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Friday, March 27, 2015

Royal Enfield mentioned in story of sea hunt for U-boat

A Royal Enfield motorcycle plays an incidental yet important role in Robert Kurson's 2004 book "Shadow Divers."

The book is the exciting, true story of how divers John Chatterton and Richie Kohler struggled to identify a Nazi U-boat they help explore off the coast of New Jersey in the 1990s.

The author recounts how "We met at Chatterton's house, where he had parked his vintage Royal Enfield motorcycle next to Kohler's late model Harley."

The book uses the reference to the Royal Enfield to set up the distinction between the courageous but careful Chatterton and the almost piratical Kohler. Though different in style, they became friends as they tackled the sometimes deadly task of finding something — anything — on the mystery submarine that would identify it.

The U-boat's grave lay barely within the reach of the scuba technology of the day. The wreck was badly damaged by the explosion that sank it, and was now a steel tube filled with jagged edges, piles of debris and wires reaching out to snag a diver. Time underwater had erased all the easy clues to its identity.

In finally proving this was the U-869, Chatterton and Kohler identified the final resting place of the submarine's crew.

Indirectly, they'd also bring recognition to the crews of two U.S. destroyer escorts who had been denied credit for the victory they'd scored in 1945. (This last wasn't verified until after "Shadow Divers" appeared — the full report appears on the U.S. Coast Guard website.)

After re-reading the book and enjoying it again, I wrote to Chatterton in 2012, to learn he had just moved to Florida and sold the Royal Enfield. He couldn't immediately lay his hands on any pictures of it.

"I do have a couple of pictures from when my wife and I were in the north of Thailand on 500cc Bullets with Himalayan Roadrunners," he wrote. "Actually, we got married on this trip, in Nan province.

"My wife and I made one trip from Kathmandu to Bhutan on Enfields, and another to the north of Thailand, where we got married. After the Bhutan trip, my wife bought me an Enfield I saw at the motorcycle show in New York City.

"Over the years, I have owned a Norton, a Triumph, a Kawasaki, a Yamaha, a Husqvarna, an Excelsior Henderson and several Harleys. I have a soft spot for the old British bikes."

Motorcycles must fill a relatively mild place in Chatterton's life, which has included service as a battlefield medic in Vietnam, hundreds of risky dives on other wrecks and cancer. He was at work under the Twin Towers when the airliners hit on Sept. 11, 2001.

"Shadow Divers" helped make Chatterton and Kohler public figures, and you may have seen them on the History Channel. You can read biographies of John Chatterton and Richie Kohler on their websites.

You can go along with Chatterton on a dive inside the U-boat on this YouTube video. I think you'll agree that his calm narration contrasts sharply with the clearly dangerous place he's exploring.


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Where to ask technical questions about your Royal Enfield

Got a question about how to fix your Royal Enfield?
Here are some people to ask.
For the answers to technical questions about Royal Enfield motorcycles, I always recommend joining the appropriate Yahoo message group and asking your questions there.

You'll usually find that members are ready and willing to answer common questions, if they can, based on their experience. But one recent question really stopped the show.

"Hi folks," began the cheerful question on the Royal Enfield Yahoo Group.

"The last digit on my Enfield Bullet speedo is a different color: White face speedo (from) around 2006, in kilometers; six digits overall five black and the last white. Is this last one tenths of a kilometer or just kilometers? Thanks, Michelle (New Zealand)"

Perhaps because female members of motorcycle message boards are less common than males, the first answer was a gallant one.

"Michelle, The speedo runs up to 99,000 and then the last roll is tenths. Victor"

And that's where it might have ended except that you could sense board members biting their tongues. Finally came the response everyone wanted to make:

"...Surely you could've answered that by riding 200 meters and seeing if that last white digit advances twice. That's nearly as easy as typing, and probably faster. But it's good of you to liven up a slow day by asking. There's a little devil dancing on my shoulder, shouting in my ear that I'm being rude in pointing this out. So I apologize for that. But really. Like, come on: Whatever were you thinking?"

And there, again, it might have ended; except that members really were taken aback by the apparent naivety of the question.

"Maybe her bike isn’t running at the moment and she does not want to push it 200 meters!" one member guessed.

And, indeed, it was something like, as the next message from Michelle explained:

"Hi again. Thank you for the information. Have yet to mount it on the bike but will certainly take it for a 200-meter test ride when I do. Thanks, Michelle"

The response?

"OK, Michelle, that puts me in my place! Never make assumptions!"

Etiquette is almost as important as a thick skin when asking questions of knowledgeable enthusiasts on Internet message boards.

You will want to avoid alienating the people who might help by asking lazy or inappropriate questions, or failing to first search the group files and past conversations for answers to common questions.

For instance, if I want to know how to adjust the Gear Operator Selector Assembly of the four-speed Royal Enfield transmission, all I have to do is search conversations in the Royal Enfield Yahoo Group for "GOSA."  The question has been answered there; there's no excuse for asking it again.

Members also get irritated when questioners fail to explain their problem completely or don't state what model Royal Enfield they have. Iron-barreled four speed? Five-speed AVL? Unit Constructed Engine (UCE)? These things matter.

Remember, you're getting free advice, and members may disagree about the correct answer. If advice you receive works for you, be sure to write back, thank your advisers, and report that the problem is solved.

And even though there are several helpful groups, resist the temptation to "cross post" your question on more than one of them. Many people belong to them all and don't need to read the same conversation duplicated.

There are many Yahoo groups, but here are the ones I return to again and again:

Royal Enfield:  Worldwide members will tackle almost any question about any model but have your facts laid out when you ask a question or misunderstandings can ensue.

Ace Performance: Tom Lyons creates and sells performance equipment for Royal Enfield Bullets but also responds to complex technical questions in detail. Check the little stuff (just a dirty spark plug?) before you bother him.

Bulletech: Members have deep knowledge of the Royal Enfield Bullets common in India. The philosophy here is to guide you in learning the answer for yourself, as a true Bulleteer should. If you're not going to enjoy that journey, don't start.

RE Interceptor: Specialty here is the Royal Enfield Interceptor, but any Royal Enfield twin interests members.

Bullet-Mania: A once active group, but traffic has fallen off. Its Files section nevertheless retains a Mikuni VM Carburetor Super Tuning Manual and "How to Date Your Indian Bullet by its Engine and Frame Numbers," a valuable 2003 article from the Bullet-In magazine.

Friday, March 20, 2015

1970 Royal Enfield Series II Interceptor was rare

Royal Enfield Interceptor Series II: "There aren't enough to go round."
A 1970 Royal Enfield Interceptor brochure for sale on eBay in Coventry, Conn. tells us something about the standing and price this legendary motorcycle commanded back in the day.

The brochure, in apparently excellent shape, includes some handwritten notes added at the time, apparently, by the Royal Enfield dealer.

To quote from the brochure:

"Introducing the Series II Seven-Fifty Interceptor

"When it was announced that Enfield Precision Engineers Ltd. — a company famous in England for the manufacture of aircraft and guided weapon components — were to take over the complete manufacture of Royal Enfield Interceptor motorcycles instead of producing only the engine, everyone knew that something special would follow, and here it is, a completely new Stage II Interceptor.

"This machine is not mass produced but is made under toolroom conditions in a precision engineering factory where only a limited number are made each year embodying all the skill and craftsmanship for which England is famous.

"Not everyone can have one. There aren't enough to go round. That is why the owner of an Interceptor always has something special. Something the other fellow hasn't got."

Circled with a red pen are the words "There aren't enough to go round" and the price $1,575 has been hand written at the bottom.

I doubt that was the out-the-door price. But unless it is a true "low ball" offer, it's extremely competitive for a big motorcycle, even in 1970.

At the same time, Honda's CB750 four was introduced with a price of $1,495, but that would have equaled a final price $1,800 or more.

The mass produced Honda would never be rare.

Not so the Interceptor Series II.  According to Royal Enfield enthusiast Chris Overton, who has made a study of the numbers, only 1,201 complete Series II Interceptors motorcycles were recorded.

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