For the first time since the early 2010s, motorcycle sales exploded in the midst of the pandemic. Sales in the first quarter of 2021 were up nearly 40 percent, and that’s on top of the nearly 50 percent boost in 2020, according to the Motorcycle Industry Council. But 2020’s boom was mostly on the dirt and adventure bike side. Why? In part because a lot of those are relatively affordable. Buying a motorcycle that costs not much more—and frequently less—than the price of a lot of electric bicycles, feels like a reasonable splurge for a lot of new or renewed riders. You can understand, then, why Royal Enfield is now bringing more affordable offerings to its lineup. If it works on dirt, why not on the road, right? The new Meteor 350 is a steal, at $4,399.
We’ve tested plenty of bicycles, powered or not, that cost double or more than that. But it’s not just a bargain; the Meteor 350 is a great-looking cruiser that also happens to be super easy to ride. Here are three reasons we dig it—and one qualifier.
Why the Royal Enfield Meteor 350 Is Summer’s Most Thrilling Motorcycle
Royal Enfield may have been born in England at the turn of the 20th century, but it’s an Indian brand now. Even if you’ve only seen a few of them in the U.S. (so far), they’re sold by the millions in the developing world. That kind of scale—and for a market that doesn’t think big bikes are appealing for cost or fuel economy—allows Royal Enfield to think about refinement first. So this bike isn’t loud or violent; instead, it’s super smooth. Throttle, clutch, and braking all work mildly and predictably. If you don’t ride, you might think motorcyclists want drama, but if you’re getting into it just to enjoy a ride with friends and carve through your local hills at a manageable 40-50mph, the Meteor is the perfect machine for you.
Even the integrated Tripper Navigation, which pairs with a Google Maps-based app on your phone, and shows turn-by-turn directions, is clever, because it lets you focus on riding. It doesn’t ask you to invest in some expensive aftermarket GPS.
Ah, and speaking of that, although there’s standard tech you wouldn’t expect at this price, like ABS brakes, to keep you safer, Royal Enfield used old-school-looking switches for headlights and the ignition, and layers on lots of class with round—rather than square—lights, leaning on a century-plus history of timeless styling cues.
With a seat height that’s just under 30 inches, shorter riders can easily get flat-footed astride the Meteor 350, but the forward peg position means even if you’re over six-feet tall, you won’t find the bike cramped. Also, we like that for a cruiser you sit pretty upright, which makes you feel more athletic and in control, and that puts you in a better position for handling traffic too.
The bars also have a comfortable, upright position, with just the right sweep to keep your shoulders relaxed and comfortable.
All these features make the Meteor 350 a long-mile joy. That said, get the version with the small windscreen. It doesn’t detract much from the retro look, and will keep wind and road grit from pinging you, which can hasten fatigue.
No, the Meteor isn’t light. It clocks in at 421 pounds. And it has a modest output shy of 20 horsepower. But the torque hits reasonably early in the rev range, so the single-cylinder SOHC still scoots well enough off the line to get you out of trouble, and chugging up steep hills. Sure, you’ll ratchet the five-speed more as a result of that modest output, but you’ll still manage accelerating to 70mph, even though Interstate runs aren’t what you’d buy this bike for. It’s far more at home on backroad ribbons, where a semi-progressively sprung suspension makes easy work of the twisties (as long as you’re not pushing too hard). And it helps that at 55.1 inches, the wheelbase is fairly tight, so the bike always feels nimble.
What this bike lacks is grunt. You’ll know that going in, but given the aforementioned weight, which does work in your favor at higher speeds, keeping the bike planted, it works against any notion of riding with a passenger. That would just feel like a chore.
Our guess? At this price, nobody’s buying the Meteor to tour with a significant other. This is a fun bike for tooling around, cruising. Its genuine, good-natured quality and character are what win you over (think of it as the labrador retriever of motorcycles). There are plenty of fast, powerful bikes. There are few that are this user-friendly and affordable.
[From $4,399; royalenfield.com]
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