Watch the launch video of the Royal Enfield Meteor 350 and you’ll see managing director Siddhartha Lal gliding through the Welsh countryside while talking about the “purity of riding.” He doesn’t bore you with technical details like cubic centimeters or rake angles, but instead talks about what riders look for in a bike: that emotional (if not spiritual) connection with the outdoors that you just can’t get with a car. The brand’s official hashtag for the bike is #MissOutOnNothing, and it works.
After the success of the Himalayan and the Interceptor/Continental GT “650 Twins,” the Meteor is now Royal Enfield’s entry-level bike—modestly priced and sized, with a healthy dollop of old-school charm. It’s also a testament to ever-improving quality standards while still holding true to the motorcycle firm’s ethos.
It’s a handsome bike. Well-proportioned and distinctly retro while subtly concealing the modern hardware. In profile, there’s a little bit of the Classic with the triangular side panels, and shades of the Harley-Davidson Sportster with the teardrop shape of the tank and how the frame gently swoops upward from the saddle to the headstock. The single round headlamp, the upswept handlebar, and the dual rear shocks complete the vintage-cruiser look.
Yet the Meteor sits on an all-new J platform with a state-of-the-art dual-down-tube frame and a new, single-cylinder motor. Displacing 349cc, this air- and oil-cooled thumper makes an unstressed 20.2hp and 27Nm. It’s perfectly adequate for leisurely cruising, but is sadly not allowed on our expressways with the outdated “400cc rule.” Tubeless tires and ABS complete the sparse spec sheet.
But it looks really good, and it makes me want to ride. So, I take it for a leisurely Sunday spin. Initial impressions are very positive. The detailing is impressive, particularly with the instrument pod. Heck, I wish I had that kind of thing on my Interceptor. The controls have a light, silken movement especially with the brake and clutch levers. Waddling the bike to turn it around in a tight garage is only mildly challenging since the tires are quite narrow.
Riders moving up from small-displacement bikes will appreciate the light clutch and the smooth fuel delivery. You can be ham-fisted with the throttle, and the engine’s modest output means you won’t rocket forward inadvertently. Acceleration is smooth if not exactly quick, but the (lack of) engine vibration is a revelation. At idle, it has that soft exhaust “thump” that Royal Enfield singles are known for.
On wide, open roads, the Meteor easily holds its own with faster vehicles up to around 125km/h, at which point it doesn’t have enough power to push against the wind anymore like the Himalayan. And that’s perfectly fine because high speeds really aren’t much fun with cruisers anyway. At a more leisurely pace (what riders term as “takbong pogi”), the Meteor is comfortable and stable.
The frame is solid and free of the squirmy nature of the Classic, giving you more confidence over winding roads and rippled pavement. The stock seat is firmly padded and shaped well for most Asian butts, while the ride is soft but well-damped for our less-than-perfect roads. For a while, I thought the transmission might need some breaking in because it kept popping into neutral from second gear, but then I realized my heel was pushing down on the heel-toe shifter pedal. Some muscle retraining is required if you’re not used to this system…or just move your foot further forward like I did.
For the better part of that Sunday morning (the day before our March ECQ ended), I took the Meteor on a long, roundabout tour of Manila—just taking in the sights and hunting for good coffee. Sadly, a network glitch meant I couldn’t get my phone to work with the Tripper navigation pod, so I spent an hour wandering around the city and eventually finding my way to Pasig (Royal Enfield sales staff would eventually show me the Tripper pod working with their devices).
As a city bike, I love it. The Meteor has enough road presence that other riders won’t crowd you at stoplights, and the engine’s modest size generates little waste heat (every rider’s penance when it comes to big bikes). The wide bars have a gentle sweepback to let you glide through curves. But, like all cruisers, the low seating position means you also have a wide turning radius. That’s an okay compromise because, basic specs aside, you can’t look at this bike and just not fall in love with the styling.
To cap off my ride, I took the Meteor to Caferista on Brixton (Kapitolyo in Pasig) to enjoy an iced cappuccino and see if it would generate interest among the patrons. True enough, it did as customers approached me to ask about the specs and the price, or just to marvel at the details. Quite a few were astonished at the pricing: P252,000 for this Supernova variant with the windscreen and the backrest. For that money, you could get an old cruiser like a Honda Shadow or a Yamaha Virago, but then you’d also have to contend with the headaches of restoring a vintage bike. The Meteor has that kind of appeal, but with the added benefit of modern technology.
Royal Enfield has made a name for itself creating affordable retro bikes that take you back to the heart and soul of riding. With its most accessible bike yet in the Meteor, the company will get more new riders to enjoy the moto lifestyle.