Back in June, Royal Enfield’s demo fleet made a stop at the Motozilli dealership in Warren, Ohio, and there was just enough time left when I got there to try out two of the brand’s 2022 models.
And I have to say I was impressed with my experience given both machines’ price points – especially the Classic 350. Though they’re a little underpowered compared to their competitors, the rider-friendliness, easy handling and eye-catching styling of both machines make either one a very good value for a bargain price.
I’d planned to go to the demo event just to try out one of Royal Enfield’s two 650cc twin models – the INT650 and the Continental GT. I didn’t care which one, and an INT650 was available for my first ride.
I have a 650cc sport bike in my garage that I’m working on getting back to running condition, but it’s eventually destined for track-only duty. The price point of the two Royal Enfield 650cc models makes them an attractive option as an around town and back roads machine to cut down on the number of miles I’m taxing my touring bike with each year. And, at 650cc, a Royal Enfield twin could serve as a back-up touring motorcycle in a pinch.
The INT650 feature upright ergonomics – which reminded me a little of my old Honda Nighthawk 750 – and the air-and-oil-cooled powerplant puts out a reported 47 horsepower and 38 pounds-feet of torque. Though it’s underpowered compared to the 650cc-700cc liquid-cooled twins marketed by several other brands, the Royal Enfield’s MSRP is about $1,000 or more below competitors’ models.
Something I really like about Royal Enfield models in general is their styling. The modern-retro appearance reminds me a lot of when Triumph’s modern classic line began to gain popularity in the late 2000s and early 2010s. I really like the way the classic flat seats look on old British bikes and also liked how comfortable the INT650’s seat was for the about 45 minute demo ride.
The engine performed exactly as I hoped it would. It isn’t going to knock your socks off with power, but the flat torque curve and linear power delivery make the motorcycle easy to ride and would be forgiving for a novice rider. Something I was curious about before the test ride was how much vibration the mid-sized parallel twin would exhibit. The best I can describe it is the engine rumbles but doesn’t buzz. The little low-frequency vibration I could sense was more a reminder that I was riding a twin instead of the high-frequency buzzing in the handlebars that I’d feared.
I’m used to riding an about 700-pound sport touring motorcycle, and the relatively light weight and easy handling of the INT650 was very enjoyable. It’s a motorcycle I could see myself riding to a regional road riding rally with a set of soft saddlebags that also is more ideal to ride in urban traffic than my sport tourer.
One aspect of the INT650 that it took some time to get used to was the clutch’s friction zone. The clutch doesn’t begin to engage until the lever is out about 90 percent, and it was a bit unnerving at the very beginning of the ride as I was trying to find the friction zone as the group began moving out from the Motozilli parking lot. By the end of the ride, I’d gotten used to it. But it took a few tries until I really had a good feel for the clutch’s engagement point.
When I got back to the dealership on the INT650, I had time for one more demo ride before I had to start heading home. I briefly considered taking a Continental GT out, but realized I’d just be trying out the more sporty ergonomics of the other 650cc model.
I figured it was more worthwhile to try one of the single-cylinder models, and chose the Classic 350 over the Himalayan. I’d heard a lot of good things about the Himalayan, but there were a bunch more Classic 350s in the demo fleet. I decided it was worth leaving the Himalayans available to other demo riders who may be considering buying one and giving the Classic 350 a go.
I hadn’t looked at the Classic 350 closely before deciding to demo it, and I was very surprised to find forward foot controls on a small motorcycle. That took some getting used to, as I kept want to put my feet on the ground right where the Classic’s foot pegs are whenever the demo group stopped at an intersection. Like the clutch lever on the INT650, I’d adjusted to the peg position by the end of the ride.
Another oddity of the Classic 350 was the engine on/kill switch, which had a more retro look and function to it. It wasn’t hard to figure out or use – it was just different than most of the motorcycles I’ve owned or demoed.
To my utter surprise, the Classic 350 was a blast to ride. Did it have a lot of top end power? No, but its light weight a decent torque for its size really help it accelerate out of corners well. The power starts to fade as you get into the higher RPM, but it will do 65 mph no problem even with my big frame on board. It’s a great bike for urban riding. There isn’t so much power that you’d have to keep taming it, but the decent low-end grunt for a small-displacement motorcycle means you quickly get moving from a dead stop and could navigate congested city streets with ease.
A friend of mine has become a Honda Grom enthusiast. His description of this first Grom test ride was, “It’s underpowered; I’m too big for it; and I don’t care. This thing is a blast.”
That description really reveberated with me after riding the Classic 350. It’s engine is one quarter of the size of my current bike, but the super-easy handling and the fun of winding up the little single-cylinder really upped the Classic 350’s fun factor. Couple that with an engine that’s more than 200cc larger than a Grom that can do freeway speeds, retro styling that’s easy on the eye and an MSRP that starts at about $1,000 more than a Grom, and you have one of the best deals on a new motorcycle I’ve seen recently. My girlfriend and I are talking about buying a scooter in the spring, but I also could see myself putting some soft bags on a Classic 350 having it perform an urban riding mission very successfully.
I’m big on giving credit where it is due, and Royal Enfield’s Jen Mucke did a great job leading both demo rides. I’ve known Jen for years from her days shooting motorcycling events for one of my former employers. She set a really good pace for the rides and did a great job at keeping each group together.