Battle of modern classics: Royal Enfield Bullet 350 Vs Jawa 350

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The modern classic segment of motorcycles is a much desired space for the Indian riding community. Be it the visual aesthetics or performance, retro motorcycles tickle the strings in the hearts of enthusiasts and even aspiring riders alike. 

It is kind of ironic that there is a huge cult following of the basic retro motorcycles, at a time when gadgets have taken over machines and humans. And yet people aspire to possess a proper retro bike inside their garage. So we thought, what’s better than comparing two of the most basic modern classic motorcycles which are simple in their identities and only meant to provide the sheer joy of motorcycling?

Yes, we are talking about the Royal Enfield Bullet 350 and Jawa 350 (or commonly referred to as Jawa Standard 350), both iconic machines from iconic Indian brands (not accounting for their respective European lineage). Both these bikes recently received comprehensive upgrades a few months back and target a very similar target set of buyers, and yet they are completely distinct to each other in every respect.

In our comparison review of the Bullet 350 and Jawa 350, we’ll be talking about what we found out after riding both the bikes back to back for a few days.

Both the Bullet and Jawa are as old-school as a modern bike could be and yet they are completely different from each other. In fact, the Jawa outclasses its Enfield counterpart when it comes to retro aesthetics with the additional dosage of chrome, around the tank, front and rear fenders, rearview mirrors, bar-end weights, twin exhaust muffler, and the engine gearbox assembly.

The Bullet 350, on the other hand, looks a tad sportier than the Jawa 350 thanks to all the blacked-out elements seen in its latest avatar including the engine gearbox assembly and the peashooter exhaust muffler This top-spec model with the black colour scheme gets a traditional three-dimensional Royal Enfield Fireball insignia on the tank alongside the signature hand-made pinstriping on the fuel tank.

To sum it up, both are handsome-looking motorcycles and you wouldn’t go wrong with the looks by choosing either of them. Both bikes offer the same levels of quality which aren’t perfect yet a significant improvement over their respective predecessors. Edges are smoother, panel gaps are tighter, paint finishes are decent, wires are tucked in nicely and plastic quality is just fine. Still, if I have to make a pick, I would say the Enfield marginally betters the Jawa.

This will be a quick one as there are hardly any features on offer in either of these bikes. The Jawa offers an analogue console with a small digital inset for the odometer and several tell tale lights which are just a pain to decipher under direct sunlight. The Bullet, on the other hand, also gets an analog dial with a slightly larger digital screen showing the odometer, and fuel gauge. In addition, it also gets a USB charging port which the Jawa misses out on.

This is one of the rare occurrences where a Royal Enfield wins the battle when it comes to features. Rest of the equipment in both motorcycles is common and bare bones as usual including halogen headlamps, bulb indicators, and LED taillamp.

The Jawa, in its latest iteration, hasn’t gained any muscles but surely gained in size. The more raked out front has resulted in a longer wheelbase of 1,449 mm  which is substantially longer than the 1390mm wheelbase of Bullet 350. Weight on both bikes are fairly similar on paper and yet the Jawa feels a lot more nimble and agile than its nemesis from Chennai.

Despite all the changes, Jawa 350 looks slightly smaller than the Bullet 350 mainly due to smaller wheel sizes. Another important aspect is the lower 790mm seat height of the Jawa as compared to the 805mm of the Bullet, giving the former a lower stance.

Differences between the two bikes become more evident here onwards. The Bullet 350 stays the traditional Enfield way of offering a soft and plush ride quality which makes it a better choice over undulated surfaces. The Jawa 350, though not harsh, is definitely stiffer than the Bullet. As a result sharp bumps and potholes feel more pronounced when riding the Jawa, despite the Bullet offering lesser travel at the front as compared to the Jawa.

On the flipside, the stiffer suspension setup provides better handling capabilities to Jawa which is much more enjoyable on a patch of smooth tarmac. While on paper both motorcycles weigh nearly the same, the Jawa feels a little more nimble than the Bullet and hence, it is more eager to lean over when shown a set of corners, thanks to better cornering clearance. That said, neither of these bikes are corner-carving sports bikes.

Another crucial feature adding to Jawa’s sportiness is its shorter 18/17-inch wheel setup over the 19/17-inch setup offered in the Bullet. This offers greater agility and lane-changing ability despite Jawa being significantly longer than Bullet. As far as braking is concerned, despite Enfield offering the larger discs, the brakes in Bullet 350 feel a little spongy. 

Nevertheless, there’s nothing much to separate the two as both bikes offer a progressive braking nature with negligible bite. Tyres on both machines offer adequate grip. The new Jawa 350 with thicker tyres is definitely an improvement in this aspect over its predecessor.

Riding posture on both motorcycles are fairly neutral, and comfortable with tall handlebars pulled towards the rider. That said, Jawa again turns out to be sportier of the two with its slightly aggressive reach for its handlebar. With Bullet one tends to get a feeling of sitting on top of a bike whereas riding a Jawa feels like sitting in the bike. 

Due to the slightly sportier posture, it also felt a lot easier in the Jawa to grip the tank with the legs, thus inspiring more confidence and better control. Coming to the seats, the contouring on both bikes is fairly decent with ample cushioning and comfort for the butt. That said, the one offered in Bullet comes with better real estate.

This is where the two bikes completely deviate from each other. The 349cc air/oil-cooled engine in Bullet is calm and doesn’t like to be revved hard. The new-gen J-series engine relies on the wide band of torque available to pull it through while the counter balance shaft ensures vibrations are well contained. 

Complementing the motor is a beautiful 5-speed gearbox which is buttery smooth, although the clutch feels a little heavy like any Enfield.  Further, the tall gear ratios aid the low-end tractability of the engine.

Speaking of tractability, this J-series motor is something we have loved in all the other models in the 350cc range of Royal Enfield. There are only a few bikes which can be enjoyed while riding at sedate speeds. The Royal Enfield Bullet 350 is an easy-going motorcycle which doesn’t like to be rushed and picks up pace linearly. No matter which gear it is slotted in, just pull the throttle and the bike smoothly wizzes ahead. 

The Jawa 350 is completely opposite in this regard. The 334cc single-cylinder, liquid-cooled engine wants to be revved out hard to extract more power out of it. Unlike the Bullet, the Jawa has nothing to offer lower down the rev range while plenty more to offer at the top end of the spectrum. In fact, the low end is so dull that if you’re not conscious, you can actually end up stalling your bike.

That brings us to its gearbox which felt a bit notchy and not as smooth as the one in the Enfield. The gear ratios are shorter and as a result there is a lot of short shifting required to stay in the right power band. Thankfully, the slip and assist clutch on Jawa felt a lot lighter than the Bullet. Although the engine in the latest iteration of Jawa is a lot smoother than the previous model, there is a fair amount of clatter heard when the throttle is pulled. This made the experience in Jawa slightly unpleasant.

When you compare refinement levels, Bullet surely aces the challenge since Jawa produced considerable vibrations throughout the rev range, which weren’t very annoying but definitely noticeable. The faster you go, the more prominent they get which then transfer to the handlebar, footpegs, and tank. The Bullet is a lot more subdued and relaxed but lacks the punch needed for a quick overtake.

One major underwhelming aspect in both these bikes is the heat management system. Engines on both bikes tend to heat a lot and the longer you ride, the experience gets more uncomfortable. Despite the Jawa offering a detuned output from its 334cc motor and a liquid-cooler, heat dissipated is significant. For Enfield, it has been the same case forever.

Even though the Royal Enfield Bullet 350 and Jawa 350 target the same set of buyers, they are very different to each other in their characteristics and offer distinct experiences to the riders. The Bullet 350 is calmer and meant to be ridden in a sedate manner. The Jawa 350, on the other hand, wants you to rev the engine hard to extract its full potential since all the juice is reserved for the top-end.

If it’s slow-speed riding, then Bullet with its strong top-end and mid-range is easily the choice. For those seeking top-end performance and quick overtakes, the Jawa is the way forward. When it comes to practicality, there is nothing to separate both of them, except for the fact that Bullet comes with a USB charging port, so your phone remains intact in long journeys. 

Bullet offers a slightly better seating so longer rides will be more comfortable on board the Enfield. That said, Bullet’s laidback performance might be a damper in long stretches of tarmac where the Jawa 350 shines. Therefore, to sum it up both bikes have their fair share of strengths and weaknesses, so picking either of them won’t bring much difference to the table.

However, personally I would go for the Bullet 350 simply for the fact that it is a more practical option in my opinion, and the wide and extensive sales and service network are an added bonus. Despite all the improvements Classic Legends have made in the new Jawa 350, it just falls short simply because of the brand’s unfulfilled promises in the past.

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