Retro brand, Royal Enfield, continues to delight with small to mid-size offerings.
India has always been a place where ingenuity and necessity have gone hand-in-hand. Any visitor to this ‘incredible’ country will see numerous examples every day where industrious townsfolk, strapped for resources and facilities, will ‘make do’ by patching up, innovating, recycling and repurposing.
Only recently we’ve seen the demise of the venerable Ambassador, a run-on derivative of Britain’s stalwart 1950s Morris Oxford and it was soon after WWII that the Mahindra brothers imported the famous Willys Jeep from the US and continue to manufacture the world’s most recognisable 4WD.
Similarly, the historic Royal Enfield motorcycle company can trace its roots back to the first motorcycle manufactured under the ‘Enfield’ brand in 1901. But by 1970, the British firm was defunct and declared bankrupt, leaving a joint venture facility in Madras to supply the single-cylinder 350cc Bullet.
The distinctive Royal Enfield, now a unit of India’s Eicher Motors, has hit a chord with heritage lovers and retro geeks resulting in the manufacturer rapidly expanding its production capacity and opening new double-shift plants around India, including Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu, to bolster output from the original plant at Chennai. Despite a COVID-induced slump during 2019-20, total production is now regularly in excess of 80,000 units per month, placing it among the world’s top manufacturers
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WHAT’S NEW AT ROYAL ENFIELD
The departure of the Classic 500 from the range took many of us by surprise with that frame now relegated to 350cc trim. Thunderbird was also deleted, but RE continues to innovate with new and exciting developments for its growing league of followers.
Since our last series of tests, we’ve seen the arrival of the delightful 650 twins and the multi-purpose scram 411 for those looking for a dash of adventure with their commute.
But the hot news right now is the arrival of the sweet Hunter 350, a neat and naked 180kg urban runabout that should be a hit with younger and learner riders. Its agility and suitability for city and suburban streets are a given, so we threw down a challenge and took the little unit for a busy day among the twists and turns of Melbourne’s Yarra Ranges, aptly guided by local member, Peter Washington of Mountain Motorsports who has intimate knowledge of these serpentine roads.
Of course, we didn’t expect neck-snapping performance from the long-stroked 20hp J series Air/Oil Cooled, 349cc SOHC, yet with a little encouragement the ergonomically-optimised Hunter 350 could peddle respectably through the many tight sections without wringing its neck. The 27Nm of torque may not sound much, but if you keep the revs up and your eyes on the road, you won’t find yourself falling behind the pack.
Interestingly, the J Series 349cc SOHC EFI engine is a whole new device first seen in the smart Meteor in 2022, and not to be confused with the earlier 350s. With the addition of a balance shaft, it’s smoother and freer revving and comfortably sits on 110kmh/h highway speeds (but not much more). A single simple rotary dial combines LED display for essential data, but there’s no tacho.
Let’s not overthink the Hunter 350. It’s an absolutely fit-for-purpose bike and is sure to deliver tons of fun on a safe and predictable chassis - something we tired, wizened old blokes can sometimes overlook with our technical obsessions. Go on, ride one and tell me I’m wrong.
This story also appears in Autum 2023 issue of Ulysses Club Magazine, Riding On