Bold & beautiful

K Shivraj
Sunday, 20 May 2018

Royal Enfield Thunderbird 500X has the distinct looks of an urban cruiser but with a unique appeal

Painted in a shade of custom orange, the Royal Enfield Thunderbird 500X draws attention. Aimed at the young, upwardly mobile urban rider, the 500X offers the familiarity and commonality of Thunderbird but with the distinct looks of an urban cruiser that looks bold and confident. 

Sharing the 28bhp 500cc engine and five-speed gearbox with the Thunderbird 500, the new bike is the most expensive Royal Enfield one could buy. If a bold shade like custom orange or custom blue with a combination of side panels, frame and smart looking alloys (19-inch dia front and 18-inch rear) painted in (matte or gloss) black adds a touch of style, the fact is that it is just the tank of the bike that received the bold new custom colour. The alloys have a line on the outer edge on either side, the same colour as the tank.  

One-piece seat
At front, the head lamp is similar in design to that of the Thunderbird except for the colour of the surround. It is darker and more contrasting therefore against the projector lamp and the daytime running light. The head lamp dome gets a three-point bracket whereas the front forks are finished in a shade of black. The handlebar at the top is simple and makes for an upright riding posture. What’s new is the one-piece seat. It looks aesthetically pleasing and has a good finish to it. The 500X comes with twin grab rails that are neatly positioned alongside the pillion seat. The tail lamp is similar in design to that of the Thunderbird. The change is in its matt-black nacelle, but the rear of the 500X looks slightly shorter than that of the Thunderbird. 

No backrest for pillion rider
Mount the bike and thumb the starter, and the engine comes to life with a muffled thump, and a mild low rpm feel. The feel turns into vibes that are felt at the handlebar and foot pegs as the engine revs rise beyond 2000rpm, and until a little past 3000rpm. They are not exactly annoying, but do take away some sense of refinement. Responding well to throttle inputs the bike accelerates to gather good riding speeds quickly. It feels noticeably quicker than the 350, and is torquey. Providing good supply of power from lower down, the bike makes for easy riding in the city. The gearshifts on the 500X are surprisingly nowhere as clunky as that of the most Royal Enfield bikes I have ridden until now. What takes some fun out however is the awkwardly positioned gear shifter. The clutch is on the heavier side. The vibes, appearing exactly in the rpm range, that is most relied upon to ride in the city, also take some fun out even though, I repeat, are annoying. They die down past 3000rpm. However, the need to downshift is felt. Push the bike, and on an open road it will quickly pick up pace to attain speeds in excess of 80kmph. Like the Thunderbird, the top speed of the 500X is a little past 115kmph. Cruising at good speeds on the highway comes easy to the bike. Its everyday riding orientation however means that the pillion rider is going to ask for some more comfort — a back rest for certain, when doing the highway runs. The grips are not the most conveniently placed from a pillion rider’s point of view. 

Brakes exert a strong bite
Weighing 197kg, the bike is easy to manoeuvre in the city, thanks to the new handlebar. The riding position is a bit aggressive unlike that of the Thunderbird, and has a touch of sport. Delivering a good ride quality, the 500X handles quite well too. Riding over rough surfaces or other irregularities without compromising the ride, thanks in part to the cushioning provided by the tubeless tyres, the bike corners well and feels well planted. The 19-inch dia front wheel and the 18-inch dia rear wheel may not make the bike very agile, it nevertheless does a good job of handling. The front may feel a bit light at times, but is not enough to affect confidence. Equipped with disc brakes at either end, the 500X, sans ABS (it will arrive in 2019), quickly loses speed. The brakes exert a strong bite and feel progressive in their action.   

Verdict
At Rs 1.98 lakh, ex-showroom, the Thunderbird 500X is an attractive looking urban cruiser. Only if the vibes could be dealt with, the 500X would be more fun to ride. 

Pros: Looks, performance of the 500 (there is a 350X also available), ride
Cons: Vibes at city riding speeds, rear pillion comfort

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