Tuesday, April 15, 2014

800cc Royal Enfield Interceptor prototype rides again

Allan Hitchcock's 800cc Royal Enfield.
(Allan Hitchcock Photo)
A prototype Royal Enfield 800cc twin-cylinder motor in a cafe style motorcycle certainly fires the imagination.

Factory tested in 1969 — at 128 mph — the 800cc motor was a development of the already impressive 736cc Series II Interceptor with its wet-sump lubrication, but with noticeably larger barrels.

What if Royal Enfield had gone ahead with production of such a motorcycle in 1970?

And what if such a motorcycle were produced today?

Allan Hitchcock of Hitchcocks Motorcycles Ltd. in the UK has one of the very few 800cc prototype motors. He has it installed in the frame of a Royal Enfield twin, and styled to match the motorcycle of 1969.

Hitchcocks displays the bike at events in the UK. I asked Allan to tell me more about it. He was kind enough to email this reply:

"The 800 engine arrived as some parts amongst a huge hoard of bits from the Royal Enfield dealer in Bristol in 1991. After many weeks/months of sorting through the parts I noticed that there were some odd shaped barrels and it was only the long skirts that gave them away as Enfield. This got me thinking and then checked some of the crankcases and one set of the Series II cases were different to standard along with some heads etc.

"At this stage I realized what it was and put them to one corner and forgot about them for some time. It wasn’t until some years later that one of our long time customers offered to put it together just to keep it together. All the key parts were there so it was just the task of putting the motor in a suitable chassis. (It is not actually an Interceptor frame but a late twin — looks the same, but the frame number gives the game away.)

"At this time no attempt had been made to get her running and I nearly parted company with it when the National Motorcycle Museum were after a Series II Interceptor. At the time, I had the 800 and also the very first Series II (engine number and frame number 1000 first registered to the Enfield factory October 27, 1967) and one had to go — and they chose No. 1000.

"It was not for another 10 years before it was actually attempted to get it running. This brings us up to 2013 and during the summer had her running for the first time. It has only covered a few hundred miles since as Hitchcocks Motorcycles takes up all my work and play time.

"From what you read they had a large number of advance orders (Ed: one source says 400 of them) for the 800 but it is immaterial as it was all too late to save the factory.

"Whether it was ready or developed enough, I do not know, but would suggest that there were no extreme changes between this and the already proved 736cc. It would not have needed too much proving.

"We have talked about reproducing a twin engine for many many years. The heart says make it the Series II, the business approach calls for the earlier engine as it will breathe some fresh air into the parts availability for the 500/700/736 twins. But we are a long way off this as it requires a massive investment in both time and money."

Started in Redditch, England, the ancestral home of Royal Enfield, in 1984, Hitchcocks has grown into the key supplier of parts for the English made Royal Enfields as well as for Royal Enfields from India. Hitchcocks gathers up old bikes and supplies of parts, sources reproduction parts and even manufactures new and improved parts.

Their catalog and very helpful parts books can be seen online.

Allan wrote:

"Next project will be a Clymer Enfield. I recently picked up a basket case with engine number IB1001X; the factory ledgers have this as a prototype engine sent to Tartorini in Italy. Hopefully this will not take over 20 years to get up and running!"

Friday, April 11, 2014

Royal Enfield history in the U.S. captured in a photo

1999 visitors to the U.S. Royal Enfield display included Siddhartha Lal,
at right, the young man who in 2000 would offer to save Royal Enfield.
(Kevin Mahoney Photo)
Books about Royal Enfield history always include photographs of distinguished looking English gentlemen in business suits posing next to the classic motorcycles of the day.

Some day fans of the brand might find this photograph just as interesting. Classic Motorworks president Kevin Mahoney came across it recently and shared it with me.

Taken at the February, 1999 Dealer Expo in Indianapolis, Ind. it shows Mahoney and Marty Scott — the original U.S. importer of Royal Enfields — with some visitors from India at the Royal Enfield booth.

Among the visitors is Siddhartha Lal, today the managing director and CEO of Eicher Motors Ltd., parent company of Royal Enfield.

In 1999 he was a college student.

In 2000 he would encourage his father Vikram to let him try to take Royal Enfield and make it profitable instead of selling off the money losing company. Today, he is credited with taking Royal Enfield from the brink to a raging success in India.

What else is visible in the photo?

"If you are sharp you will notice that the bikes are kickstart only," Mahoney wrote.

That's hard to see, but I can make out that the motorcycles are still labelled "Enfield." Not until the next year would new U.S. bikes be badged "Royal Enfield."

"If you are really, really sharp (and old), you may notice that the booth backdrop on the right rear is the Wilson Centers (psychiatric hospital that Doneen and I worked at) booth with Enfield signs Velcroed over it," Mahoney wrote.

Left to right are Marty Scott; Sam (Sarva) Bajaj; Sam's son (who is now a doctor); Kevin Mahoney; and Siddhartha Lal.

Monday, April 7, 2014

My Royal Enfield is reliable; it's just sensitive

My Royal Enfield Bullet, gassed up and ready to ride.
For me, Sunday's Royal Enfield One Ride day included, indeed, exactly "one ride."

On Saturday I cleaned the spark plug and points on my 1999 Bullet, checked the tire pressures and even examined the air cleaner — it looked fine.

I mentally planned what clothes to wear and what route to take. I knew I would arise early Sunday, in plenty of time, because I would be too excited to sleep.

It was still dark when I pushed the Bullet from the garage and began the starting procedure.

Switch ON!

Oh, oh. The headlight barely glows. The Bullet won't start without electricity. Kick after kick brought not even a burble from the motor.

Out came the battery charger. I gave it only a few minutes, as I suspect the charger is too strong for motorcycle batteries.

Switch ON! The headlight is bright. One kick. VRRROOOOOOOMMMMmmm!

The Bullet sprang to life. But it wouldn't keep running unless I kept the revs up. Left to idle the headlight would dim and the motor stall.

I went for a long blast up U.S. 1, hoping the battery would build strength. But it didn't seem to want to hold a charge. I took a chance and stopped to attend church. After mass the Bullet did start, but not willingly. I would not be going anywhere else today that would require stopping the motor.

I rode home and returned the Bullet to the garage. I'll give the battery another try in the morning and if it's dead I'll start shopping for a new one.

My theory: the poor Bullet just couldn't stand the pressure of having to perform on one specific day out of 365. It's not unreliable. It's just sensitive.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Royal Enfield One Ride day this Sunday, April 6, 2014

Get out and ride your Royal Enfield this Sunday.
This Sunday, April 6, the first Sunday of April, 2014 is international One Ride day. It's time to ride your Royal Enfield motorcycle with ever other Royal Enfield motorcycle in the world.

Where to?

That's up to you. And me.

You can find a ride to join, or register your own ride on the official factory website.

With no ride planned near me, here in Florida, as far as I can tell, I'm on my own to create a One Ride outing. But I am not the leader of any pack. So I'll be going, but I'll be going it alone.

As a commuter, I always rode alone and that's what seems natural to me. I go as fast as I please and I stop when I want to stop, as long as I get to my destination.

But what would that destination be?

"Why don't you take the motorcycle to church?" my wife suggested. "Find a church on A1A (the beach road) and enjoy the ride."

Ummm. Possible. That is a scenic route. But I was hoping for something more exciting; maybe a place for breakfast? Or maybe a historic roadside attraction I've never visited before?

Where are you riding this Sunday? Leave a comment.