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Introducing the all-new 2023 Royal Enfield Hunter 350, a budget-friendly motorcycle that blends modern British bike design with the needs of today’s younger riders. In this comprehensive first ride review, we explore the features and performance of the Hunter 350, comparing it to its siblings, the Royal Enfield Meteor 350 and Classic. Discover how this agile city bike, with its Harris Performance-built frame and modern retro roadster styling, is set to make a significant impact on the motorcycle market.
2023 Royal Enfield Hunter 350 first ride review
Are you on the hunt for some good cheap fun? For a bike that you can ride to its limits with a smile on your face? That will get you around town for work or pleasure?
Royal Enfield designed the Hunter 350 to attract new riders not only to its brand, but also to the world of motorcycling in general. The motorcycle had to be approachable, light, and agile, and of course budget-friendly. The presentation Royal Enfield used to brief the motorcycle media types on hand to test ride the Hunter 350 was teeming with images of youthful Gen Zers of all backgrounds. The company’s lofty goal was to produce a bike that would appeal to this younger demographic from the streets of London to Bangkok. Yet it had to be relatable through the lens of the Royal Enfield ethos. So how does one remix a brand known for classic British bike nostalgia with a modern take?
It’s a lot to ask of the Hunter 350. Can it deliver on all this ambition? Above all, how does it ride? For this first ride review on board the Hunter 350 I got to put it through its paces on my home turf in San Diego.
Sibling rivalry: Comparing the Hunter, Classic, and Meteor
Before rushing into the riding impressions, it’s worth taking a moment to call out the nuanced differences between the three 350 cc models that live in the Royal Enfield lineup. It was a top question for me, especially after spending some real quality time onboard the Meteor 350.
The simplest explanation is that the Classic is a purist rendition of Royal Enfield’s heritage motorcycles, the Meteor is focused on being a traditional cruiser archetype, and the Hunter now joins the family as the rambunctious modern retro roadster. Styling aside, the Hunter does have some distinct changes that have a measurable impact on the riding character of the bike compared to the other two.
The Hunter has an all-new purpose-built Harris Performance-built frame, stiffer suspension components, 17-inch wheels front and rear, a shorter wheelbase, and sharper rake and trail geometry. It’s also 20 pounds lighter and has a bespoke exhaust for a rowdier note out the tailpipe.
The sum of all these changes, some minor and some considerable, translated to a whole new riding experience compared to my time on the Meteor 350.
Good thrill hunting: A city bike at its core
What makes a good city bike? In my mind, it should be lightweight, super agile, and easy to maneuver. As I settled into the saddle of the Hunter for the first time, I felt an immediate air of confidence. I was solidly flat footed on the 31-inch seat height, thanks to the narrowness of the machine, and because it was so lightweight I could easily push, pull, and shuffle this bike however needed.
A standout feature to me was the range of motion available at the steering head of the Hunter. The handlebar just seemed to keep on turning with no resistance, and with a lightness reminiscent of a bicycle. Whether it was a fast deke around a pothole or a tight U-turn, the Hunter can change direction in an instant.
The stiffer suspension is also noteworthy, especially in comparison to the Meteor 350. From my time riding the Meteor, I do remember it being rather plushy and soft, and would run through the stroke pretty fast. The Hunter is undoubtedly stiffer, which allows it to carve so fast without a troubling rebound or pogo-stick effect. The trade-off, however, is if you do run over a pothole at speed, it is a harsher hit compared to the Meteor, which is a bit better at soaking up that energy.
While we are on the subject of the Meteor, I do want to point out it has a 19-inch front wheel. Along with a sit-in, laid-back cruiser riding position, that gives the Meteor turn-in that I would call “mellow.” The Hunter, however, sports a 17-inch front tire, and combined with all the other attributes of the Hunter chassis changes this meant the Hunter could turn in with razor sharpness compared to its brother.
The Hunter 350 made its global debut in the urban jungle of Bangkok back in 2022. While San Diego’s Gaslamp district is certainly not a congested cityscape such as that, I still had fun as we darted around town and found graffiti alleyways, seaside pull-offs, and palm-tree-lined boulevards to galavant on. Because the Hunter is so agile, the usual stresses of city riding felt relatively carefree. Stop-and-go traffic, lane splitting, a few wrong turns — all of it was no sweat on the Hunter 350.
While there are no internal changes to the tried-and-true J1 engine platform, it felt a bit sportier compared to its siblings due to gearing changes for the different wheel sizes, air intake tweaks, and the new exhaust. With only 20 horsepower, it isn’t going to blow your hair back, but it still has enough spunk to make the sprints from stoplight to stoplight fun. The Hunter certainly had a bit of pepper popping into second gear, often lunging out with surprising aggressiveness for an otherwise well-mannered machine.
No country for slow bikes
Leaving the city limits is where the happy-go-lucky Hunter will start to struggle a bit. No fault of its own, but the fast freeways and canyon sweepers of Southern California aren’t particularly friendly to smaller displacement motorcycles.
For the few brief highway stints we did, the Hunter would make it to about 75 mph but would start losing steam quickly thereafter. For the massive multi-lane freeways of San Diego, it can leave a rider feeling a tad vulnerable when most of the flow of traffic is doing above 75 mph.
Out on the backcountry portion of our route, the little Hunter huffed and puffed its way up the hills, feeling to me like it was exhausted from the effort. Coming back down the hills was fun, though I had some hesitations about burying the brakes on the mountainous cliffside corners. I decided if I treated the Hunter with some respect it would do the same for me, and so we enjoyed a leisurely pace instead of a neck-breaking one through the roads of Otay Mountain.
Backing down the pace, enjoying the views of unprecedented wildflowers and green hills, is where the Hunter comes back into focus. It is a friendly bike, not a menacing one, and it certainly wasn’t built to scare the pants off you in the corners. It was built to be a companion, and a companion for a specific set of riders.
Hunting for the right rider
Royal Enfield rightly looked at their 350 line-up and saw a gap. Both the Classic and the Meteor appeal to a very certain subset of riders who are steeped in traditionalism. The Hunter is freed of those bonds and can be many things, depending on the eyes of the beholder. It can be considered a modern retro, a roadster, or a new-age, lightweight standard. Already the Hunter is being stripped down and modded out into some very appealing looking café racer builds. As far as blank slates go, the Hunter is ripe for some affordable bike project fun.
That “affordable” part cannot be overstressed, and it does come with some trade-offs. For instance, the fit and finish of the Hunter doesn’t hold up well to tight scrutiny. I found some of the wiring to be untidy looking, and was slightly disappointed the dual cluster was now an add-on and not a stock feature. I also had squealing brakes on every stop of the ride, which on a brand new motorcycle did raise an eyebrow. On hard acceleration, a rattling sound would vibrate at a very noticeable decibel. I am unsure what the culprit was (possibly a heat shield, or another bolted on metal part of some kind) but I mention it to illustrate the point that this is not a precision crafted machine. For the shockingly low MSRP of $3,999, however, those nitpicks become pretty moot. In an economic landscape where inflation and financing hurdles keep rising, it’s a bike like this that will allow younger generations to even have a hope of owning their own machine.
I caught myself saying it multiple times on the ride, pretty much to anyone who would listen, that this is a bike I wish was around when I was a new rider. It is easy to ride, it is easy to maneuver, and it is absolutely affordable. Beyond that, it is a bike I believe I would have had some pride in owning and riding. That is because Royal Enfield so clearly imprints this same measure of care and attention in designing and building the Hunter 350. Other OEs will often treat entry-level bikes as an afterthought, but for Royal Enfield the middle and lightweight market is their whole world. As a new rider, I’d appreciate knowing that a manufacturer really understood me and catered to my needs with this level of dedication.
The Hunter 350: accessible, approachable, affordable. Bullseye.
|2023 ROYAL ENFIELD HUNTER 350|
|Price (MSRP)||$3,999 (base Dapper colors), $4,199 (Rebel colors)|
|Engine||349 cc, air-cooled, two-valve vertical single|
|Claimed horsepower||20.2 @ 6,100 rpm|
|Claimed torque||19.9 foot-pounds @ 4,000 rpm|
|Frame||Harris Performance-designed twin downtube steel spine frame|
|Front suspension||41 mm fork, 5.1 inches of travel|
|Rear suspension||Twin tube emulsion shock absorbers with six-step adjustable preload, 4.8 inches of travel|
|Front brake||Single two-piston ByBre caliper, 300 mm disc with ABS|
|Rear brake||Single-piston ByBre caliper, 270 mm disc with ABS|
|Rake||25 degrees, 3.7 inches|
|Seat height||31.1 inches|
|Fuel capacity||3.43 gallons|
|Tires||CEAT 110/70-17 front, 140/70-17 rear|
|Claimed wet weight||400 pounds (90 percent fuel and oil)|
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