God help me, but I love this bike. Even though it’s slow as molasses, has the bare minimum of tech, and I can’t take it on the expressway.
I want one, because it is just gorgeous, it’s so amiable to ride in traffic, and it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. Just P228,000—Vespa territory. When I first wrote about its predecessor, the Classic 500, I said it was like stumbling on a relic from the post-WW2 era and being able to ride it. But despite the 500’s charms, I didn’t really find it that desirable. While a fair number of people do love its quirks—and I can respect that—I personally didn’t find it too appealing as a daily rider.
This new bike changes all that. The Royal Enfield Classic 350 has all the charm of its predecessor, but now it’s fairly modern underneath. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a very basic motorcycle, and there’s the appeal. If you ride motorcycles long enough, you’ll realize that top-speed runs and hill attacks aren’t the be-all and end-all of riding.
Sometimes, you just want to get on a bike and ride, soaking up the scenery, letting the road play before your eyes like a movie, and you want it on a bike that doesn’t beat you up either. There are bikes made for going fast, and there are bikes that are made for taking it easy. The Classic 350 is the kind of motorcycle that’s about the essence of riding, back when people didn’t care so much about numbers on a spec sheet as they did about how they felt while riding.
This is important because the Classic 350’s most important number (well, at least for me) is 20.2hp. Yes, with a “point two.” Its output is so low that Royal Enfield feels it’s important to state it down to the first decimal place, just in case it gets dropped off the factory floor. Or maybe they’re just being cheeky. Curb weight is 195kg, so like the Himalayan, you know you ain’t winning any drag races with this thing. Heck, even an Aerox can give it a scare.
And yet, as someone who has tasted the intoxicating thrill of nearly 200hp, I can tell you with a straight face that 20 point two horsepower is actually, dare I say it…enough. It’s not enough to easily hold 100km/h (hence, why it’s no biggie that it’s not allowed on the expressway) in a headwind, but for the kind of slow and easygoing riding it was designed for, the little motor makes all the right noises and gives the right sensations. Thuppa thuppa thuppa with the occasional blat from the peashooter exhaust, and it has this gentle, loping idle that’s sort of like a pump boat motor. It’s a low-compression engine, so the cheapskate in me rejoices at the ability to gas up with 91RON. And, because it’s so thrifty, I get 37km/L.
Getting the most out of the engine is a pleasure rather than a pain, with smooth fuel delivery and solid gear changes. Since there’s so little power, you pretty much go full throttle to get up to cruising speed, and there’s no danger you’re going to overpower the back tire. The transmission could do without the heel-toe shifter, and it occasionally resists getting into Neutral, but otherwise works well.
The old Classic 500 handled like a shopping cart, and the Classic 350 with its new frame still handles the same, albeit a much smaller one. Like those little carts they have at the supermarket’s 10-items-or-less express lane. It doesn’t flex when you’re leaning hard into a turn now, so your life doesn’t flash before your eyes like it used to with the old bike. It’s got modern tubeless tires on cast alloy wheels, ABS, and there’s a digital screen now for fuel gauge, clock, and trip odometers. They kept the speedometer analog, and there’s no rev counter or gear indicator though, so you’ll have to shift by feel and just stop shifting when the lever stops clicking.
So, everything is pretty much basic, but what’s there works very well. The seat is thick and pliant, just the thing to cushion your bum for a day of riding. Grip from the CEAT 19/18” rubber feels trustworthy (at least on dry surfaces), and the headlamp now has enough candlepower to make solo night rides less of a nail-biter sans auxiliary lamps. Some features are lovely, like the little cover over the keyhole for the tank cap, as well as the fork leg covers and the headlamp nacelle. It’s like it’s wearing a jaunty hat there.
On the other hand, the left/right switch for the high/low/pass beam sacrifices practicality for aesthetics. It matches the look of the engine start/kill switch on the right switch cube, but it’s far enough away from your thumb that you won’t be able to flash your high beams quickly. On the other hand, the horn is loud enough to sound like a car’s.
Basic as it is, the whole bike has a quality look and feel to it. It’s not at the level of a Triumph or a BMW, but the fit-and-finish is impressive for the class, and you can tell that the gents who put it together have pride in their craft. Nothing rattles unlike the old bike, and you get the confidence that the bike will go, stop and turn to the best of its abilities without any surprises.
The suspension has only around five inches of travel, but it’s a right balance of comfort and stiffness. Heck, it’s even better than the flaccid suspenders of the Interceptor 650, which I hated. The Classic 350 has just enough plush to smoothen out the road beneath you, without diving or seesawing anytime you dab the brakes or goose the throttle. Ergonomically, the low seat height is balanced by decent foot-to-peg distance so taller riders won’t feel too cramped. Covering the rear brake is easy and sustainable as long as you stretch your leg at stoplights. Weight-wise, the bike could still lose a few kilos to be called “light,” but at least most of that is down to all the metal they use (not much plastic here).
As a daily commuter and weekend tourer, the Classic 350 has so much more style and gravitas than a similarly priced scooter. Your biggest problem might be choosing the color to go with. I was in love with the Stealth Black of the test unit until I returned it to the showroom and clapped my eyes on the British Racing Green. If you’re not in a hurry and enjoy the simple pleasure of just riding along, the Classic 350 is just the ticket.