Motorcycles! Some love them, others want to turn them into electric razors. And then, there are people like me, who have always been inclined toward them. The culture, however, I find too intimidating, hyper-masculine, and old-school. Let’s paint you a picture. What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of bikers? A group of big, bearded dudes who wouldn’t let the chance of making a homophobic joke slip but love sitting on a vibrating motorcycle with their legs spread wide apart.
How then, does an uber-masculine motorcycling brand align itself with woke culture? Or, shed the machismo in lieu of a “metro” outlook, while still maintaining the culture of motorcycling? And does it have to be a choice? We went to Bangkok looking for some of these answers with the Royal Enfield Hunter 350, which CEO, Sid Lal describes as “old school meets new age aesthetics.”
A little context — I have barely rode any motorcycle in the last five or so years. Back in 2016, I was involved in a crash (which I was responsible for), putting my friend in a temporary coma. A year later, I lost my father when a truck rammed through his motorcycle. Safe to say, there was (and is) trauma involved, specifically two-wheeled trauma.
So when I stood there, with Hunter’s ignition on, my mind could only think of, “What if I stall it? What if I am not able to keep up with my group? What if I crash again trying to keep up?” But when an industry friend and a mentor put his arm on my shoulder and said, “Kuch tension mat le, aaram se chala,” it made me wonder if this is what biking brotherhood looks like IRL.
Taking The Hunter 350 For A Ride
I will not bore you with the excruciating details of the cuts and creases of the Hunter 350. From the first glance, I was hoping and praying for it to be affordable. Folks at RE have designed a neat-looking roadster, which should appeal to both hipster Millennials and 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, the Bullet, or even the Himalayan, this model doesn’t look intimidating. It’s not screaming at you to grow a 10-inch-long beard. It’s gently saying, “Let’s take a ride across Bangkok.”
The 100km-ish curated night ride was spread across three legs — a 48-min ride to Chang Chui; from there, a 52-min ride to Impact Go Kart track; and finally, a 40-min ride back to Downtown where we were staying. All three routes were designed to showcase Hunter’s capability in slow-moving traffic, twisties and turns of an urban city plus the highway.
Deep within the throes of Bangkok traffic after being away from the saddle for a couple of years wasn’t the ideal starting point, if I am being honest. But this bike made for a good companion, thanks to its torquey engine (20.2PS and 27Nm at 4,000rpm) and low weight (181kg). Not to mention, the 790mm seat height and its sheer compactness meant I had no problem putting my foot down and lane-split through very disciplined traffic.
However, the first stretch also had a decent amount of signals and slow-moving traffic. This meant frequent gear changes. And that is where my biggest complaint lies. The clutch action felt too heavy, giving me a forearm workout. And while the gear changes were slick, I did find myself getting stuck between them, too.
Lost And Found In Bangkok
No thanks to my rustiness, I wasn’t able to keep up with my batchmates — five other auto journalists. I took a wrong turn and there I was, 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 get to Chang Chui market and rejoin the group. Although, what I really wanted to do is go back to the hotel and scream into a pillow. But when I made it back, both the folks at RE and my batchmates, were nice to not make a big deal about it, reassuring me by checking in and urging me to enjoy the ride. Later too, at the second pit stop, I remember talking to another mentor. A full-time editor-in-chief at one of India’s biggest auto publications — a part-time ‘Busa enthusiast and a fast guy in every sense of the word — who helped me get over my initial ignominy by reminding me that everyone has their own pace. While that pep talk did help me rediscover the biker in me, in that moment I could only muster an awkward laugh, while hiding my face behind a bottle of water.
Every riding batch had a group leader and a sweeper. The former, for me, was an elderly Thai gentleman with dreadlocks, named Sook and the very definition of the kind of biker I made fun of earlier. Little did I know the same long-haired, pot-bellied guy was going to be my guardian (and guiding) angel for the night.
Sook took me through two different locations, with an encouraging thumbs up thrown in every now and then to keep me going. As the traffic died down, I finally got to feel the motorcycle, where there were both hits and misses. The wide handlebar and a short wheelbase proved to be a boon, especially around the corners. However, I did find the rear suspension to be a bit wobbly and wished that the rear tyre (front – 100/80 rear -120/80) offered more grip — and this was on the Metro variant, which comes with fatter versions. The throttle response was decent, with the needle reaching the 80-90kmph mark with little hesitation. Don’t be fooled though, this isn’t a quick bike, but more like a spirited one.
One For The Road
As I reached the parking lot, completely exhausted and covered in sweat (partly because I forgot to remove my thermal liners), I wanted to go again. Five years ago, motorcycles are what broke me. And each time I tinkered with the idea of getting back, that will ricocheted strongly against my trauma-ridden past. Never in my wildest dreams had I imagined a Royal Enfield would be responsible for reversing that, even if only a little. But that’s what the Hunter is about. It breaks away from the mould of older-gen REs, one that was too intimidating for someone looking to get back into riding or even a newbie doing it for the first time. It is a refreshing take on a neo-retro motorcycle that I wouldn’t hesitate to buy.
Coming back to the Hunter 350 itself, for Rs 1.50 lakh (ex-showroom), it’s a truly value-for-money motorcycle. And also, an accessible entry point into the motorcycling community — a world that has both those who judge you for the helmet brand you wear and others, who look out for you on the road, regardless of it. In the end, I think that’s what Royal Enfield is trying to promote with this launch. Not just a motorcycle, but the rapidly changing and evolving culture around it too. Whether the Hunter is going to succeed on the road is something only time can tell. For now, I am happy to report that ‘I met the nicest people on the Royal Enfield (IYKYK)’.
Image credits – Royal Enfield