Motorcycling is going through a bit of a modern boom time right now and a big part of that action is from the learner legal and retro side of the motorcycling equation.
Royal Enfield’s motorcycle range ticks both of those boxes and the Indian brand certainly offers the most authentic retro experience.
The styling of the entire range is pretty much on point and like Harley, Royal Enfield uses base platforms for a number of models, while managing to make what are very similar motorcycles provide very different riding experiences with very different looks.
The newest kid on the block from Royal Enfield is a significant update on the Classic 350. It’s a beautifully classic looking motorcycle that at first glance could be, and often is, mistaken for a genuine 50 year-old vintage motorcycle.
Powered by a 349 cc single-cylinder, two-valve, SOHC engine the Classic 350’s level of performance also harks back to a previous age.
It starts and runs smoother than any olden day single, sounds lovely at start-up and when taking off from the lights, but it’s not powerful enough to keep up with traffic on 100 km/h Australian highways and freeways. It grunts off the line okay with a nice burst of torque and zips up to 60 km/h quick enough, short-shifting through the agreeable five-speed box, but maintaining anything more than 85 km/h demands full throttle, all the time…
Most modern 350 cc single-cylinder scooters offer much more performance all round, let alone something like a modern twin-cylinder Ninja 400 or MT-03. The little Japanese twins though need to rev hard to get that performance, thus if on a suburban commute the Royal Enfield might prove more favourable. However, if your commute involves any 100 km/h roads, then fighting traffic at those speeds on the Classic 350 would not be a comfortable experience. I am sure Royal Enfield did their calculations correctly in regards to gearing for their home market, but perhaps the local Australian distributors could run through some different sprockets to see if there is a final drive ratio more suitable to our more open roads. The standard ratio might be as good as it gets, but it would be worth investigating.
Royal Enfield claim 20 horsepower at 6100 rpm and 27 Nm of torque at 4000 rpm. Most comparable single-cylinder scooters of a similar capacity offer 50 per cent more power than that and also better the air-cooled Royal Enfield in regards to torque. Leisurely is an apt descriptor for the way the Classic 350 goes about its business. On a flat road with a tail wind you might get to 100 km/h, with enough of a run up, but you can’t sustain a metric ton on an undulating road.
The suspension works well and handles bumps with reasonable compliance if they are encountered in a straight line, but the limitations of the chassis, despite being much stronger than its predecessors, do show up if hitting bumps while cornering. I suspect the tyres are part of the problem when it comes to mid-corner bump compliance. That said, it’s not terrible in that regard, just that it could be better.
Perhaps a change from the stock Indian made CEAT rubber to something with a little more sporting intent could improve the cornering abilities. Although options might be somewhat limited with the front a 19-inch hoop and the rear an 18-inch. There is however plenty of choice in that sizing for adventure oriented tyres, and a lot of the adventure rubber from the big tyre brands is seriously good on the tarmac, so that could be an option worth evaluating.
A decent 130 mm of travel is on offer up front and the rear shocks are adjustable for pre-load through six stages. It can actually be a lot of fun in the tight stuff and you will need to move around on the bike a little in order to keep the pegs and low-slung peashooter pipes off the deck, but I quite like that. It’s nice to have a challenge to maintain corner speed while trying to keep the bike from scraping pegs, it adds to the fun factor for me. Sit still like a bag of spuds and you will be scraping away, but ride smart and you can run through a turn at a reasonable pace without throwing any sparks. It is certainly far less prone to dragging its undercarriage than any cruiser from Harley or Indian.
Pegs aside, the rest of the ergonomics are fairly neutral and natural enough. The seat is wider and better padded than the previous model and a couple of hours seat time poses no real problem.
Royal Enfield offer an extensive and well thought out accessories range for all their models and the Classic 350 is no different.A touring seat is amongst the options as are a wide variety of engine protection bars and a sump-guard. Bar-end mirrors are available, as are different pegs.
A small pannier designed to replicate the look of an old-style ammunition box can be mounted to the right-hand-side of the Classic 350. Due to its low-slung design the pannier leads to no extra obstruction when it comes to slinging a leg over the bike. It is only rated at 3 kg though and requires an optional waterproof inner bag to protect your luggage. I think I would look to the aftermarket for a set of waxed cotton throw-overs if Royal Enfield don’t offer anything along those lines in their own catalogue.
The low 805 mm seat height feels even lower due to the low slung lines of the bike where the seat is the highest part of the rear half of the bike. This makes boarding or alighting from the bike easier than just about anything else on the motorcycle market. This is a characteristic reflected across pretty much the entire Royal Enfield range and, along with the great styling, I think is perhaps a big part of their success.
The Classic 350 tips the scales at almost 200 kg but feels dramatically lighter than that figure would suggest. It’s an easy and completely unthreatening motorcycle to ride.
Pulling that mass up quickly though requires a significant amount of effort through the braking lever if you rely on the front brake only, but the rear brake is sizeable and offers more assistance. If spending more time with the bike I would have tried to adjust the rear brake lever more to my liking which would have been a great benefit I am sure.The mid-mount foot-pegs didn’t help on that score, and they can also catch your shins if you are walking the bike around in the parking lot. Best you practice your low-speed feet-up manoeuvring control, a task that the Royal Enfield is balanced quite well for.
ABS is fitted as standard and can’t be switched off, it works but is a generation or two behind the best systems on offer these days. Traction control is not available.
The instrumentation is quite pleasing to the eye and works well enough. A fuel gauge helps you keep an eye on when the 13-litre fuel tank needs replenishing. A USB port is fitted as standard while the Tripper navigation system is optional. It was going to be standard for our market but the worldwide chip shortage deemed that not viable at this stage.
Pricing starts at $7990 Ride Away.If we weren’t in an unprecedented retail boom with shipping costs impacted so much by the plague, I think this model would have arrived at a much cheaper price point. Its predecessor was selling for $6490 Ride Away as recently as a few years ago and I think at that mark the Classic 350 would offer great value. But in the current market even with the bigger price tag they still probably won’t be able to get enough of them here to satisfy demand. That’s a pretty good position to be in.
The Classic 350 comes in four different base variants, all of which are mechanically identical (apart from cast rims on the ‘Dark’), and nine different colour schemes, and that’s before you get to the customisation options in the accessories catalogue. Leave the optional pillion back-rest alone though as it totally ruins the lines of the bike. All of the Classic 350 range in Australia come with a pillion seat as standard for when you would like to carry a passenger. Leave them at home too…
If highway work is in order then you would be better off considering the beaut 650 cc twin-cylinder Interceptor or Continental GT machines. The Himalayan also offers 60 more cc than the Classic or Meteor models and thus is also more practical if you ride in 100 km/h zones.
While the Classic 350 will never match a scooter when it comes to inner city convenience and performance, it does offer an authentic retro motorcycle experience in every aspect, apart from the oil leaks, poor starting and vibrations that come with the true vintage experience. Instead the Royal Enfield Classic 350 is a smooth and fuss free low-maintenance and reliable option that in regards to keeping up appearances is genuinely retro, but doesn’t require you to carry a tool-kit and an oil drip-tray around with you.Adding further appeal is Royal Enfield’s three-year warranty and roadside assist program should you get unlucky.
The ace card up its sleeve though is the way it looks. The images don’t really do it justice at all.The Signals variant finished in Desert Sand or Marsh Grey, accessorised with the faux springer seat would be my pick of the litter. But to be honest, they all look pretty damned good in the flesh.
Front Brakes – Bybre twin-piston caliper, single 300 mm disc
Rear Brake – Single-piston caliper, 270 mm disc (Dual-channel ABS)
Seat Height – 805 mm
Weight – 195 kg (claimed)
L x W x H – 2145 x 785 x 1090
Ground Clearance – 170 mm
Fuel Capacity – 13 litres
Warranty – Three years with roadside assist
Pricing – From $7990 Ride Away
Nine colour options are available, with the Classic 350 Halcyon E5 priced at $7,990 ride-away in Black, Green or Grey, the Classic 350 Signals E5 priced at $8,290 in Desert Sand and Marsh Grey, the Classic 350 Dark E5 for $8,690 in Stealth Black or Gunmetal Grey, and the Classic 350 Chrome E5 at $8,790 ride-away in Bronze or Red.
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