We take Royal Enfield’s Hunter 350 for spin in Bangkok

As Royal Enfield unveils the Hunter 350 in Bangkok, this biker looks back on his chequered past with The Bullet before taking the newest launch for a spin

August 19, 2022 02:54 pm | Updated August 22, 2022 02:12 pm IST

Rishad riding the Hunter in Bangkok

Rishad riding the Hunter in Bangkok | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

In Bangkok for the global launch of the Royal Enfield Hunter 350, I listened to Siddhartha Lal, managing director and CEO, Eicher Motors, speak passionately about the development of the Hunter and how it reflects the brand’s commitment to pure motorcycling.

And my mind harked back to how my association with Royal Enfield motorcycles began with candid disdain. I rode the Rajdoot Yamaha 350 in the early 90s and remember being affronted when people assumed it was “a Bullet!” “Good heavens! No!” I would retort with righteous indignation.

Rishad with his first Royal Enfield a Bullet Machismo 350 at Khardung La in 2003

Rishad with his first Royal Enfield a Bullet Machismo 350 at Khardung La in 2003 | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

To Leh and back

Then in 1998, a few years after my Rajyams was gone, I needed a motorcycle to commute between Pune and Bombay. I had to grudgingly buy a Royal Enfield Bullet Machismo 350 because there was nothing else in that category of cubic capacity.

It was an adverse alliance rather than an amorous one. That motorcycle was temperamental, when it worked it was somewhat likeable, when it acted up it was insufferable. This is understandable because its engine and chassis had remained largely unchanged since the 1950s. It was often harked as a ‘modern classic’.

While it did have admirers, this was largely a demographic whose acne had sprouted and hormones had run haywire in the 1970s, so you’d see middle-aged blokes and pot-bellied policemen happily thumping along on one, blissful in the knowledge that they were riding the one and only ‘Raja gaadi’.

Like most Enfield owners of my generation, I did the ‘rite of passage’ — a ride to Leh and back in 2003, and while my motorcycle behaved reasonably well with just the main stand and the side stand falling off, I was convinced that I’d never ride a Royal Enfield in the Himalayas again. It was just too cumbersome.

Siddhartha Lal with the Hunter Motorcycles in Bangkok

Siddhartha Lal with the Hunter Motorcycles in Bangkok | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

But then fast forward to 2019 and I was back in the Himalayas in Tibet, this time though on a Royal Enfield Himalayan, and I came back longing for more. Roadtrips in Zanskar in Ladakh and Mustang in Nepal followed. As opposed to my cumbrous cast iron Machismo, the Himalayan felt so apt and appropriate. In 2020, I procured my second Royal Enfield (not the Himalayan) with the light of love shining in my eyes.

The Himalayan and 650 twins

My journey from abhorrence to affection for Royal Enfield motorcycles has much to do with the brand’s steadfast strategy to put the fun back in motorcycling.

In Bangkok, I spent some time talking with the men and women who work with Royal Enfield around the globe and while they come from multiple nationalities, the language they speak most fluently is motorcycling. A significant factor in Royal Enfield’s shift is from a company that made one type of motorcycle largely sustained by nostalgia into a company that manufactures models that are now affordable objects of desire.

With the RE Himalayan in the Himalayas

With the RE Himalayan in the Himalayas | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The Himalayan, built from scratch, was created as a simple yet capable motorcycle purpose built for the sudden surprises that terrain and weather in the Himalayas can throw at you. I can vouch for this after three tough rides with the Himalayan over the creased and crumpled geography of the Himalayas.

A slice of history
The oldest motorcycle brand in continuous production, Royal Enfield has built motorcycles since 1901. From its British roots, a manufacturing plant was established in Madras in 1955. Currently Royal Enfield’s motorcycles are sold in more than 60 countries around the globe. The company has two technical centers, in Bruntingthorpe, UK, and in Chennai, India and two facilities, which are located at Oragadam and Vallam Vadagal, near Chennai.
To put in monetary perspective how love for their motorcycles has swelled: In 2010 if you’d bought Eicher Motors shares worth ₹135,000, the price of the Royal Enfield Classic 500 in that year, today they would be worth ₹66,71,740

Then came the 650 twins developed ground up with a new chassis in collaboration with Harris performance and a brand new twin-cylinder engine — the Interceptor and the Continental GT — quick bikes that put the fun back into motorcycling. (The GT is my second Royal Enfield.)

This was followed by the new J series engine, which retained the heritage of Royal Enfield’s 121-year-old legacy but did away with the cantankerousness. A non-fussy and efficient modern engine that powers the Meteor and the new Classic 350, motorcycles that are so ergonomic that I have seen someone, newly introduced to motorcycling, struggling with a 200 cc but riding the new Classic 350 with ease. All this has made RE motorcycles attractive to a newer demographic: Look at college parking lots; they are now generously peppered with Royal Enfield motorcycles.

The Royal Enfield new Classic 350 with J Series engine

The Royal Enfield new Classic 350 with J Series engine | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The Hunter in Bangkok

This brings me to the Hunter 350, the latest iteration powered by the J series engine shoehorned into a compact and compliant Harris Performance chassis. The specifications, its design cues and the reviews are all over the Internet, but what I can tell you after riding it around Bangkok is that it is an easy motorcycle for the city, designed to weave through traffic, corner with ease and make its rider look cool. This will be my third Royal Enfield because my first may or may not start and my second bike is meant for quick café runs and sparsely trafficked roads.

Rishad with the White Hunter

Rishad with the White Hunter | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

But with the Hunter, I could make a quick dash to Gangar Grocery Stores for sugar while my coffee is brewing, I could carve up traffic at Kalbadevi or I could corner with confidence on Mount Mary’s hairpin. And as an added attraction, I know I would catch surreptitious glances from mommies when I ride my Dapper Blue Hunter to fetch my niece from school, because this motorcycle is just so good looking.

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