A vintage-vibe motorcycle for the masses
In this fast-paced world of information overload, instant all-access, everyone-shouting-at-once, and the unending media cycle, there is a growing hunger and thirst for simplicity, for a slower pace, and a nostalgia for bygone days. The Baby Boomer and Gen-X generations reminisce about the simpler times of their youth, while the younger gens (Millenials and Gen Zers) seem to be seeking a connection with those (perceived) simpler times of their parents and grands as well. Heck, both of my daughters, now in their early 30s, still love our old photo albums, know the 70s-80s rock my wife and I grew up with, and enjoy the old shows we watched as kids. We’re all needing a break from modernity, a way to “unplug from the Matrix” so to speak.
The world is looking for a connection to something old, uncomplicated, and authentic. Nostalgia reigns.
For these reasons, the “modern retro” segment in motorcycling is filled with motorbikes that hearken back to the “golden age” of motorcycling of the 60s-80s. And brands with bikes in that segment sell them by the droves, especially these past three years. I believe that is no coincidence. Young and old(er), we seek to touch that bygone age, to rediscover and feel it, even if only for a few miles and minutes.
Enter Royal Enfield, with their fantastic lineup of retro-styled, 120-year heritage motorbikes, and specifically their newest offering, the Classic 350. The motorcycle brand has their finger on the pulse of both the Baby Boomers who remember and still love vintage motorcycles, and the 30-something and younger riders who love the bikes and styles of their ancestors.
If my time in Savannah, Georgia with them for their recent debut of the Classic 350 is any indication, Royal Enfield has struck the perfect chord with this simple, approachable, affordable motorcycle for the masses.
With fellow moto-journalists from across the continent, the good folks at Royal Enfield gave us the opportunity to ride their reimagined and redesigned Classic 350 in and around historic Savannah, appropriately. The motorcycle reminds me of the British motorbikes of the post-WWII era in style and feel, yet has all the modern conveniences of EFI, ABS, solid brakes, and a reliable 5-cog gearbox. A true modern-retro.
We tested the Meteor 350 for about a month last year, and thoroughly enjoyed the diminutive single thumper with its distinctive lope and bulletproof reliability. This Classic shares the same 350cc mill and tranny, yet with 1950s styling. Same thump, same ease of use- Throw a leg over, fire it up, throttle away. No multiple ride modes, no electronic rider aids, no TFT display with an array of customizable options. A refreshingly simple motorcycle. In this high tech, touchscreen age, I find this quite a nice change of pace.
And what a change of pace it is. As we snaked our way through the pre-Revolutionary War port city, around countless city squares with giant, ancient white oaks draped in Spanish moss, the small, lightweight Classic 350 is in its ideal element. Quick and flickable, with ample throttle and braking power when needed, the Classic works its magic when negotiating the at-times confusing surface streets of this vintage city. Our oldest daughter lived down here for two years while working on her Masters degree, and admits even long-time residents can find the street grid and road surfaces challenging at times. In an urban environment with endless variables, the Classic 350 is the ideal surgical tool for carving through the unpredictable traffic and conditions. The bike is supremely confidence-inspiring around town.
We spent the morning riding all through the city, running up and down through the gears, using the front and rear brakes constantly, and diving street to street single file in a Royal Enfield train around the historic districts. Unlike a loud herd of Harleys, which some in a dense urban environment like this might not acknowledge nor appreciate, at every corner onlookers would turn, smile, point and wave. These small, thumping, antique-looking motorbikes elicit a welcoming vibe that people positively respond to. Everywhere we stopped, we were accosted with passersby full of questions.
The current North American lineup of Classic 350 machines includes two “Signals” models in marsh grey and desert sand colors inspired by the bikes traditionally utilized in the Indian military, a gunmetal dark grey model and a “stealth” black model with red striping. Later in the year, chromed-out traditional models sporting red and blue paint schemes will make their way stateside as well. Those are the ones I’m really looking forward to seeing. Very Classic Brit bike looking. With about nine different color and finish options either currently or coming available, and at incredible price points from $4499-$4699, Royal Enfield is giving the world a welcome moto lineup in these times of soaring prices.
We dashed out across the Talmadge Memorial Bridge into South Carolina, for photo/video ops over that and other smaller bridges dotting the salt marshlands. After a lunch cruise on the Savannah River, we all lit out again on the bikes, this time south of the city toward Isle of Hope and the barrier islands of coastal South Georgia. This is beautiful, serene countryside to ride through, and at higher speeds we could air it out more with the 350 powerplants, test their open road chops. Since I’d ridden the Meteor extensively last year, I knew what to expect. Down a long, straight stretch of four-lane open road, I pinned the throttle. The little 350 mill inhaled deeply, then started the steady spin up to speed. It took a few seconds, but I reached top end in a flat, straight line- 75 mph. I know, that doesn’t seem like much, but this is a 350cc single, so I was impressed.
Motorcycle journalists can be a tough room, jaded at times, as we ride and write about motorcycles for a living. It could be easy to criticize a simple, low-priced, small displacement bike if all one usually rides are high performance race replicas, decked out touring rigs, or expensive, do-everything ADVs. But a mentor once advised me, “evaluate a bike for what it is, for who and what it’s been designed for, not by what you’re used to or prefer.” Royal Enfield prides itself on building simple, affordable, reliable motorcycles for all kinds of people riding in all kinds of environments, with a nod toward motorcycling history. This Classic 350 epitomizes that pride and purpose, and exudes classic character in spades. It’s hard not to love this bike, in my humble estimation.
We’re hoping to get one later this year for a more extensive, “what it’s like to live with” angle, and we’re keeping our fingers crossed that we can show you one of the chrome and shiny models soon coming. The photos we’ve seen of those are just gorgeous. But if you’re into the military or matte motif, go check out more on these current models at a Royal Enfield dealership near you, or online for more details, specs and pictures-
*Photos and footage by Royal Enfield/360Media.io
*Check out our ride video in and around Savannah, without ever leaving this page-