Royal Enfield’s new Hunter 350 joins the market as the fun performer of the brand’s 350cc line. But instead of charging extra for the privilege of a more engaging ride, the Hunter is the most affordable bike in the entire Enfield range at just $7,590.
Royal Enfield made a lot of noise about the Hunter being the lightest and sportiest member of the 350 range which also consists of the Classic 350 we tested last year and the Meteor 350 cruiser. With a stylish design, lighter weight and easy-to-live-with ergonomics, it sounds like a real winner in more ways than one.
The rear suspension features 6-level preload adjustment, while the fork is a pretty simple 41mm telescopic unit. Being on the porkier side of riders, I added a couple of clicks of preload which measurably sharpened the handling as well as prevented the shocks from bottoming out with my weight on board.
On the spec sheet, with ith 17-inch wheels front and back and a wet weight of 181kg compared to the 191 of the Meteor 350 and 195 of the Classic 350, the Hunter 350 comes across as being a bike that is set up to be more agile and fun than its stablemates.
Just like the other 350 Enfields, the Hunter is powered by the 20.2hp (14.8kW) J-series SOHC single-cylinder engine and 5-speed gearbox, and that is the bike’s main limiting factor.
I started out my time with the Hunter with a lap of the backroads surrounding Lake Karapiro, and I have to admit I wasn't blown away by the bike's performance. Despite its significant performance advantages and weight reduction over its stablemates, it is still powered by a long-stroke-low compression engine, so acceleration is more of a steady amble rather than a sprint.
With 27Nm of torque on tap, it holds its speed well once you manage to get it up there, and I found the bike holding 110kph nicely on the Waikato Expressway on a ride up to Auckland. Like the other 350 Enfields, the Hunter is not a quick bike, at least not on the open road. But that’s not the environment it was primarily designed for.
However, once you get the Hunter 350 into a bustling city centre it suddenly becomes one of the best urban commuters and traffic beaters around. I'm not kidding, I utterly fell in love with the Hunter on my ride to Auckland for an evening and found its manners and road feel a perfect match for the city's infamous congestion.
If Royal Enfield knows anything, it is how to make an excellent commuter for the masses and the Hunter 350 fits the bill perfectly.
Seat height measures just 790mm so planting both feet down at a stop light is easy for even those short of inseam, while the width of the handlebars is nice and narrow allowing you to easily fit through gaps - be it between cars or into tricky parking spaces. That means filtering up to the head of traffic is incredibly easy and you’re not constantly worried about knocking into the mirrors of regular traffic.
I’m generally pretty hesitant to involve myself in the practice of lane splitting after wiping out in 2015 whilst doing so. Crashing does tend to have that effect. But riding the little Enfield was such a huge confidence booster and I soon found myself splittin’ with the locals as if I was once again one of their own.
While its open road performance is adequate, in the central city the 20.2hp and 27Nm on tap becomes more than enough to slay traffic. Filtering to the front of traffic lights, the Hunter’s mix of short gearing and light weight makes getting away from traffic lights a breeze. Plus, the torquey engine can essentially be left in 2nd gear as you pootle about town.
As always with Royal Enfield’s single-cylinder machines, the clutch is very forgiving helping to ensure the Hunter is easy to control at slow and technical speeds.
As the third bike in Royal Enfield’s 350cc lineup, the Hunter differentiates itself from the Classic and Meteor with a modern roadster aesthetic that I think is quite reminiscent of the Triumph Speed Twin 900. Unlike the Triumph, the Hunter is learner approved and incredibly attainable price-wise.
The stylish little Hunter definitely seemed to get the nod of approval from the public too, with a pair of ladies yelling their approval as I rode past them in the viaduct harbour.
Now if that’s not reason enough to jump on board I don’t know what is.
AT A GLANCE Royal Enfield Hunter 350
Price: from $7,590
Engine: 348cc J-Series SOHC single-cylinder
Peak Power: 20.2hp (14.8kW) / 27Nm
Pros: Stylish, good ergonomics, dirt cheap, brilliant in the city
Cons: Not much to give above 100kph, mirrors aren’t great