on agility, the suspension set-up matches character for the ride. Front suspension is handled by 41mm forks with 130mm travel and the rear suspension involves twin emulsion shocks with 102mm travel; and offering 6-step preload adjustment.
Engine and gearbox
The J1 Series engine is a single cylinder, fuel-injected, air-oil cooled unit that delivers the same output as in the Meteor and the Classic. The long-stroke character and flat torque curve are signature Royal Enfield performance characteristics, and it comes through in the Hunter 350 too. The engine delivers 20.2bhp of peak power and 27Nm of torque; same as in the Classic. And it is also paired with the same 5-speed gearbox, but engine mapping has been fine-tuned specifically to suit the Hunter’s agile roadster character.
Throttle response is quicker and the way the low-end torque is put down to the road is different. It helps that this is a lighter bike, but the way it accelerates, makes it feel livelier than the 9kg of weight-savings. The clutch is light, and the gearshifts are smooth. I didn’t experience any false neutrals, but the gear lever peg’s position, I thought, could have been a click lower. Riding position is upright and just right, with a seat height of 790mm.
The short tube exhaust has been specifically designed and developed to suit the character of the Hunter 350. But the sound has been calibrated to deliver the characteristic thump of a Royal Enfield, even though, like in the Classic and Meteor, it is just not what it used to be. But regulations weigh down on these aspects and there is the inevitable dilution that needs to be accepted. The Hunter 350 is Euro V emission compliant. While some of the weight savings has come from the choice of a short tube exhaust, it also delivers other advantages to the bike, in terms of centralising the mass for improved balance. This is an attribute that will be best appreciated while taking corners.
While my ride through the crowded streets of Bangkok didn’t throw up as many opportunities to lean the Hunter 350 into turns, the go-kart track run that RE officials had organised put the bike’s prowess into perspective. Raised foot peg positions, the 150.5mm ground clearance and the upturned exhaust are all focused on delivering lean angles of up to 45 degrees. But, while doing foot-peg scrapping corners at the track it was amply evident that the Hunter 350 can lean even more, with the specially developed CEAT tyres adding to the confidence by offering excellent grip.
The Hunter 350 gets similar pod-like circular instrumentation like in the Classic and the Meteor. But the configuration is slightly different. The Tripper navigation pod is an optional addition being offered for the Hunter too. There are a number of other optional genuine motorcycle accessories that can be chosen from for personalising the Hunter 350. The bike is being offered into two broad trim variants - Metro and Retro. There are multiple colour ways and paint finishes that can be opted for too. My choice would be the classic RE black tank with the red logo and gold stripe.
The classic RE circular elements extend into the instrumentation too, like it does with the other bikes from the brand. The brand typical analog-digital instrument pod delivers a clutch of ride-related info on the screen. The tripper navigation pod is an optional addition in some of the trim variants. The electricals and easy to operate controls are similar to the other bikes in the portfolio. The wider section rims are shod in CEAT rubber that has been specially created for the Hunter 350. The front is a 110/70 - 17 and the rear is a 140/70 - 17. Brakes include two-channel ABS and feature a 300mm disc for the front and a 270mm for the rear; base variant features a drum brake for the rear.
The new Hunter 350 has been designed to please but feels like a RE should. The aggressive pricing starting from just under Rs 1.5 lakhs is going to make it more attractive and accessible to a whole bunch of new buyers who may have otherwise looked at other options. RE’s charismatic boss Sid Lal says the idea was to develop a new bike that doesn’t quite pull customers away from the Classic 350 or the Meteor 350; but in my opinion some bit of poaching will happen. But the bottom line is that a lot of the competitors are going to feel the heat from this - the most affordable Royal Enfield. The Hunter’s positioning makes it just the thing RE needs to spread its reach deeper into the mid-displacement motorcycle segment worldwide.