Sometimes one’s first thought upon meeting a new motorcycle is, “I love this bike.” More often, it may be, “I hate this bike.” And then sometimes it’s, “Okay, but what is it for?”
That was my feeling in my first ten minutes with the new Royal Enfield Meteor 350. It’s attractive, approachable, comfortable to ride, and easy to operate. But who is going to buy it?
What I don’t like:
First Ride Review – 2021 Royal Enfield Meteor 350
by Charles Fleming
Photos courtesy Royal Enfield
On paper, the all-new Meteor 350 (its name is a throwback to a bigger-bore Royal Enfield produced for the U.S. market in the 1950s when the company was still based in England) is small-sized cruiser powered by a single-cylinder, four-stroke, fuel-injected, air-and-oil-cooled 349cc engine that makes 20 horsepower and 19 pound-feet of torque.
The power is put to the wheels by a five-speed constant mesh gear box, through a multi-plate wet clutch and final chain drive. Cradled in a twin downtube spline frame, suspended on adjustable twin rear shocks and telescopic front forks, the Meteor 350 has a seat height of 30.1 inches, a 3.9-gallon gas tank and a fueled weight of 421 pounds.
In practical application, between the legs and moving, the Meteor sits in cruiser position, with the feet slightly forward, and takes the road gently. An electric start alerts the quiet motor, which chortles at a lawnmower-like idle. Clutch pull is soft, the gear box engages snugly, and the Meteor pulls softly through the gearbox, shedding some of its stationary weight and not for a moment feeling more powerful than its horsepower and torque numbers indicate.
Gear selection is made through a heel-toe shifter, an unusual option on a small-cc bike. Standard is a center stand, also unusual on a small bike. That and the use of tubeless tires on the Meteor should make punctures relatively easy to fix.
Around town it’s a lively commuter, sitting low enough to give it a proper cruiser feel, but not so low as to limit visibility. The low seat height means low ground clearance (6.7”) so resting at stop lights will not challenge shorter riders. The weight is distributed well enough that I was surprised to see the 421-pound wet weight number. It didn’t feel and doesn’t look that heavy.
After ten minutes in the wide, flat saddle, I began to enjoy myself. The Meteor handles well enough for city riding, and has enough power to squirt in and out of traffic and away from stop signs. Braking, from a single 300mm disc brake on the 19” front wheel and a 270mm disc on the 17” rear, is sufficient, and the ABS engaged swiftly and surely when I stomped on the pedal. Toodling around Silver Lake, Echo Park and Elysian Park was a pleasure.
Information from the single, vintage-style gauge is minimal: Except for the idiot lights, there are only a fuel gauge, gear indicator, odometer and clock encircled by the speedometer, which climbs to 120 miles per hour – a reasonable number for this bike only if it could read air speed as the bike was pushed off a tall building and fell, meteor-like, to Earth.
The explanation is surely that the Meteor’s center gauge is one already used on bigger Royal Enfields, but it may be the absence of top speeds that got the designers to place the emergency flasher switch so handily next to the throttle. Taking the Meteor onto a freeway felt a little like an emergency to me, so slowly did it come up to LA traffic speeds. Maybe I should’ve engaged the flasher to warn everyone that I wasn’t going to be moving very fast.
Next to the center gauge is a smaller one that I mistook originally for a clock. In fact, it is the window through which Royal Enfield delivers a trippy device called “Tripper,” a navigation guide offered only on the Meteor but soon to migrate to other models. Tripper uses an in-phone RE app and Google Locations and Google Places to produce turn by turn navigation on the small dial. RE says up to 20 locations can be programmed into the app, making it possible to create a map for an entire itinerary.
Like its older and larger brothers, the Himalayans, Interceptors, and Continental GTs, the Meteor 350 is a head-turner for some and a head-scratcher for others. A lot of Americans aren’t old enough to recall or aren’t well travelled enough to know the Royal Enfield name, from either its English or its Indian periods, so the brand raises interest and questions from passers-by. And the savvy vintage design of the bikes inspires questions like “What year is that bike?” from people who are surprised to know Royal Enfields are still made.
Also like its siblings, the Meteor does everything satisfactorily but nothing spectacularly. That sentiment changes, though, when price is a factor. I enjoyed a longer loan this winter on the Himalayan and came to really admire it — not just at the price, but especially at the price. The Royal Enfields remain some of the best motorcycle bargains on the market.
New to the Americas but launched in RE’s home country of India last year, the Meteor 350 will be available in three trims:
The Fireball base model will retail at $4,399.
The Stellar, which features a passenger backrest, will start at $4,499.
The top of the line Supernova, standard with backrest and windshield, will run from $4,599.
The Meteor will be offered in eight color combinations.
Back to the original question…who or what is it for?
The Meteor offers an excellent size, weight, seat height and power band for a beginning rider with the bonus of good vintage looks, from the classically-designed headlight and taillight to the retro gas tank and fenders to the chromed exhaust pipes and the blacked-out ten-spoke wheels.
Of bikes in the same price and size range – and there currently is a substantial selection – buyers could be cross-shopping Honda’s Rebel 300 or CB300R, or Yamaha’s V-Star 250 or MT-03, or maybe a BMW G310R, Kawasaki Ninja 400, Kawasaki Z400, KTM Duke 200 or even a Husqvarna Vitpilen 401.
With the exception of the KTM, the Meteor beats them all on base MSRP. Besides, you’d be the only kid on the block riding one, which for some shoppers will be a big part of the appeal. Unless you prefer something meatier than the Meteor, look for them in dealerships in May.
Check out the 2021 Royal Enfield Meteor!
Type: 349cc 4-stroke single, air-oil cooled.
Bore x Stroke: 72mm x 85.8 mm
Horsepower: 20.2 hp at 6,100 rpm
Torque: 19.9 lb-ft at 4,000 rpm
Ignition: Electronic Fuel Injection
Transmission: 5-speed constant mesh
Type: Twin downtube spine frame
Front Suspension: 41mm forks, 130 mm travel
Rear Suspension: twin shocks with 6-step preload adjustment
Ground Clearance: 6.7″
Seat Height: 30.12″
Curb Weight: 421 pounds (with oil and 90% fuel)
Fuel Capacity: 3.96 gallons
Brakes and Tires
Front: 100/90-19″, 300mm disc with twin piston floating caliper
Rear: 140/70-17″, 270mm disc with single piston floating caliper
ABS: Dual Channel