RE Meteor - take 2
Posted by Nigel B on April 2, 2022, 5:46 pm
Took the Intereceptor in for its annual service and first MoT yesterday. As the service included a valve clearance check, the bike was going to be in for some time so I was offered the choice of the loan "hack" - an older Honda CBF500 - or a brand new, just registered Meteor 350 demonstrator to get home on. I had taken a Meteor out last year when the 650 was in for its calipers changing but didn't get around to writing up the experience at the time, so I chose to take the new Meteor for a second bite & was encouraged to put some miles on it.
It was cold around here yesterday, with snow on the ground when I left home & 3 or 4 degrees C. After dropping the Interceptor off, I took a circuitous route home (18 miles to the dealers - 35 miles back home) & realised I was rather under-dressed for the temperatures. A warm-up, a spot of lunch, a couple more layers and a change of gloves later I was back out again. These impressions are a combination of the 2 rides - I did around 120 miles last time and 90-ish yesterday. The other bike had 500 miles or so showing & the new one only 9.5 - I was the first to take it out. I treat demonstrators like I treat my own bikes, so this one was ridden sedately.
First impressions are good - this does not look like a "budget" bike. The paintwork is deep and smooth & everything appears to be well made & well fitted. It is no lightweight, but is easy to move around & put on the centre stand - yes, a modern bike that comes with a centre stand as standard ! Initially the seat feels wide & supportive and, due to its low height, both feet sit flat on the ground (I am around 5' 9" tall & 31" inseam for reference).
It started easily on the button (no kickstarter) & settled into a smooth tickover. The clutch is light and first gear selected without a clonk - when I found the footrest ! These sit a lot further forward than I am used to and, coupled to the higher-than-expected bars, the riding position feels rather odd at first.
First gear is very low - you barely get the clutch fully home & it is ready to change up. The gearlever is a "heel & toe" type and is set too low relative to the footrest to easily get a toe underneath for an upchange & the heel change feels awkward. The gearchange action is shorter travel than the Classic 500 but a bit heavier - the Interceptor gearchange is better in all respects than either. Overall gearing feels low - it is comfortable in 20 limts in third, 30 limits in fourth & will pull fifth (top) smoothly from 35. The counterbalanced engine is a lot smoother than my Classic 500 but, like many counterbalanced engines I have tried, has a high frequency "buzz" through the bars that numbed my throttle hand fingers at 50 or above. Somewhat strangely the "shakier" 500 doesn't send my fingers numb ! The clutch & brake levers on the Meteor are deeper than both the Interceptor and Classic 500 & felt more comfortable to use.
By 45 in top it is starting to feel a bit busy & 50 feels similar revs-wise to my Classic 500 at 65. On the earlier ride I found the higher mileage Meteor wouild not reach an indicated 70 & it took an age to get to 65, meaning A road ovetakes of anything running at over a tractors pace were not feasable safely unless you have a very long, clear, straight - and how often do those happen when you need them ?
The bike felt comfortable keeping up with traffic in urban and suburban environments, but increasingly strained above 50 out on the open road. The brakes at both ends are good - responsive & good "feel" - and the Indian made Ceat brand tyres gave no causes for concern over a wide variety of road surfaces, wet or dry. The deep mudguards did a suprisingly good job at keeping the salt & other road crud off the bike (and me !) - better than the Interceptor, which required a good clean today after doing less than half the mileage yesterday.
Like every RE I have riden (older types or new) the steering is light & precise and handling good. Direction changes are easy & it is responsive without being unstable. The ride is less good - the forks are reasonably compliant, but a bit firm. The rear suspension is stiffly sprung, short travel and harsh. Couple this to a riding position that puts all your weight on your rear & bumps, potholes etc. become something to be dreaded. Unfortunately West & South Yorkshire roads have more than their fair share of lousy road surfaces, and that initially comfortable seat soon becomes an instrument of torture. I don't think I have ever become so uncomfortable so quickly on a motorcycle - period. On the first bike I cut short my test route from that planned due to the discomfort. Yesterday I was hurting by the time I got home after 35 miles. I was happy to hand the bike back after the afternoon stint of 55-ish miles & today (like the day after last time) I hurt in places I didn't know I had places !
RE seem to be selling Meteors like nobodies business - apparently the bike came close to out-selling the bigger BMW GSs last year. But I can't really see why & I don't really know who the target audience is for a bike of this type. A (non-Japanese brand) 125 would make a less expensive commuter, though the Meteor would probably run one of those close on economy. It certainly has a bit more "road presence" than a smaller bike, but I suspect that other road users would expect more in the way of performance than the RE can manage, which could cause problems ?
The build quality appears good - and that is good period rather than "good for the price" - and it comes with a 3 year warranty but, for me, that would not be enough. I want to be able to go places on a motorcycle & not be crippled doing so. Surely a "cruiser" style bike should, at least, be comfortable - or are all this style of bike all about "show" rather than "go" ? The recently released Classic version with the new 350 engine may well address the comfort issues, but it will still have the same lack of performance. The range of 350 Classics in the showroom looked great - finish and attention to detail head & shoulders above my 2016 Classic 500 - but I would not consider swapping mine for one due to the lack of performance. Make a 30-ish hp 500 version of the new Classic & I would probably swap, though - the bronze version with chrome tank panels looked truly stunning & way more motorcycle than it's modest price tag (around £4.5k OTR) suggests.
The Meteor felt like what it is - a bike developed primarily for another market which has lower main road speed limits than here - and I am rather suprised that this bike is selling so well here.