It’s probably the similarities that draw the eye on these two: 350cc motorbikes aim to offer a healthy mix of city friendliness with long-distance travelling. While one represents the eternal essence of riding, the spirit of the cruise; with classic contours and timeless design cues, the other is the history of the evolution of “CB,” a motorcycle that’s been cherished for years. Both have a hint of modern touches while essentially being the classic old-world charm. Their power figures seem identical, on paper, and they are here to appeal to a similar set of buyers. So far, so comparable.
But look past the similarities, and you’ll see how different the two are. The Royal Enfield Meteor 350 is a laid-back cruiser while the Honda H’ness CB 350 is upright naked that finds its genes in the Hondas of yesteryears. When the CB was unveiled, we all knew whom it was directly aimed at. It’s a space that RE has dominated for the longest time and how! They’ve been making single cylinder thumpers that appeal to the masses. Despite many manufacturers trying to capture RE’s market share, they just weren’t successful. I sure need not remind you of the ad campaigns that Bajaj ran with the Dominar 400. Funny stuff, right?
The Royal Enfield Meteor 350 could be crowned as their best looking 350cc to date. It’s not a Thunderbird with a sticker job; it’s RE going back to their drawing boards, bringing out an all-new chassis, and a new series of air-oil cooled SOHC engine termed J2. It’s able to spread the torque over an extra 1,000rpm when compared with the older ICE, and even has a balancer shaft that makes it smooth higher up. The result is an excellent tractable motor that resonates a new feeling every time you twist the throttle – the sense of experiencing a new-generation Enfield. Don’t believe me? Ride it back to back with a Thunderbird.
The chassis brings in newer riding dynamics too – you’re now sat slightly lower, and the handlebar has been worked on to provide a more ‘accessible’ riding position. I cherish long hours out on the highways. The Meteor, with its absorbent suspension, front set footpegs, wide saddle and relaxed ergonomics, comes across as a comfortable cruiser for the open roads. A little too casual for the city hustle, but that’s precisely how Thunderbirds behaved too. The switchgear is all-new, and there’s a right mix of modern and retro on the instrumentation. Glance further down, and you’ll start appreciating the fit and finish this time around. It’s not perfect, but there’s an evident improvement. I love how the split-seats are finished on the top-spec Supernova variant. It’s like RE knew their competition beforehand. Possibly so?
I say this because Honda has built its legacy around smooth engines and impeccable fit and finish. It’s almost immediately evident when you first lay eyes on the Honda H’Ness CB 350. The Meteor might have upped RE’s game, but the CB is still two, maybe three notches higher. It feels premium; the way the engine comes finished in gloss black, the judicious use of chrome especially with the fenders, the LED-lighting upfront and even smaller details like the switchgear and levers. I love how this fourstroke CB sounds; it’s metallic in its tone and feels polished too. In all, the CB 350 is a right blend of retro-classic with modern built, and that’s something many would appreciate.
It’s also more compact and lighter with a narrower handlebar – all contributing to a dedicated, more engaging riding posture. Reasonable control, a virtue that makes it better of the two in traffic. In general, the commute is more enjoyable due to a smoother engine and a lighter gearbox that benefits from a slip-assist clutch. But then there’s the way the CB puts down its power – it misses out on punchy low-end responsiveness and needs those valves to be opened more dramatically. It’s particularly evident when you overtake; the powertrain demands a shift down before making quick progress. The suspension too isn’t as accommodating as the Meteor’s, and well that might be a two-faced coin basis your riding requirements. Show it a good set of curves, and it outshines the Meteor, encapsulating the experience much better. A questionable addition on a bike of this segment is the traction control. The CB 350 gets one, which can also be switched off, and its operation is backed by slightly older technology. Yet, new riders would appreciate the electronic assistance, especially when there’s a sudden surface change.
So what have we established here? Two competent bikes that put forward their best into the segment whilst truly standing by their hereditament values. The Royal Enfield Meteor 350 is an extremely well-finished product, showcasing what the brand can, indicating the direction where RE is headed. It’s a bike that would suit larger body frames, longer hauls across the open roads and comes backed by an extensive dealer network across the country. I love the customisation options that RE has included too. The Meteor is certainly the hot-seller of the two, and honestly, there are no surprises there.
But, the Honda H’ness CB 350 is just that much more refined and superior. I would want to see more of them out on the roads because it is a great bike. It’s got a great initial response, and we finally have a product as compelling as an RE, which isn’t an RE. But Honda’s decision to retail them via their BigWing dealership network is what is holding them back. If I were to pick one basis just the desirability, it would be the CB 350 from a dealership that requires me to pass through six Royal Enfield showrooms.