Bike-scooters/ First-drive/ Jawa 350 | First Ride Review | It’s a Retrovolution!

Jawa 350 | First Ride Review | It’s a Retrovolution!

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For

Authentic retro looks, better in every aspect

Against

Slight vibrations

Overview

As far as our humble eyes could trace, we could see nothing but a white terra firma with blue skies providing the other shade. It was an illusory experience, otherworldly if you will. You see, the White Rann is a barren land, laced with salt plains stinging naked eyes. But the retro motorcycle segment in India paints a contrasting picture with its horde of offerings piggybacking on their legacy. Constant evolution while still preserving the heritage is the key here, if you wish to unlock a motorcyclist’s heart who aspires to own a retro beauty with modern underpinnings. Classic Legends, a Mahindra-owned subsidiary responsible for the revival of two of the most iconic motorcycle brands in the Indian subcontinent, understands that. The reason why they invited us to the wild lands of Kutch, Gujarat to get a taste of their most authentic retro roadster - the Classic Jawa. It is now thankfully called the Jawa 350, not the Jawa Jawa and let us tell you this, a lot has changed apart from just the namesake! 

A homage in its truest sense, that’s what the Jawa 350 is aesthetically as it harkens back to the OG Jawa 250 and 350 that sparked a two-wheeled revolution in this part of the world. The silhouette as well as the overall design philosophy deluding the masses that it is indeed a 1960s automotive poetry in motion. Its previous iteration was authentically retro as well but it suffered at the hands of below par quality in most of the places. It felt like it wouldn’t age well and will be salvaged in the years to come, rather than running in pristine condition even after having thousands of kilometers on the odometer. The 350, drifts far away from that mass-conceived notion. Its durability is still yet to be tested but the initial first impressions were indeed promising as Classic Legends has improved it on all counts including better finished body panels, better switchgear quality and chrome finish. 

Then there’s the attention to detail, minor touches sprinkled here and there to constantly remind you that you’re riding something which has a heritage richer than all the millionaires combined. For instance, the needles nestled inside the gorgeous instrument cluster are machined-finish in gold shade. The rider’s cockpit view is, again, as retro as it could come but I have a gripe with the layout of the instrument cluster. Since it is tapered slightly away from the rider’s field of vision, you will have to crouch a little forward to see speeds ranging from 60-100kmph. Not that it matters a lot because retro motorcycles have no business doing speed runs. They’re about the ‘feel’ and when the stage was set, the Jawa 350 managed to sing just the right songs, with just the right amount of chords struck. However, to make the Jawa 350 even more evocative, Classic Legends should have offered the switchgear cubes finished in aluminum because the current blacked-out switchgear layout looks thoroughly modern and looks like an afterthought on this retro beauty. The mirrors as well, mirror the effect of being an epicentre as they start vibrating a lot as you tap the higher revs.

The Jawa 350 can hold the tag of a generational upgrade because not just in terms of overall fit and finish, it is an entirely new motorcycle underneath with a bigger engine and heavily revised underpinnings. The 334cc, single-cylinder, liquid-cooled motor that we first saw on the Perak, has been assigned the duty of powering the affairs in the Jawa 350. Thankfully, it is not in the same tune because in the Perak, the harshness of the engine is omnipresent so despite it being a sprightly unit, the NVH levels used to hold us back from being generous with the throttle. In the Jawa 350, the same unit puts down 22.2 HP @ 7000rpm and 28.1nm @ 5000rpm. As compared to the Classic Jawa that it replaces, the overall performance has taken a substantial hit, on paper at least. Once you scrutinize the numbers carefully, that’s when it starts making sense. Even more so, once you fire up the engine! Gone is the raw mechanical clatter which was reminiscent of a nest of wasps trapped inside. It is now replaced by a subdued thump, a typical trait of a retro thumper. The chrome finished dua-exhaust not only pays a striking homage to the OG Jawa, it also sings well. As soon as you slot the first gear, it becomes even more evident that it is a substantially better motorcycle mechanically than the model it replaces. The clutch action is lighter, thanks to the inclusion of Assist and Slipper clutch. Even the gearbox deserves a special mention here, since it provides just the right amount of mechanical feedback. It is neither too stiff to sprain your toes nor too smooth that you don’t even know whether the gear is slotted or not. However, the neutral telltale light in the instrument cluster is hardly visible under bright sunlight and there isn’t any gear indicator to help the Jawa’s case either. 

The focus here is on the low and mid range, as it should be on retro roadsters. The power might be down by almost 4.5 PS but the torque is up by 1.5NM and it even arrives earlier in the rev spectrum, making the Jawa more grunty low down. The revised internals as well as the gear ratios have transformed how the engine behaves, for the good! The low end grunt is characterful and the mid range gets you to triple digit speeds in a brisk manner. A retro roadster has no business doing top speed runs but we did one anyway, because… they’re fun! We managed to see 130 kmph but the progress tapers down a little after crossing the 100kmph mark on the speedometer. It doesn’t really matter because the journey till 100kmph is filled with character and occassional pops and bangs. The NVH levels too, are eliminated to a fair margin but they aren’t non-existent either because at higher rpms, this engine reminds you of its bleak past. They aren’t bothersome though and I believe, the smidget of vibrations add to its persona. We found the comfortable cruising speed to be at 95kmph because there, the engine sings songs of joy and has enough grunt on tap for quick overtakes. 

Cosmetic surgery, a heart transplant but this is not where the story ends because the Jawa 350 has also received heavily revised underpinnings. The wheelbase has been bumped up to 1449mm, providing more stability than before. The suspension setup has also been revised with more travel at either ends because now, the front telescopic fork’s travel stands at 130mm while the twin shock absorbers at the back provide 100mm of leverage from undulations. Given the tweaked mechanicals, the ground clearance is now at 178mm while the seat height is at a very manageable 790mm. The Jawa 350 weighs around 184kg dry, reminiscent of the RE Classic 350 but as we found out, the Jawa masks its weight better than the Classic. On the move, it becomes even more evident that the Jawa is one of the better retro motorcycles in terms of riding dynamics.

What aids in its roadster credentials is the rider’s triangle because the handlebar is wide and nice, with the footrests being just mildly rearset. If you take the Classic 350 as the pivot, the Jawa is slightly more aggressive but it is still a pretty upright riding stance. The suspension setup is slightly on the stiffer side and I, personally, would have loved some more suppleness e from the setup. The Jawa 350 won’t throw you to the stratosphere over rough surfaces but it does require a minor tap on the brake or a downshift if you wish to cross undulations without hurting your spheroids. The updated braking system took some time getting used to, given the fact that you have to squeeze the levers a bit more than normal to tap its prowess. The Jawa 350 now gets a 240mm rear disc brake instead of drum and that shows out in the real world because out of all the retro roadsters that it competes with, the Jawa 350 has the most potent braking system.

Priced at INR 2.15 Lakh, the Jawa 350 is dearer than the RE Classic 350 by a fair margin but for the extra money invested, the Jawa offers a more characterful riding experience. It was quite an experience riding the Jawa 350 in and around the wild lands of Kutch. Given the fact that the roads were narrow, they highlighted all the strong points that a retro roadster should possess in order to carve its place in the modern world. So be it authentic retro looks, an engine that can chug along the whole day or riding dynamics, the Jawa 350 is an impressive roadster.



TopGear Magazine July 2024