New to the US market for 2021, the Royal Enfield Meteor 350 takes on the small displacement cruiser niche with an entry-level price tag—$4399. Designed in England and India, the manufactured-in-India single takes aim at the Honda Rebel 300 and Yamaha V Star 250, but with a less-traditional cruiser look and feel. Visually appealing with its old-school standard styling, fun colors, and impressively crisp finish, the Meteor has an everyman appeal that is inviting. So, we went riding!
The Royal Enfield Meteor 350 is a perfect ambassador to welcome new riders to motorcycling. With accessible dimensions and a relaxed power delivery, nothing is intimidating about this motorcycle. Instead, it is a partner-in-arms, tolerant of newbie mistakes while having enough spunk to be enjoyable for experienced riders.
The classic design appeals to the senses, even of the non-two-wheeled crowd. When motoring past Le Petit Four on the Sunset Strip, I caught glances from the idle rich munching on their $29 vegan spaghetti and meatballs outdoors. I didn’t need to be on a Ducati Streetfighter V4 to stir their envy—the Meteor painted the picture, and I was the personification of a free spirit.
The upright seating position of the 2021 Royal Enfield Meteor 350 is immediately comfortable and familiar. With slightly pulled-back bars and semi-forward footpegs, climbing aboard the Meteor for the first time is about as approachable as it gets. The ergonomics are those of a standard, with the pegs moved forward by six inches or so. The 30.1-inch seat height allows me to be flat-footed at a stop with my 30.5-inch inseam. However, the Meteor seat is a good three inches higher than its Honda Rebel 300 and Yamaha V Star 250 competitors, so it is challenging for riders with shorter legs. Taller riders will appreciate the Meteor’s roominess.
The new SOHC 349cc air-cooled single has the satisfying torque you would expect from an undersquare configuration, and that makes the Meteor an easy and friendly ride. The linear power comes on smoothly and predictably, with its 20 ft-lbs of peak torque coming at 4000 rpm. With plenty of engine braking available, rolling on and off throttle makes for a relaxed ride as you flow down the local boulevards. The single-cylinder motor’s pulses are an enjoyable feel when cruising at low rpm.
The five-speed transmission is nearly flawless, and the heel-toe shifter is a nice touch for the retro-style cruiser. I’m not generally a fan of heel-toe shifters, but I found myself shifting almost exclusively with the heel of my boot after a few miles. My initial shifts were instinctively by toe. However, after clicking into false neutrals several times, I switched to heel shifting. Not only were there zero missed shifts, but it was also much more satisfying. It matches the Meteor’s casual and relaxed vibe. Clutch engagement is forgiving and well-tuned, making slow-speed maneuvering at gas stations and parking lots no cause for stress. Of course, gas station visits will be rare for city dwellers, thanks to the Meteor’s four-gallon fuel tank.
Don’t make the Royal Enfield Meteor your commuter companion unless you have a lenient boss. While the Meteor is more than capable of easing through the tangle of urban traffic with its calm demeanor, the body positioning is not intended for those in a hurry. Still, if you find yourself inching between stopped cars to get to the front at a red light, no one will give you the stink eye. The Meteor is friendly and has a pleasing pulse, and a good twist of the throttle ensures you won’t be holding anyone up.
Although the Meteor is freeway-worthy, you won’t want to spend much time there. You’ll finally use top gear on the freeway and can wring about 75 mph out of the motor, but the windblast will take its toll on you quickly. If you plan to ride any distance at high speeds, you’ll probably want to upgrade to the windscreen-equipped Supernova trim for another $200.
Solid as a rock, the Meteor has a planted feel both on the freeway and in the canyons. It’s quite a bit heavier than its competition—the Honda Rebel 300 ABS is more than 50 pounds lighter—but that gives the bike a reassuring stability. On the freeway, where its short-for-a-cruiser wheelbase might make it a bit nervous, the Meteor’s 421 pounds feel secure, and it doesn’t wander on the rain-grooved pavement. Unfortunately, as you rev higher, the mirrors reflect the single’s vibration, returning a fuzzy image that the counterbalancer can’t smooth out.
Credit the India-sourced Ceat Zoom Plus tires for allowing an enthusiastic ride in the canyons. The Royal Enfield Meteor is nimble, if not quick. The unfamiliar tires willingly oblige a healthy lean through the twisties, and the upright body position provides good leverage at the bars. On tight, slow turns, you might touch a boot heel down. This won’t startle you, as the Meteor’s handling is calm, predictable, and completely supportive of your sporting excursions.
Although there’s no tinkering with the Meteor’s suspension package, it gets the job done. Other than the shocks’ adjustable spring-preload, you will have to rely on the damping settings from Royal Enfield’s engineers. Happily, they seem to be familiar with real-world roads, as the 41mm fork soaks up most of the bumps with over five inches of travel. The dual emulsion-style shocks—accompanied by a wide, thickly padded seat—take the edge off at the rear. Keep your speed down over the larger indignities of the road, as the forward-mounted footpegs make it harder to supplement the suspension with your legs.
The single front and rear disc brakes are well-matched to the Meteor’s capabilities, and ABS is standard. Initial engagement at the front lever is soft and linear, perfect for keeping novice riders out of trouble. There is enough power from the two-piston Bybre calipers on the 300mm disc to slow the Meteor down effectively—just give a harder squeeze. The 270mm rear disc has good feel, so I used it quite a bit around town. Given the modest braking capabilities, the ABS never let itself be known in dry conditions.
A chain drive is part of the retro appeal of the 2021 Royal Enfield Meteor 350. Maintenance for the chain is a breeze, as the Meteor has a centerstand—that extra weight has to come from somewhere. Getting a motorcycle up on a centerstand is not my forte, yet I can accomplish it on the Meteor.
Synch up the Royal Enfield Tripper app to your smartphone to view turn-by-turn directions on the handlebar-mounted navigation pod—maybe. The app immediately recognized my iPhone, and setup was quick. Once I entered a destination, the Google Maps-based software plotted my route and displayed the first upcoming turn for my afternoon adventure. Unfortunately, when I got away from WiFi and had to rely on cell data, I could only get this message: “Alert! Slow Network, please retry after a few seconds”. I was never able to get the unit to work while I was riding. When not in use, the pod displays the time. There is also a USB plug tucked on the left handlebar’s underside, adding another unexpected touch of modernity.
There are three cosmic iterations of the Meteor 350. We tested the standard Fireball trim. The Stellar trim adds a passenger backrest, three different color choices, and upgraded tank badging. The top-of-the-line Supernova gets the Stellar upgrades, plus a windshield and premium two-tone paint.
The 2021 Royal Enfield Meteor 350 is just as friendly, welcoming, and fun as it looks. The 2021 Royal Enfield Meteor is the perfect kick-around-town bike that embodies the essence of carefree riding. It is an ideal bike for novices, or anyone looking for an uncomplicated, fun ride. With its laid-back power delivery and small displacement, there’s nothing to manage and detract from the enjoyment of the ride. You’re not making time—you’re spending it in the best way possible. From the moment I saw it, I couldn’t wait to swing a leg over the comfy-looking seat and give it a spin through the neighborhood. And, like any good motorcycle, as soon as I was down the road and around the block, I lost track of time and didn’t come home until my fingers were freezing.
This week we ride two genre-departing motorcycles from the established American manufacturers. Jess McKinley gives us his thoughts on the all new Harley-Davidson Pan America Special, and Ron Lieback gives his on Indian’s latest version of the FTR 1200 S.