Royal Enfield bullish on 350cc Meteor to strengthen its market position 

by Mayank Dhingra 28 Nov 2020

Royal Enfield, the Chennai-based manufacturer of motorcycles specialising in midsized cruiser and adventure touring bikes, is intensifying its assault on the segment with its latest launch – the Royal Enfield Meteor 350.

Introduced as a brand-new product, designed and developed from the scratch at the company’s local R&D centre in India, in collaboration with that in Leicestershire in the UK, the Meteor is riding down with the sole target of catapulting Royal Enfield’s already dominant market share to new heights.

It is quite evident that with sales of 259,203 units between April and October 2020, Royal Enfield holds a majority 96.58 percent share of the 250-800cc motorcycle category that tallied 145,405 units, down 49 percent owing to the ongoing pandemic. Within the space, it is the 250-350cc sub-segment which is the volume area of the market and recorded cumulative sales of 135,899 units, of which Royal Enfield held as much as 99.28 percent of the total number.

With products like the Bullet 350, Electra Twinspark, Classic 350 and the Thunderbird 350, the company has had its hands full in meeting growing demand from aspirational buyers who are on the lookout for a midsized, multi-purpose daily commuter, also playing the role of weekend, long-distance cruising. Most of these buyers include motorcycling enthusiasts, college goers as well as riders who want an element of fun and retro charm from their daily machines, without caring too much about fuel economy as with a regular commuter motorcycle.

Enter the Royal Enfield Meteor 350, which now replaces the ageing Thunderbird line-up and aims to replicate the success story etched by the 650 twins that replaced the erstwhile Thunderbird 500 and Continental GT 535 and have marked the dawn of a completely new era of Royal Enfield, with a sharp and distinct focus on quality and reliability.

This newfound vision has resulted in ample success in the recent past with Royal Enfield claiming to have topped the charts in the middleweight 250-750cc category in the UK, with the Interceptor becoming the largest-selling motorcycle between June 2019 and June 2020.

Company managing director, Vinod Dasari, had then said, “The Interceptor 650 marked the beginning of a new chapter and was the first truly-global motorcycle from Royal Enfield. It has paved the way for us to grow from strength to strength; by building more awareness and aspiration for the brand in international markets, and by growing the over 500cc category more than four times in India. Both, the Interceptor 650 and Himalayan have brought in a lot of first-time buyers into Royal Enfield and we believe these motorcycles have a strong potential to grow our international markets.”

With an upsurge of 96 percent across its international markets in FY2020 with Europe registering almost 100 percent growth, Royal Enfield clearly wants to ride this wave of growth and strengthen its positioning both in domestic market and globally with the new Meteor 350 – which is a strategic departure from the ‘Thunderbird’ name as it would otherwise be restrictive in certain markets where Triumph already owns the same registered brand.

Design and styling
The Meteor is an evolution of the Thunderbird, which lured customers towards its retro-modern look. However, this motorcyclegoes a few steps ahead when it comes to offering a relatively contemporary design language with elements such as alloy wheels, a circular LED light guide upfront and circular LED tail lamp. While the tear-drop fuel tank remains a classic touch, the high-set, swept back handlebars and the large front windshield rob off from some of the quintessential cruiser look, and instead give the Meteor a bobber stance.

The top-end Supernova trim that we test rode comes with a two-tone paint finish and the lower Fireball and Stellar only get monotone paint options, with the Fireball also offering paintedhighlights on the wheel rim. The engine comes finished in matte black and the tank moniker, fuel lid and silencer in chrome act as tasteful embellishments.

In terms of ergonomics, the bike gets a wide split seat, which comes with a standard backrest for the pillion in the Stellar and Supernova trims. The seat is low-set at 765mm, offering easy access and control even for short riders. The switchgear falls into place easily, however, the placement of the pass-light switch fouls with that of the indicator a bit too often. Moreover, while Royal Enfield has designed the bike for a comfortable cruising style of riding, the forward-set foot pegs and the handlebar induce some pain in the legs after a short while, prompting the rider for frequent breaks.

Enhanced quality, modern features
Quality in both perceptible and functional areas has been a sore point with most Royal Enfield motorcycles and lately, the company is out to improve these aspects which have restricted a lot of fence sitters from putting their money into the brand.

The Meteor feels well put together with a certain consistency in the way it’s been assembled. The quality of the switchgear feels notches above the Thunderbird and Classic and the overall build and paint quality feels durable too. In terms of features, the motorcycle gets a single analogue-digital speedometer pod with an added fully-digital circular navigation screen christened Tripper, which has been developed in conjunction between Royal Enfield and Google Maps.

Twin-pod instrument cluster with analogue-digital speedometer and a fully-digital navigation tool - Tripper.

It pairs remotely with the rider’s mobile phone to offer step-by-step turn inputs. There is no tachometer on offer and instead a hazard light switch takes spot on the right side of the handlebar while the single horn sounds quite upmarket. The motorcycle also gets disc brakes both front and back, along with dual-channel ABS for enhanced safety.

Ride, handling and engine
With its 191kg kerb weight, the Meteor feels stable and planted on Indian roads, both at medium and high speeds. The motorcycle offers a plush ride quality, typical of the erstwhile Thunderbird and inspires confidence to tackle bad roads without much concern.

The brand-new BS VI-compliant 349cc, single-cylinder SOHC motor develops 20bhp and 27Nm by virtue of a long-stroke action of the piston inside the cylinder, resulting in maximum torque at a low 4,000rpm. The engine gets electronic fuel injection and comes mated to a slick five-speed gearbox. The motorcycle feels quick off the line and engine rather tractable within city owing to the short gearing.

However, while Royal Enfield has aimed at cutting down the bulk of the vibrations by replacing the pushrod system with a SOHC design and the Meteor feels relatively vibe free till about 80kph, it is after that the shortcomings become prominent. There are noticeable vibrations on the foot pegs and the ORVMs and the Meteor feels best and smoothest between 50-80kph, which also allows a comfortable cruising experience within the city, with the short gearing alsoaiding lessergearshifts. The exhaust, a major talk point for Royal Enfield riders, remains subtle and muted, thus, adding to the relaxed feeling.

While ride quality is good even from a pillion’s perspective, the rider does feel overwhelmed by the sheer weight of the motorcycle at low speeds, as well as the large turning radius which might become cumbersome for many during city commutes. Furthermore, the engine’s heat starts to be felt during constant stop-and-go traffic situations, making things uncomfortable after a point.

The 300mm disc brakes at front and 270mm at the back offer adequate stopping power, though their responsiveness could be improved. The bike gets a 15-litre fuel tank and should offer respectable distances between fill-ups. Overall, the Meteor 350 is a well-rounded attempt from Royal Enfield to up its game in one of the most trending segments in the Indian motorcycle space, which is also inviting close look from competitors such as Honda, which recently launched its H’ness CB350. With the two products falling in the same price band of Rs 1.75 to 1.90 lakh, ex-showroom, it’s a head-to-head competition between the Japanese giant known for itsmotorcycles abroad, and the Indian maestro which rules the roost and knows exactly the pulse of the market in this segment.

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