Words: Jeff Ware Photos: JPMedia
The Meteor 350 got its name from an older iconic Royal Enfield model from the 1950s. Launched at the end of 1952, the original Meteor was a touring motorcycle with a reputation that has stood the test of time. The new Meteor 350 has been dubbed an 'easy-cruiser' by Royal Enfield.
It is a low power, simple bike, designed for low-speed cruising and relaxed riding. With a top speed only just making our national limit and a modest going power-to-weight ratio, we headed into the test skeptical about whether the 350 can handle Australian conditions and live up the the tag of a cruiser. However, the little single impressed us in the end... It is a fun and capable little machine.
Wandering around and checking out the spec of the Meteor, the front wheel is a 19in cast alloy item, nice and big for that cruiser style, with the rear a 17in, and the tyres are budget Ceat items, which aren't much good in the wet and lack feedback in the dry.
The front brakes are by ByBre (By Brembo) and feature a sliding two-piston caliper, conventional master-cylinder and 300mm rotor. They work reasonably well, with enough power to pull the bike up, but do not have a lot of feeling. The levers are very thick and chunky, Harley style, and there is excessive travel at the front lever before the brakes activate. There is no span adjustment, and the shape of the levers contributes to the lack of feel...
The Meteor is equipped with Dual Channel ABS. Up the back, a big 270mm rotor and large single-piston sliding caliper do a very good job, in fact, the rear brakes are as good at pulling up as the front and when used as a combo the Meteor stops well. The rear pedal has a rubber top and a foot guard to the left and is fantastic to use.
There are virtually no vibes through the handlebars and the mirrors remain clear. The dash is easy to read, with the awesome Tripper navigation system a breeze and there is an easy-to-use menu button at the front of the left switchblock. There is only the most basic info, but it is enough, and it looks stylish. The switches are circular and old school, adding to the classic feel of the Meteor, as does the chrome retro styled lockable fuel cap. The clutch lever has no span adjustment and is heavy, but the clutch action is smooth, while the heel and tow gearshift is brilliant, with gearbox action butter smooth in all gears.
The forks are great, on the firmer side to give a slightly sportier ride on the smoother surfaces, with good support on the brakes and during cornering, but high-speed damping is harsh, so those sharper bumps translate to quite a big jolt through the handlebars. Overall, I was really impressed with the performance of the forks.
The shocks? Not so much... they lack travel and are under sprung and under damped, constantly bottoming out. I'd be upgrading them immediately, as they are not up to the job, I'm afraid... even on the most supportive preload setting. There is reasonable ground clearance for the rubber capped fold-back footpegs, which are in a comfy position but more of a mid-mount than a feet forward cruiser layout.
I terms of ergonomics, at 187cm tall, I found the bike quite cramped. The rider seat is small, as is the pillion seat, and I found I had to sit slightly on the pillion seat. For two adults, it is a very tight space, particularly with the backrest fitted. The pillion footpegs are large and so are the grab rails but overall, it is a very cramped space. There is a lot of knee flex for someone my height and the seat is positioned too far forward. The cramped rider triangle surprised me, as I would have thought a more relaxed and open position would have been a priority to Royal Enfield if they are classing the Meteor as a cruiser.
The 350 single is a special engine. Long and lazy with a broad spread of torque, it is silky smooth and so long as you are patient and enjoy the ride, don't rush, you will appreciate this motor for what it is. Top speed is as tested at 120km/h. You would not ride it on the motorway for any length of time, but short stints were no issue, so long as they were short bursts between exits etc. I regularly rode 12km each way of motorway at WOT doing 115-120km/h. Only the uphill section would really kill the speed.
Where the Meteor is happiest is between 80 and 100km/h, where that engine is lovely and just plods along and keeps the show on the road. Around town and in the outer suburbs as well the 350 is oh so easy and short-shifting along with the traffic flow is relaxing and enjoyable, although I really found myself going for a sixth gear often, and I think it would pull that gear no problems and perhaps solve the top speed shortfall. Also, the Meteor uses almost no fuel, it is incredibly economical.
Handling is sweet. It's not as engaging and fun as the 650 Twins are in the twisties but it has the same enjoyable and intuitive DNA built into the geometry. Steering is light, accurate and stable, while corner speed can be maintained so long as ground clearance is available. What really stands out though is the direct and responsive steering, it really is nice, and to top it off there is a brilliant turning circle for those tight feet-up U-turns in carparks or tight traffic.
The 350 is on the heavy side and feels top heavy off the stand and wheeling around the garage or carpark but once on the move, even at ultra-low speeds, the weight is not noticeable. Speaking of stands, the centrestand is brilliant and it is easy to lift the bike onto it. The sidestand is small and sinks into all but completely solid ground and needs a larger footprint, you could weld a square onto it.
In conclusion, I feel that the Meteor 350 is a great bike for those looking for a retro themed daily ride or commuter, a Royal Enfield enthusiast after a mellow weekend thumper or for a learner not quite ready to take on a 650 Twin yet. Australia and our open roads and speeds are not going to suit this bike as well as Indian and SE Asian conditions, where it would be near perfect, but it will get you from A to B with a smile on your face, and there are loads of cool accessories available to help make your own Meteor something special and individual...
2021 Royal Enfield Meteor 350 Specifications
Price: From $7,690 R/A
Warranty: Three Years.
Colours: Fireball Yellow, Fireball Red, Stellar Black, Stellar Red, Stellar Blue, Supernova Brown, Supernova Blue.
Claimed Power: 20.2hp@6100rpm
Claimed Torque: 27Nm@4000rpm
Single-cylinder, four-stroke, Air-Oil cooled, 349cc, bore x stroke 72mm x 85.8mm, Compression Ratio 9.5:1, Electronic Fuel Injection(EFI), Wet, multi-plate clutch, five-speed constant mesh gearbox.
Frame Type; Twin Downtube Spine Frame
Front suspension: Telescopic, 41mm forks, 130mm travel, Rear suspension: Twin tube Emulsion shock absorbers with six-step adjustable preload
Wheels & Tyres: Alloy Wheel – 100/90 – 19in – 57P (Tubeless Type), Alloy Wheel – 140/70 – 17in – 66P (Tubeless Type).
Brakes Front 300mm disc with twin piston floating caliper, rear 270mm disc, single piston floating caliper, ABS Dual Channel
Ground Clearance: 170mm
Overall Length: 2140mm
Width: 845mm (without mirrors)
Height: 1140mm (without mirrors)/1310mm (with windscreen)
Seat Height: 765mm
Kerb Weight: 191kg (with 90% fuel & oil)
Fuel Capacity: 15L
Dash: Analogue and LCD display with navigation and smart phone connectivity.