Friday, July 14, 2017

What Royal Enfield needs more than a twin: reliability

Royal Enfield promised reliability back then. It's even more important now.
Reliability was a selling point for Royal Enfield in 1952.

The cover of Motor Cycling magazine for December 20, 1951 carried a Royal Enfield advertisement wishing "sincere and hearty Greetings to sporting motorcyclists the world over, for Christmas and the coming year."

The ad went on to claim that "Royal Enfield reliability means maximum mileage with minimum maintenance."

The headline promised "You'll log Trouble-Free Miles in 1952!"

The smiling rider waving to admiring friends from his Royal Enfield 350 certainly seems confident.

I wish I could say I feel that confident when I take my 1999 Royal Enfield Bullet for a ride. I have no special reason to be worried that my Royal Enfield will let me down.


There have been 66 years of progress since that Royal Enfield ad appeared in Motor Cycling. Yet my Bullet looks a whole heck of a lot like the Royal Enfield in the illustration.

Can I really expect reliability from a Royal Enfield Bullet, now made in India, where it was seemingly frozen in time in 1955?

After all, the issue of whether the British motorcycle industry could stand up to Japanese competition in reliability was settled, in the negative, by 1980. Building a 1955 British design in India probably does nothing to change that impression.

The Royal Enfield Bullet has improved greatly since mine was made. The Bullet has added a Unit Constructed Engine (made of alloy not iron), five-speed transmission, electronic fuel injection, electronic ignition and disc brake. It is built in new or modernized factories. All good things.

But standards have not stood still, either.

In 2015, Consumer Reports magazine  surveyed U.S. motorcycle owners and concluded that only 11 percent of new Yamaha motorcycles need work in their first four years. Suzuki, Honda and Kawasaki ranked next. Harley-Davidson owners were twice as likely as Yamaha owners to have problems. Surprisingly, the U.S. maker Victory did almost as well as the Japanese brands.

But a whopping 40 percent of BMW owners could expect troubles in the first four years of ownership, the magazine reported.

Royal Enfield owners weren't surveyed, but if a prestige brand like BMW experiences such a high rate of problems, what can Royal Enfield owners expect to experience?

I actually suspect Royal Enfield might do fairly well in such a survey. Royal Enfields cost much less than BMWs, and Royal Enfield owners might dismiss minor flaws that would disappoint BMW buyers.

Reliability doesn't mean what it did when I was a toddler. Back then, a product that "never wore out" meant that, with careful break-in and constant maintenance, it could be rebuilt as often as needed.

Today, reliability means a product that is perfect right out of the box, accepts any abuse, requires little or no maintenance ever, and yet lasts longer under these conditions than the owner would want to keep it.

Not only will it not need to be rebuilt in that time period, it may not even be repairable.

"There are no consumer serviceable parts in this appliance," appears on the bottom of many household products.

Can Royal Enfield live up to the expectations of consumers growing up in this environment?

I hope so.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Royal Enfield factory in Redditch partly demolished

In 2013 author Gordon May displays aerial photo of Royal Enfield's Redditch factory.
Words "Royal Enfield" were dimly visible on roof behind photographer at left.
In 2013 I was privileged to take a brief walking tour of the former main Royal Enfield factory location in Redditch, England.

It was led by author, historian and Royal Enfield enthusiast Gordon May.

Redditch was headquarters of Royal Enfield for most of its existence in Britain. Gordon conducted our group past the  remains of the once immense works, pointing out the words "Royal Enfield" still visible on the roof of one building.

It was stirring to be where so much Royal Enfield history was written.

Although made in India, my own Royal Enfield Bullet enriches my life and there was a sense that somewhere in this cluster of red brick structures its ancestors were first bolted together.

In 2013 a round plaque placed by Royal Enfield Owners Club marked factory wall.
Progress is the enemy of old buildings. Sure enough, blogger Jorge Pullin reports that some of the buildings have fallen to new development. Photos and an account of his recent visit to the Redditch factory are on his blog, My Royal Enfields.

Former Redditch factory repair shops are seen in Google street view.
REOC marker is visible at right. These buildings are now gone.
The "Royal Enfield" sign on the roof is gone and the factory building that once displayed a plaque from the Royal Enfield Owners Club has been demolished.

Luckily, Jorge has an excellent collection of articles on his blog compiling his research into the various Royal Enfield factories.

It is only a shame that he has had to write a new chapter describing the demolition.

Google aerial view shows vacant lot where part of factory formerly stood.
"Royal Enfield" was still faintly visible on roof at bottom center in this 2017 aerial.

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