Photography: Rohit G Mane
It’s been almost eight years since Royal Enfield’s most hardcore cruiser received a major overhaul. The Thunderbird has created a niche for itself and is one of the most popular, affordable cruisers in the market. However, an upgrade was long due and in RE’s usual fashion, it has been put under the knife.
Behold the Thunderbird X! We have been riding the 499cc variant for a couple of days and here are our first impressions.
Well, it isn’t a new product from the ground up but a mid-life update that brings with it minor cosmetic and ergonomic changes. For starters, the Thunderbird X looks really fresh; appealing to the youth, especially. We received at least seven queries since we got hold of its keys from RE. The best part is that it brings the ‘cool’ quotient back which had been missing from the RE line-up since the inception of the Continental GT. Minimalistic is the theme here, with no chrome (thankfully) panels on the body at all. The ‘black’ theme runs through the exhaust pipe, handlebar, engine and the twin-pod cluster.
The blackened twin-pod cluster made us reminisce about the original Bajaj Pulsar, when viewed from the front, albeit with larger wheels. Speaking of which, RE hasn’t changed the size with a 19-18 inch combination but you get alloys on the X, making it the third RE in the history to have been equipped with non-spoked rims. The tubed tyres have been replaced with tubeless bias tyres from MRF. We had the getaway orange paint on our X which we think is the best palette among the shade cards. The orange colour runs through the rims and the new single unit seat’s stitching.
The only other change is also the most important one – an all-new flat handlebar. Gone is the ape bar, which made it difficult to maneuver around corners or even take a U-turn. Can you also get rid of the metallic bar ends, RE?
How does it ride?
As mentioned earlier, the X gets no mechanical changes, whatsoever. It is still powered by a 499cc. air-cooled, single-cylinder engine that makes 27bhp and 41.3Nm. The engine does its job well with a linear torque delivery from 1500rpm to 3800rpm, after which there isn’t much to rev for. After 4000rpm, it gets uncomfortable, sending vibrations through the handlebar, foot pegs and the seat, going all the way to your head! When the limiter hits, at about 5200rpm, it creates havoc, producing a sensation of engine knocking which is alarming enough to make you pull the left lever and upshift.
The five-speed gearbox has been carried over as well. I could not figure out the leverage in the clutch lever even after riding it for two days. False neutrals are persistent as well, but shifts are smooth. The engine is best suitable for cruising at speeds up to 100kmph in the fifth gear. Cornering at such speeds however is a task. It wallows every time you tip into a corner at speeds above 70kmph. Slow speeds corners aren’t an issue, thanks to the new bars. The suspension is setup in a very odd manner, with the front decompressing noticeably, every time you wring the throttle. The rear is sprung softly as well and that creates issues for your spine. Deadlifts are a must if you intend to go touring on this saddle.
Handling is easier and fun as well. Scraping the pegs is easy and tiny feelers give you even more leverage to push into corners. If you love going fast, you ought to get this bar for your regular Thunderbird. However, had RE brought the bar closer to the rider by 10-15mm, the riding position would have been perfect.
Last but not the least, brakes are unimpressive. The rear feels better at bringing the bike to a halt than the front, which means, unwanted slides are evident at all times. Bringing the 197kg X to a halt isn’t easy and you have to plan your moves well, before you enter a corner. And remember to use four fingers on the lever and not one or two, like a ‘real’ man.
Should I buy one?
If you have been eyeing an affordable cruiser, the X strikes the deal for you. It is expensive by almost Rs 8000 than the regular Thunderbird at Rs 1.98 lakh (ex-showroom Delhi) but if you are someone who prefers the Thrill of Riding, the X makes for a better option. It looks yummy as well! We suggest you take a good look at the UM Renegade Sports S too before you make your decision.