Why would anyone in their right mind want to ride a 350 single cylinder retro bike from Melbourne to Sydney in torrential rain? They wouldn’t, but Pete did.
What it’s like to live with a Royal Enfield Classic 350 Chrome.
I’m in a long-term relationship at the moment, actually I have been for the past three years. My partner’s name is La Nina and my evil mistress showed up in full force just in time for my trip up the east coast. That’s not an overly desirable situation but bikes and riders need to be able to do the business in rain, hail or shine, and despite the wicked conditions, the Classic proved to be a much better companion than Nina.
So why would I want to ride a retro-themed 350cc single up the east coast? Well with AMCN being what it is – a time-sucking monster than requires your complete attention fortnight in, fortnight out, our long-term Royal Enfield Classic 350 hasn’t been receiving the attention it deserves lately; it needed some kays under its wheel, I needed a way to get back to Sydney after a jaunt to Melbourne of one of Harley’s plush touring machines, and the rest, dear reader, is history.
I formed a fondness for the Classic 350 at the Aussie launch earlier this year. The launch was held in a rural part of Victoria with 80 and 100km/h roads on offer rather than the inner-city roads and suburban back streets the Classic feels more at home in. And while top speed isn’t the 349cc single-cylinder’s forte, the much-improved 2022 Classic 350 surprised me at just how competently it motored along at near-to-highway speeds.
Surprising because with my 110kg of weight plus a week’s worth of luggage strapped to the back, the single’s 15kW of squirt and 27Nm torque was well and truly good for around 100km/h on the highway. As I putted off the Mornington Peninsula and turned left into a strong headwind on the South Gippsland Highway, that top speed reduced to just over 80km/h. But even without the headwind, the Classic’s happy place is between 80 and 90km/h – I said it will do the highway thing, I didn’t say it would happen fast.
That highway thing is made all the more enjoyable thanks to the bunch of genuine accessories added to make rides of greater distances more bearable and constructive. There’s a windscreen that does and pretty good job of keeping your torso dry and is tall enough that I could even tuck behind it to make full use of the tow from other vehicles.
Also fitted are thickly padded rider and pillion touring seats, which come in a hipster shade of vintage brown. I don’t remember having any comfort issues with the standard seat on the launch, but the touring seat is lounge-chair good. I can’t speak for pillions, but the rider’s seat is firm but well-padded and shaped for maximum comfort – you’ll run out of fuel in the Classic’s chrome 13-litre tank before you’ll need to even shift around to get comfortable. Both seats are have a deep ribbed pattern, which I could feel through my riding jeans – if I could see them, I reckon my buttocks probably looked like I had sat on a barbecue grill after a few hours of riding.
It may be ‘just’ a 350, but it’s quite a roomy ride even for my large frame. It’s got big bike feels, especially the claimed 195kg kerb weight which is noticeable when you need to push the thing around. On the plus side though, the porky weight adds to the stability and means the Classic isn’t skipping all over the joint when negotiating the appalling and often dangerous back roads currently on the east coast.
With a ride-away price of $8790 you might expect the Classic 350 Chrome to feel and look a bit budget, but it doesn’t. The Chrome is the top dog in the Classic 350’s three-tiered model range and I reckon the quality of finish is amazing for the coin. It feels very solid and well-constructed, even at 100km/h, fully loaded, in blustery rain conditions on dreadful roads. That’s saying something.
And another big thumbs up to whoever decided the base settings for the non-adjustable suspension. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, there are so many bikes on the market today with pieces of garbage for rear shocks. The Classic 350 does not fall into this category, even though for that price you’d nearly forgive it if it did. The suspension at both ends is firm but supple enough to make for a magic-carpet style ride. I followed some of the same roads that I took on my trip down to Victoria on a Touring model from Harley-Davidson’s range, and the Enfield handled the poor roads far better than the American beast did. It is not the best handler in the world, it doesn’t say it is, but it’s pretty bloody good and if I owned one, I wouldn’t feel the need to splash any cash on the suspension.
My only bugbear with the Classic so far is the front brake. It has the feel, feedback and power of Scomo at a post-election loss press conference. It is below par, even for this style of bike – perhaps pads and a bleed would help. It should be noted that I gave the below average front a brake a spray when I was at the Aussie launch. I rode a bunch of different Classic 350s and they all had lacklustre front anchors.
As I write this, I’m only halfway up the coast between Melbourne and Sydney, but there’s a real sense of doing something different and old school. Everyone I talked to about my adventure wished me luck with a relieved giggle that it wasn’t them about to embark on same journey, but I’m enjoying slowing down and taking in my surroundings rather than ripping through the countryside at less-than-legal speeds.
Riding the Enfield reminds me of the stories old farts would tell us when we were young, like having to walk 50 kays to school and back each day in the snow in a handmade uniform and hessian hand-me-down undies. Doing it a little tough can be quite rewarding – who knew?
I had a lot of luggage when I rocked up at Kel’s to pickup the Classic 350. I had the various bits and pieces one needs to travel for seven days, plus GoPros, batteries and chargers and the laptop I’m writing this on. All that was crammed into a set of well-used Oxford throwover saddlebags and my trusty Kriega US-40 bag.
The small rack fitted to the Royal Enfield Classic is barley big enough to lash a six-pack to so once the saddle bags were slung over, I strapped the US-40 to the pillion seat. The saddle bags use Velcro straps to attach to the bike and the US-40 has a bunch of loops, straps and attachment points that make fitment pretty easy on most bikes I’ve used it on. In a very big plus though, the Classic has all manner of attachment points available and it’s very easy and quick to attach luggage to thanks to the standard fitment centrestand. Not that I’d recommend overloading the little beast, you could easily add even more paraphernalia than what I managed.
- Rider touring seat, brown $160
- Pillion touring seat, brown $160
- Rear rack $150
- Touring windshield $200
- Total $670
That’s $700-odd bucks very well spent.
Royal Enfield Classic 350 Chrome
RRP: $8790 ride away
Distance covered: 1079km