New entry-level 350 roadster from resurgent Royal Enfield
Perhaps the best thing about motorcycling is the way you can have so much fun in so many different ways. Over the years, I’ve had a ball riding 200bhp superbikes on red-hot race tracks, and riding massive tourers across continents. But I’ve also had hilarious craic bumming across town on a moped, or racing my mates on 125cc group tests. Cruising, dirt riding, commuting – as long as it’s on two wheels, there’s always a chance to enjoy yourself.
And today is yet another example. I’m blatting through the Warwickshire countryside, chasing a factory test rider (who’s also a quick racer), trying my hardest to keep up with him on the roads he’s been riding all week – but which I’m seeing for the first time.
Each gear change is right on the rev-limiter, braking points are pushed back until you see your god, the footpegs are scraping round bends and the throttle cable is stretched tight to the redline in every gear.
It’s heady stuff – and all happening at little more than the national speed limit… Because today’s chariot of fun is the Royal Enfield Meteor 350 – the Anglo-Indian brand’s new, entry-level, easy-riding roadster. It’s an all-new design, with a totally fresh single-cylinder engine and cruiser-ish roadster chassis, developed by the British-based team responsible for the excellent 650 Interceptor and Continental GT twins launched a few years ago.
It’s an important machine, which will sell in its hundreds of thousands as practical, unstoppable transport in India, and as a lightweight cruiser/commuter here in the UK – priced to sell, at well under £4k.
On paper, the specs don’t look at all unreasonable, and I’m keen to see if the design team has done the same great job it managed with the 650 twins – especially on the chassis front. The 650s’ real strength actually lies there for me; the engine is decent enough, but it was the way the vanilla-looking frame and suspension handled that really grabbed me when I first rode them.
That seems to be down to the competition background of the development engineers and riders: Enfield took over legendary GP and superbike specialist Harris Performance when it moved to the UK, and signed up a load of great current and former racers as test riders. The results really shone through on the 650s; would they do the same here?
The firm has invited a load of press up to the swish Caffeine & Machine café/restaurant near Stratford-upon-Avon for a day’s ride on the new Meteor, and we’ve been blessed with the weather. I grab a quick coffee, listen to a commendably-brief introduction chat from the RE folks, and then we’re saddling up and heading off. I jump on a blindingly bright yellow bike (surely they must be faster?) and get set.
The switchgear is has an attractive, bespoke, branded design, rather than just ‘generic controls’ bought off the shelf from an anonymous supplier, and the neat single clock also has a premium feel, with ample info on the little LCD panel. No tacho is a shame, but the space where it might go is taken up with a small pod which holds the Tripper navigation unit display.
This connects to an app on your phone, and shows Google Maps directions on its little colour screen – a simple, charming way to add some high-end functionality.
Flick the natty round starter button, and I’m rewarded by a slightly agricultural chuff-chuff-chuff down below. A small-capacity road-legal bike in 2021 is never going to sound amazing, but the traditional Enfield single-cylinder thump is just about audible. The freaky thing is how slowly the revs pick up in neutral though – you can hold the throttle wide open for a big chunk of a second before the revs sound like they’re getting towards the limiter.
That’s probably down in part to the very long-stroke architecture (72mm bore and 85.8mm stroke). Indeed, I can’t think of another current bike which has an undersquare bore and stroke at all – apart from the Royal Enfield Himalayan. Long-stroke engines are a bit lazier than short-stroke designs, but can be torquier, and are generally more economical.
Into first, and we’re away, and out onto the open road. The riding position is relaxed and easy, with slightly forward-set foot pegs and bars at a comfy angle and reach. The Meteor might be a little bit cruiser-y, with a nice low seat height, but the riding position has nothing of the silly stretched-out ape-hanger about it.
The clutch is light, the gearchange slick (with a heel-and-toe lever) and the throttle response largely academic at the moment, since it’s simply being held fully wide open for the first few miles.
The power delivery is predictably biased towards torquey, low-down grunt, but it does rev away quite happily, with surprising smoothness right up to the redline. Just 20bhp peak isn’t a lot of power, and you need to plan your overtakes quite carefully on a 60mph single carriageway.
I nearly get stitched up near Chipping Campden by silver van man (posher than white van man) in a VW Crafter, who was dawdling at 40mph till I pulled alongside and he suddenly floored it, gah. It’s much better in the urban environment mind, and would be spot-on for hacking through the centre of London or Glasgow.
As ever with small-bore bikes, momentum is vital out of town, and once you’re up to ramming speed, you don’t want to slow down too much if you can avoid it. Luckily the chassis is a big help, with a real stable feel through sweeping bends, the basic suspension working away to absorb bumps and potholes pretty well.
There’s also more ground clearance than you might expect, and to be honest, you’ll not be dragging the pegs unless you’re having a go or taking the piss. The new-to-me CEAT tyres don’t have much in the way of feedback, but seem more than grippy enough for whatever we fancy today (including dragging the pegs).
Having said that, it’s easy to make a tyre that works well on warm, dry asphalt. I’d need to see how they work on a cold, damp, greasy commute through London before giving them a proper thumbs-up.
The only real grumble from the chassis is the front brake, which needs a hefty squeeze before you get much in the way of firm stopping power. After ten minutes though, I remember that cruisers often make up for poor front stoppers with a good back brake, and start to use that more, with strong results. Particularly through town, a hefty stamp on the foot pedal will haul you up good and proper.
Heading back to Caffeine & Machine, we spend a bit of time on some straighter, faster roads. The little windscreen fitted onto the test bikes is a boon, taking the wind off nicely without getting in the way. The claimed fuel consumption is over 100mpg, so with the 15 litre fuel tank, you’ll get over 300 miles between filling up.
It should easily manage longer jaunts then – so long as there’s no hurry. I see about 75mph at one point today, and the test rider reckons they can top 85mph on the clocks, just, with a following wind and fair conditions.
Of course, the good thing about that is you’re unlikely to end up with points on the licence, and the fun all happens at lower speeds. Indeed, more than once I look down at the clocks today and am surprised that we’re only doing about 60mph.
Wringing the little Meteor’s neck, with full-throttle up-shifts, last-gasp braking and using every last inch of the road, you feel like a Moto3 rider – having a total ball, yet at far more sensible speeds. It’s a fact that you often have more fun (and feel more in control) riding a smaller bike to the edge of its limits, instead of trying to get near the limits of a 200bhp superbike on the road.
We’re back at base, and my day with the Meteor is over. I’ve had great fun and am impressed once more by Royal Enfield’s efforts. Sure, the 20bhp Meteor is well down on power compared with something like a 40bhp Yamaha MT-03. But it’s more than £1,500 cheaper, and is aimed at a different sector altogether.
It’s a good-looking, fun little roadster, which has decent performance in town, and a chassis that pleases out of town. It could easily take on a 20-mile suburban daily commute, and if you’ve got the right mindset, it would no doubt take you touring as far as you fancy, with minimal running costs.
On the downside, it will be a little slow for UK motorways, the front brake is a bit wooden, and I’d like to see better OE rubber fitted. Those are pretty minor gripes though, and for the sort of rider and riding the Meteor is aimed at, probably a bit moot.
As it is, I’d not be surprised to see the Meteor 350 being just as big a hit as the 650 twins have been, and topping the sales charts in its class all year long.
Price: from £3,749 (June 2021)
Engine: SOHC 2v, single, a/c, 349cc
Bore x stroke: 72×85.8mm
Compression ratio: 9.5:1
Carburation: Fuel injection
Max power (claimed) 20hp@6,100rpm
Max torque (claimed) 20ft lb@4,000rpm
Transmission: five speed gearbox, wet clutch, chain drive
Frame: steel tube double cradle
Front suspension: 41mm conventional fork
Rear suspension: steel tube swingarm, twin shocks, preload adjustable
Brakes: 300mm discs, twin-piston ByBre caliper (front), 270mm disc, single-piston caliper (rear), dual-channel ABS.
Wheels/tyres: cast aluminium/CEAT Zoom Plus, 100/90 19 front, 140/70 17 rear
Rake/trail: na°/na mm
Kerb weight : 191kg
Fuel capacity: 15 litres
Colours: Supernova Blue, Supernova Brown, Fireball Yellow, Fireball Red, Stellar Blue, Stellar Red, Stellar Black
Equipment: Tripper sat-nav display with Google Maps app, LCD info panel, USB socket
An all-new motor to bring Royal Enfield’s small single-cylinder bikes bang up to date. It’s a unique mix of old and new: air-cooled, long-stroke, two-valve head and five-speed gearbox, but also fuel-injected, oil cooled, and has a torquey, 20bhp power output. Balancer shaft gives good smoothness at peak revs.
Simple, tough, easily-repaired steel tube double cradle unit, with a steel swingarm. No muss, no fuss, and works well.
Basic stuff but like the rest of the chassis, works well. Preload on the twin shocks is all you get in terms of adjustability.
Single clock pod houses a large speedo and a neat LCD panel with gear indicator and fuel gauge. No tacho. Test bikes also had the ‘Tripper’ satnav display, which links to an app on your phone and shows GPS navigation instructions. Also has a very neat USB charging socket integrated into the left-hand switchgear, rather than tucked under the seat like some silly firms have done.
‘ByBre’ calipers from Brembo’s entry-level range – sliding twin-piston front and single-piston rear. Front needs a big handful (we’d maybe try a performance replacement brake pad for more bite), but the rear is more powerful. Dual channel ABS.
Indian brand CEAT supplies the standard Zoom Plus tyres, which worked fine on the warm dry Tarmac during the press launch. We’re wary of non-big-brand tyres tbh, so would replace with something else for use in all conditions. RE itself seems to suggest using Metzelers as replacements in Europe, which we can definitely get behind. Avons, Dunlops, Pirellis, Michelins, Bridgestones – all good options here.
Royal Enfield has a decent range of factory options, including windscreens, luggage, touring seats and engine protection bars.