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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Tough talk: Is Royal Enfield all washed up?

Before you dismiss him as just one more person who doesn't "get" the appeal of the Royal Enfield motorcycle, consider that he has just completed a tour of 3,000 kilometers on a 350 Bullet in India. He recognizes the great appeal the Enfield has to India and, increasingly, to the world, but, after that distance, he says, you can keep it.

He signs himself "Bobbyslob" and he writes on the Horizons Unlimited web site:

"Is Royal Enfield a thing of the past? … I believe that the answer is yes, the time of Enfields is over. There are three reasons why I say so. First, the technology of the Enfield is old. Second, it can let you down anytime and anywhere. Third … Hondas.

"There are many ways to be a biker. I am of the sort that wants his machine to work well. I care about the looks, sound and spirit of a bike, but ultimately it's reliability, drivability and performance that rank highest in my order of priorities…

"The dream vanishes fast when you are stuck somewhere because one of the hundreds of mechanical failures that Enfields are prone to experience suddenly materializes...

"What is amazing is just how badly Enfields are built, when you compare them to modern bikes, but also in absolute terms. Just to give you an example, this is a bike that was conceived with a special lever - that to my knowledge no other bike needs - to find the neutral position…. As it happens, the neutral lever is usually so hard that it is actually of no use at all. But, leaving that aside, the mere fact that a neutral lever is needed should tell the engineers at
Enfield that something wrong is going on in the gear box.

"I have been using a '96 350 Bullet model that received full restoration by an expert mechanic… I must say that the bike never let me down (thank God) in the middle of a road. However, I am sure that I was lucky.

"Drivability and performance are just treacherous. The bike has 12 hp and weighs around 200kg. If you are carrying a second person (as I was), luggage for two, full tank and luggage carrier, you will realize that the bike is as fast as a turtle, which is just what you do not want when you overtake big lorries on a busy Indian road…

"Finally… Hondas. These are little 100 -125- 150 bikes that have invaded the Indian market during the last few years. They don't look good. I would say that they look rather uncool, in fact. They do not sound well, just like a scooter. However, they are cheap and reliable."

Bobbyslob doesn't acknowledge that newer Royal Enfields are better made, and have a new five-speed transmission that doesn't have a neutral finder and doesn't miss it. But, for all the headaches he suffered, he can still admit:

"Having said this, in fairness Enfields remain the best looking bike you can find in India, with an incredible sound and a great history behind. Indian youngsters who want to play it cool love Enfields and will often ask you if you will sell them your bike."

2 comments:

  1. Hi, been following ur write-ups for a while.
    I am not a member of the forum which is being discussed here... but there's something they need to know.
    The two-wheeler market in India is growing at the rate of approx 8% in sales volumes, but Royal Enfield sales in the past coupla years grew 18%!

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  2. J thank you for your support. Trying to get a blog going is a lonely slog. Intelligent comments like yours are simply the gold standard. No blogger could ask for better. It is an amazing figure, really. In India, Royal Enfield's new products are up against the thousands in the used market and, in India, there is a whole street corner industry dedicated to keeping used machines running. So that is startling growth, really.

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