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  • Sachin Sen

Royal Enfield Greatest Hits - Hunter 350

Royal Enfield Hunter 350
Hunter 350 - Royal Enfield's most compact and lightest motorcycle today...

In all its more than hundred and twenty years of history, Royal Enfield is right now making the best motorcycles that they’ve ever made.

They are also making more motorcycles than ever before, selling more than ever before, and have the most diverse lineup of bikes as of today; a number of 350s, a 411cc scrambler, a few 650cc parallel twins, and more recently, a brand new adventure bike with their first liquid-cooled engine. And the future only looks brighter.

But today, we are here to talk about Royal Enfield’s most playful street bike; the Hunter 350. You may consider it a roadster. The tightly packed Hunter 350 is Royal Enfield’s lightest motorcycle currently at 181 kg wet. In spirit, the Hunter is what the Speed Twin 900 is in Triumph's Bonneville lineup.

Royal Enfield Hunter 350
Nice proportions and playful character

The Hunter 350 is the kind of a motorcycle that makes you feel what it could have been. It is pretty good actually but you can go better. Between itself, the Honda CB350 RS and the Harley Davidson X440, the Hunter 350 is the one that falls short the most.

It is ironic that one of the best things about this bike is also the one that impresses the least; its engine!

The Hunter 350 is the third motorcycle that gets the new J-series engine; the Meteor and the Classic 350 are the first two that got this latest generation 350cc single. And in the Hunter, the engine is tuned for a quicker throttle response just like on the Meteor, compared to the Classic 350 in which it is gentler.

It is a good engine, in fact, it is the best version of the air/oil-cooled 350cc single that Royal Enfield has ever made. On its own it feels good, it is smoother, the throttle response is quicker, it revs higher. And if you’ve ridden the previous generations REs, the differences are all the more pronounced and you’ll understand that this is their most sorted air-cooled single so far, allowing the bike to deliver a good riding experience.

However, it suffers from a particular problem which has been a despicable characteristic of all RE singles that aren’t cast iron; mechanical clatter. In my experience, brand new, this engine sounds its smoothest and cleanest. But as you rake up the miles, the tappet sound creeps up soon enough and becomes an inseparable part of the engine. This is something that the Honda CB350 and the Harley Davidson X440 don’t seem to suffer with.

Also, it highlights how thorough Honda’s and Harley’s (and Hero’s) engineering is and it makes you wonder why Royal Enfield, who has made single cylinder engines all their life, can’t seem to make one today that would produce a pure exhaust note than anything else. That too when they’re literally making better motorcycles than ever before.

It completely ruins your aural experience to say the least and it is monumentally frustrating because Royal Enfield is the one that keeps on harping about the thump from its 350cc platform. There was a time when they were the king of it, during the cast iron days, but none of their other engines have been able to replicate that “legendary” RE thump.

Frankly, I don’t care about the thump because the primary focus of a company should always be on performance, efficiency, and longevity. And Royal Enfield seems to be on the right path with their current generation of engines.

But an engine could (and should) sound good and RE’s current 350cc single is quite forgettable in this case. Funnily enough, I have owned a BS4 Himalayan since 2019 with more than 15,000 km on it, but it doesn’t clatter and delivers a crisp exhaust note. I’m not sure yet why the J-series 350cc single is an inferior engine in this regard.

Second, this engine has an industrial feel to it. Once again, as it gets older there will be grinding sounds from the engine on a consistent basis if not permanently. And it’s not simply a matter of maintenance, it is more of how the engine changes its behaviour with time. This too is specific to RE in my experience.

I believe that Honda has made the best version of Royal Enfield’s 350cc single that Royal Enfield itself couldn’t build. Honda’s engine gets everything right that is wrong with the J-series engine. Although, personally, I would have preferred if Honda had used one of their other engines, like that of the CB300R’s, to power the CB350 instead of making an RE lookalike.

Royal Enfield Hunter 350
This is the best 350cc single that Royal Enfield has ever made, but it's not the best engine out there!!

On that note, I must add that the HD X440, since its arrival, has become my favourite motorcycle in this category. From the way it performs to its gearing, it has got everything spot on.

The best bit about the Hunter 350 is its handling. It is engaging but on a more playful side. Combined with the spirited tuning of the engine, the whole package evokes fun; you’re cutting through traffic while not shying away from using the entire rev-range in the selected gear. That’s the kind of riding this bike encourages.

And this is where it falls short. The throttle has a noticeable amount of heft, and it is clearly lazier than that of the CB350 RS’s. On a highway too, it does go past 100 kph better than the Classic 350, but it is still the same engine and it doesn’t feel the best at those speeds.

The Hunter 350 is the case of lack of refinement and not in terms of the engine alone. It is a rough product compared to the Honda and the Harley Davidson. While the handling is enjoyable, it doesn’t showcase the naturalness and the sortedness that are obvious in the other two brands. That’s because the spring action of the front forks doesn’t feel as smooth, and the handling is more sure footed on the CB and the X440. The Hunter’s ride quality too is jerky over bumpy roads.

The Hunter 350 is a good looking motorcycle and gets the proportions right. It does faintly point toward the Triumph Speed Twin 900. The CB350 RS simply tries to emulate the CB1100’s look and feel, but its design is not as well-proportioned as that of the bigger bike. The X440, on the other hand, has the only controversial design in this group, especially its rear section, which, I agree, feels a bit mismatched compared to its front.

Royal Enfield Hunter 350
The fit and finish have improved noticeably than the previous REs, but leave a lot to be desired

That said, the Honda and the Harley Davidson leave Royal Enfield in the dust when it comes to build quality and the fit-n-finish. And this is one aspect that is abundantly reflected in their price difference. This is also where the CB350 RS and the X440 are simply incomparable, a reflection of the reputation their manufacturers enjoy worldwide.

No wonder the Hunter 350 is the cheapest of them all by a considerable margin (the alloy wheel version starts at INR 1,69,656), making it one of the best selling motorcycles in the RE stable. And it clearly outsells the Honda CB350 RS (starts at INR 2,14,856), while the X440 (starts at INR 2,39,500) feels more like a product developed to primarily mark Harley Davidson’s entry into the small bike segment rather than to actively compete in sales.

Royal Enfield Hunter 350
The Hunter 350 has gone on to become one of the most successful motorcycles for Royal Enfield

It is not hard to understand why the Hunter 350 is the best selling motorcycle here. Despite the shortcomings, it remains a pretty good motorcycle to keep and to ride. It is good looking and has the quality to live with at its price. And that is enough for most customers.

Secondly, the Indian market has always been the strongest for Royal Enfield for what it offers and not even Honda and Harley Davidson can match the loyalty enjoyed by RE here. The price difference only adds to this. Moreover, I would have said that it’s ironic, but I feel that Royal Enfield’s efforts are better at marketing the whole motorcycling culture and lifestyle toward its target audience.

Let’s also not ignore that Honda sells the CB350 range through its Big Wing network which is much less compared to Royal Enfield’s list of showrooms. And the accessibility to the X440 is even less. Clearly, it is not enough to build a better motorcycle alone. In the case of the Hunter 350, the CB350 RS, and the X440, what’s more important is to build a motorcycle that is good enough and back it with the unmatchable marketing and the dealership network throughout the country.

On that note, to my frustration here, Royal Enfield has a winner on their hands and is holding the competition by its horns.


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