Friday, October 21, 2022

Hunter 350 reminds U.S. of first love

Side view of Royal Enfield Hunter 350.
The new Royal Enfield Hunter 350 looks like a standard motorcycle. 

 What will U.S. buyers see that's special in the coming Royal Enfield Hunter 350

After all, if they want a Royal Enfield 350, the Classic 350 is a better reminder of vintage Brit-style motorcycles, and the Meteor 350 is closer to the cruiser-style seating Americans seem to prefer. 

With its smaller wheels and tidier chassis the Hunter 350 is being called the best Royal Enfield for urban commuting. 

But Americans largely do not commute on two wheels. 

Look: America is not Florida alone. Commuting north of the 26th Parallel calls for a car at least half of the year. 

So why will Americans hop to buy the Royal Enfield Hunter 350 (besides its likely attractive low cost)? 

I think a recent review of the Hunter 350 gives the answer. 

Americans will buy the Hunter 350 by the ship load because it will remind them of a variety of motorcycles they loved as youngsters: Universal Japanese Motorcycles. (Or UJM, not usually said as praise.) 

Heresy? Not at all. 

"One thing Royal Enfield does very well on the Hunter 350 is to capture the classic design elements established way back in the '60s and '70s," wrote T.J. Hinton in TopSpeed.

"This is the classic standard build, and it also falls under the UJM umbrella as well, which just adds to its old-school chops." 

All those cherished memories of British motorcycles of the 1960s, so thoroughly mined in Royal Enfield advertisements? That was one decade. And the numbers of British motorcycles sold in the U.S. were never huge.

In contrast, Americans for decades bought enormous numbers of Universal Japanese Motorcycles that started, arguably, as copies of British motorcycles. Sometimes they were even license built copies, but more often they were just similar in character to the  relatively inexpensive, reliable, naked motorcycles British motorcycles once had been.

The difference was that a Japanese motorcycle had electric start, you could leave it out in the rain and the Japanese motorcycle companies did not go out of business.

A quick story: years ago, bicycling with my wife in the Florida Keys, I came upon a motorcycle lying on its side in a heap of garbage left out for bulk trash pick-up.

A hole in the crankcase attested to its fate. No branding remained to identify the make, and I did not recognize it. It had the legally required side marker reflectors, meaning it was not an ancient motorcycle.

But it was a naked motorcycle, with wire wheels and single-cylinder motor that reminded me a bit of my own Royal Enfield Bullet.

What really got me, though, was the center stand. This otherwise unadorned little motorcycle, so unloved it was tossed in the garbage, had a rare feature distinctly reminiscent of vintage British motorcycles.

Those Japanese motorcycles that took over the American market from the British in the 1970s were a lot like the Royal Enfield Hunter 350.

Agile, unadorned and affordable.

We strapped milk crates to the backs of the bikes and headed to college, or work. Took them off road. Beat them up. Never washed them. Had fun. Loved them. It will be nice to have them back.

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