Why? it all started with a why! Why on earth would you compare a Bajaj Avenger with a Royal Enfield Thunderbird? Why would people even come watch and read about it even? Why dude, do you think a Bajaj can compete with THE Royal Enfield? Why, do you want to waste precious time and resources on something that would surely create more fuss than it would be worth off? and Why do you think this is even required?
'Why not?' was our reply to all the above and a lot more Why's! You see, no matter how illusioned we might sound, there exists a reason, a mighty big one at that, behind pitting the Avenger head to head with the Thunderbird 350. And the reason is YOU. Yes, you, our dear readers and fellow riders. We have been asked this same question uncountable number of times by people who love to tour the vastness of our country's varied and gorgeous landscape, and they want to take their wives and girlfriends (on different occasions, mostly) with them, and they ask us, which one they should buy - the Avenger or the Thunderbird 350?
The legacy of Royal Enfield is no doubt integral to motorcycling in India and nothing can take it from its immense followers in the country and abroad. However, one needs to remember that the Avenger still sells around 3000 units every month in India and looking into the fact that it sells virtually un-updated since 2010 makes a strong statement about this bike cult following.
When we came across the idea of comparing these two bikes that enjoy huge following among riders, we knew that a normal road test comparison wouldn't do justice to this important comparo. For these two motorcycles are known for their incredible appetite for munching miles after miles and to find out which among these made more sense, the only way to do it was to take these two motorcycles on a tour and to find which fared better at the end of it. Thus, we head out for the countries first ever touring road test comparison of two of the most sought after tourers in the country - the Bajaj Avenger and the Royal Enfield Thunderbird 350.
Looks and Styling!!
This one was a rather clear decision, the Thunderbird 350 is a far more handsome looking bike than the Avenger. Standing tall and bestowed with muscular proportions, the Thunderbird is a stunning motorcycle, the way the big tank gives this bike a purposeful and solid stance is unmatched by any of its rivals and peers. The twin-pod chrome digital meter console looks striking on the Thunderbird, its beauty pronounced by a big clear round lamp housing a projector headlamp. The Beefy front forks add to the masculine look of the Thunderbird and provides it a very stable and front-heavy look. The rear end isn't left behind though, the twin split seats with the rider one being huge and curvaceous enough to support the rider through long ride proves the Enfield's touring credentials, while the pillion seat is smaller as compared, it too provides decent cushion and the backrest is welcome addition. Over all the Thunderbird looks like a proper Royal Enfield, it is big, imposing and shouts aloud its long ride intentions. However, the Thunderbird is more of a hybrid of sorts between a basic retro tourer and a cruiser, thus it has the best of the both worlds in terms of ground clearance and overall size.
The Avenger on the other hand, is a classic cruiser from every angle. With its long wheelbase of 1475mm as compared to the Thunderbirds 1350mm. The Avenger is low and slick as compared to the bulbous Thunderbird, with such small surface area in comparison to the RE there isn't much going on in the Avenger. Saying that, we did like the tell tale lights on the tank panel surrounded by a chrome shroud on the avenger, though we are not so sure about the presence of a single meter pod up front, it looks slick and classic but at the same time makes the bike look thin from the front. The Avenger's seats are more laid back and larger than the Thunderbirds making it long and plush.
One major thing that goes against the Avenger is the fact that Bajaj has refrained itself from updating it since 2010 and that is a whopping time gap of more than 5 years and this makes the Avenger look outdated and old now. On the other hand, Thunderbird was updated just a couple of years ago and Royal Enfield has managed to make it look fresh by launching new colour schemes and the company logo change has also helped the bike last year.
Thus, The Thunderbird is a clear winner on the Looks and styling part!
Ride and Handling!
This is a department that is certainly more interesting and pleasantly hard fought, with both bikes having clear and confident handling characteristics. The Thunderbird benefits due its steeper rake angle in the traffic where it is easy to manoeuvre as compared to the Avenger. However, the weight of the Thunderbird makes it a pain through the same traffic where the Avenger feels light on its foot. The fact that the Thunderbird has a better turn-in while the Avenger is better at changing directions. This, makes both these motorcycles equal in terms of handling.
Ride is where the difference can be seen. The Avenger, due to its comparatively softer rear suspension, feels a lot more comfortable than the Thunderbird's slightly stiffer feel to the rear shocks. This effect is pronounced due to a stiffer pillion seat on the Thunderbird, which is bound to cause numb backsides for the pillion, whereas, the Avenger's pillion seats are a way more comfortable place to be. Same goes for the front, the Avenger's spot-on setup of the front forks make it a delight to handle as well as it causes less rider fatigue than that of the Thunderbirds suspension.
Performance - Which one is better!
As surprised as we were on the outcome of this particular round, but looking closely to the result it was indeed a clear cut outcome. The Thunderbird as previously discussed has a good handling, and the fun is accentuated by the enormous 28Nm torque produced as low as 400rpm, from its 350cc thumper of a engine. The 20.1PS engine has enough grunt to pull this 192kg bike from start. However the bike, as it is traditional to all long stroke motorcycles, doesn't have a great top end and goes out of breath around 115kmph, and the bike being at its most comfortable around 75-90kmph mark. The braking however is good from the front and rear disc assembly, where the front 280mm disc provide decent bite and stopping power to bring this huge motorcycle to a halt. The rear 240mm disc on the other hand could do well to offer better braking and it mostly provides a spongy feel which we did not like that much.
The Avenger on the other hand is one spectacular bike when it comes to performance. The same engine from the hugely capable Pulsar 220DTS-i powers the Avenger and makes 19.03Ps@8200rpm and 17.5Nm@7000rpm, although Bajaj has given a more comfortable and a taller gearing to the Avenger. In comparison to the sportier Pulsar 220, the Avenger still is always eager to jump forward with a very sporty intent. We loved the straight line acceleration of this bike and the same goes for its flick-ability on highway runs.
On the top speed regards we managed to see the Avenger do more than 135kmph easily and it surprised us just how easy it is to keep the Avenger doing 120kmph+ speeds constantly miles after miles without any resistance from the engine. The Fuel efficiency figures showed just how much fun we were having while thrashing the Avenger around the highway. The Avenger returning around 35-40kmpl as compared to a whopping 45+kmpl returned by the Thunderbird.
So, you would ask us, which one is a better performer and yes the Avenger is leaps and bounds better than the Thunderbird 350 on this regard. The Avenger accelerates better, has a higher top speed, and when you consider its low weight, the Thunderbird 350 just doesn't have anything going for it in performance front.
And, if you add to the fact that just how much the Thunderbird 350 vibrates while trying to increase the average speeds, you suddenly start finding the Avenger to be a better place to be in, even after a considerable fuel efficiency difference between the two.
Even before we set out to figure out which of these bikes was a better tourer when compared head to head with each other, we knew that we had to make sure that we compared the two in the best way possible , for we knew the immense respect and following these two bikes have earned through years. In the end of it we did find a clear winner in this shootout, it was a comparison that took us a ride of around 400kms through Jaipur to Pushkar and back to Jaipur and almost a day to get a result.
The Thunderbird 350 is a great bike, it is a stunning bike to look at, it handles decently for such a heavy bike, and the bike has a 'Royal Enfield' charm to it. The bike retails around 50,000 INR more than the Avenger and it does justify its price tag by offerings equipment like the Disc brakes both front and rear, projector hand lamps that light up the dark way better than the Avenger's old-school lighting. And, then there are those digital meters and high raised handle bars making the bike look premium over its rival. However, we were not sure about the bikes build quality, everything rattles and squeaks on the Thunderbird and it vibrates like washing machine at high speeds and frankly for a price tag of almost 1.5 lakhs one expects much better manufacturing quality. Royal Enfield has a brilliant legacy in the country and more than its rivals it needs to worry about its production quality. The vibrations and the rattling's were too alarming to neglect. We could have signed it off as an issue with the bike we were riding, however, this happens to be a unanimous statement from almost every Royal Enfield owner we have come across. Which is indeed sad,since, the Thunderbird is a beautiful machine and it deserves better.
On the other hand, the Avenger when compared to the Thunderbird 350 is just a way better bike in almost all regards. It is faster, more comfortable and yes the vibrations are no way near that of Thunderbird's to make a difference in our point of view. Infact the only real disadvantage the Avenger has when compared to the Thunderbird (apart of looks) is its low ground clearance.
However, at the end of the day, Avenger is a very solidly built motorcycle and it gives a feeling that it won't fall apart. This makes the outcome of this comparo a rather shocking one, as we were almost too sure that the Thunderbird will end up being a better bike but as surprised as we were ourselves, but it appears to be a different story altogether.
The Bajaj Avenger outclasses the Royal Enfield Thunderbird 350 and next time someone asks us 'Why?', we will certainly have a answer for it!
You can watch our comparison video below