Royal Enfield Thunderbird 500X Road-Test Review
Royal Enfield, the iconic Chennai based motorcycle manufacturer, recently launched the TBTS 350x and the 500x which will be on sale side-by-side with the current TBTS 500 and 350 offerings. These new models from Royal Enfield seem to be designed specifically keeping in mind the younger sect of the market, who like their machines to look stylish and trendy. Royal Enfield has actually worked on the same TBTS platform to make it more appealing to customers, Enfield calls it the urban-geared version of the TBTS platform.
RE identified the gap where customers often installed flat type handlebars, alloy wheels and tubeless tyres and custom painted it to make it look more stylish.The 350x and the 500x are RE’s attempts to fill this gap, by offering all these features directly from the OEM with warranty. So how does the new 500x ride? Our review will be based on 1500kms and 5 days of highway, city and off-road Riding with the Drifter Blue 500x, which Royal Enfield very open heartedly provided us for this long test ride.
The new handlebar, new paint job scheme and the 9-spoke alloy wheels give the 500x an Urban Retro Cruiser look, definitely the best-looking motorcycle in its class; in comparison to its competition, the Avenger, Intruder and UM motorcycles. The new alloy wheels look proportionate and very stylish with those blue-colored reflective strips on the rims, adding to the retro look. Grab handles are placed below the pillion seat, which we found quite oddly placed for the pillion rider to hold. RE did not launch the 500x with a pillion back-rest, but has promised to come-up with it soon.This will surely affect sales unless RE reacts soon.
The color schemes are bright, available in a Drifter Blue or Getaway Orange Fuel Tank with an All Black Body; this was done keeping in mind that today’s young generation isn’t much of a fan of chrome body parts. Good observation there. So except for the fuel tank, all other body parts are painted in Glossy or Matte Black finish, except for the handlebar end weights and the side stand, which come in a distinct chrome finish, adding to the bike’s style quotient.
The TBTS 500X comes equipped with the same 500cc engine as the TBTS 500, which produces around 41.3Nm of Torque at 4000rpm, and around 27.2BHP of Power at 5230rpm. Even though it gets the same engine and transmission, RE seems to have tweaked the EFI (electronic fuel injection) controller for better linear power delivery, which has resulted in smooth power delivery right from 1500rpm till 5500rpm. You can actually feel that thrust of power, as you cross the 3000rpm mark. The 41.3Nm of Torque provides enough power for the 500x to clock a top end of 140kmph easily. This mill delivers all the power in the lower and mid rev band, making it very easy to get out of tight situations.
Just twist the throttle, and the 500x speeds away like a horse, a bike perfect for laid-back highway cruising, with enough power available at any rpm, any gear to pull you out of the situation without changing gears.
The fueling to this 500cc mill is controlled by a closed loop EFI, which manages the petrol delivery into the chamber. Being a closed loop EFI, this can automatically adjust itself to altitude and alter the fuel and air flow as per changing environment. No more visits to local mechs, to tune your carb every now and then, no worries of power loss, or lagged power delivery, just pure motorcycling.
Well, many things have been said of RE’s vibrations, but you need to understand that it’s a long stroke Engine without over-head camshafts, without a balancer shaft, not very refined, not smooth. But not everyone likes it smooth, right. It’s the same engine which creates that thump, the thump that binds millions today world-wide. The 500x like every other RE does vibrate, but that really wouldn’t be an issue if u don’t like red-lining or racing on a cruiser, we mean who does that? The 500x has a sweet spot between 80-100kmph, where minimal stress is felt by the engine and vibrations are also in control.
Well, the 500x is mechanically same, in terms of Chassis, Suspension, Wheel-base, Engine and all other body parts, but comes with a different Flat-type Handlebar and 9-spoke alloy wheels, which make the 500x more planted, stable and easy to maneuver than the traditional TBTS. The new riding position is now a bit aggressive, demanding the rider to extend his arms further ahead down, just like a Retro Cruiser would have had in the ‘80s. The new riding position makes it easy to maneuver the motorcycle and boosts rider confidence, since you feel in better control of the machine. The 500x runs more planted and stable now through corners and zig-zag roads, thanks to those alloys, which make the ride more stable at high speeds.
Before the launch of the 500x, pick up any RE from the market, one point where RE had to sit quiet was the inability to provide tubeless tyres factory fitted. Well, RE did wake up to this request, and finally we have the 500x, the first RE to come equipped with tubeless tyres, which means less things to worry about while you are riding. Other than that, the riding experience is pretty comfortable and plush; with not much of a stress felt by the rider. The new 500x comes with a 19 inch/18 inch wheelsize combination with MRF Zapper Tubeless tyres, which provide pretty good feedback and traction on-road as well as off-the roads.
The weight distribution on the 500x is such, that it’s equally divided on both the wheels, thus providing good traction even in muck and slushy situations. Braking is managed by disk brake setups on both the end, with a 280mm disk on the front, and a 240mm disk with single piston calipers.This is one area where RE can actually improve. The brakes on the 500x lack bite on both the ends, also the feedback was pretty spongy, we guess this is because of using rubber brake lines. Nothing really to worry about, you can upgrade to steel braided lines, and get the brakes improvised. In normal city riding and cruising, the bike runs like a charm, with a soft thump rhythm singing a tune of its own.
The 500x comes home, with the same set of features as the earlier TBTS except for an additional side stand engine cut-off switch which will not allow the bike to move in gear, if the side stand is not properly put in. But we feel, RE could have added an indicator on the cluster for the same, some customers might confuse this as some issue. Other than that, the instrument cluster now does not have a hazard light switch, other than this, it is the same instrument cluster, with an analogue speedo and tachometer fused to the digital cluster.
Other than the electronics, the new 500x now comes with a single seat, unlike the split seats on the traditional TBTS. The rider seat on the 500x is much deeper and wider, providing great comfort to the rider, but wecoundn’t say the same about the pillion seat, as it gets pretty narrow towards the end, also the pillion is sloped downwards, making it pretty difficult to hold himself onto the bike. Absence of a backrest makes this problem serious, as the pillion rider will always be under a risk of falling backwards. To control this to some extent, RE has stitched the central patch of the seat, with a special Leather material cloth, which provides good traction, and holds the rider onto the seats in all situations. Even in emergency braking conditions, unlike usually slipping on to the tank and hitting a few sensitive places, the 500x’s seat kept us anchored on the seats, not only making the ride comfortable, but also boosting our confidence to a different level on corners.
We did not like RE keeping ABS still out of reach of customers, ABS is something today every smart buyer is looking for. Of course, the costs would have shot up, but they should have at least provided ABS as optional. Say if the 500x had ABS, surely it would have been the next generation of Retro Cruisers in the Indian market. RE as a leader in its league, should take up steps to make the motorcycling scenario in India more safe and conducive to motorcycling. Also, there was of lot of body panel squeaking sound on the bike we got, specifically from the tank and side panel areas, due to uneven surfaces and missing damping rubbers, which was at times, a bit discomforting to our ears.
At just Rs.8000 more than the standard TBTS, and at Rs.1,98,000 ex-showroom, the 500x is the most expensive Royal Enfields in production till date. We can totally say that the Rs.8000 price hike is worth the updates offered on the standard variation, but we are not sure if that’s the best Rs.2 lakhs can buy you today. For those of your hard-core RE fans, the 500x makes a pretty good offering with all its additional features over the standard variation, but misses out on ABS, which every flagship motorcycle today comes fitted with. For those of you who aren’t really sure, you should get a friend’s Royal Enfield, ride it for a couple of days maybe, understand the bike and its requirements and see if its suits you. You know, Guns n Bullets are not everyone’s appetite.
Review – Suraj Sawant
Photography – Smruti Gaimukhe