Friday, June 15, 2018

Time travel? It's possible, on a Royal Enfield

Riding a classic Royal Enfield carries me back to the way things were.
I've often mentioned that I consider my Royal Enfield motorcycle a sort of time machine that carries me back in time as it carries me forward in space.

Riding my Royal Enfield, I can experience something of life in the 1940s, when it was designed, and its like roamed the planet.

The other day, hunting around the house for a pocket book to take on an airplane flight, I grabbed H.G. Wells' "The Time Machine" from the books one of my now grown daughters left behind.

The classic tale of a man who travels into the future has been published and republished so often that there is dispute about which is the definitive version. However, it seems to have been first published in 1895.

Wells himself wrote a "Forward" to a version published in 1931, in which he noted:

"'The Time Machine' has lasted as long as the diamond-framed safety bicycle, which came in at about the date of its first publication."

Why the mention of the safety bicycle? Because H.G. Wells was fascinated by the then new safety bicycle and its possibilities. In "The Time Machine" the fictional Time Traveler mounts a machine equipped with a "saddle," like a bicycle.

Bicycles appear in other H.G. Wells fiction. There's even a book about the author's interest in two-wheelers, "War of the Wheels," by Jeremy Withers.

At about the time Wells began imagining traveling in time, England was enchanted by the new found mobility offered by the safety bicycle.

These combined pneumatic tires, chain drive, usable brakes and a riding position near enough the ground to put your feet down.

It was only a short step to add a motor, creating the motorcycle.

It must have seemed to a formerly pedestrian society that the speed of the two-wheeler saved so much time that it virtually was a time machine. If such a device could move you through three dimensions of space, why not through the fourth dimension of time?

Wells thought a traveler so enabled would head towards the future to discover how human life in 1895 would evolve.

In the book things turn out very badly indeed, and the time traveler is lucky just to escape back into his own day.

I suspect a real time traveler would prefer to visit the past. It's safer.

Certainly not all was well with the world in 1955, my childhood days I prefer to wonder about, but what happened then is at least settled history.

My Royal Enfield and I will get to the present time when we get there — and not before.

Friday, June 8, 2018

1977 article described Royal Enfield's return to Britain

Motorcycle Sport magazine tested the 1977 Royal Enfield Bullet.
The Royal Enfield reference book I turn to most often is Roy Bacon's "Royal Enfield, The Postwar Models." Bacon's book is entertaining as well as informative, as he often relies on the British motorcycling magazines of the time.

The magazine testers are often amusing, and their observations take you back to how it was in "those days." Failings that would disgrace a motorcycle today were taken in stride then. If a motorcycle came with a good tool kit, for instance, that seemed to excuse many flaws.

Recently I was fascinated to come across one of the original articles quoted by Bacon: Motorcycle Sport magazine's June, 1977 examination of the Royal Enfield Bullet.

By then the Bullet was made in India, and in 1977 had just been returned to English shores by an importer.

I spotted the magazine for sale on eBay.

Royal Enfield had been gone from the UK for almost two decades by the time of the article. The original item reveals there was still nostalgia in Britain for the Bullet.

"How many letters have been published in the pages of Motorcycle Sport decrying the demise of the traditional British single? How many readers have said that they would buy one tomorrow if only it were still made? Now comes the chance to put their money where their mouth is... straight out of the past comes a bike that is so unchanged, so traditional-looking and so economical that we are forced to take a step back and ask ourselves: has the motorcycle industry been wrong for these past 10 years?"

The magazine found that the brakes weren't very good, the kick starter didn't fold, and there was no lock to secure the steering while the bike was parked. (The writer guessed you might drill some holes in the steering head and use a padlock — can you imagine doing that today?)

The magazine worried that it was being too optimistic about the Bullet.

"It is difficult to decide whether we have been over-indulgent of the Enfield's faults in our delight at seeing a machine of such character back on the market."

But, ultimately, the writer found the Bullet from India to be "Ideal for the two-bike man and the enthusiastic commuter, we would say, and fun too."

This was not the final judgment. Bacon notes that:

"A little later, in January, 1978 Motor Cycle Mechanics also tested the Bullet and were less impressed by it, concluding that it was a nice machine but really ought to be in a museum."

The return of the prodigal motorcycle would have its ups and downs, and after 1977 the made-in-India Bullet was sometimes available for sale in Britain and sometimes not.

In modern times a revitalized Royal Enfield has became seriously interested in exporting India's iconic motorcycle to the world and Royal Enfields are back in Britain.

Royal Enfield says it intends to become the world leader in middle-size motorcycles, offering products that aren't too big, aren't too small, but are just what riders around the world really want.

Which is interesting; because the title of the 1977 Motorcycle Sport article envisioned the same sort of future. It read:

"1977 350 Royal Enfield: Suitable for maybe a quarter of the motorcycling population?"

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