Royal Enfield has come on very strong these past few years, tapping into the generational emergence of young people buying into active lifestyles, specifically motorcycling. The company (the oldest motorcycle manufacturer in the world) has managed to capture the fancy of newbies with a range of accessible, unintimidating smaller displacement machines with alluring character.
The newest machine to roll out of Royal Enfield’s Chennai, India, factory is the Hunter 350. Utilizing the company’s proven J-series single-cylinder powerplant, engineers have wrapped an all-new Harris Performance chassis around the engine, giving the machine a short wheelbase for sharp handling and ease of maneuverability.
The end result is a bike that can effectively navigate the urban sprawl as a fun commuter, with some zest left over for weekend jaunts out of town and into the mountains. The Royal Enfield package (across all models) has definitely become more refined as of late, and the Hunter is an example of evolving engineering and production, melding a touch of modernity with old-school charm.
The Hunter has a distinct look, with the available paint schemes presenting bold design cues to augment the somewhat vintage feel of the machine. A 349cc J-series, fuel-injected, four-stroke SOHC, two-valve, air/oil-cooled single-cylinder engine emits a thumping soundtrack accompanying its climb to 20.2 hp at 6,100 rpm.
Despite a heft of 400 pounds, the engine propels the Hunter forward with respectable performance for its size. The transmission has five gears—a sixth is not warranted due to the low power output—and provides succinct shifts with well-spaced ratios. The clutch is a simple straight pull cable unit that does its job with predictability and without complaint.
Simplicity reigns in instrumentation. The bike features a digi-analog circular speedometer with gear selection, a turn indicator warning, and a gas gauge.
The seat height is 31.1 inches, with a tapered design that allows for straight-leg reach to the ground—an especially important aspect for new, as well as shorter riders. Cushioning is excellent and provides comfort over a long day in the saddle.
The Hunter’s frame is an all-new design from Harris Performance, sporting a beefy square main backbone with twin front down tubes. Sporting a short wheelbase with a relatively steep rake, the Hunter was designed for responsive handling.
Sporty, stylish 17-inch alloy wheels are fitted with tubeless tires (110/70 on the front and 140/70 at the rear). There is a traditional telescopic 41mm front fork with dual shocks handling the back end, providing 5.1 and 4.8 inches of travel respectively. The rear shocks have adjustable pre-load.
For brakes, there’s a single 300mm disc at the front, mated to a two-piston caliper. A 270mm single disc with a single-piston caliper handles the rear. Braking is augmented by a non-cancellable dual channel ABS system.
At 5 feet, 11 inches, the Hunter fit me just fine, with a relaxed triangle of the essential ergonomics. The handlebar-seat-pegs configuration provides a comfortable seating position, and the levers and gearshift are within easy reach.
A feathery light feel, combined with that steep rake, makes turning at slow speeds a cinch. Building some speed and going through the gears, everything works as it should.
Naturally, as the Hunter is a relatively small displacement motorcycle, the rider needs to be conscious of revs, gear, and throttle to get the maximum performance out of the bike.
Without question, there is an instant fun factor to the Hunter. Once you divorce yourself from the overzealous expectations of performance we’ve come to know on most modern motorcycles, it’s quite entertaining to be able to extract the full breadth of a motorcycle’s potential.
The Hunter will easily keep pace with city traffic, its nimble manners making it feel more like a bicycle and allowing you to weave through congestion and effortlessly slip into the narrowest of parking spaces.
The Hunter manages to marry responsive, quick handling at lower speeds with a certain amount of freeway stability. On long, loping sweepers with uneven surfaces, you can feel some skittishness but generally the bike stays planted. Also, the chassis has a welcome characteristic of not wanting to stand up in corners when you apply the brakes.
Those brakes do a good job of bringing the Hunter down from speed to a controlled stop without overheating or any noticeable fading. Some aggressive brake testing had the Hunter stopping over relatively short distances while maintaining stable footing, with no noticeable oscillation between the front and rear calipers.
Freeway speeds are achievable, but only with some planning at the entrance of the on-ramp. Make sure to keep the revs up and shifts aligned to maximize power and you’ll slip right into the flow of traffic.
However, there’s not a great deal on tap above the posted speeds, so overtakes—may you be so bold—require caution and common sense. You should know what’s coming up on you and how fast before you pull into another lane.
The suspension components work well—especially for the price point—offering decent absorption of road irregularities for a plush ride. Over a full day of riding, the suspension only caught me out once when I accidentally plowed directly over a huge divot on a side street. The shocks clunked in rebellion and sent a shock wave up through my spine. Pick your lines and steer clear of breaks and holes.
Long jaunts are possible but would fatigue you merely due to the smallness of the bike transmitting all that road energy up into the rider. Where the Hunter really shines is motoring around crowded downtown areas and inner city sprawl. The bike is a perfect tool to make the drudgery of running errands and getting to school or work a private little joy.
With a fuel capacity of 3.43 gallons (although I didn’t have a chance to measure a proper mpg), you can rest assured that the Hunter’s bird-like sipping should easily and safely get you past the 175-mile range. In these $5-per-gallon days, it’s refreshing to be able to speak about miles in terms of nickels and dimes.
One can’t look at the Hunter without taking into consideration Royal Enfield’s intent in the marketplace. The Hunter 350 is a basic, small displacement machine intended for urban mobility.
It plays to the active person seeking efficient transportation around the town. In that paradigm is the potential for some weekend exploring via twisting backroads.
It’s a simple motorcycle designed to fulfill a specific category, appealing to an equally specific rider.
After decades of motorcycles chasing speed and horsepower, it’s a decidedly different atmosphere these days, with a lot of newbies choosing sane, practical, and simple motorcycles for transportation and lifestyle access. It’s a world Royal Enfield has effectively tapped with surprising results, reflected in the sheer number of machines produced—900,000 worldwide, with 50,000 of those destined for the U.S. market.
The price point of the Hunter exonerates it from any harsh criticism. After all, with a base MSRP between $3,999 and $4,199 you get a lot for your dollar.
For what the Hunter is—basic, reliable transportation wrapped up in tasteful aesthetics—there’s a lot to praise, especially at this price. The reality is that Royal Enfield is building its own genre, catering to the tastes and aspirations of the active lifestyle youth culture, which represents a whole new generation of motorcyclists.
Many of the people drawn to Royal Enfield appear to perceive motorcycles as more of an addition to their lives, parking their motorcycle alongside their paddle board and mountain bike. Motorcycles as more of an adjunct to life, as opposed to a single passion as they were for my generation.
Regardless, the Hunter is going to bring more riders to the two-wheel clan, with a definite goal of fun. And isn’t that really what it’s all about?
Royal Enfield designers have generated a spectrum of color schemes, understanding the importance of individualism, catering to personal customization by creating a massive catalog of aftermarket goodies that allow tailoring the machine to individual personality. The company has also introduced an impressive line of riding gear, essentially presenting Royal Enfield as a one-stop shop for buying into the motorcycle lifestyle. For the U.S. market the Hunter will be available in Dapper White, Dapper Ash, Dapper Gray, Rebel Black, Rebel Blue, and Rebel Red.
Distributor: Royal Enfield
Engine: 1-cylinder, 4-stroke, SOHC, 2-valve, air/oil-cooled
Power: 20.2hp @6,100rpm; 19.91lb-ft @4,000rpm
Transmission: 5-speed, constant mesh, multi-plate wet clutch
Weight (Wet): 400lbs
Seat Height: 31.1in
Fuel Capacity: 3.43gal
Colors: Dapper White, Dapper Ash, Dapper Gray, Rebel Black,
Rebel Blue, Rebel Red