14 March 2018
First ride: Royal Enfield Thunderbird 500 X
The Royal Enfield Thunderbird is tweaked to make more urban friendly
Royal Enfield has managed to solidly stamp its authority in the affordable cruiser space with the Thunderbird. It is the go-to bike for someone looking for a cruiser-type tourer on a budget. But let's be honest, the Thunderbird is a rather sombre looking motorcycle. The guys at Royal Enfield recognise that and wanted to spice things up, so they did this – launch the Thunderbird X. Based on the regular Thunderbird, it gets a host of cosmetic changes and a few ergonomical ones as well. The goal? To make it more friendly to use in the city, while appealing to a younger audience as well.
Mechanically, the Thunderbird X is identical to the regular Thunderbird. Available as both a 350 and a 500, it shares the same chassis and engine set up. What we are riding today is the 500 X, and you can tell because the 350 isn't available in this Drifter Blue paint scheme. The 500 X is also available in Getaway Orange, while the 350 X only comes available in Roving Red and Whimsical White.
So what has changed? Well, the most obvious change is to the paint. The tank is an electric blue, while the rest of the bike follows a blacked-out paint scheme. So everything, right from the front forks, the instrument cluster, exhaust, the headlight casing, the side panels, the fenders and the grabrails are black. Even the headlight gets a slight smokey tinge to it to make it look more sinister. The tasteful 9-spoke alloy wheels (shod in tubeless tyres) are – you guessed it – black, and get a stripe that matches the tank. This is also happens to be the first time that a Royal Enfield gets alloys straight off the shelf.
The changes aren't purely cosmetic, though. The ape-hanger handlebars have been swapped out for a flatter bar and the seat is a new, one piece unit. The Thunderbird X also loses the tiny backrest that the standard bike comes with, and instead gets neatly integrated grabrails under the seat. The changes may be functional, but they do significantly alter how the bike looks – along with the slightly chopped rear fender, they give the Thunderbird X a completely different stance. It looks like a Thunderbird that has finally decided to stop taking itself so seriously, and let its hair down.
Does the new handlebar make a difference? Oh, yes. The bar does allow for better manoeuvrability in traffic, but that's just one bit of it. What it also does is change the entire attitude of the bike – you now lean slightly forward, and while this does take away from the relaxed cruiser vibe, it does lend a more aggressive attitude to the rider and motorcycle. The nature of the bar also makes steering inputs easier, so while the bike doesn't handle any better than the old one, you feel a lot more in control. The new seat is a comfortable one for the rider, it is wide and well cushioned as well.
The rest of the bike remains typical Thunderbird. The 499cc engine makes 27.2bhp and 41.3Nm of torque, and makes most of its grunt in the low- to mid-range. The engine does get vibey at higher rpm and is most comfortable when you run through the clunky gears quickly. Something that does need work are the brakes – they feel wooden, and lack stopping power – and ABS isn't available, even as an option. Ride quality is one of the better aspects of the bike, it deals with bad roads with composure though it does get a bit unsettled if you hit bumps a little too fast.
So is the Thunderbird an evolution or a revolution? Neither actually, it is simply a motorcycle that is trying to break away from convention. The Thunderbird will continue to exist alongside this new Thunderbird X, so there's no replacing happening here. Instead, the Thunderbird X is simply a more carefree, youthful take on Royal Enfield's mile muncher. At Rs 1.96 lakh (ex-showroom, Mumbai) for this Thunderbird 500 X, this is the most expensive Royal Enfield on sale today – some Rs 8,000 more than the Thunderbird. For that money, you're getting a factory custom with a whole lot of attitude.
Verdict: A flashy Thunderbird that isn't taking itself too seriously. It retains the Thunderbird's cruising nature, in a more youthful and practical package
Specs: 499cc, single-cyl, air-cooled. Power: 27.2bhp @ 5250rpm. Torque: 41.3Nm @ 4000rpm. Transmission: 5-speed