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Royal Enfield Thunderbird gets new feathers

Mirza Mohammed Ali Khan | Updated on April 09, 2018 Published on April 05, 2018

Cosmetic surgery: The bike can look like an entirely new motorcycle because of the nature of tweaks it has received.   -  Mirza Mohammed Ali Khan

The cruiser gets an urban, youthful makeover, but retains the old heart

The new Royal Enfield (RE) Thunderbird 500X looks like a rough-hewn, but well-finished street fighter, eager to jump into the next brawl coming its way.

RE needed a product like this. Especially given how it’s bringing back an even more classic design with the parallel-twin engine Interceptor later this year. All motorcycles from the brand, save for the Himalayan, cater to those looking for a laidback design; and the Classic series, the Thunderbird, and the vintage Bullet give off exactly that impression — settle into a comfortable speed, let that torque-laden single cylinder deliver you from city traffic, and cruise away.

But the brand has been attracting young buyers in droves, the past few years. And some, if not most of these buyers, look for a little more aggression from their machines. The regular Thunderbird model also has been among the variants from the brand that has attracted modifications.

Refreshed look

With the new Thunderbird 500X and the 350X, RE has pretty much given such buyers these options straight from the factory. Make no mistake, the motorcycle is still a Thunderbird at heart and most of its body, but the new styling cues are prominently implemented, giving you the impression that these could well be completely different motorcycles.

For starters, the pulled-back, typical cruiser handlebar from the original motorcycle is now gone, replaced by a flat one, shrugging off the relaxed demeanour.

It is still slightly forward biased so if the rider’s height is on the shorter side, adjusting the handlebars towards the rider would be a good idea. The foot-pegs are still set forward, making for a relaxed ride.

The overall feel is something in-between a laidback and a fully aggressive posture.

 

 

In a first for RE, the motorcycle gets black alloy wheels with tubeless tyres. Personally, I’ve always liked how after-factory alloys have looked on RE bikes and these look very similar. The tyres get a stripe running around them, which is the same colour as that of the fuel tank.

The side panels are also black and are emblazoned with the motorcycle’s name, while the fuel tank gets the trademark ‘Royal Enfield’ lettering. The silencer is blacked-out too, as is the engine, going with the overall theme. However, the exposed wiring is a bit of an eyesore.

The bike gets a single seat and the material is new — pleasantly textured in parts and quite comfortable. The rider’s seat is wide, allowing for lateral movement and gives you a planted feel. The pillion seat is on the smaller side and the original Thunderbird backrest is now gone, making way for split handrails on the sides, thus making pillion seating a tad more awkward.

However, it sure does look appealing and adds to the overall design that RE is going for.

Being a test motorcycle, our mule didn’t come with a crash guard, but given the regulations and the uniqueness of the X’s design, an acceptable compromise should be sought. The instrument cluster is carried over from the regular Thunderbird, as are the headlamp, tail-lamp and rear-view mirrors.

Performance and handling

The new motorcycles are powered by the same 499 cc and 346 cc mills seen on the regular Thunderbirds, and well, other current motorcycles from RE, apart from the Himalayan. The 499 cc engine churns out the same 27.2 bhp of power at 5,250 rpm and a peak torque of 41.3 Nm at 4,000 rpm.

Those familiar with RE motorcycles powered by the same Unit-construction engine will know how it performs. There is oodles of torque at low revs, powering you ahead at traffic signals and while overtaking, drowning out the other engines with the thump of the exhaust. Speaking about the thump, it’s slightly throatier and deeply metallic on the 500X, making every pull on the throttle a delight to the ears.

While the needle on the speedo can hit 120 kmph and then some, given how jarring the vibrations can get in a RE, 90 to 100 kmph is where this bike too would be most comfortable, and the vibrations tolerable. Vibrations at the handlebar get to you more than on the footpegs, but cruising capabilities are good and one can maintain high speeds for long distances.

The gearbox feels slicker compared to other models, but instances of false neutrals continue. Braking (280 mm front disc, 240 mm rear disc), again, is typically RE, but with improved bite for the rear brake, giving me a small jump in confidence. However, allowing for good braking and stopping distance is a good idea. ABS is not even an option.

Suspension is fairly pliant and feels better equipped to handle speedbreakers than potholes. A stable ride has always been Enfield’s forte and you can expect the same here. Those corners and curves can be taken with gusto, as long as you don’t lean in too much and scrape the front footpegs.

Bottomline

I can’t help but think what the motorcycle might have been like if it was a little more refined, with better braking including ABS.

But I have a feeling Royal Enfield is saving all of that up for the Twins — the 650 cc Interceptor and Continental GT that are expected soon. The 500X and the 350X feel more like trailers, but pretty entertaining ones at that.

The Thunderbird just got an extension with the X’s variation in ride position, face-lifted design and younger package. Prices start at ₹1.56 lakh for the 350X and ₹1.98 lakh for the 500X (both ex-showroom, Delhi).

 

 

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Published on April 05, 2018
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