Stylish, practical, affordable… pretty cool. That’s what people would think about good-looking roadsters back in the day, and it’s what I think of Royal Enfield’s latest bike, the 350 Hunter.
The world launch of the bike was run in Bangkok, and saw many Hunters tearing up the streets of Thailand’s capital as the world’s motorcycle press descended on the city of 14 million to experience the new bike.
It was launched with a night ride, when the heat and humidity was lower, when the traffic wasn’t as chaotic, when the stylish good looks of the Hunter would stand out.
Which explains how I found myself doing stupid speeds between large vehicles, airborne over bridges built more like motocross tabletop jumps, wishing for a slipper clutch as we charged into turns while working the clutch and transmission hard.
And the Hunter lapped it up.
The third 350
The Hunter joins the Meteor and Classic using Royal Enfield’s J-series 349cc 20 horsepower motor.
Yep, 20 horsepower. It’s not for everyone.
The odd thing is, nearly every motorcyclist in Australia could have a use for a 350 Hunter if they had one.
Shoot down to the shops, parking it in a busy carpark won’t be stressful.
Take it to the beach, who cares if the salt need hosing off later?
Drop a kid off at school. Enjoy a summer night along the coast.
While the Hunter is squarely aimed at young, urban riders and potential riders, its price (which we don’t know but expect it to be around $8000) means you can probably have one sitting in your driveway without much more effort than dropping a credit card on the shop’s counter.
Of course eight grand is more significant to many who are in the target audience, but it’s still not a significant impost. It’s almost impossible to buy a motor car for under 20K these days, so you’re looking at not much more than a third of the price of the cheapest new car.
And secondhand prices are nuts, so there’s not much joy to be had there, either. And there’s a three year warranty, servicing and running costs are low and for many riders, parking is free.
And it’s a compact yet full-size bike: I tend to dominate many small capacity machines which seem to be built for 60kg, 160cm riders. That’s 5’3” in imperial measurements… I’m nearly 6’2” and didn’t feel like I was riding a minibike.
Yet it’s fairly light and the reach to the ground is pretty reasonable, so even shorter riders will find it easy to ride.
Being my first visit to Bangkok I was expecting traffic, but I had no idea: 14 million people in a single city, and you’d have sworn they were all on the congested roads at once sometimes.
So wisely, Royal Enfield decided we should ride at night. We started after 9pm, a local hot-shot leading each group of 5-6 journalists from around the world, mostly experienced riders who know how to ride fast.
Except this was a new game of chicken for some, because carving through traffic as we did was exhilarating, fun and, well, bloody dangerous.
The funny thing about Bangkok (and lots of Asia) is how everybody rides, so the car and truck drivers are very conscious of scooters and motorcycles coming past, slipping up the inside, filtering through to the front, doing The Wrong Thing.
So you get away with a lot more, if you keep your wits about you, understand the bike you’re riding – it’s width, capabilities and foibles.
The Hunter was designed for these conditions.
What the specs mean
181kg. 1370mm wheelbase. 96.4mm of trail. 17 inch wheels.
What those numbers add up to is a lightweight machine which is highly manoeuvrable. In the old days it might have also meant unstable, but with a top speed of around 120km/h it’s unlikely to be a drama, and certainly wasn’t on the launch.
Royal Enfield set out to make the bike to be fun to ride around the city, and have succeeded. It’s easy to throw around and with only 20hp available I never, ever found it intimidating (although in my job it would be disturbing if I did). Obviously it’s aimed at learners for the Australian market, but it’s also great for anyone who just wants to get around – it’s not going to be great for roads with speed limits above 80km/h for long lengths of time, but if you’ve got a few kilometres of freeway you regularly use (like a short bypass) the Hunter will run up to the speed limit without drama or too many vibes.
One pot used to mean vibration, but not so much today. Royal Enfield’s J-series 350 features a balance shaft to take out most of the vibration, so you get the throb without the tingles.
While I wouldn’t call it smooth, it’s no buzz box. When I grew up I really didn’t like single cylinder road bikes much – modern ones are much nicer to ride.
There’s a five-speed gearbox and while I would prefer to have six, the 27Nm torque figure (thanks to the relatively long stroke) is pretty good for what the 350 Hunter is, so it’s OK. You do need to slip the clutch to get off the line quickly, especially if you are an ageing, fat motorcycle journalist. The transmission feels modern, with no false neutrals, although I was disappointed to see there wasn’t a threaded adjuster for easy height setting – just a cheap fixed linkage and spline, which means less precision to set-up.
Talking of set-up, the clutch and gear levers aren’t adjustable, and the ABS can’t be switched off.
Chasing a local hot-shot through the streets of Bangkok saw the throttle pinned more often than I can ever remember doing so on anything in an urban area, at least anything above 150cc. Doing so exposed weaknesses in the chassis, suspension and brakes…
Handling and braking
I’ve said it many times, a slow bike ridden at its limit is usually more fun than a fast bike ridden at a fraction of its potential.
Riding a fast bike through Bangkok at the speeds we were doing would have just felt dumb: the risk to reward ratio would have felt all wrong.
Feeling the tyres squirming, running out of brakes, wanting a slipper clutch and getting airborne over bridges before bottoming out the suspension is a real rush when you’re doing at (relatively) non life threatening speeds.
I did all of those things on the launch and both rider and bike coped admirably.
We pushed the tyres pretty hard, especially when we got to ride a half-dozen laps around a kart racing track. The brakes got squeezed really hard in a few dodgy situations, although I never felt the ABS kick in. The first time I got airborne over a bridge was because of the steepness to the approach, something I couldn’t see in the lousy lighting of suburban Bangkok – they are like motocross tabletops.
This is not a bike to take jumping, at least I didn’t think so initially – after three or four of these bridges were conquered I realised it was going to be great fun until it goes wrong… or there’s a sharp turn on the down ramp.
Which is where I needed the slipper clutch, as I banged it down to first when I thought that was second and as I popped the clutch out it started hopping around as the engine speed tried to match the road speed.
Do this on a big bike and you could well be doing close to three figures, on the Hunter it just added to the excitement of the night.
I was getting a buzz from the Hunter I never expected.
The other thing about this is how controllable it all was. Although it was a bit (OK, a lot) crazy, it was also manageable and fun.
Equipment, accessories and customisation
From the ground up the Hunter comes with CEAT tyres, which I didn’t like much but do the job. There are tubeless 17-inch black painted alloys, perfect for the bike. The rear suspension is by newly-developed 6-way preload adjustable emulsion shocks which are better than I expected but I wish I’d thought to ask for them to be adjusted up from their standard setting, softest.
I’m a fat bastard and I bottomed them out while riding faster than I should have.
The forks are non-adjustable and a bit soft for a fat Aussie, but you guessed that.
There are discs are each end, a single drilled model, gripped by a single piston caliper at the rear and a twin piston unit at the front. They are nothing spectacular, but they are fine.
The chassis is a development of the Classic’s, adjusted around the steering head to make the geometry more aggressive for faster steering, narrower around the seat to get it easier to get your feet on the ground and shorter to keep it compact.
The instruments are from the Meteor, although the Hunter doesn’t come with the Tripper navigation system standard – the world wide computer chip shortage killed that idea. It is available as an option though.
The tank is 13 litres small, fine for urban use, not so good for long distance work, but your arse might be sore before you’ve gone through a couple of tankfuls anyway.
Unless you buy the taller, flatter and higher touring seat.
It’s one of a myriad of options available for the new machine. I particularly liked the bar end mirrors and flyscreen. The pannier looked like a plastic box you could get from Bunnings but some of the riding gear was very chic.
There’s quite a range of accessories coming for the Hunter and aftermarket manufacturers will be all over this model I reckon.
Pricing and value
The Aussie price of the 350 Hunter hasn’t been announced, but international pricing indicates it’ll be a touch lower than the Meteor – although with inflation and crazy prices for shipping I reckon we will be lucky to see them available for under $8000.
Now, I really enjoyed my time on the Hunter, but that price gives me pause. For $3000 more you could get the Interceptor, a twin cylinder bike with more than twice the power and two cylinders. There are bikes from the big four and China which are lighter, produce more power, are higher tech… and are often cheaper.
The 350 Hunter is not better than those bikes.
It is, however, very different from those bikes. Its modern retro good looks, long-stroke single cylinder engine and unique character make it different and special, a bike for those who love the older style roadster, whatever their age.
And for them there aren’t too many options, whatever the price or brand.
A cafe racer version?
Back in The Old Days riders would turn their roadsters – easily spotted with their mid-set controls, padded seats, flatish ’bars and comfortable ergonomics and turn them in to cafe racers – clip-on handlebars, thin seats with a racing hump, rearset footpegs – to give them more weight and feel over the front end, more cornering clearance and a reduced propensity to slide backwards on the seat.
I wonder if the 350 Hunter will appeal to those looking to build a cafe racer. On the one hand I think why not, but on the other those really looking for speed will look to the bigger, but not significantly more expensive 650s, where the factory has already done it for you.
The Interceptor and Continental GT 650s are a roadster and cafe racer respectively.
I have to wonder if the next model will be a cafe racer version. I kinda hope so, because we could then have a racing series for them, which would be super fun, super cheap and super easy to get involved in.
|Single cylinder, 4 stroke Electronic Fuel Injection SOHC
|Stroke (mm) Compression Ratio Valves
|Max power RPM Torque (Nm)
|Max torque RPM
|Fuel economy (Kmpl) Clutch Type
|Primary Drive ratio 1st Gear Ratio
|2nd Gear ratio
|3rd Gear ratio
|4th Gear ratio
|5th Gear ratio
|6th Gear ratio
|Final drive ratio
|Mass – Wet (kg)
|“Mass – Dry (kg)
|(Wet mass – fuel/battery)” Payload (kg)
|179 360 13 800
|Fuel Capacity L
|25 @ full droop
|96.4 @ full droop
|(at static sag)”
|Rake /Head angle (deg) Trail (mm)
|Steering Lock (deg) Wheelbase (mm)
|“Alloy wheel- 110/70-17”
|54P (tubless tyre)”
|“Alloy Wheel – 140/70 – 17”
|- 66P (Tubeless Type)”
|Twin Downtube Spine Frame Telescopic, 41mm forks
|Suspension, Front Travel – Front (mm) Suspension, Rear
|Twin tube Emulsion shock absorbers with 6-step a djustable preload
|Travel – Rear wheel (mm) Brakes, Front
|300 mm fixed disc with
|twin piston floating caliper 270 mm disc, single piston floating caliper
|Brakes, Rear ABS Type