Going Meteor-hunting? Here’s The Latest Waiting Period
- May 5, 2021
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THE thump, which seemed to have been muffled by BS6, is back with RE’s brand spanking new Meteor 350, the successor to the Thunderbird 350. Now that the voice of Royal Enfield for the masses can be heard once again in the BS6 era, what is it saying? Has the Interceptor magic been worked on the simpler single-cylinder motorcycles? Is the new Meteor worth getting excited about? If so, how much? And why? Let's see what this new Royal Enfield cruiser is all about.
The dreams of long open roads, the thump bouncing off mountain roads are born in the urban grind. As you slip into the bustle, will these dreams seem sweeter still from the saddle of the Meteor? Let’s start with the weighty matters. At 191 kg, the Meteor isn’t light, but it is six kilos lighter than the Thunderbird, though the difference seems much larger from the saddle. At standstill the Meteor actually feels much lighter than you’d imagine, and when you get going it feels unexpectedly responsive. The sharper rake and the way the new motorcycle carries its weight will put even less experienced riders at ease on this RE.
Once you adapt to the quickness and lightness of the steering and the stretched out seating position, you will find yourself slicing through traffic without breaking a sweat. Despite the Meteor’s longer wheelbase U-turns are narrow because the steering range is so wide. And if you need to tap to safety, the low 765mm seat height makes it no hassle at all. There’s even an accessory seat that drops the seat height by another 20mm! To know which accessories Royal Enfield has to offer, click here.
So the new Meteor is very much at home in the city, dispatching potholes and speed breakers with confidence. But the stiff rear suspension and short travel means some of the sharpness of the bumps is felt with tiring regularity. For a more laid back sofa-esque experience the simple telescopic forks up front and the twin shocks would need more sophisticated internals. Your pillion won’t complain of space on short rides, but the thunks won’t go unnoticed either.
The beating heart…
Surely you are excited about the new engine. The thump being retained is something users and the engineers at Royal Enfield will savour and celebrate. However, have the engineers also recreated the 650-twins type of refinement on this single-cylinder motorcycle? The answer is…
ZigWheel’s globally accepted and appreciated chai cup test proves that the Meteor’s use of a counterbalancer cuts out vibrations to modern-motorcycle levels. We’d reckon it is even better than the Himalayan! While there is a slight pulse to be felt at lower speeds, your palms, feet, and other unmentionables won't throb, tingle or buzz after a long stint in the saddle. Pukka.
That’s not all, this all-new engine ditches the chain primary drive and pushrods to make it more responsive and efficient. In the city it does feel a lot easier to ride, pulling neatly in 4th gear from as low as 30kmph. You could amble at even lower speeds, but the punch seems to come in above the 2000rpm mark. There’s no tacho on offer, but RE claims 25Nm of the 27Nm peak torque is available from 2000rpm. But if you really want to hurry along you will have to downshift -- and the clutch is light, gearshifts slick, so you won’t mind slamming through the box and revving it up.
Talking about revving it up…
Speed hasn’t been synonymous with Royal Enfields. Pre-BS6, the 350 motor couldn’t get past 100kmph. The BS6 Classic 350 did, although in a languid 22.8 seconds. For reference the next slowest non-RE motorcycle tested by us is a 160cc motorcycle! The new engine on the Meteor is still a two-valve head, and makes just 0.4PS more than the UCE 350 while having 1Nm less. But with the clock playing referee, the difference between the two RE 350s is over 7 seconds. SEVEN. A 0-100 kmph time of 15.1 seconds is absolutely on point for this segment! But the true top speed of 113kph recorded on the Vbox won’t set imaginations on fire.
In the real world, the difference is even more important because if you want to Ladakh it on a 350, I won’t try to talk you out of it now. The shorter stroke design for the Meteor 350 helps it rev better and it doesn’t gasp for breath at high rpms either. Even in 5th, which is an overdrive gear, you get a bit more shove when you twist the throttle the last couple of degrees. As a result, fewer gear changes interrupt your highway, allowing you to sink deeper into the easy-riding experience. You can sit in the indicated 90-100kmph zone comfortably, and even though it starts to feel busy at 110kmph, it doesn’t get thrashy or crude.
The added performance and usability hasn’t compromised on fuel efficiency, which at 41.9 kmpl in the city and 38.8 kmpl on the highway is just as good as before. The 15-litre fuel tank is much smaller than before, reducing tank range significantly. but you still have enough to get from Tandi to Leh.
So the new 350 engine is better both in the city and on the highway, and more refined and practical as well. It is a strong engine, but it seems to nail the basics rather than set new standards, for which a higher top speed and cruise ceiling would be a must.
The low speed agility hasn’t come at the cost of high speed composure. No doubt, the larger wheelbase (50mm over the Thunderbird) and wider rubber let it sit confidently at high speeds. The Meteor wears 100/90 Ceat on the 19” rims at the front and 14/60 rubber on the 17” rim at the rear. Cruising becomes much easier on this top spec Supernova variant thanks to the windscreen. It does a good job of cutting out the wind blast, but isn’t short enough to keep out of your field of vision. The scooped out shape for the seat is surprisingly botherless, and the firm cushioning makes it well suited for long stints.
When you get from the plains to the mountains, the Meteor will flow smoothly and willingly, encouraging you to explore its flickability and confidence. Grinding footpegs is all too easy, and thankfully they are spring-loaded pegs. Also, when you get to the un-road sections, 170mm of ground clearance -- up by 35mm -- will give you the added confidence to keep on going.
It also packs a bigger 300mm (+20mm ) disc at the front and a 270mm (+30mm) disc at the rear. This ByBre brake setup brings this 191kg motorcycle from 60 kmph to a standstill in just 17.7 metres, which better the competition like the Benelli and Jawa by over 3 metres! The twin-channel ABS also works smoothly, and doesn't startle you when it kicks in. However, the front brake lacks feel and initial bite, so you have to give it a bit more of a squeeze than you’re normally used to.
To fulfill its cruiser ambitions the Meteor also has a sizable presence. The wide bars
and the feet-forward seating position will accommodate even six-footers easily. Your legs don't stretch out like on a lounge chair; instead they’re pushed forward like on an upright dining chair.
Even then, riders shorter than 5’6” might find the reach to the handlebars a bit of a stretch, especially when making U-turns.
Cool for Cruisin for a…
There has been no U-turn in the essence of the Thunderbird. The stance and style are similar enough that a passing Meteor won’t have fingers pointed at it excitedly, stirred by the arrival of a new Royal Enfield. The handsome motorcycle has more sophistication, crafted by lines that sync and flow with a greater sense of clarity and cohesion. As people spend more time with this top-of-the-line Meteor Supernova, they are likely to pay it a bittersweet compliment: “Reminds me of Harley Davidson.”
The Supernova also packs some bling by way of chrome garnishes on the tank and side panels. Other blingy bits like the contrasting machine finish for the blacked out engine and alloy wheels get a thumbs up from us. To keep the look clean a shroud on the exhaust covers the break in the pipe, which goes into the underbelly collector box. As a result, there is no ugly lump on the exhaust header, a tell-tale sign of having been bitten by the BS6-compliance bug.
When RE went back in time to bring back the Meteor name, they also brought back the oval design for the master cylinder, dual-tone paint schemes and rotary switches. The schemes feel a little “old” in our books, but the switches feel oddly satisfying to use. However, they will take a few days to get used to. Modern touches like LED rings in the headlamp and tail lamp are subdued in their hy-look-at-me factor. The main light, which uses halogen filaments, will brighten up night rides, although the throw felt a bit low on our bike. The easy to read analogue and LCD screen for the instrument cluster is easy to appreciate. The second, much smaller screen sits in a separate pod and is called Tripper. Synced with your phone it displays navigation instructions via the Royal Enfield app.
And yes, there’s a handy USB socket on the left switchgear that will keep your phone juiced up. It only works when the engine is turned on, a good thing for the battery!
Other than this, the equipment level is not very exciting. The instrument cluster lacks real time fuel consumption or distance to empty. Greater use of plastic for the side panel and fenders is understandable and won’t spoil the RE experience. However, RE enthusiasts will call out the plastic keyhole cover on the fuel-filler lid, or the mirrors, items that are often felt by the rider. Uneven shut lines on the switchgear and dull colours for the switches dampened the sense of richness here too. As a result, the Meteor doesn’t entrance you as any new motorcycle would hope to, especially one that is so highly anticipated and awaited.
So should you be excited about the Meteor? The thump wrapped up in a refined, easy to ride, confident and practical package sounds just right. The lack of oil leaks, or missing parts over our 800km stint makes the package more joyous. The healthy fuel efficiency, 10,000km oil-change intervals and 5000km/6 month service inspections make it more endearing. So, this Royal Enfield fulfills the promise made by the Thunderbird many years ago. However, the Meteor doesn’t make a bigger and bolder promise of its own by way of plush ride quality, a greater sense of richness or, crucially, better cruising ability.
Still, there’s much to get excited about the solid Meteor, and with prices starting at Rs 1.75 lakh, you really can’t argue with that.
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