Royal Enfield’s Classic 350 makes for a sturdy ride
The vehicle may not be light and agile, but comes with ample design tweaks and an engine now that oozes character
Growing up, my father would take me for a spin either on his cast-iron Bullet 350 or diesel-powered Taurus, and he would tell me all about what made them special and how they felt to ride. Now, 20 years later, it is my turn to do so, but with Royal Enfield’s all-new Classic 350.
If not for this gorgeous red and chrome colour scheme, it would be rather difficult to tell that this is the brand-new Classic from even a couple of bike lengths away. That is funny because the truth is that every single panel and surface on this motorcycle is new and there are no part carry-overs from the old Classic.
Manufacturers often refrain from messing with fundamental design elements of their most sought-after offerings, and to be honest, can you blame Royal Enfield? This is a design that changed the very destiny of Royal Enfield and more importantly, it isalready so good-looking.
Royal Enfield has used this opportunity to make a big improvement in fit and finish, and overall quality of components. The first things you notice are the updated switchgear cubes, levers, balloon-grips and neat bar-ends. The switchgear cubes are identical to those on the Meteor 350, and they look and feel vastly superior to the ones they replace. That said, we wish the pass-light switch was slightly easier to operate. They have also finally got rid of the hideous tail-light and number plate assembly and opted for a much simpler set-up. This has tidied-up the rear of the motorcycle. Speaking of tidying-up, for 2021, the bike has much neater welds, uniform use of Allen bolts and no exposed wires.
The 2021 update also sees the 346cc UCE’s departure, and in its place comes the ‘J-platform’ 349cc engine. This engine is identical to the one that made its debut last year on the Meteor 350, but Royal Enfield has said the one on the Classic has its own ignition timing, exhaust layout and fuelling map. Map? That is a word my father did not use to describe his Royal Enfields.
The old Classic’s pushrod-valve system is replaced by a SOHC two-valve head, and while the engine remains air-cooled, there is an additional internal oil circuit within the cylinder head to aid cooling. The new engine has an increased bore, by 2mm, and a reduced stroke, by 4.2mm, while also gaining a primary balancer shaft. Like with the Meteor 350, these changes were made to increase the usable range of torque, while simultaneously stamping out the off-putting high-RPM vibrations, and the results are quite evident.
Royal Enfield was not after performance numbers while designing this engine, but it still gets the Classic to 60kph in 5.25sec and 100kph in 16.23sec, whereas the outgoing one does it in 6.49sec and a lethargic 25sec, respectively. What Royal Enfield enthusiasts will appreciate the most though is that the engine still oozes character. Yes, it does not have the loud thump of the older engines, but it still has a sweet-sounding exhaust note. This is also the first Classic that can sit at around 95-100kph without feeling like it is coming apart. I would go so far as to say that this bike performs better than my old UCE Classic 500 in every single way. The 5-speed gearbox is smooth and works well with this motor, but the clutch feels heavy, especially in bumper to bumper traffic.
The 2021 Classic does not leave the same long-lasting impression when it comes to the fuel efficiency numbers. At 32.7kpl (city) and 36.7kpl (highway), it delivers similar results as the older one on the highway, but a slightly lower figure in the city.
Royal Enfield has also made big improvements in the chassis department. The biggest change comes in the double-downtube frame that replaces the basic single-cradle unit. Like with the Meteor 350, the ground clearance on the 2021 Classic 350 has climbed by 35mm, to a fairly substantial 170mm. As a result, there is a big bump in cornering clearance as well. While the suspension components might look the same as before, Royal Enfield has said that they are not; and the new Classic gets a fatter 41mm telescopic fork. Even when compared with the Meteor, the Classic gets a little more damping, which results in a slightly firmer ride.
The bike has a relatively firm feel to the ride quality, but it is not harsh or too stiff. What has come as a by-product of this suspension set-up is much more confident handling. That being said, it still does not feel as agile and light on its feet as the Meteor 350. The different tyre sizes, as well as the different rider ergonomics, are probably the reasons for this. It uses a 100/90 tyre at the front and 120/80 section tyre at the rear. The Ceat tyres it comes equipped with behaved quite well in the rain.
Anchorage comes from a 300mm front disc and a 270mm rotor at the rear with dual-channel ABS – although there is a base model with a rear drum brake and single-channel ABS. Braking performance is good with a heavy pull, but the front brake feel is dull, just like the Meteor’s. Despite this, the 2021 Classic 350 managed to get from 60-0kph in 16.47m, which is not only better than the outgoing model, but also respectable when you consider its heavy, 195 kg kerb weight.
Classic 350 owners will no longer get ridiculed for not having a fuel gauge. The latest update has added a small LCD below the analogue speedometer that displays the odometer, two trip metres and the long overdue fuel gauge.
The top-spec Chrome variant also gets the company’s Tripper navigation display as an optional extra. Using Google Maps data, this system works when connected to the Royal Enfield app, and we found it to be quite intuitive and helpful. However, it doesn’t give you any call or SMS related notifications. It is also hard to read with the sun right overhead. The company has said that it will offer Tripper navigation as an optional accessory on the lower-spec models in a few months’ time.
When compared to the outgoing model, the 2021 Classic 350 has major improvements to the engine, frame, suspension and brakes, but without compromising on the feel that customers will expect. They have also added a couple of features and improved the fit and finish, while they were at it. With a starting price of ₹1.84 lakh the single-channel, ABS-equipped Redditch variant is competitively priced. The Halcyon, Signals, Dark and Classic Chrome variants are progressively more expensive. The good thing is that, from the Halcyon onwards, all the models are more or less the same underneath the skin. As a package, the Classic 350 has been modernised and improved in almost every way. However, RE has also managed to retain the virtues that Classic fans tend to love and that makes this motorcycle a safe, yet worthy successor to the original.
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