2021 Royal Enfield Classic 350 first ride review
The Royal Enfield Classic 350, the company’s best-seller, has been long overdue for a major overhaul. And here it is! Ever since we rode the Meteor 350 and witnessed the quality, refinement and easy performance it is capable of, it was but a matter of time before the Classic 350 got the same J-platform engine and cycle parts. And that is exactly what Royal Enfield has done. The all-new Classic 350 gets the engine, frame, suspension and brake setup from the Meteor 350 along with all-new styling which only a sharp eye would be able to spot. Have all the updates made the new Classic 350 a more appealing package to more than just hardcore RE enthusiasts and could it sway buyers away from the Jawa range and the Honda H’ness CB350? We rode it to find out.
2021 Royal Enfield Classic 350 design
On the design front, it's something the same-same, but completely-different situation. I rode it around Pune for a week before it was launched and it blends in among the sea of Classics extremely well. No worries of somebody snapping me testing the bike and posting pictures before the embargo lifts. But look closely and you see that this really is new.
There is a new headlight setup and the glass is a little less bevelled as compared to its predecessor. The indicators on both ends and the tail lamp at the rear have been carried over from the new Meteor 350 and despite neither of them being LED units, they do a phenomenal job of illuminating the road ahead of you. I never felt the need to use the high beam within city limits. Speaking of using high beam, the switchgear layout is identical to that found on the Meteor 350, with the rotary style chicken head knobs. The handlebar grips, the clutch and brake levers, the foot pegs and foot controls have also all been picked up from the Meteor 350 and that is a recurring theme in this review. Not that I am complaining because this has upped the premium feel of the Classic dramatically. The instrument cluster layout is all-new with a sleek looking primary analogue dial that is accented by a red needle. Below this dial is a digital MID that houses your trip readouts, a clock and wait for it — a (digital) fuel gauge. Finally on the Classic! And that is not the end of the screens. The Classic 350 also sports the Tripper navigation pod that debuted with the Meteor 350, meaning Google Maps will make sure you won’t get lost on your next ride to the Himalayas. Another first on the Classic is the handle lock integrated into the ignition barrel instead of on the side. The seat setup is also new and not that there was an issue with the earlier bike but on the whole, it feels much better in terms of quality. And that's just the case with the entire bike. It feels much better put together. No rattles, no flimsy bits, just one solid piece of kit.
2021 Royal Enfield Classic 350 engine
Once you move on from the many small aesthetic updates that Royal Enfield has made to the Classic 350 is when the much bigger changes in terms of its engine and chassis start to become apparent. What’s new you ask? Well, just about everything! Well, when I say new, I mean for the Classic range. It is the same engine and chassis setup from the Meteor 350 that debuted last year. Let’s start with the engine. If you have any experience with Royal Enfield, and it would be extremely unlikely that you do not, you will be pleasantly surprised every time you crank this engine to life. The 349cc, air-oil-cooled single fires up with a very pleasant, modern rendition of the iconic thump. Like the Meteor, the Classic has done away with the kick starter and then there are the vibrations, which surprise you by their absence.
Compared to the now old Classic 350 the mind boggles at the level of refinement in this package. You feel no vibrations until you strangle the throttle and, honestly, there is no reason you should be doing that on a bike like this. The mill has an absolutely luscious mid-range and that’s exactly where you want to keep it. You don't need to drop a gear below third to navigate city streets and the Classic will comfortably chug along at about 50kmph in fifth gear if you want it to. And as far as cruising is concerned, stick it in fifth and anywhere between 90-95kmph is the sweet spot. Comfortable cruising without the slightest hint of vibes. You’ll have enough poke left to make a quick overtake and if for some reason you don’t, it is just a matter of making a quick downshift on the slick five-speed gearbox. Oh, and did I mention the sound that the bike makes? The old-school thump is no longer loud and proud. Blame modern noise regulations; the Classic makes what legislation permits and we all know the cops aren’t fans of loud exhausts on Royal Enfields so that’s that.
That said I prefer the sound this makes to the older Classic, though I am clearly in the minority here.
2021 Royal Enfield Classic 350 chassis
Apart from the engine, Royal Enfield has also borrowed a major chunk of the bike's chassis from the Meteor 350. Meaning, it now gets a twin downtube frame replacing the single downtube. The Classic also gets the beefier 41mm telescopic front suspension setup along with the bigger brake rotors at both ends. It runs wider rubber, a 100-section front and 120-section rear for both alloy and spoke options. And these changes have made the new Classic 350 a much more stable bike in all situations. The bike corners with a lot more confidence and composure courtesy the stiffer suspension. But I also felt that the front end was a bit too stiff at times especially when going over the smaller speed breakers that you see all over town these days. But that is a small price to pay considering the overall improvement in handling. Royal Enfield has also managed to extract 35mm more ground clearance and boy is that a welcome addition. I didn’t bottom out the bike even once in the week of testing it.
On the whole, the ride on the Classic is far more comfortable, stable and coupled with the almost vibe-free motor makes for an extremely relaxed yet engaging ride. And here’s the kicker, the changes in the chassis elements haven’t come at the cost of weight. The new Classic 350 retains the same 195kg kerb weight as its predecessor. Braking is now handled by bigger (300mm front and 270mm rear) discs gripped by Bybre calipers and is also significantly better than before and the ABS system is also relatively non-intrusive. The bikes with disc brakes at both ends will come equipped with dual-channel ABS. The single-channel ABS variants will come with a 153mm drum brake at the rear but I would definitely recommend spending that little extra and getting the dual-channel ABS model.
2021 Royal Enfield Classic 350 conclusion
The verdict? Royal Enfield have an absolute winner on their hands. The new Classic 350 might look way too familiar but the quality levels have gone through the roof. It is far, far better to ride - faster, smoother, calmer, more comfortable, more accommodating and more enjoyable over long days in the saddle. Take it from me, you will find it impossible to jump from the new to the old Classic; my god the old one feels positively Jurassic. This is now a classic with no compromises. No need to grit your teeth, to grin and bear the foibles. And these iconic lines, gosh, every evening I’ve turned back, looked at her, and smiled. More bread, butter, jam - and cheese!