Made like a gun, goes like a bullet
When old is new again, the romance of the old English styled Royal Enfield is taking the world by storm. Roderick Eime rides into the sunset.
India has always been a place where ingenuity and necessity have gone hand-in-hand. Any visitor to this ‘incredible’ country will see numerous examples every day where industrious townsfolk, strapped for resources and facilities, will ‘make do’ by patching up, innovating, recycling and repurposing.
Only just recently we’ve seen the demise of the venerable Ambassador, a run-on derivative of Britain’s stalwart Morris Oxford II that launched as a joint venture in 1954 and was built from scratch in West Bengal.
Soon after WWII, the Mahindra brothers imported the famous Willys Jeep from the US and continue to manufacture the world’s most recognisable 4WD to this day in a shape that still harks back to its wartime ‘CJ’ guise.
Similarly, the historic Royal Enfield motorcycle company can trace its roots back to the first motorcycle manufactured under the ‘Enfield’ brand in 1901. But by 1970, the British firm was defunct and declared bankrupt, leaving a joint venture set up in Madras in 1955 to supply the single cylinder 350cc Bullet to government agencies like police and military.
Anyone travelling to India will have marvelled at this array of delightfully anachronistic vehicles, setting the scene for a ‘time capsule’ scenario that blends curiously with the old British colonial architecture in places like Old Delhi, Kolkata and Mumbai. But now in the 21st century, India’s massive industrial machine is rapidly modernising, gaining momentum and supplying its prodigious output of cars, tractors, trucks and motorcycles to diverse international markets.
The distinctive Royal Enfield, now a unit of India’s Eicher Motors, has hit a chord with heritage lovers and retro geeks resulting in the manufacturer rapidly expanding its production capacity and opening new double-shift plants around India, including Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu, to bolster output from the original plant at Chennai. Total production is now regularly in excess of 50,000 units per month, placing it neck-and-neck with America’s legendary Harley-Davidson. Demand is such that new owners are often waiting weeks for their specially ordered bikes to arrive.
Royal Enfield motorcycles in our market are based around four models: Classic, Bullet, Continental GT and the all-new Himalayan adventure bike. All bikes are learner approved, so a Royal Enfield can easily be your first two-wheeled experience.
The Classic is incarnated in various thematic guises including the quasi-military Battle Green, Desert Storm and Squadron Blue plus shiny two-tone Chrome and base Classic in both 500c and 350cc, the latter incorporating cool retro features such as carburettor and kick start (as well as electric start). The Classic is characterised by its sprung bicycle-style rider’s seat with a removable pillion seat as an option.
The Bullet is claimed to be “the longest running model in continuous production” with styling that originates in the 1932 model that was also available in a very quick - for its time - 500cc version capable of close to 100mph. Today the Bullet can be recognised by its one-piece, contoured rider and pillion seat along with more subtle touches like hand-painted pinstriping, and unique headlamp nacelle, housing speedometer and ammeter. It’s only telltale modern features are the 280mm front disc brake and regulation indicators.
The Continental GT is an archetypal cafe racer and the lightest, fastest and most powerful Royal Enfield in production thanks to its fuel-injected 535cc single pot with 29.1hp and 44Nm. A lighter flywheel and improved power-to-weight ratio endows the Continental GT with extra responsiveness, punch and agility. The rider sits in a crouched but comfy position and the tuned exhaust emits a characteristic sporty note.
As you read this, the first on-road/off-road Himalayans are reaching showrooms. For many years, adventurous riders have used Royal Enfields for two-wheeled expeditions across deserts and mountain ranges and in response, the factory has now produced a motorcycle expressly for those whose road is ‘no road’. The sturdy Himalayan comes with higher ground clearance, rugged suspension and a special 411cc single cylinder, air-cooled, 4-stroke, SOHC engine.
And in breaking news, dealers are also hoping to see the all-new British-designed, engineered and built 750cc naked retro motorcycle called the Interceptor some time this year.
In the Saddle
|Royal Enfield Classic 500|
Over a period of several weeks, we tested every available model, clocking up hundreds of kilometres in both traffic and open road conditions.
The universal impression among our small but experienced team of testers was that Royal Enfield has produced a fun and stylish bike that is both practical and easy to ride. Our older riders recalled the sometimes rough, awkward and vague characteristics of the vintage models, while these new variants left them totally renewed in their enthusiasm for the brand. Gone are the clunky gears and reluctant acceleration. This is a whole new bike.
The ride is tuned mainly for leisurely commuting, as 90 per cent of bikes will be used for. Softish springs and firm dampers can get bouncy on uneven surfaces and it does ‘tingle’ at higher revs and speed. All of these characteristics can be mitigated in consultation with the dealer and the bike can be easily worked to accommodate your own riding style and preferences.
After just a few laps around the block, you’ll find a very pleasant, economical and effortless bike to ride around town and on shorter tours without any modifications. Smooth power delivery, useful torque and agile road manners, means you are not at the mercy of dynamic traffic conditions either. The front disc brake is immediate and confident and the softer rear is ideal for balance and control, rather than urgent stopping.
In short, any of the modern Royal Enfield models will delight riders who want to enjoy their ride rather see their scenery in a neck-snapping blur.
Royal Enfield Classic 500
Type Single Cylinder, 4 stroke, Twinspark
Compression Ratio 8.5:1
Maximum Power 27.2 bhp @ 5250 rpm
Maximum Torque 41.3 Nm @ 4000 rpm
Ignition System Digital Electronic Ignition
Clutch Wet, multi-plate
Gearbox 5 Speed Constant Mesh
Chassis Type Single downtube, with engine as stressed member
Kerb Weight 187Kg
Fuel Capacity 14.5 Ltr (3.83 Gallon)
Fuel Economy approx. 3.0l/100kms highway cycle
Read the full story in World Magazine - Autumn 2017