American motorcycle buyers are pretty touchy when it comes to cruisers. They tend to view the recipe as fairly fixed, which is largely why we continue to see big, heavy baggers with massive, torque-heavy, low-revving engines and stratospheric price tags from the likes of Harley-Davidson or Indian. This resistance to change could make life difficult for a company like Royal Enfield -- which is known for its small-displacement, affordable motorcycles -- to break into the cruiser market. That isn't going to stop Enfield from trying, though, which brings me to the 2021 Meteor 350.
The Meteor 350 is an odd little motorcycle. It has many hallmarks of the cruiser segment that fans of old-school American models will find familiar, like a heel shifter, pillion backrest or an available tall windscreen. But it doesn't look like a prototypical American cruiser. Instead, it brings a lot of British-standard bike vibes (think). It's kind of a confusing mashup, but weirdly, it works.
The heart of the Meteor 350 is Enfield's clean-sheet, 349-cc, air-cooled, single-cylinder engine. Enfield is probably best-known for its singles, but unlike the slightly agricultural, old-tech thumpers of old, the Meteor's lump is thoroughly modern. That modernity starts with the addition of a balancer shaft to tame the single's inherent vibrations at higher revs. The bike is also fitted with fuel injection, and the result is a scant 20 horsepower.
That handsome little thumper is mated to a five-speed transmission. A bike with only five forward gears is kind of a rarity these days, but the Meteor doesn't cost much and the price savings have to come from somewhere. Those five gears are enough to get the Meteor up to freeway speeds, even with a large rider like me. Still, I can't say that there's much left in reserve in terms of passing power, so get comfortable in the right lane.
The Meteor's chassis is predictably a bit old school, but not bad. The frame is a twin-downtube unit that would look right at home on a Honda CB350 or a '70s Bonneville. The front suspension consists of non-adjustable, 41-millimeter, right-side-up forks and a pair of basic twin-tube emulsion dampers out back, which are adjustable for preload.
Braking on the Meteor is kind of a mixed bag. The single front, twin-piston Bybre (Brembo's value line) caliper grips a 300-millimeter rotor, and the back gets a 270-millimeter disc and single-piston caliper. This combination is fine, but if you're someone like me who tends to get a bit lazy and use only the front brake, you'll want to reevaluate that technique because the front brake alone can't handle too many hard stops with a heavy rider aboard. The good news is that the Meteor comes standard with two-channel anti-lock brakes -- something I love to see on lower-cost bikes -- so if you need to, you can grab a big old handful of that front lever.
In terms of ergonomics, the Meteor 350 is ideally situated to appeal to newer riders. Its cruiser-like form factor gives it a low seat height of 30 inches which is plenty friendly for smaller motorcyclists. Also friendly is its low 421-pound curb weight (which Enfield qualifies as 90% full of fuel and oil), which should make low-speed maneuvers a snap and also ease pick-up when a new rider invariably drops it on its side.
The bike's controls are minimal, but I like the combination analog/digital display. The analog speedometer is handsome and easily readable while the digital portion handles all the necessities like a fuel gauge and a gear position indicator -- both of which I consider mandatory in 2021. The bike's switchgear is also basic but looks pleasantly vintage and feels like it's of reasonable quality.
The high point from an electronics perspective is the Tripper navigation unit. This small color screen to the right of the main gauge displays simple, easy-to-read, turn-by-turn directions when paired with the Royal Enfield app on your phone. Even better is that Google Maps powers the system, so it's intuitive and accurate.
The Meteor's overall build quality is great. The bike uses metal in most places and the other finishes like the seat's vinyl or the occasional plastic bits all feel good. To me, this bike feels like a further statement of intent that Royal Enfield is interested in making affordable motorcycles rather than cheap ones.
The 2021 Royal Enfield Meteor 350 starts at $4,399 for the basic Fireball trim. This skips the windshield and passenger backrest as well as metallic paint. Next is the Stellar trim, for $4,499, which gets the pillion backrest and adds a chrome exhaust and metallic paint. My tester is the top-spec Supernova that retails for just $4,599 and gets a nice non-adjustable windscreen and metallic blue or metallic brown paint. This bike is Supernova Brown, which is an attractive color with a somewhat unfortunate name.
After spending some time with the Meteor, I can say that it's a fantastic little motorcycle. It doesn't look or feel like a cheap bike and I think any new rider that throws a leg over one will love it. Unfortunately, I also believe that the Meteor may struggle to find an audience in the US where cruiser buyers dream of cross-country freeway rides -- something less than ideal for a 20-hp single. Look for the Meteor 350 to hit dealers in May.