What is it?
The Royal Enfield Meteor 350 is the India-based brand's latest middleweight cruiser, a 349-cc bike that's as user-friendly as it is good-looking. The name is a nod to the original Meteor, a 500cc parallel twin launched in the 1950s, though that one had roadster vibes.
Is it new?
Very. It just started hitting North American dealerships this month.
What makes it special?
Perhaps the only thing Royal Enfield takes more care with than its bikes is its promotional videos, and the five that appear on the product page for the Meteor are all beautifully crafted, evocative and informative.
"We've done testing all over the world," says Mark Wells, head of product strategy and development, in the one titled 'Easy Cruising.' "And the result is a motorcycle that is really great fun to ride and very easy to ride. It’s a very compliant motorcycle. You can jump on it and just feel at home, straight away."
After spending a few days putting the Meteor through its paces all over New York, I can wholeheartedly agree with that sentiment. I've frankly never experienced a bike that is just so approachable from the jump. While the seat height is higher than your average cruiser (30.1 inches), this bike is also pretty damn light (curb weight: 421 pounds), which makes for an almost instantaneous feeling of comfort and control.
It's also notably wallet-friendly. There are three trim levels, all quite affordable. The base model Fireball edition that I test-rode is just $4,399, while the higher-level Stellar and Supernova are still only $4,499 and $4,599, respectively. And you won't be shelling out a ton for gas either. While 349 ccs is relatively small for a cruiser, one byproduct is high fuel efficiency: the Meteor clocks in at an impressive 67 miles per gallon.
I feel like I say this all the time about Royal Enfield, but the Meteor looks fantastic, too. Yes, its engine and chassis are brand new, designed and built from the ground up. But it's hard to gaze at its classic curves — the circular gauges, roundly oriented exhaust pipe and gorgeous gas tank sloping smoothly into the scooped seat — and not hear a song like "Please Mr. Postman" in your head while daydreaming about where the nearest malt shop might be.
How does it ride?
Upon startup, I had to remind myself I was sitting atop a cruiser. The idle is pretty low and chilled-out, as opposed to the rumble of an Indian or the barely contained growl of a Harley-Davidson. However, once I got rolling, I found the engine delivered a satisfying "thump" as I shifted up through the gears, displaying more of the personality you'd expect from an open-road bike.
Speaking of shifting, the Meteor also has an element that is not new but is new to me, and quite satisfying: heel-toe shifters. That means when I wanted to go from, say, second to third gear, I had the choice of either flicking my toe up under the front shift peg, or kicking my heel down onto the rear one. It's a bit silly, but I found the heel kick approach was super fun and efficient, especially when accelerating out of a traffic light.
As I noted earlier, this bike lives up to its billing as an easy rider. If this thing had been my first motorcycle rather than the Triumph Bonneville T100 I ultimately chose, I probably would have struggled a bit less at the beginning. It's not only a very smooth operator, moving through its five gears cleanly and evenly, but it's surprisingly maneuverable in city traffic. It wasn't long before I was zipping between moving cars, darting from lane to lane to get ahead and leaning low into turns with an ever-widening smile.
Of course, the downside to a 350cc engine is that your top speed isn't quite what it would be on a bigger engined bike. The speedometer goes up to 120, but I found that 80 was about as fast as the Meteor really wanted to go. You don't buy a bike like this for the speed though. From city streets to country roads to interstate highways, it's better suited for a clip fast enough to feel the wind but relaxed enough to take in the scenery.
Anything else stand out?
Yes, two cons — and one big pro.
First con: On my inaugural ride, I found that when trying to downshift into neutral, the little N on the display would light up a little too long when I had actually skipped over the gear and mistakenly landed in first. I felt like a tool sitting at a traffic light and letting out the clutch, only to have the bike jerk and die because it was not in fact in neutral. Once I got mindful I avoided this gaffe, but consider yourself warned.
Second con: While the seating position is pretty comfortable for someone of relatively average height like me (I'm 5'8"), the mid controls involve a fair amount of knee bend, which I wasn't really used to on a cruiser. The last one I rode was the very different Indian Scout Bobber Sixty, which has forward controls that really let you stretch your legs. While it is nice to be able to stand up on the pegs, and the position didn't bother me too much, I imagine someone taller might start to feel a bit scrunched during longer trips.
One big pro: Straddling the gap between retro and modern is the little round gauge that sits to the right of the main one displaying miles per hour, fuel remaining and other key metrics. This auxiliary one is called the Tripper pod, and its function is a bit of understated brilliance. Download the Royal Enfield app, then pair this pod with your phone via Bluetooth, and it delivers Google-powered turn-by-turn directions in a really slick and intuitive way, with numbers and simple graphics (like blinking arrows) that unobtrusively lead you to your destination. The feature is super-handy and so perfectly aligned with the aesthetics of the bike, which would be ruined by some huge, data-packed touchscreen.
In the big picture, the Tripper pod is also a clear signal that Royal Enfield understands what this bike is all about: appreciating the past while cruising blissfully into the future.
What’s it cost?
As noted, $4,399 to $4,599, depending on trim level. All models come with a three-year unlimited mile warranty and roadside assistance.
2021 Royal Enfield Meteor 350
Base Price: $4,399
Engine: Single cylinder, 4 stroke, Air-Oil cooled
Gearbox: 5 Speed constant mesh
Horsepower: 20.2 BHP @ 6100 rpm
Torque: 19.9 Ft/lbs @ 4000 rpm
EPA Fuel Economy: 67 mpg