When I’m out driving cars and riding two-wheelers, I try to be as objective about them as possible. Sometimes, though, I can’t help but like (or dislike) a car or bike even before I’ve had a go at it, and I must confess that the new Royal Enfield Classic 350 had me as soon as I saw the first photos of it.
I’ve become more and more enamoured of simple, unfussy and retro designs (not just with automobiles, but with other things like clothes and watches), and anything that ticks these boxes tends to warm my heart right away, so do keep this in mind while you read this review. I promise that I’ll try and tell it as much like it is as I can.
I’ve made it obvious that I love the way this bike looks, but it’s worth talking about its design some more. The new Classic 350 manages to look almost exactly like the older one and a brand new design at the same time, a trick that must have been quite difficult for its designers to pull off.
Brand new, all the way
‘If it ain't broke, don’t fix it’ applies heavily here, and what isn’t immediately obvious is that every component on this bike is new, so it’s all-new in every sense of the word. While I was riding it, several riders on the older Classic 350 did double-takes as they went past me, and every single one retraced their steps to come and look at it and chat to me; this is the best possible sign that the new design works. I mean, just look at it – it oozes heritage and tradition, and you can almost smell leather jackets and boots around it.
The build quality on it is very good, which is something that couldn’t necessarily be said of the older machine. It looks classier, cleaner and more sophisticated, and utterly timeless; that headlight ‘cap’ is absolutely beautiful. The different colour schemes are all smashing – from the base Redditch models to the top end Chrome editions – and I’d definitely have mine in the bronze/chrome combination.
There are some properly useful upgrades as well, such as a digital fuel gauge (yes, the older bike didn’t have one), two trip metres, a clock, Enfield's Tripper navigation system and a USB charging port (on some variants). Otherwise, there’s a large analogue speedometer as usual, and some old-school round switches – and there’s not an LED light to be seen, just regular bulbs.
There are tool boxes, but they only have space for things like your papers and perhaps a cloth or two. The rear end has been immeasurably improved as well, thanks to the tail light unit from the Meteor 350. Suffice to say that this is a bike you will gaze at longingly well after you’ve parked it after a ride.
What about the ride?
The new Classic 350 is based, of course, on Enfield’s new J platform, on which the Meteor is built – this means a new engine, new chassis and new pretty much everything. And it isn’t a Meteor with new clothes, far from it.
The engine has different ignition timing, for one, and the Classic has a larger rear wheel than the Meteor, so its rolling circumference is longer. As soon as you get on it and get rolling, the difference between it and the older bike becomes apparent – the new frame, front fork, rear shock absorbers and bigger wheels and tyres make the new Classic feel as planted as a rock.
Also, the riding position itself is much more comfortable, with the footpegs having been moved back a little and the handlebar now set a little further ahead and lower. The seat is also far better, with just the right mix of comfort and firmness; the pillion seat comes as standard, but frankly, the bike looks much better with it removed (apologies in advance to all pillions).
The engine, like on the Meteor, is a little gem. In these days of frenetic performance, to fire up a relaxed, unhurried engine is a true pleasure. The powerplant makes 20.4 PS and 27 Nm of torque, neither of which are world-beating numbers – it’s the way both are delivered that is important here.
The new 350 offers crisp acceleration all the way up to around 85 kph, and then starts flagging a bit until it gets to 120 kph, where the vibrations make themselves felt. This is not, however, a 120 kph-all-day bike – it is built for purring along at 80 to 90 kph, which it does with consummate ease.
You always know there's enough grunt in the engine to go faster if you like, and even at crawling speeds, the engine-gearbox combination is totally sure of itself; the 5-speed unit is easy to operate and I didn’t experience a single mis-shift. Oh, and what about that legendary thump from the engine, you ask?
Well, it’s very much in evidence, and it’s different from the Meteor, too – there’s more of a ‘boom’ to it. I would have liked a louder exhaust note overall, but that’s splitting hairs.
The ride quality on this bike has improved greatly as well. It strikes a great balance between comfort and grip, which means that it goes plushly overall but the harshest potholes (where it does thud through) and goes in a confident manner around corners. In city conditions, the bike feels light and quite agile.
When you wring open the throttle, straight-line stability is top-notch and you feel like you can keep going in that manner endlessly. When corners arrive, a gentle lean is all it takes to get the 350 to go where you want it, with the brakes offering enough bite to shed speed in an appropriate manner.
It goes without saying that this bike isn’t meant for a day at the racetrack (although I’m sure it’ll be happy to be taken there), so it needs to be handled as such. The tyres are excellent, offering grip and comfort in both wet and dry conditions.
So who is the new Classic 350 for, then? I’d say it’s for everyone because it’s so easy to ride and live with. Naturally, Royal Enfield has existing customers in its sights, but the Classic is also for those who have been hesitant about buying into the Enfield world because of concerns about reliability.
The bikes the firm now builds are no longer the ‘Royal Oilfields’ of old, and with the Meteor, it has shown that it can make motorcycles that are as reliable as those from the competition, so it’s safe to assume that the Classic 350 will also be of the same nature.
This is a bike that I’d be happy to ride the length and breadth of the country on, and its timeless design and appeal are the icing on the cake. Like I said, it had me from the start.