2023 Royal Enfield Hunter 350 Review
Here’s a dense and compact example of a bike that you could consider your first, or your second, or third. We could go on.
Royal Enfield has long been a cornerstone brand in the motorcycling industry, not because it makes the most cutting-edge stuff, but because it has the gall and the courage to remain old and true to its roots. With most of the MotoDeal team being advanced riders, we often get spoiled by technology and the latest and greatest powertrains from manufacturers from all over the world. However, sometimes it’s nice to take a breather once in a while and stretch your leg over a “chill” bike.
The Royal Enfield Hunter 350 is one such model that was loaned out to us recently, and it stands as one of the most sedate riding experiences in the 300cc class. Barring other models with similar displacements, the Enfield makes its mark as a stylish and very well-built machine for the discerning motorcyclist, so how does it fare while out on a ride? Let me tell you more about it.
- Handsome retro looks
- Forgiving and friendly engine
- Characterful thump and well-mannered vibrations
- Driver and passenger foot pegs are too close together
- Very pricey
I have to hand it to Royal Enfield. I’m not a total fan of the retro design, but I do appreciate the detailing and the commitment to keeping true to the brand’s roots. That’s on full display here, even if there are some more modern chassis-building techniques at play in the Hunter. The frame is not like your traditional backbone motorcycle, in fact, it’s quite modern from a geometry standpoint, but more on that later. The result is a bike that looks the part of an old motorcycle, but without the modernity showing too much to make it feel like it’s inauthentic.
There are no LEDs in sight, and normally we’d knock points off the board if it were any other brand, but this is Royal Enfield, all the brand has known is halogen, and it would probably be a disservice to its loyal user base if all of a sudden the brand wanted to go more neo than retro. It’s the paint job that has me a little perplexed since it’s Royal Enfield. While I will admit that I have a bunch of friends that are real retro riders, opting to ride on nothing but old-looking motorcycles, there are only a few right now that are in my age bracket, between 20 to 30 years old.
Royal Enfield is positioning this motorcycle as a young rider’s ride. Not only is that evidenced by rather modern graphics that you can get from the dealership, but also with regard to this bike’s approachability. While it doesn’t totally appeal to me, I get where the brand is coming from. I see that Royal Enfield has dug a hole in the market where nostalgia is king, now the challenge of attracting the new breed of riders is the problem and one that I think the Hunter has a chance of doing. Personally, I did start on a bike that is similar to this and it’s likely that some beginner riders can as well. For the experienced and more mature rider, the Hunter can also work, but perhaps the Classic or the Meteor can too if highway legality is not a priority.
Royal Enfield’s J platform is quite interesting, in that it has some rather modern geometry, but in a package that looks old. The engine is cradled just like a Continental GT 650 or Interceptor 650, but the headstock is more directly linked to the rear suspension. The result is a frame that is more rigid than traditional steeds resulting in handling that feels less aloof and more precise, well, for a retro motorcycle. With that in play, I was able to enjoy a little bit of cornering with the Enfield, not knee-dragging stuff, but enough fun to get the tires on the sidewall preluding to a quick direction change. Low-speed maneuvers were also really easy on this motorcycle. Paired with the forgiving powertrain and the easy-to-work clutch, I was flying through traffic and commuting quickly though. While it’s not a bike that I’d take to the race track or thoroughly enjoy on a twisty road, you might find that it’s not a total slug in the corners and while doing quick direction changes. However, it’s still not a sport bike or a sport naked, let’s get that out of the way. It’s way more relaxed than a thoroughly modern bike of that class, especially in the 400cc segment of bikes. I think that RE has done enough to keep it retro, but added just a bit of excitement into the mix. The result is a formula that gives you a bit of leeway if you’re into riding spiritedly. I think, however, that the model is a little too heavy at 181 kg to be a first-choice beginner bike. The model is a little bit of a handful to move in the garage. So much so that it rivals my personal big bikes in terms of weight. It doesn’t feel heavy while moving, but it does while you’re stopped or trying to stop it from falling, which is another point of consideration if you are buying this as your beginner bike. Although, the seat height of 790mm is quite good and Pinoy-friendly.
I just wish that the power from the 350cc single-cylinder engine would turn me on, though. Given my experience with more powerful bikes, I wasn’t blown away at all by this motor, but that’s not the point. What I’m trying to say is that if power, torque, and top speed are your primary concerns for a bike of this class, then look elsewhere. However, if riding, cruising, and ease of use are what you value the most on your hunt for a new bike, then keep reading. I like how the engine is very easy to use. The clutch is a bit on the heavy side, but the engine is so forgiving and willing to be lugged that feathering the clutch doesn’t have to be done all the time. The problem with most sporty motorcycles is that the engine likes to be wrung out, but that is not the case here. The Enfield has no problem getting lugged, and its characterful exhaust and induction notes are a great change of pace for an adrenaline-addicted motorcyclist like myself. While this bike was in my garage, I found myself wanting to use it simply because of the engine’s character. Sometimes, it’s fun to go slow, and perhaps the Hunter is the most characterful way to do it.
With just 20 hp and with 28 Nm of torque, it’s way underpowered for a 300-plus-cc motorcycle. With 346ccs of displacement, air-cooled and mated to a five-speed manual transmission, it’s not going to win any spec wars, but perhaps that’s not the point. Digging into the specs of a Royal Enfield will only leave you disappointed or enticed to swing a leg over if you are a beginner. Riding isn’t all about specs, sometimes it’s about how you ride. With 20 horsepower, you can get up to speed eventually, and that was the case with the Hunter. It’s quite slow in its upper rev ranges but it offers plenty of pick-up from a low speed. Friendly power delivery and a luggable engine mean that it is a very approachable motorcycle for pretty much anyone who just wants to ride. The low-end grunt also lets this bike filter easily through crowded city streets without much shifting. In fact, you can lug it in second gear while filtering through traffic with a bit of clutching in and out. The brakes, on the other hand, are a split between good and bad. The front is a bit forgettable, with a friendly bite and a progressive feel, but it's not confidence-inspiring. The rear, conversely, is a little touchy but easy to modulate. I found myself using the rear a lot on the Hunter 350, especially in traffic. The front brake needs some extra bite, so perhaps a better set of front brake pads would do the trick, probably.
Now I will say that this bike’s performance is nothing to write home about, but I will also say that this bike is very comfortable with its rather lazy engine. It won’t win any races, but as a daily commuter and as a laid-back ride, it’ll get you to where you’re going, slow and steady. it also does it quite frugally, but not quite as frugal as I had hoped. With the Royal Enfield Hunter 350, I was able to average 24 km/L, which is just fair given the displacement and given the heavy traffic that I had to contend with while with the bike.
Practicality and Comfort
There is nothing much in terms of storage space. There are accommodations for your papers and the tool kit that comes with the bike, but nothing much else. That’s to be expected with a retro motorcycle like this so bring a backpack, saddlebag, or tail bag if you want to bring stuff with you on your commute. We’ll give points back to Royal Enfield for equipping this Hunter with a USB-A charging port. While it’s not easily found, it’s readily accessible and offers basic charging for your phone or action camera. It’s good enough for a top-up, but not a fast charge. Still, one port is better than none so I’m happy to see at least some modernity on this bike.
Following that, however, it’s another case of compromise, which is common on basic motorcycles of a retro flavor such as the Hunter. First off, the ergonomics are not too upright. In fact, I’d call them a wee bit sporty. The handlebars are lower than that of the Meteor and the Classic, the footpegs are set more rearward resulting in a more canted-forward body triangle. While we got to test the Meteor with its mid-set pegs, the slight shift in the position does tend to fold up my legs a little bit more than I expected, resulting in a bit of discomfort over a long ride. However, it’s not as bad as other naked bikes. The riding position did allow me to move on top of the bike while cornering or while doing some low-speed maneuvers, but I surmise that having that extra bit of ground clearance and that sportier body triangle doesn’t do much for the motorcycle’s performance. Instead, it may be a hindrance for bigger riders, or riders who just prefer a more neutral position instead. On top of that, fitting a pillion at the back could be a little bit of a squeeze due to the position of the driver’s foot pegs. Your passenger may bump up on your feet or even the muffler. There’s no getting around how cramped this bike is now because of the footpegs, so if you ride two-up often then perhaps the Meteor or the Classic is a better fit because of the foot peg placement.
Positioned as an urban motorcycle, it does shine in the concrete jungle, fitting well in between cars and fitting nicely into small parking spaces. Going over bumps and potholes is not a problem for the Hunter. Enfield has tuned this bike to be very pliant over bumps whether in or out of the city. The rear suspension also doesn’t buck you off the seat so much compared to the stiff setup of sportier bikes. All-in-all, it’s a pretty comfortable motorcycle. Things start to get a little unstable at high speeds of over 100 km/h, however, not that the bike was built for that anyway.
Technology and Safety
As it stands, the bike only has ABS as its one big safety feature, so at least there’s that. However, as for other tech features, it’s quite modern for a retro bike. Instead of a purely analog display, we get a half digital and half analog unit with the digital display showing you trip information, fuel level, as well as your odometer among other things, and warning lights. While we did get the tripper gauge pod system in the other new Royal Enfields, this Hunter is barebones and doesn’t have one, perhaps because it’s positioned more for the urban warrior. The USB port, is a nice touch, however.
Aside from that, it’s halogens all around paired with all the other bits and pieces of tech that don’t really get in the way of this bike’s retro aesthetic. Overall, it’s nothing to write home about in this section of the review, but it’s not intrusive to the overall experience.
Verdict and Price
Now here is where things get a little tricky. Royal Enfield may be an old-style brand, but they’re trying to inject a bit of youth into their lineup with the introduction of the Hunter. Royal Enfield wants younger riders to come to its brand, but it’s still a rather pricey item all things considered. It’s still the most affordable model in the Royal Enfield 350 lineup, coming in at P231,000 and topping off at P233,000 depending on the color option.
The dilemma is that most young Filipinos will probably have a problem paying over P200,000 for a first motorcycle. Many Filipinos may even have a problem affording another bike over P200,000 and therein lies the problem. Younger buyers will either have to be well-off or really save up for a bike like this. Royal Enfield does have better build quality compared to cheaper options out in the market, but is all that character and that quality worth the over two-hundred-grand price tag? I think that the Hunter is a rather premium beginner bike option and a rather interesting toy for experienced riders to just play around with.
The thing is, would you pay over two hundred thousand Philippine Pesos for a bike that can’t take you out on the highway? With the 400cc rule in place, it’s a bit of a tall order. I do see the value in the bike given how good it looks and how great its build quality is. I wouldn’t say that the bike is a must-buy, but to the right buyer that appreciates craftsmanship and longevity, I feel that this bike makes a good case for itself. The right buyer would probably someone that would like to keep their bikes for a long time, or is someone that is looking for a competent platform or a project, or someone that simply wants a premium and easy-to-ride beginner bike.
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