Royal Enfield debuts an all new mini roadster
As the Royal Enfield-led press junket rolled out of the Laguna Mountains back toward San Diego, our group of 12 riders hopped on I-5 to merge with the fast flowing traffic. A couple of us toward the back of the caravan got separated from the main group while negotiating onto the freeway, so I found an opening, then throtted and upshifted hard into the moto mayhem. The spunky little 350cc single howled through its right side exhaust, and once in top (5th) gear, I pinned the throttle in an open lane, gunning for the front group of riders already about a half mile up ahead. The J-Series thumper took a deep breath, then started accelerating up to top end. Roaring down the interstate, the Hunter was stalking and apprehending automobile after automobile, in its quest for peak power. By the time I caught the group, the little beast had pegged 82 mph, rather impressive for so small a displacement motorbike.
“What a pint-size hooligan!” I shouted in my helmet.
The Royal Enfield Hunter 350 outside San Diego, loping along at highway speeds. Photo by Josh Shipps.
Since Royal Enfield first debuted their Meteor 350 back a couple of years ago, a bike we surprised ourselves with how much we enjoyed it, the legendary brand has produced the vintage-looking Classic 350 that we sampled last year in historic Savannah Georgia. These both have been runaway great sellers for RE worldwide, and have rapidly gained a following here in the States. But even as we loved both bikes, I had a nagging feeling that they weren’t done- something was missing. The Meteor is a small-displacement cruiser, the Classic is pure old-school retro, but would either be received by Millenials and the emerging Generation Zers? These two generations are the future of motorcycling, and while they both enjoy and appreciate the nostalgia of previous generations (mine included), would they jump on Royal Enfield’s affordable and approachable 350 singles, or even their larger 650 twins?
Then along comes the Hunter 350, a cool roadster I can see those younger gens getting stoked about.
Rolling along southern coastal California. The ideal bike on the ideal day. Photo by Brandon Bunch.
Royal Enfield has a long history of naming their bikes after Royal Air Force fighter planes (Gloster Meteor, Hawker Fury, etc.), so the Hunter too is named in honor of the Hawker Hunter, a Cold War era RAF jet fighter/bomber. And it’s there that the similarities to previous models end. Aside from the proven 350cc J-Series mill, this is an entirely reimagined Royal Enfield, geared (literally and figuratively) and aimed squarely at age 35-younger riders and potential riders. Weight has been trimmed, rake and trail are tighter, it rolls on 17” rims and rubber, engine mass is more compact and lower in the Harris Performance frame, intake and exhaust valves are modded for an all-new silencer (which thankfully isn’t very silent), and a different tune means this iteration feels and sounds like it has more bark and bite than its stablemates.
As we were familiarized with the bikes before riding out, I laid eyes on this beauty and had to lay claim to it for the day-
This one captured my attention and my heart. We spent a day playing together.
Looks like the kid brother to my 2017 Triumph Bonneville 900, in a lightweight package. But this little Hunter would soon prove it could punch above its weight class once we hit the streets. Our morning excursion rolled through downtown San Diego and surrounding suburbs, to prove the Hunter’s chops as a maneuverable urban assault vehicle. Negotiating the busy city, the Hunter 350 is supremely confidence-inspiring, so light and easily manageable in congested and at times confusing surface streets. San Diego is hilly, very hilly, like I’ve seen in photos and movies. In the burbs, up and down steep hills and through curvy tight neighborhoods, the little bike is so easy to throw around without fear of dropping. We rode a stint out along the breathtaking oceanfront cliffs, and with rough roads that take a beating year-round, I found the Hunter is suspended well too, absorbing bumps, cracks and small potholes with aplomb.
The rugged coastline south of San Diego. Breathtaking. Photo by Josh Shipps; selfie by Rob.
“I am digging this little bike,” I mused to Mark Wells, Royal Enfield’s Chief of Design, at an oceanside stop. “It does everything well in such a compact package, doesn’t it?” he replied. It certainly does, so far. After lunch in the downtown, we pointed the entourage east into the Laguna Mountains, and blasted out of the city for about 45 mins of state and interstate, making for the hill country. I found the diminutive Hunter a capable highway carnivore, chomping down miles at 70+ mph with ease. “Wait, isn’t this a 350 single? It shouldn’t be able to hit then sustain these speeds, right? This is an urban bike,” I was thinking in my helmet. But hit and sustain it did, all the way to the foothills for our climb into the mountains.
Time to carve some elevation curves.
The route up and back down was quite the thrill. Photos by Brandon Bunch.
Climbing into arid, rocky hills so stark in their beauty, the roads got narrower, the curves got tighter, and the margin for error decreased rapidly. Some of these reminded me of the high curves I rode with editor-at-large Ted up in the Cascades, with deep drop-offs if you overplay your hand. Diving the Hunter 350 through at times sketchy pavement conditions, the little motorbike held its own, complying with my every input. It’s no sport or even naked sport bike, but it’s not designed to be. Yet it can be pushed a bit, on the throttle and in the twistys when called upon. I was enjoying the light, flickable machine in an element it wasn’t specifically created for but was performing admirably in. After some extensive curve carving at elevation, at a stunning overlook one of the RE guys named Greg asked me, “So, what do you think?” I replied, “I’ve been riding most of my life, and I’m loving this little monster! Dude, I would so own one, if the missus would allow me to add another bike to the already crowded stable.” He smiled and winked, “It’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission sometimes.” He’s got a point there…
This bike is pure delight to ride, even for an old biker like me. Photos by Josh Shipps.
After the long ride out of the hills and back to San Diego, it was on I-5 that I pinned the throttle and pushed the Hunter’s rev limiter on the return ride. Traffic tightened up close to the city, and the group did a uniquely California thing- we lane split our way through the congestion. Having first experienced that back when returning from my Baja excursion, I found the Hunter 350 a useful tool to carefully bob and weave through the miles of motor vehicles filling the multilane interstate. It helps that Cali drivers are conditioned to give the gap, and the little Enfield is perfect for this.
Oh, to live and ride here, year round. The bike I can afford; California, not so much. Photos by Brandon Bunch.
Rolling back into our hotel parking lot from whence we left that morning, I just sat there on the bike, not wanting to give it up yet. “I’ve got some time, maybe a few more laps around the block, or go drop in on my son-in-law’s dad at his restaurant not far from here.” Alas, time was shorter than I thought, as the evening’s dinner and presentations would soon be upon us, and the RE team needed to refuel the fleet before the next wave of moto-journos would ride them the next day. So I reluctantly stepped away. I told Jen, the RE group ride leader, “If and when y’all pull this bike off the press fleet, I just might be interested in taking it off your hands,” She grinned and replied, “We just might be open to that.” What was it Greg said to me back up on the mountain…?
Oh yeah, I could get used to this. The bike, that is. Photo by Josh Shipps.
Talking over dinner with Krishnan, Royal Enfield’s North American president, he asked me, “So Rob, you’ve ridden most of our other bikes. What are your initial impressions of the Hunter?” I responded, “I think you have a winner with this bike, and I hope it’ll be a hit with riders here in the States, young and old. This bike exudes a hipster hooligan attitude that it backs up with performance and price point. Congrats on a fantastic motorcycle!” Jen (different Jen) from Revzilla commented over dinner, “My generation can’t necessarily afford to assume a loan and payments for a motorcycle in these times. But this bike can be had for some savings, for cash, and you get a quality machine for a crazy reasonable price.” Even Mike with Café Racer Magazine, a large man on a small bike, reflected, “This bike does everything well, and is even fairly comfortable for a big guy like me. It’s a great value motorcycle, no doubt.”
Putting through some art-covered side streets in the downtown. Photo by Brandon Bunch.
Speaking of small bikes, I think it was Ted who once commented, “Its often more fun to ride a small slow bike fast, than a big fast bike slow.” I couldn’t agree more. This new Royal Enfield, I must admit, just became my new fave in their lineup. And I’ve enjoyed every bike we’ve sampled from them. The Hunter 350, especially in the “Rebel Black” or “Rebel Red” livery, is a bike I’d make room for, in the budget as well as the garage. It’s that much fun to ride.
Do I have to give it back? One last ride…? Photo by Brandon Bunch.
They are due in dealerships this month or next, so get yourself to a Royal Enfield shop soon to schedule a test ride. They are selling about 20K of these every month in India, and I’m feeling confident they’ll sell great across the rest of the world too, as well as here in the U.S. of A. RE has a winner in the little hooligan Hunter 350.
As of this writing, they look to MSRP here in the U.S. at about $4000 USD for their “Dapper” line of Hunters, and around $4200 for their “Rebel” line. Lots of bike for the buck.
For specs and digits on Royal Enfield’s Hunter 350 and their complete line of motorbikes, click here:
*Photos and footage by Brandon Bunch, Josh Shipps, and Rob Brooks
Featured Gear: REV’IT! Restless jacket, Davis TF jeans and Safeway 2 leather belt; Bell Eliminator helmet; SA1NT leather gloves; Knockaround Flying Tigers sunglasses
For our video ride review, click below without ever leaving this page:
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