Does the next-generation Classic 350 have what it takes to carry forward the legacy of its predecessor?
The Classic 350 has been Royal Enfield’s most popular offering (arguably) and has a very loyal fanbase. This is despite the motorcycle carrying what could be termed as a vintage push-rod motor albeit with improvements, the last one being fuel injection to get its tailpipe emissions to meet BS6 standards. However we have some good news in store for you! The new Classic 350 is here and it does not go marking its territory like its predecessor! It’s based on the same platform as the Meteor 350 which we have come to love. Of course, the J Platform on which it is based is all-new and gets an OHC motor that’s fitted onto the frame that’s developed by Harris Performance and it shows. However, Royal Enfield has its work cut out in terms of the Classic 350. You see, ‘if it aint broke, don’t fix it’, they say. They need the new Classic 350 to keep loyalists happy and at the same time appeal to the new fold of riders. Does Royal Enfield succeed at doing so?
What's in a name?
A lot actually. The new Classic 350 pays homage to the 1960's Royal Enfield G2 motorcycles and also shares a lot of its styling with the OG Classic 350. We brought its predecessor along and it was really difficult to spot the differences between the two, unless looked at from very close. The new Classic 350 shares the same silhouette as the vintage Royal Enfield down to the headlamp nacelle, the twin pilot lamps and the slightly longer rear fender. Royal Enfield claims that the new Classic 350 shares nothing with the older motorcycle and each part is bespoke. New dies mean fit and finish levels are tighter than its predecessor.
Despite similar appearances, the 2021 Classic 350 gets small styling updates to forge its own identity. The fuel tank, on our motorcycle, for example, gets a chunky Royal Enfield badge. There are new colours on offer as well - our motorcycle wore a striking chrome and red dual-tone paintjob. Royal Enfield says it uses seven layers of a special paint to achieve this result! Overall, the styling should keep Classic 350 loyalists happy and at the same time attract new customers as well.
Old and new
Despite the old school styling, the Classic 350 gets features from current models as well. The vintage-looking nacelle hides a more modern semi-digital instrument console and a Tripper pod. Finally, the Classic 350 gets a fuel gauge and a digital one at that. The Tripper pod shared with the Meteor 350 now sits in place of the ammeter gauge and is well integrated in the nacelle. It offers navigation alerts powered by Google Maps and is quite a useful travel companion. It gets high-quality switchgear and handlebar grips from the Meteor as well. Existing Royal Enfield riders will take time to get used to the quirky switches but I have been using the Meteor for a while and find it quite tactile.
Ride like a king
One thing that endeared Royal Enfield to its scores of followers was the upright riding position, with legs wide open and the arms outstretched. You sit upright on the new Classic with a relaxed reach to the handlebars and footpegs. Compared to its predecessor, the handlebar is a tad higher and forward-set while the footpegs are higher set as well. The seats too are wider and cushioning is spot on making it quite comfortable on long rides. Those missing the springer seat need not worry, Royal Enfield is offering as many as 35 accessories to choose from as a part of its Make-It-Yours programme. Even the pillion seat is easily removable to give it an authentic old-school look. The only grouse we have is the limited adjustability offered by the mirrors. Even the quality of the mirrors isn’t great. Of course, they don’t vibrate like on the previous generation although the triple socket joints are flimsy. In fact, the mirrors came off loose on the very first ride itself, within the first 20 kilometres
It now does 100kmph!
And with ease. The new Classic 350 shares its air/oil-cooled 350cc lump with the Meteor 350 and delivers an identical 20.5PS and 27Nm but the power delivery is more relaxed keeping with the nature of the motorcycle. Royal Enfield says that the fuelling and ignition, both have been recalibrated to go along with the Classic’s relaxed demeanour. The long-stroke motor offers a good low-down grunt like the Meteor but in a slightly unhurried manner on account of the more relaxed tune and a larger 18-inch rear wheel (Meteor has a 17-inch rear wheel). On the upside, the Meteor-derived motor lets the new Classic 350 reach a higher top speed than its predecessor. Our motorcycle hit a speedo-indicated 100kmph with ease. Push it harder and the motorcycle will quickly get to 110kmph after which the progress slows down.
What about the thump?
Royal Enfield engineers have worked to make the exhaust note as sonorous as possible within the constraints of noise legislation. The focus was on getting the thump right and it has been delivered! It does not replicate the OG Classic 350's thump but recreates its own. Despite sharing the engine with the Meteor, the Classic 350 has a more pronounced, bassy exhaust note. It even pops and crackles each time you roll off the throttle at higher revs.
How is the performance now?
The new Classic 350 is substantially quicker than its predecessor. Throttle inputs are comparatively precise and eager while the throttle and clutch lever require less effort to operate. Even the shifts are more precise and positive. Compared to the Meteor, the Classic 350 feels a tad lazy getting off the line and offers a more relaxed ride experience. The motor offers enough torque to ride in the city at 40kmph in fifth gear! Out on the highway, the engine feels relaxed at speeds of 80kmph to 100kmph making for a great touring motorcycle.
Ride and handling?
The 2021 Classic 350 shares its frame, swingarm and brakes with the new Meteor 350. It gets new fatter 41mm forks and dual rear shock absorbers that feature 10mm extra travel than its predecessor. Even the tyres are now wider at 110/90-19 and 120/80-18. The Ceat tyres offer adequate grip, allowing for maximum stability in the corners and on the straights as well. However, its top-heavy stance means it's not ideal to go corner-carving on one.
I felt the ride quality to be firmer than the Meteor. The Classic 350 steamrolls through bad surfaces rather well. The discs too are larger allowing for better braking than the predecessor. The Bybres offer a progressive bite but shed speed in a hurry.
Prices for the new Classic 350 start at Rs 1.84 lakh and goes up to 2.15 lakh. At this price range, the new Classic 350 sits between the Jawa and the Benelli Imperiale. The new Classic 350 is leap years ahead of its predecessor and in a way manages to retain the essence of the original Royal Enfield. The styling is spot on as are the ergonomics. Despite featuring a modern motor, it recreates the unique thump while delivering on refinement, performance and tractability with ease. The original Classic 350, despite being in production for decades, commanded a loyal following because it had a lot of charm. The new breed of Royal Enfields are technologically a lot better but without losing on the essentials. The sensorial nature has been retained thankfully. The Classic 350 feels special to ride packing in correct doses of ‘good vibrations’ and thumps to keep you entertained. If you are a sceptic, the new Classic 350 will definitely turn you into a believer. Another winner from the house of Royal Enfield then!