I’m sitting in my home office; I’ve just gotten off another motorcycle reveal, done over a Zoom meeting (thanks for nothing, COVID-19). This time it was the North American launch for the Royal Enfield Meteor 350, but the thing is—I’d seen this before. If you’ve been riding motorcycles for a few years, chances are you have too. Royal Enfield may be a niche player in North America’s moto market, but the marketeering was fascinating to watch, especially the opening video. It showed a lot about the company’s worldwide goals, without explicitly talking about the future.
The new Royal Enfield Meteor 350
But first, a few words about the new bike! This machine actually hit the world market last November. It’s supposed to be in North American dealers in coming weeks, which is quick turnaround, considering how COVID-19 has impacted global production and trade timelines.
You can read our initial write-up of the machine here, but the launch gives us more details. With the new Meteor 350 (named after a classic made-in-England Royal Enfield model), you’re getting a retro-styled cruiser with an air-cooled SOHC single-cylinder engine. It’s an all-new engine design, not an evolution of the old Bullet 350 single. It’s counterbalanced to reduce vibration; Royal Enfield’s engineers say this is the tightest, most modern single they’ve built. It’s fuel-injected, and Euro5-friendly. It’s a long-stroke design, with high crank inertia, to make stop-and-go riding easier. And, the marketeers make it a point to keep talking about the engine’s classic Royal Enfield single-cylinder thump. Hrm.
Royal Enfield says the 350 single makes 20 horsepower at the crank, and it should make around 20 pound-feet of torque.
The rest of the bike, you get what you see—dual rear shocks, a practical-looking seat for pilot and pillion, and some pleasantly retro switchgear (a nice touch, one that the thrifty-minded Japanese overlook). Cast wheels come standard, and disc brake front and rear (ByBre brakes, with dual-channel ABS). Overall, it’s a nice, basic cruiser, with forward controls that aren’t too silly. Curb weight is 421 pounds. There are three trim levels. Fireball is the basic paint level, with the Stellar package next, and Supernova is most pricey. Those trim levels cost $4,399, $4,499 and $4,599 respectively in the US. At this point, we do not have Canadian pricing.
There’s a catalog full of the usual accessories, too. Fancy seats, crash bars, engine guards, luggage racks, and Royal Enfield’s Tripper GPS system. Royal Enfield is very keen to promote this Google-based system, and it does seem to nicely integrate into the bike’s instrument cluster.
Who’s this for?
And back to the presentation itself. The Zoom call opened up with a short commercial, showing a bunch of riders out on an adventure. You get the whole classic story. Coastline. Empty desert vistas. Campfires. The ending slogan “Cruise Easy.” Royal Enfield’s recycling tropes that are as old as Easy Rider, even older. Throughout the call, every time we hear the engine mentioned, someone’s telling us about its classic thumping characteristics. This is the Harley-Davidson playbook, warmed up and recycled for the 21st century.
Except it isn’t. There’s no star-spangled, bald-eagled talk about Freedom and Liberty©. You don’t see a drive-by of the Black Hills. The riders? They’re not bearded American hipsters, they appear to be young riders from India. See below:
A few minutes later, we got a second promo video, this time starring TV’s Carrie Keagan. She tells us how happy she is that she could flat-foot the bike, how much she likes the onboard USB charger, etc. This time around, you get some rock riffs in the background, same as you would with a Harley promo, and Keegan tells us the bike is like a power ballad, it’s got all the heavy, and it’s got all the heart, and it makes her feel like a rockstar, etc., etc. Again, it’s the classic Harley playbook—but it’s not exactly the classic Harley-Davidson customer. Keegan is a new rider looking for something easy, without the hassle of a Big Twin.
Add it all up, and here’s what you get. This is a motorcycle that’s made to appeal to same see-the-world dreamers and wannabe badasses that Harley-Davidson has been marketing to for years. But, Royal Enfield is targeting developing markets, not the long-established cruiser customers that the rest of the OEMs have milked dry in North America. Royal Enfield doesn’t want boomers, it wants a new set of buyers—beginners in countries like the US, Canada, the UK, and then mass-market sales to other countries, where the Meteor 350 would be considered a big bike. A few years back, Royal Enfield said it wanted to be the world’s biggest manufacturer of mid-sized motorcycles, and this machine could be a big part of that plan.
Will the plan work?
Will Royal Enfield’s master plan, to sell the British-designed, India-build motorcycle to the masses and create new customers, actually work?
There’s one big problem for Royal Enfield. The Honda Rebel 300 is priced at $4,599 in the US, only $200 more than the base-model Meteor, and Big Red has a much larger dealer network. The Meteor 350 comes with a three-year warranty, though, including roadside assistance, and the more expensive paint jobs will likely look very pretty in person (something that few people say about the small-bore Rebel series). And with this whole pandemic problem interrupting global supply chains, you might not be able to buy a Rebel 300 if you want one.
Royal Enfield is marketing to female riders and wannabes very hard these days as well, at least in North America. If this machine appears easier to ride than a Harley-Davidson, and looks almost as good, then H-D is gonna bleed some Sportster sales—and it’s possible the current Sportster platform won’t be available much longer anyway, following the Street series into oblivion.
So, there are some things potentially working in Royal Enfield’s favour. The real test begins when North American journos actually get to ride the bike back-to-back with the competition. That could be a while yet, though.
What’s the ADV angle?
Sooooo, is there a specific ADV angle to this bike?
Maybe, but probably not. At least, not like the old Bullet series.
The Royal Enfield Bullet was the classic India travel bike, because they were ubiquitous, and because they were the only option for most people wanting a full-sized motorcycle.
Now, who’d buy a Meteor 350 to ride unpaved mountain tracks, when they could have a Himalayan?
Having said that, it’s likely these will see duty as RTW bikes, and some will get thrashed through India’s mountains and jungles. Just don’t expect them to be the darling of the fly-and-ride set in India like the old Bullet series.