Royal commuter thinks it’s a cruiser

Mathieu Day-Gillett
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2018 Royal Enfield Rumbler. Photos / Ben Galli

Small capacity cruisers are often ignored in New Zealand, but Royal Enfield seems to think differently about the often-forgotten class, introducing the new Rumbler 350 to both the Australian and New Zealand markets this year.

The Rumbler 350 isn't a completely new bike in a global sense, having found huge success in Royal Enfield's home market of India under the Thunderbird name.

Royal Enfield couldn't bring the bike into our market with that name, as the Thunderbird trademark is owned by Triumph Motorcycles here, so the Rumbler name was chosen to represent the funky, little cruiser-come-commuter here and in Oz. And rumble it does.

Sure, at 346cc and with a low compression ratio of just 8.5:1, the Rumbler is never going to stick it to other similarly-sized bikes in the LAMS class, but what it does bring is a metric tonne of character.

With a carburettor pumping gas into the 350cc engine — which the bike shares with the 350 Classic models — and a kick-start hanging off the side, it hits the mark for the character only an old-school bike and a simple engine can provide.

Royal Enfield subscribes to the philosophy that you don't need a powerful engine to create a fun commuter, but you need a bike that riders will enjoy.

Although Royal Enfield Australia/New Zealand's brand manager Mal Jarrett made it clear that as “it's a 350cc single, so it's not a tourer, it's a fun commuter”, the Rumbler hits the road with possibly the biggest tank in the sub-400cc class, at 20-litres.

The consumption figures haven't officially been tested but Royal Enfield reckons the little bike can squeeze more than 400km out of a tank.

Not bad for a bike that blends old and new technology into a package that arguably works quite well.

The headlight and tail-light are bright LED units, with the halogen LED up front making sure you are noticed when you’re out at night.

Indicators are conventional bulb units, but these will likely be available as LEDs when the optional accessories for the bike reach market.

Although the steep rake on the 41mm forks does give the bike a hybrid appearance — especially when compared to the raked-out appearance we normally associate with bikes labelled as a cruiser — it works a treat for giving the Rumbler a light and easy to manoeuvre nature. Perfect for slaying inner-city congestion.

It’s not a traditional cruiser in its styling but it hasa special kind of charm, a rarity these days when everyone is seemingly doing their best to be like everyone else.

With three colours available — Matte Black, Marine Blue and the impossible to describe, but cool Lightning — there is plenty of scope for the Rumbler to roll to a different beat on our city streets.

With the launch taking place in Australia's cultural capital of Melbourne, we hit the road during peak-hour traffic to tour the sights.

Kicking the Rumbler into life — because when you’ve got the option, you tend to relish the opportunity — the first impression is that the 785mm seat height is tall for a bike that is labelled as a bit of a cruiser.

It is, however, a good general height and allows the rider more vision in traffic than a traditional cruiser seat.

The single-cylinder engine does just as you would expect when you pull away from a stop.

Being a low-compression unit, it doesn’t surge away on the slightest input of throttle.

Instead, it happily chugs its way up to the 5500rpm redline and is surprisingly happy in fourth gear at 50km/h.

It has a friendly nature and in all honesty, is one of the most loveable little engines I’ve ridden in a while, despite its modest 20hp and 28Nm of power.

Clicking through the 5-speed gearbox as we dispatched the stacks of cars, was made easier thanks to Royal Enfield including a heel-toe shifter with the Rumbler’s base spec.

Despite not usually being a fan of the system, it worked well on the little 350, to the point that I was soon heel-toeing my way through the gears naturally.

Another nice touch on the part of Royal Enfield, is the inclusion of a centre stand in the price — a rather accessible $6790 — which means not only being able to easily maintain the bike yourself, but also sneak into tight parks.

Interestingly, lean angle during “spirited” riding, wasn’t hindered by the centre stand, with the exhaust and side stand bracket the first to touch down.

If the future of Royal Enfield models in our market is based around bikes that opt for more of the same, the beat of the Royal Enfield drum may become rather enticing for riders who want a bike with more than the usual amount of soul.

● Driven’s last two wheels column had the wrong photos accompanying it. To view the article and correct photos click here

Royal Enfield Rumbler 350

Price: $6790 + ORC
Engine: 346cc Single-cylinder, 4-stroke, Twinspark
Pros: Charming, simple, impressive fuel range
Cons: Styling not for everyone

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