Motorcycles! Some love them, others want to turn them into electric razors. And then, there are people like me, who have always had a fondness for them. The culture, however, I find too intimidating, hyper-masculine and old-school. Let us paint a picture for you. What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of bikers? A bunch of big bearded guys who wouldn’t pass up the chance to crack a homophobic prank but love to sit on a throbbing motorbike with their legs wide apart.
How then does an ultra-masculine motorcycle brand align with woke culture? Or get rid of machismo instead of a “metro” vision while retaining the motorcycle culture? And does it have to be a choice? We went to Bangkok in search of some of those answers with the Royal Enfield Hunter 350, which CEO Sid Lal describes as “old school meets new age aesthetics.”
A bit of background – I’ve barely ridden a motorcycle in the last five years or so. In 2016, I was involved in an accident (for which I was responsible), putting my friend in a temporary coma. A year later, I lost my father when a truck hit his motorbike. Safe to say, there was (and is) trauma involved, specifically two-wheel trauma.
So, when I stood there, with the Hunter’s ignition on, my mind could only think, “What if I stall him?” What happens if I am unable to follow my group? What if I crash again trying to keep up? But when an industry friend and mentor put his arm around my shoulder and said: “Kuch tension mat le, aaram se chala,” it made me wonder if this is what the IRL bike fraternity looks like.
Take the Hunter 350 for a spin
I won’t bore you with the excruciating details of the Hunter 350’s cuts and creases. From first glance, I was hoping and praying it was affordable. The folks at RE have crafted a neat roadster, one that should appeal to hip millennial purists and baby boomer purists alike.
Of course, being a Royal Enfield, the design is still retro, but with a modern twist. It won’t remind you of the Classic 350, with which it shares its J-Platform. In fact, it reminded me more of the Triumph Street Twin. You see, unlike the Classic, Bullet, or even the Himalayan, this model doesn’t look intimidating. It’s not yelling at you to grow a beard 10 inches long. He said quietly, “Let’s take a walk through Bangkok.”
The 100 km organized night ride took place over three stages – a 48-minute ride to Chang Chui; from there, a 52-minute ride to the Impact Go Kart track; and finally, a 40 minute return to downtown where we were staying. All three routes were designed to showcase Hunter’s ability in the slow-moving traffic, twists and turns of an urban city as well as the freeway.
Deep in Bangkok’s traffic pangs after being away from the saddle for a few years, this wasn’t the ideal place to start, if I’m being honest. But this bike was a good companion, thanks to its torquey engine (20.2 hp and 27 Nm at 4,000 rpm) and its low weight (181 kg). Not to mention that the 790mm seat height and sheer compactness meant I had no problem putting my foot down and separating from the lanes in very disciplined traffic.
However, the first stretch also had a decent amount of signals and slow traffic. This meant frequent gear changes. And therein lies my biggest complaint. The clutch action was too heavy, which gave me a forearm workout. And while the shifts were smooth, I also got stuck between them.
Lost and found in Bangkok
No thanks to my rust, I couldn’t keep up with my bandmates – five other automotive journalists. I took a wrong turn and here I am, lost in an unknown country, speaking an unknown language.
After the initial panic and frustration, I used the Hunter 350’s tripper navigation system to drive to Chang Chui Market and join the group. Although what I really wanted to do was go back to the hotel and scream into a pillow. But when I got back, the folks at RE and my bandmates were kind not to make a fuss about it, reassuring me by checking me in and urging me to enjoy the ride. Also later, during the second pit stop, I remember talking to another mentor. A full-time editor at one of India’s biggest automotive publications – a part-time ‘Busa enthusiast and a fast guy in every sense of the word – who helped me overcome my initial ignominy remembering that everyone has their own pace. Although that pep talk helped me rediscover the biker in me, at that moment I could only laugh embarrassedly, while hiding my face behind a bottle of water.
Each riding lot had a band leader and sweeper. The first, for me, was an old Thai gentleman with dreadlocks, named Sook and the very definition of the kind of biker I was laughing at earlier. Little did I know that same long-haired, round-bellied guy was going to be my guardian angel (and guide) for the night.
Sook took me through two different places, with an occasional encouraging nudge to keep me going. As the traffic died down, I was finally able costsl the motorcycle, where there were both successes and failures. The wide handlebars and a short wheelbase proved to be a boon, especially when cornering. However, I found the rear suspension a little wonky and wished the rear tire (front – 100/80 rear -120/80) had more grip – and that was on the Metro variant, which comes with larger versions. Throttle response was decent, with the needle hitting the 80-90 km/h mark without hesitation. Make no mistake, this is not a fast bike, but more of a fiery one.
One for the road
Upon reaching the parking lot, completely exhausted and covered in sweat (partly because I had forgotten to take off my thermal liners), I wanted to go again. Five years ago, motorcycles are what broke me. And every time I tinkered with the idea of coming back, it strongly ricocheted off my traumatized past. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that a Royal Enfield would be responsible for reversing that, even if only a little. But that’s what it’s all about. It breaks from the mold of the previous generation REs, too intimidating for someone looking to get back into riding or even a beginner doing it for the first time. It’s a refreshing take on a neo-retro motorcycle that I wouldn’t hesitate to buy.
Going back to the Hunter 350 itself, for Rs 1.50 lakh (ex-showroom), it is a really good value motorcycle. And also, an accessible entry point into the motorcycling community – a world that includes both those who judge you for the brand of helmet you wear and others who watch over you on the road, no matter what. be the reason. Ultimately, I think that’s what Royal Enfield is trying to promote with this launch. Not just a motorcycle, but also the rapidly changing and evolving culture around it. Only time can tell if the Hunter will succeed on the road. So far, I’m happy to report that “I’ve met the coolest people on the Royal Enfield (IYKYK)”.
Image credits – Royal Enfield