On Saturday, I drove about 180 miles east of my Illinois home to the bustling town of Elkhart, Indiana. I wasn’t there to gawk at the many RVs produced out there, but to buy my first new motorcycle. For years, I’ve raved about how much I love today’s retro designs, yet I never put my money where my mouth is. Well, I finally did just that and brought home a 2023 Royal Enfield Classic 350. I expected to love the motorcycle. What I didn’t expect was an experience that brought me back to what got me into riding in the first place.
This month marks my fifth anniversary of getting my motorcycle endorsement. Back in 2018, I embarked on a journey of changing my life. In those days, I had little confidence in myself. I wanted to do so much, but just made up excuses as I was too scared to venture too far outside of my comfort zone. Well, that year I decided to throw my comfort zone into a blender. I went off-roading and I got that motorcycle endorsement. My only regret is not doing it sooner.
Since then, I’ve owned maybe 30 or so motorcycles and I’ve learned that I definitely have a preferred style. I love vintage bikes and new motorcycles that look like they’re 50 years old. There’s nothing wrong with modern motorcycle design, of course. I also adore the quirky motorcycles of Buell and Ducati reliably punches out beautiful machines.
In recent years, I’ve found myself gravitating toward the likes of Janus Motorcycles and Royal Enfield. The wonderful folks behind Janus don’t just sell motorcycles with vintage style, but they build motorcycles by hand like a big company just can’t. I’ve watched as a Janus artisan took a boring flat piece of metal and over the course of about an hour or so, beat and bent that metal into a gorgeous fender. Metalwork is an art and Janus’ talented builders showed me that. Janus bikes come with pinstriping by hand, leather from Amish craftsmen, custom-milled parts, and every bike has a deeply personal touch. I stand by my word when I say that riding a Janus (above) is the closest you’ll get to having a time machine.
Since Janus Motorcycles is a boutique brand, prices do get pretty steep. If you don’t have the kind of cash that Janus commands, look no further than Royal Enfield. Until recently, nobody ever told Royal Enfield that modern motorcycles exist. For a famous example, the Royal Enfield Bullet has been in continuous production since 1948 and for the most part, updates have come slowly. The Royal Enfield Bullet 500 didn’t get fuel injection until 2011 and the Bullet 350 soldiered on until 2020 before it got fuel injection. Today, the most technology the Indian market gets from a Bullet is ABS on the front wheel.
A Classic Reborn
Here in America, we used to get the Bullet, now we get the Classic 350. This motorcycle looks like a Bullet, specifically the 1948 Royal Enfield G2 350. However, despite the looks, there’s a new motorcycle under all of that metal. And there is so much metal on this motorcycle. More on that in a bit. As I noted before, Royal Enfield reinvented itself in recent years:
Royal Enfield has been enjoying a renaissance of sorts in recent years. The company, known by many riders as the company that builds cheap bikes that tend to break, found a winning formula. In 2015, it purchased Harris Performance Products in the U.K.. Pierre Terblanche was then poached from Ducati to become RE’s head of industrial design. James Young and Simon Warburton came over from Triumph, where they worked as heads of engines and products, respectively.
Royal Enfield still wasn’t done, as it headed over to Bosch for some fuel injection. Royal Enfield even found a Harley-Davidson manager, Rod Copes, to run its North American operations. While this was happening, Royal Enfield’s CEO Siddhartha Lal divested 13 businesses from parent company Eicher Group, leaving the company with a more focused portfolio.
Royal Enfield now has a base of operations back in the UK where the brand originally began. Out of this renaissance have come motorcycles with better quality and better technology but with the same stunning looks. The Royal Enfield Classic series made its debut in 2008 and got a second generation in 2022. This second generation was a complete redesign, leveraging the new talent and resources under the RE roof. The Classic 350 is new from top-to-bottom including the chassis, suspension, brakes, and the engine. This isn’t the Royal Enfield of not even ten years ago that would fall apart in its own promotional videos.
By now, you’ve probably noticed me talking about how much I adore both Royal Enfield and Janus Motorcycles. I’ve been talking about them for years, even at Jalopnik. Yet, I never pulled the trigger, thinking that they were just about too far outside of my price range. That changed when I wrote about five new motorcycles for sale for under $5,000. Somehow, I wasn’t aware that there were Royal Enfields for under $6,000 before fees and whatnot. Indeed, RE has a whole lineup of inexpensive machines and all of them are oh-so pretty.
Putting My Money Where My Mouth Is
My heart fell for the Classic 350 in Halcyon Grey. Whenever I get the rare chance to buy a new vehicle, I always choose a “real” color. I ordered my first Smart Fortwo in metallic sky blue and the second one came in bright orange with a matching orange interior. I would have bought the Royal Enfield in hot pink or yellow if I could have, but I chose Halcyon Grey, which is a mix of cream and blue-sh. As I’ve been learning, Halcyon Grey is a popular color in some regions. I tried to chase down three of them over the past couple of months and they all sold before I could get to them. So, when I found one in Indiana, I asked the dealership, Elkhart Indian Motorcycle, to hold it for me.
Saturday’s forecast called for morning rain followed by sun that afternoon. I didn’t care, I was so excited. In fact, I couldn’t even sleep. I lept out of bed at the crack of 6 am, pulled my tired wife out of bed, and had her haul me out to Elkhart to pick up the bike. We arrived in the middle of a rainstorm and saw my new baby sitting in a corner waiting for me.
The first thing that surprised me is that the Classic 350 is not sized like you would expect it to be. Based on the pictures, I expected something about the size of an old Honda Rebel 250. Instead, this is pretty substantial and firmly a middleweight-size machine. In the above picture, my Classic 350 was parked next to a Royal Enfield Interceptor 650. The Classic is pretty close to the same size.
I started exploring my Classic 350 before I found the salesperson I was supposed to speak to. On initial inspection, the quality seemed to be great.
It looked like great care was taken with the welds and the paint looked better than the paint found on many new cars. As I said before, there are very few parts on this motorcycle that aren’t made of metal that feels pretty substantial. Just about everything I felt up was hefty metal, except for the switchgear and the side covers. The Classic 350 weighs 430 pounds with a 90 percent fuel load and I feel like you can identify where every pound is. Of course, you can also see where Royal Enfield saved some money; there are decals on the tank and side covers.
Anyway, eventually, the salesman I talked to on the phone materialized. Nate gave me a tour of the entire Elkhart Indian Motorcycle facility where everyone was quite helpful. I indicated that I’ll be doing my own services and the service department walked me through what I will be doing and pointed me in the correct direction for how to do it.
While I was there, I noticed that the Classic 350 is missing a feature found on other RE models. On other models, you get something called the Royal Enfield Tripper Navigation System. It’s a little screen that pairs with your phone to display turn-by-turn directions next to your instrument cluster. I like that the Tripper is a discreet device that retains the classic looks of the motorcycle. As the dealership told me, Royal Enfield has elected not to include the Tripper on the Classic 350 and it may never be available. However, the Classic 350 should be wired for it, so it’s just a matter of buying the device and taking 10 minutes to install it.
My 2023 Classic 350 stickered at $4,599. The dealership charged $750 for freight and about $550 for setup and document fees. I rode out of the showroom paying around $5,850 total. I probably could have negotiated a lower out-the-door cost, but I budgeted for a total cost like this, so I left satisfied. Big two thumbs up to Elkhart Indian for making the buying process painless and comfortable.
For the ride home, I decided that it probably wasn’t best to take a bike with just 10 miles on it and subject it to three straight hours of a top-speed run, so I routed myself home avoiding highways. My route took me into Michigan, where I followed the rim of Lake Michigan until it brought me into Chicago then ultimately, home. I would ride my Classic 350 about 173 miles and the motorcycle would face just about every environment it could reasonably expect to face.
Under the pretty paint sits a 349.34cc air and oil-cooled thumper making 20.2 HP and 19.9 ft-lb torque. It’s fuel-injected and other technology comes in the form of dual-channel ABS.
The motorcycle also has a monochrome display under the speedometer and a USB plug cleverly hidden under the clutch lever. Yes, that engine is making the kinds of power you got from a 250 three decades ago. Clearly, speed is not the Classic 350’s forte, so at first, I avoided taking it down highways.
Most of my journey home took place on country roads in Michigan and Indiana. It was here that the Classic 350 shined. Royal Enfield worked some magic with this engine. Single-cylinder engines are notorious for having the refinement of farm equipment and the engine note of a lawnmower. The engine in the Classic 350 has some of those vibrations, but they’re muted to the point where they don’t make your hands and feet numb. You can feel the little engine working, but you don’t feel the vibes in your heart. And when you ride this motorcycle how you should-like you stole it-this engine bellows out a deep, satisfying exhaust note. It sounds a tad like a lawnmower in some of its rev range, but otherwise, to my ears, it almost sounds like half of a BMW R 18.
To make the best use of the morsel of power on hand, a Classic 350 is best ridden like you’re in a point-to-point race with your friends. Use the engine’s rev band and it will deliver. This engine makes that 20.2 HP at 6,100 RPM and 19.9 lb-ft torque at 4,000 RPM, so you must be willing to let it rip. When you do, you’ll find acceleration to be perfectly adequate up to about 60 mph. On my ride home, I found myself outrunning traffic up to 60 mph and I wasn’t even at full throttle. After 60 mph is when the Classic 350 begins running out of steam.
Honest top speed is 75 mph. What I mean by “honest” is that my Classic 350 will reach and maintain 75 mph with me on it. I’m a big person with 250 pounds to throw around and I wasn’t tucking. However, it should be noted that getting past 75 was a struggle. I got it to hit about 83 mph fully-tucked going downhill. My Classic 350’s engine seems most at home going between 65 mph and 70 mph. With me on it, it had no problem even going up small Midwestern hills at 70. In that speed range, the engine settles into its cruise and seems to have a good time. Just know that you have no reserve for passing.
That makes the Classic 350 a perfect machine for cities and the country, places where you’ll rarely go above 65 mph. So, that’s where I rode it. On the country roads of Michigan and Indiana, the ride was pure bliss. No, riding the Classic 350 down country roads resulted in euphoria. On those roads, it was just me, the bike, and country as far as I could see. I wasn’t in a rush and neither was my Royal Enfield. The bike and I were having a relaxing Saturday circling the bottom of Lake Michigan.
In today’s world of high-tech gadgetry, it’s easy to get lost in riding something that feels like a laptop with wheels. That wasn’t the case with the Classic 350. It reminded me of why I got into motorcycling in the first place. Riding my motorcycle felt like the simplest form of vehicular freedom. There was a simple machine between my legs and a wide-open road of endless possibilities.
The lack of technology is a bonus. There were no gauges to worry about and should something happen, I could just pop open a side cover and use the included tool kit to get me back on the road. I couldn’t do that with my Triumph Tiger.
Riding the Classic 350 probably won’t cause your heart rate to tick up. No, riding a Classic 350 is motorcycle tranquility. It’s a motorcycle that forces you to take your time and enjoy the ride.
It’s a motorcycle that convinces you to slow down, take in the sights, and sometimes, just stare at your machine. Yes, you’ll be passed by anyone riding anything bigger than a Honda Grom, but who cares, you’ll be in your happy place.
Later in the day, I took the Classic 350 into Chicago, where I parked next to the Adler Planetarium to snap a couple of quick pictures. While there, a lot of people came by to ask me where I found such an old bike in such great condition. More than one person asked for the number of the company that restored it.
This motorcycle reeled in some incredible attention. I think you will have to be some sort of extrovert to own one of these because someone will always be asking you questions or making comments about how beautiful it is. And most of them will have their minds blown to find out that it’s not a 1953 but a 2023.
The city is another place where the Royal Enfield Classic 350 excels. It’s plenty maneuverable at slow speeds and as I said before, will easily outrun city traffic. And so long as people aren’t driving 90 mph on the highway, you’ll have no problem there, either. On this Saturday, Chicago traffic moved about 70 mph and I had no problem keeping up. I also took the Classic 350 down Lake Shore Drive, where those feelings of tranquility returned. I’m also a bit amazed at how comfortable its saddle is. This is something you’ll almost certainly not tour on, yet it’s so comfortable that you can sit on it all day.
One Of My New Favorite Bikes
I pulled into my storage unit some five hours and 173 miles after I left Elkhart. And I tell you what, I was smiling from end to end. I just stared at the Classic 350 for a good 15 minutes then washed it and waxed it. I waxed it! I’ve never done that to a motorcycle before. That’s how much I loved it. The day itself was also pretty special. It was the 17th annual International Female Ride Day. A good 95 percent of the motorcyclists I saw on the road that day were women and their bikes were awesome. I saw a little everything from Harleys to Can-Am Spyders out in the rain with me.
In the end, I am absolutely in love with this machine. Yes, you could buy more motorcycles for less money on the used market. And yes, its top speed makes touring a non-starter and long-distance interstate travel ill-advised. If you can live with that, the Royal Enfield Classic 350 is fantastic. I wouldn’t say the quality is on the level of Honda, but it’s good. There was nothing that felt nasty or like it didn’t belong. The switchgear was robust, the five-speed transmission was clicky and confident, the suspension soaked up the terrible roads, and the brakes quickly brought the show to a halt.
This didn’t feel like a motorcycle you buy because it’s inexpensive, but because you really want it. If you’re looking for something to get you around the city or down picturesque country roads, I don’t think you’ll regret buying a Royal Enfield Classic 350. This motorcycle brings riding back to a purer form and maybe, just like it did for me, you’ll find motorcycle tranquility.
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Royal Enfield should have just given you one for the excellent job you’re doing selling them!
One of their 650 twins is at the top of the list if I want a new bike and you’re making me think even harder about it!
While I get envious of most of the riders in town, the nice shiny new Enfields always make me go “what the hell is THAT?” until I finally get a sight of the tank. Me, I’m probably gonna be stuck with whatever starter bike shows up on CL one day. (I have Hummer-style Harley two-stroke back home, but there’s no way I’m driving it across two and a half states to park it on a Chicago street.)
I had to change my password to come tell you what you already know…that is a really nice bike! I believe someone mentioned a used triumph would be a better deal, and maybe so, but that suckered looks like you just rode out of a 1940 showroom right into the future…Triumph comes close but not quite…I even love the color…
The 350 classics are just beautiful bikes. I got a continental 650 just based on used bike availability at the time, and where I live I’m happy to have a freeway capable bike, but the 350 looks cooler (especially in that color) and I bet it’s a blast on literally every other kind of road. Excited to hear how the ownership experience goes!
I hate to do this, but I have to cry foul on this review. I own this exact machine, right down to the color, and I have way more miles. Realistically, if you need to go more than 60 mph, you’re going to be sorely disappointed. Claiming the engine is happiest at 65-70 mph is ludicrous, like claiming your car is happiest running 7k rpms. I’m 220lbs (less than the author), and getting the bike to even 65 requires patience. There is no “outrunning cars”, period. 1st gear runs out of breath almost instantly, and 2nd requires winding out. Acceleration is scooter-esque. I think too many reviewers have gotten caught up in the hype surrounding this model, and have lost honest objectivity. Something that certainly is not getting enough mention is the rattle that emanates from the counterbalance shaft. The engine may be smooth, but the play in the counterbalance drive gear can clearly be felt through the pegs and handlebars, and at times can actually be louder than the exhaust note. It’s getting talked about on forums, but reviewers haven’t mentioned it once (that I’ve seen). The build quality and handling of the bike are both excellent, but that engine is disappointing…. and I’ve owned a Ural.
Hello Cliff L! Thank you for your comment, but I will take some issue with the implication that I’m not being honest.
What I write in articles like these is what I experience. I have no reason to lie; I mean, I paid for the motorcycle with my own money. Most reviewers got to ride them for free in an all-expenses-paid trip. I have nothing to gain by misleading anyone!
Anyway, I felt that the acceleration was perfectly adequate. Perhaps I’m so used to driving 40 HP diesel Smart Fortwos and old city buses, but I genuinely didn’t think the acceleration to 60 mph was that bad. And I can only speak for my experience, but getting to 65 and holding it wasn’t a slog for me. Maybe my opinion will change over time.
Maybe “outrun” is a poor word, but I absolutely stayed in front of the traffic that started at the same green lights. Normal Midwestern traffic doesn’t accelerate that hard and even “scooter-esque” acceleration can beat traffic if you know what you’re doing. The lights turned green then I banged it through the gears, using up most of the rev range.
That said, the people of Revzilla have demonstrated it to be one of the slowest small displacement bikes, but at least faster than a Sondors Metacycle.
My Classic 350 does have a rattle, but it’s no worse than the rattles I’ve heard on other small thumpers, hence why I never mentioned it. Certainly, my rattle is not louder than the exhaust. If that changes, I’ll certainly write about it!
Edit: I found a thread:
Mine definitely makes a rattle, but not nearly as loud as some of those folks are describing. I suspect it was the same deal with other reviewers.
Hi Mercedes! I do apologize, that was poor wording on my part. What I meant was “true objectivity”. It’s a beautiful machine, and it’s easy to get swept up in the excitement. I certainly didn’t mean to imply you were being dishonest, so again, that’s my mistake. And don’t get me wrong, it is a great little bike, but I think because of all the glowing reviews like this, I was just expecting more when I got mine. It’s such an attractive, comfortable, well-handling machine… that rattling lump of an engine just doesn’t do it justice. Mine feels like it hits an actual wall at 60 mph. Eking any speed beyond that point requires WOT and a lot of patience. I just want other readers to understand that the 65-70 mph they keep reading about, that people keep saying the bike handles “just fine”, is basically an engine redline and not something they can expect to do comfortably (or in a timely manner). 55-60mph is about as good as it gets, for my bike anyway.
She’s a looker, congrats!
I love all motorbikes but the value proposition is just not there for me on these, though. You can pick up a gently used Bonneville for about half of this and get most of the retro looks with (semi-)modern performance.
If you’re in a town with gently used bonnevilles for under 3 grand… I’m happy for you. Not mad about it at all. Literally zero Bonnevilles of any kind within 250 miles of me are going for that price. Still, I see a 2017 t-100 with ABS and 2,200 miles on the odometer for $6k, and I’d take that over a new RE Classic if it looked in good condition.
Just saw one semi-near in the Asheville area. I have a Jack Pine clone scrambler, so my retro bike needs are met enough that I can’t justify buying another bike that is so similar.
I put a few hundred miles on a borrowed Himalyan and it made me a huge fan of RE bikes. There’s a RE dealer in Chicago with an assortment of leftover 2022s available at very tempting discounted prices. I’d really like to grab up a new Meteor for $3700…