For the very purpose of writing this ownership review, I went back to my room and pulled out old books and files and got my hands on an old temporary registration certificate copy issued from the Kerala Government, that confirms the date of registration to be from 7/8/2015. I reckoned afterwards that it must be after 2 days from the date of registration that I received my motorcycle from the Royal Enfield showroom in Kollam.
For the sake of this review, I have tried to be very precise, exact and rational about the whole experience and have tried to narrate it in every minute detail about how the Thunderbird 350 will be in real riding conditions; (be it any weather or any riding conditions whatsoever) with the help of a very vague, broken and yet beautiful scraps of memories that I have cherished over my real-life riding experience. Well, Here it Goes!!!
Motorcycle and the Mountains - Electronic Section and Performance
Rain sprouted through the clouds when I left Munnar. It was a thing of priority and concern whether you ride in the rain or not. Priority, because of the time limit you allot for a certain place for the entire course of the journey and concern, because of the risk you put out there when you are riding on the hilly paths and dangerously slippy cliff roads with an underpowered and overweight 200 kg motorcycle.
"If you do not ride in the rain, You are not a rider" I read that somewhere, and that thought made me ride through the rain.
Be it fast moving bus, cars or bikes, everything on the hilly roads is moving with its headlamps "ON" for better visibility in that harsh rain and I too followed the drill. The Projection type headlamps of the Thunderbird 350 is very unique and anyone could spot it coming towards them. The round ring LED headlamps gives a unique character to this motorcycle.
The uniqueness follows in the LED lamp with position light guides on the rear side also. The vertical strips of the tail light are very easy to spot and anyone could recognise it from a distance. Royal Enfiled has done a good job at making both the lights unique. This uniqueness will be of much help when spotting a lost co-ridder in a heavy traffic or in a very hectic long journey.
The front headlamps give good visibility at night. The high beams are very powerful and it has a very good range. Sometimes the high beams may blind the opposite vehicles. The low beam is quite friendly and ensures good illumination on city rides and highways. If anyone looks closely over the low beams, one could spot the casted image of the legendary bird through the border of the beam.The headlamps and "pass" switch works really well and ensures good visibility to vehicles that pass towards and away from you; the good illumination makes it easy for a rider to ride the Thunderbird 350 in heavy rains or night with full confidence.
There are times when twisty roads, mountains and deserted places will leave you with little choice to stop for shelter at all and to add the misery, the rain was in the full rage that day. But little did I cared about the electronic section of my motorcycle, considering it had never failed over the many miles I have covered in it. So, I was more concerned about the backpack getting dripped in rain than anything. While managing to rode till downhill, the heavy rains stopped me at Adimali; a fast-growing town down the hills of Munnar. I watched the rain becoming more strong and wild. Cold crept through the bones and the water wrenched the cloths, yet I tried to have a good park for my motorcycle in an empty roadside garage.
Peace of mind and comfort is what a motorcycle should give to a rider than anything on long rides and over these years the Thunderbird 350 has seldom failed in these departments.
The big 346cc Single Cylinder, 4 strokes, Twinspark, Air cooled engine of the Thunderbird 350 is lean burning and tuned to give good cruising performance and mileage at the same time. The motorcycle is peppy to ride and will reward you with good riding comfort with the wide and well-padded seat and cruiser handlebar. The engine is very responsive at low speeds and gives out very good mileage efficiency no matter what the roads are if proper gear shifting is mastered and practised.
I have always found trouble with gear shifting at the first stage of riding this motorcycle. The 5-speed gearbox of the Thunderbird 350 is very heavy and maintaining proper gear ratio is very hard especially in traffic. A miss match gear ratio will result in an unpleasant sound while changing gear and this may affect the gearbox and associated transmission parts in future. Proper chain lubing could reduce the jerky gear changes to a minimal extent and will also increase the chain and sprocket life. When it comes to the maximum chain and sprocket lifetime of my Thunderbird 350, with proper maintenance and regular chain lubing, I got a maximum of 28,000 Km.
It is advised to have the chain adjustment be done every 1000 km or so and before a long ride I always lube it up. Chain sprays are very less effective and require regular checkup, but I found out that a gear oil and grease mixture will be a good lubing agent than any other and last longer.
Sometimes you will complain about the power to weight ratio of the Thunderbird 350
The Royal Enfield should have given better power to weight ratio for the 350s. In a busy day, the 350s will feel like inferior motorcycles on cities and many 150cc bikes may overtake before you. But on a calm and cold Sunday morning, you will feel like its one of the best and the most pleasurable motorcycle one can ride in the world.
The fact that it only gives you 19.8 bhp of maximum power @ 5250 rpm with a wet weight of 195 kg is a slight disadvantage. But the 28 Nm torque pumping quickly at just @ 4000 rpm will make you fall in love with it also. When compared, the Thunderbird 500 is a very good motorcycle and has a good power to weight ration than its younger siblings and also has fewer vibration Yet, the twisty bends and occasional uphills and downhill will make way for a pleasurable ride and in these times that one may fall in love with the Thunderbird 350. The massive weight of the bike is a good boon when it's coupled with the enormous torque and gives stability and sheer power to excel roads and uphills like no other and every anomaly associated with the motorcycle are easily forgotten.
Neriyamangalam forest road is any one's pleasure place. Half hours of bends, twists, mist and nice road with no potholes - in short words; riders paradise. Either side of the road is covered with mountains, wild trees, and here and there one could spot sparkle of mountain water oozing out from the top and forms a waterfall. The trees blanketed the blue skies and wrapped it from the top on from either side of the road and only the untapped sun rays hit the ground. The forest road laid ahead very cold, calm and serene.
The downhill with surprise twists and turns, the Thunderbird seems to take it all, but sometimes you will think, the front disc brakes with 280mm Disc with 2-Piston caliper and the rear disc brakes with a 240mm Disc and Single piston caliper could have done a great job on slippery and wet roads. The braking of the Thunderbird 350 is not really satisfactory on slippery roads. The lack of ABS is really felt while riding on rains and heavy traffic, but if one master the motorcycle, it becomes easier with time to handle it.
What makes the Thunderbird easy to ride is its good suspension setup. Over the years I have never come across any problems with the front suspension that is a Telescopic, with 41mm forks and has a travel of 130mm. While I did change the rear suspension one-time because of back pains. Royal Enfiled has given twin gas charged shock absorbers at the rear with a travel of 80mm. The suspension setup is clearly made to make high way cruising easier and it is 5-step adjustable also. The rear suspension works smoothly on highways and long rides and does a lit bit of off-roading too.
The stock MRF tyre combined with optimum air pressure will reward the rider if good riding habits are followed, and I personally suggest anyone stick with stock tyre measures (Front Tyre: 90/90 - 19 and Rear Tyre: 120/80 - 18) as possible than the likes of Michelin Sirac Street I fitted later which was, of course, good quality.
Heritage - Mileage and Swag
Nilambur on a cold morning gave me second thoughts about the jacket and gloves. Sometimes it is of good advantage that a big 350cc air cooling engine has your back than anything, not only for riding purpose of course, but also to beat the cold out from the body. The warm and hot air from the engine side felt like campfires on cold nights. When the jackets and gloves are of no help, the warm engine will remind you that it's been pampering you all along the way.
Motorcyclists with proper riding gears. Mostly Bullet riders, of course, filled Mysore road and many hand waves and head nodes were shared. To acknowledge and be acknowledged on the way, everyone seemed merry on roads, and I reckoned a rider with a Thunderbird will have a beautiful girl on the pillion. One of the perks maybe, I thought, and indeed a very related one.
It was very unfortunate to be lost in the rush and busy traffic of Bangalore. But, out of the blue, a bullet rider came for help and guided the way like it's his mission. Sometimes riders feel a sense of sympathy and connection among each other for the same class of motorcycles they ride, whether the person is a stranger or a friend is of little concern. It is partly like knowing someone before that must needed handshake, or that fitted smile you give away unconditionally and without much thought before uttering the first words to that to-be-known person.
I was flat broke, riding from home to Bangalore for new years eve. Along the 460km ride from Kerala via Bandipur - Mysore to Bangalore in just one day with only coffee brakes and zero sleepovers, despite the heavy traffic of Bangalore, the Thunderbird 350 gave me an overall 56.6 km per litre of mileage.
Cruising Through Electronic City - RE Service Guy
It was a treat indeed, to cruise in one of the most promising places in India. The electronic city roads were less crowned on that morning. After a few miles, and crossing few tolls, I sensed black smoke from the exhaust over 80km/h.
When you are flat broke and riding, least you will expect this kind of scenarios while on road. Even a flat tyre, though, having much probability will make you upset and worry. Krishnagiri was the place and I did find an RE service station there. My past experience with the service centres was always complicated and I never felt satisfied with any service points of Royal Enfield. But Krishnagiri was really something. The service guys were very young and were guided by well-experienced seniors, they did want to have a good scrutiny of my motorcycle after they heard the whole story and were very courteous and was ready to help.
Within 10 minutes, the service guy found the culprit. The black smoke was due to the clogged carburettor. I waited for only half hours and they cleaned up and fixed the carburettor. The service guy also made a quick checkup of the entire motorcycle and removed my exhaust, which made me froze. They removed the exhaust to seal an air leak that's been troubling the bike for quick acceleration.
When I hold my handlebars towards home, I realized the young guys at the service point knows what they are doing and I hoped all the RE service centres were like that. The motorcycle felt so powerful than ever before and the acceleration becomes more smooth and refined. While on return I felt merry and that reflected in my riding style which went as far as 124 km/hr; one of the best top speed I ever came across this motorcycle. After this incident, I realized that It is always better to voluntarily clean the carburettor every 20,000 km to avoid any complications while on rides.
People Often ask me how I get 55+ Mileage. Here I will reveal my secret equation
• Engine Oil and Oil Filter - Change every 3500 km a must ( i use Motul Semi-Synthetic)
• Air Filter - Replacement between every 6,000 to 9,000 Km
• Fork Oil Change - Every 9,000 k
• Tyre Pressure - 30 psi at front and 40 psi at rear (this may burn more brake pads)
• Cruising between 60 to 90 km/h Only
• Gear Shifts with Proper Gear Ratio
• Perfect Clutch Adjustment For Smooth Gear Shift
• Occasional Long Rides
• Single Ownership
• Fuel Always above Half Tank
• Proper Washing and Chain Lubing
The overall health of the motorcycle contributes to very good mileage. I advise anyone to start maintaining your machine from its running period itself, and it will reward you with very fewer vibrations, more mileage and superb riding comfort.
Why I replace the Stock Handle Bar?
I was so sceptical about changing anything from my motorcycle, be it an aftermarket exhaust, LED foglights or even handlebars. The stock handle of Thunderbird is perfect for Highway cruising. You could literally lay back and relax on highways and watch your machine flows like butter at 80 to 90 km/h. When I crossed my first 1,000 km my engine felt really set for anything and the vibrations were gone completely. I cruised 90km/h without any vibrations with my stock handle and it was really something.
I changed to bare handlebar only after 18000 km. Somehow my body wasn't feeling perfect for the stock handle and I thought I should go for it and try one of those aftermarket handles they sell at every automobile spare parts shop.
To my surprise, I really loved the custom handlebar now I fitted on the bike. Be it highway, off-road or roads with full potholes this handlebar could take it all. It really got jelled with my body and I started to feel a new way of riding my motorcycle than ever before. No fatigue was what I noticed most, I never felt any back pains or feel exhausted when I ride and that reaffirmed my faith in custom handlebars.
The new handlebars also give an upright riding position, like the stock handlebars. But the perks of this custom handlebar is that it gives more room for quick turning and moving through traffic and twisty roads are more easy with it than the stock.
Apart from handlebars I never made any other major modifications in my motorcycle. I always had this thought of fitting a custom exhaust. But the silent thumb of the Thunderbird is really addicting, peaceful, silent and musical on long rides. The exhaust note changed over the years and now it has some rust here and there. I think Royal Enfiled has made a good choice of giving a very silent exhaust to the TB.
How Does It Feel?
How does it feel? In this parallel life as an avid motorcycle enthusiast, I have been asked this question many times. Well, it's quiet on the bright side I will say. Something that will hit you hard and keeps you riding for all the right and wrong reasons. Frankly speaking, nothing ever made by man has ever escaped the mighty flaws that come up with it; and about Thunderbird, it's also the same.
The fact that all motorcycles with two wheels must qualify to be of all purpose of riding is of much public interest, but interestingly this fact is somewhat a fallacy, and cannot be held against one. A Thunderbird like any other motorcycle doesn't level up to the general public in particular because of this sole reason alone. A cruiser is meant to be as lazy as it could be. An adventure bike won't accelerate much to catch that squid who speed on highways.
A serious motorcycle with the character may not stand towards any much provocation it may catch while on roadways and neither it will act according to the riders maverick intuitions. The most interesting and unmistakable fact is that it will have a mind of it's on, a quality the Dukes or the Dominators failed to have when it came across the digital space and that's what my thoughts on this motorcycle end with.
Yet, sometimes I ask this question to myself. How does it feel? illusion or truth or whatever it may fathom. This is a motorcycle made for a purpose, and that's what I have learned, loved, hated and lived, when I came around and across many adventurous expeditions in these 40,000kms. Two years and counting on the saddle, I never felt so young riding this motorcycle as I ever had my first bicycle since childhood.
Click here for more pictures of Thunderbird 350
Shot By: Jithin Johnson K