Royal Enfield Thunderbird 350 vs Jawa 42: Which one’s the king of the sub-400cc retro bike segment?
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Royal Enfield Thunderbird 350 vs Jawa 42: Which one’s the king of the sub-400cc retro bike segment?

Reviews by Team Drivio | Mar 29, 2023

Royal Enfield shook up the small capacity cruiser segment with the Thunderbird 350. Can the Jawa 42 do the same albeit in a completely different format? Let’s find out: 

  • The Thunderbird’s 346cc thumper of an engine made 20.07PS and 28Nm. 
  • The Jawa 42, on the other hand, is tuned for a solid 27.33PS and 27.03Nm from its 293cc mill. 
  • It also gets a more modern six-speed gearbox. 

The Royal Enfield Thunderbird 350 and the Jawa 42 are hands down two of your best bets in the sub-400cc retro bike segment. And things can get confusing when wanting to choose between the two. But fret not, here we are to help you out for the same:

Royal Enfield Thunderbird 350 vs Jawa 42: Design & Features

FeaturesRoyal Enfield Thunderbird 350Jawa 42
LED HeadlampNoNo
Fully-digital ConsoleNoNo
LED indicatorsNoNo
Riding modesNoNo
Alloy wheelsYesNo
Split seatsYesYes
Bluetooth connectivityNoNo
Engine guardNoYes

As is visible, none of the bikes score particularly high in terms of features. But then again, they’re both retro bikes made for the laidback kind of riding rather than out and out spirited rides on tech-laden motorcycles. 

On the styling front, Jawa designers have only made minor changes rather than a complete redesign. Jawa's 42 was the sportier and more urban-focused model in the lineup. The 42 looks even better now that it has alloy wheels and a matte black theme. The bar-end mirrors and off-set racing stripe add to the retro vibe. I was particularly taken with the Jawa logo on the alloy wheel, which looked particularly stunning, especially on our bike. 

The Thunderbird, meanwhile, looks every bit retro and is actually so too. There’s hardly any tech underneath that authentic cruiser bodywork and the bike pulls no surprises here. 

Royal Enfield Thunderbird 350 vs Jawa 42: Engine & Gearbox

SpecificationsRoyal Enfield Thunderbird 350Jawa 42
Engine346cc single-cylinder air-cooled293cc single-cylinder liquid-cooled
Maximum Power20.07PS27.33PS
Maximum Torque28Nm27.03Nm
Transmission5-speed6-speed

The Jawa’s engine's eagerness will be the first thing you notice while driving. It's not lightning fast, but it's fun. Vibrations are kept under control until the mid-range, but once there, you can feel them on the footpegs and handlebar. I'll add that its lively nature should make it a pleasurable machine for city commuting. Another feature you'll appreciate is the exhaust note.

The Thunderbird 350, on the other hand, is a typical Royal Enfield when it comes to the engine. It’s a long-stroke, low revving thumper, one that has oodles of torque all around the rev range. Give the bike any speed at any gear and it just picks up right from where it left. While it’s not rapid off the line, it’s definitely not substantially slower than the Jawa.

Where both the bikes are a pain to deal with, are the sheer amount of vibrations both bikes return, especially at higher speeds. 

Royal Enfield Thunderbird 350 vs Jawa 42: Suspension, Tyres & Brakes

SpecificationsRoyal Enfield Thunderbird 350Jawa 42
Front suspensionTelescopic ForkTelescopic Fork
Rear suspensionTwin shocksTwin shocks
Front tyre90/90-1990/90-18
Rear tyre120/80-18120/80-17
Front brake280mm disc280mm disck
Rear brake240mm disc153mm drum/240mm disc
ABSDual channelSingle-channel

Jawa has made no changes to the underpinnings other than the addition of alloy wheels with tubeless tyres. It feels easy to hustle because of its wide bars, which should aid in navigating city traffic. When it comes to high-speed cornering, keep in mind that this isn't a KTM, so keep speeds under control. However, for a bike in this price range, it performs admirably. With a kerb weight of 172kg, it is one of the lightest motorcycles in its class, and manoeuvring the bike is simple.

The ride is firm, and the rear tends to yank the rider out of the seat over sharp bumps. Even minor speed bumps tend to disrupt the rhythm and must be navigated slowly. The brakes have good bite and progression; there's nothing to complain about, with only minor ABS intrusion when braking hard.

Like other Royal Enfields, the Thunderbird too, reports as an extremely neutral motorcycle here. There are no surprises to be pulled and the bike does whatever you ask it to, as long as you’re not asking too much from it. It takes the laidback approach to everything. While the bike can be a lot of fun in the corners, its soft suspension will remind you every now and then that it’s not meant to do this.

Royal Enfield Thunderbird 350 vs Jawa 42: Dimensions

DimensionsRoyal Enfield Thunderbird 350Jawa 42
Length2040mm2071mm
Width830mm789mm
Height1140mm1065mm
Wheelbase1350mm1369mm
Ground clearance135mm145mm
Kerb weight197kg172kg
Fuel tank capacity20-litres14-litres
Seat height775mm765mm

When you steer the Jawa into a corner, you gain a sense of agility and involvement. Handling prowess isn't the most sought-after feature on laid-back retros, but it's a nice bonus. The Jawa's demeanour was so fluid and assured that I found myself accidentally dragging the pegs through corners.

The MRF rubber and ABS-enabled 280mm Bybre disc at the front gave me the confidence to ride even harder. However, due to the lack of ABS on the rear wheel, you must exercise caution when making emergency stops. The Jawa is unfazed by either carving a corner or raising rubble on an unpaved road. 

The Thunderbird’s 197kg weight is felt at city speeds and we wish Royal Enfield put it through a strict keto diet! 

Royal Enfield Thunderbird 350 vs Jawa 42: Price

PriceRoyal Enfield Thunderbird 350Jawa 42
Ex-showroom DelhiRs 1,63,544 onwardsRs 1,95,142 onwards

Royal Enfield, in typical Royal Enfield fashion, has priced the Thunderbird at an extremely alluring Rs 1,63,544 (ex-showroom Delhi). This makes it the cheapest cruiser on sale in India after the Bajaj Avenger, and hence making quite a strong case for itself, given that it’s a whole lot more powerful and sophisticated than the Avenger. 

The Jawa 42, meanwhile, carries a substantially higher price, and that is more than Rs 1.95 lakh (ex-showroom Delhi). What do you get for that price? Well, quite a lot, you see. A liquid-cooled engine, 6-speed gearbox, more sophisticated underpinnings and a lot more. 

Conclusion

Jawa has made good progress (in terms of performance) with 42, adding useful updates and improving quality. So, if you're a Jawa fan, it is our recommendation. We anticipated a price premium of around Rs 3,000, but Jawa had other plans. The bike costs Rs 1.95 lakh, a Rs 7,000 premium over the standard 42 dual-channel ABS version. This is an even bigger issue when compared to its competitor, the Thunderbird 350, one that provides a richer  cruiser experience at a significantly lower price. 

That said, if you want elements of performance in your retro bike as well, it’s hard to overlook the 42. 

But if you’re looking for a completely authentic old-school experience, look no further, for the Thunderbird 350 begs you to consider it. Right from the feet-forward riding stance, to its torquey motor, Royal Enfield has nailed everything with this bike including its price. Yes, the price has been achieved by certain degree of cost cutting but it’s nothing that’ll put you off. 

At the end of the day, you will not go wrong purchasing either bike, for each one’s made for a different kind of person, and if you are that person, these are the best bikes you will get at their respective prices.