Monday, December 29, 2008

Royal Enfield movie role all too brief

The movie The Curious Case of Benjamin Button kept me on the edge of my seat. It wasn't that suspense ran so high in this two-and-one-half-hour-long movie. It was just that I had read that a Royal Enfield motorcycle was included and I didn't want to miss it.

It's lucky I was on alert. The Royal Enfield appears very briefly, when the character played by Brad Pitt is supposed to be in India "finding himself." The word "Enfield" is clearly visible on the back of a dual seat as Pitt bends down to service the motorcycle. At least three other motorcycles appear in the film: an elderly Indian, a vintage Triumph and what might be a Honda step-through.

I may not be much of a film critic, but I think the film could have been improved by cutting back to one motorcycle. I also would have trimmed out all but one love interest (there are at least two) and I think one World War would have been sufficient, instead of both. In fact, I think The Curious Case of Benjamin Button would have made a better TV series; there was enough in it to fill two or three seasons of half-hour episodes.

I haven't seen the moment with the Royal Enfield pictured on the Internet yet, but I've included still pictures from the movie web site of the Indian and the Triumph.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Oil filter oddity pressures felt washer

In my post "Ten Bad Things Other People Do to Your Bullet" item Number Eight was:

8. Oil filter parts re-installed in the wrong order. Yes, it does seem odd that the spring in the cap bears on a fiber washer, but that is the way it's supposed to work. Putting the metal washer between them instead of on the other side of the fiber washer means an oil leak for certain.
A friendly comment from "Anonymous" disputed my observation. "You're wrong about Number 8," this person wrote: "It's spring, washer, felt washer then cup washer."

I reassemble my oil filter with the spring bearing on the felt washer because that is the way I found it when I did my first oil change. It struck me as odd but, when I experimented by reversing the order so the spring pressure was on the metal washer, I got a leak. Why? Maybe the spring somehow distorts the way the metal washer compresses the felt, whereas the spring "digs in" to the felt when it is properly installed.

The owner's manual that came with my 1999 Bullet bears me out. Here is the illustration, on Page 39.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Royal Enfield powers through Recession

India television is surprised and enthusiastic that sales of Royal Enfield motorcycles continue to increase despite the domestic downturn in two-wheeler sales and the "severe depression" in export markets.

Catch the happy tone (and charming accents) in this television news broadcast from Delhi. SCROLL DOWN TO SEE THE VIDEO. Reporter Sumantra Barooah of CNBC-TV18 tells it all:

"The brand positioning of Royal Enfield has helped it grow during the rough patch — though it’s a pretty intangible factor. The damp mood in the economy has not impacted the Bullet’s customers yet. Sales of the biking grand-daddy grew 20% year-on-year."

Friday, December 26, 2008

Royal Enfield factory tour 2008

Just in time for 2009, here's a video of how Royal Enfield built Bullet motorcycles way, way back in 2008! I posted an earlier, incomplete version of this earlier in 2008 but my video editing skills weren't up to much. Here's a much improved version. Thanks for the video editing tutorial from my daughter Anna.

Our videographer for this visit is Kevin Mahoney of Classic Motorworks, U.S. importer of the Royal Enfield motorcycle. If you listen closely at one point you can hear him saying "I'm going to put this on a CD and put it on my web site." Hopefully, he will, so it can reach a wider audience. There are some very decent shots here and you get a feeling for the attitude of the workers on the line.

"They never seem rushed," Anna commented as we viewed it. Seems to me, you'd want them to take time making your bike. Enjoy.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Royal Enfield weakness: turn signals

One of the first things many Royal Enfield owners in the U.S. do is to remove the Department of Transportation approved turn signals. They are considered large, ugly and too "plaistiky." Classic Motorworks sells nicer replacements.

My dealer offered to sell me replacement turn signals when I picked up my Royal Enfield Bullet in 2001. At the time I was a bit unsure of my motorcycling ability, so I said "Let me knock these off first!"

It took seven years and 40,000 miles, but I have accomplished that "goal." Three of the four turn signals stalks have broken, the latest failing as I motored toward a meeting with other bikers. Nothing looks dumber than a turn signal swinging from its wires; I aborted the trip to the meeting and went home.

All three failures have come inside the same 1,000 miles. It's obvious that there is some natural limit (vibration?) to the life of the turn signal stalk. The rubber like plastic stalks break cleanly. I replaced two of the stalks with slightly used take-offs from another Bullet owner. This third stalk I am trying to fix with JB Weld glue.

I'll let you know how long it hangs in there.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

What helmet best suits Royal Enfield?

A real Jet Helmet of the USAF variety.

I needed to buy a helmet before I picked up my brand new Royal Enfield Bullet. There never was any doubt what kind of helmet I would buy. I knew that the best protection was afforded by a "full-face" helmet, the kind of Knights-of-the-Round-Table model that provides protection for your face and chin.

I would not buy one of those. I would buy a "Jet Helmet." This may have a plastic visor, but its bottom is not anchored in anything. Basically, your skull is protected but your face and chin are in the breeze.

Nervous as I was about getting hurt when I went down, I felt the Jet Helmet was the statement I needed to make. It seemed to fit the retro image of the Royal Enfield itself. Better yet, it reminded me of the real "Jet Helmets" I'd seen on TV in shows like Steve Canyon. In my new, white Jet Helmet, I felt like a jet ace. Childish? Absolutely.

So far, so good. I do not recommend that anyone follow in my foolish footsteps and leave their chin dangerously exposed to pavement. But I can not resist recounting a story of the one time I did get to wear a full-face helmet.

My brother in Los Angeles invited me out to do a bit of riding in the mountains. I tried to beg off. We don't have mountain roads where I ride in Florida. We barely have curves. My brother's motorcycles are all bigger, heavier and more powerful than my Enfield, the only motorcycle I had much experience riding. He persisted. He even had helmets we could use, he said.

The helmets were beautifully made. Sleek, ebony-black plastic. But unlike full-face helmets I had seen, they did not have visors that opened. In fact, the plastic window in the front of the helmets was fixed and barely a slit a few inches wide. What sort of helmets were these?

"They're not motorcycle helmets," my brother advised. "They were left over from some Olympic event." Maybe the luge. Some sport, in any case, where peripheral visit wasn't important. Wearing this helmet was like peering through a mail slot.

I considered backing out, but I was already astride a running motorcycle in front of his house. This was insane, but I would have to make it work by constantly looking about. I would "put my head on a swivel" as fighter pilots are said to do, to watch for threats.

Everything went fine. I was so afraid, I think I was more aware of my surroundings than usual.

But, after awhile, I began to enjoy the limited vision. It was great to be able to concentrate only on what was straight ahead. Dangers to the sides, below and above no longer existed, since I couldn't see them.

This was a tremendous danger to a motorcyclist, I could see. Or, rather, I could not see. But it would have been a terrific advantage to whatever kind of athlete (tobogganer?) who was supposed to wear this helmet. All attention was focused on the finish line. No distractions.

I survived this experience with a "full-face" helmet, aware that it was unrepresentative of the motorcycling variety of helmet. It was an interesting experiment. How you experience life really does depend on your point of view.

Stay safe out there.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Putting Royal Enfield passion into words

In plain English, people buy motorcycles because they are passionate about them. Certainly there is immense passion for Royal Enfield motorcycles, especially in India. Naturally, the manufacturer seeks to serve that passion, whether in India or around the world, so as to sell more motorcycles. Surprisingly, it's hard to find a simple statement of this mission on the official web sites of the factory or importers.

This only comes to mind because I recently encountered a statement of the "Vision" of Harley-Davidson on a fan website. The fan site dredged up this hideous example of corporate blithering from deep in the company's web site. Harley might have preferred it remain buried:

"Harley-Davidson, Inc. is an action-oriented, international company, a leader in its commitment to continuously improve our mutually beneficial relationships with stakeholders (customers, suppliers, employees, shareholders, governments and society). Harley-Davidson believes the key to success is to balance stakeholders’ interests through the empowerment of all employees to focus on value-added activities."

There you go! And you thought they just built great motorcycles that moved you physically and emotionally. Do Harley riders realize they are "stakeholders"?

Harley and Royal Enfield both rely on web site videos to capture the passion people have for their products. But you can't commit a video to memory, or paint it on a roadside sign. I recognize that there is a difference between a mission statement and a mere motto. But I still think the fewer words, the better.

As for the babble-speak Harley corporate "Vision," no one was really meant to read that, or remember it, or believe it. Corporations are in business to make money, the more money the better. The way to do that is to serve the wants and needs of customers, not to "balance stakeholder relationships."

For motorcycle companies like Royal Enfield and Harley-Davidson, the customers are thirsty for a rich brew of excitement, nostalgia, reputation and quality.

How do you put that into words? For Royal Enfield, how about something like this:

"Royal Enfield makes the motorcycles that moved you yesterday to move you even better today."

Monday, December 22, 2008

Brass Bullet is heavy metal motorcycle

A full-size, brass and chrome Royal Enfield Bullet created by Indian artist Subodh Gupta is on display in an art museum in Tokyo. Although obviously beautifully executed, it looks unsurprisingly like the original: an ordinary Bullet delivery vehicle festooned with milk cans.

It's the concept that seems original. Gupta has also created accurate sculptures of bicycle and scooter milk delivery vehicles as well as other vehicle based artworks. His work seems to bring to light the fantastic elements of ordinary things.

The choice of the iconic Bullet artwork is appropriate for the exhibition of modern Indian art at the Mori Museum in Tokyo. The show is entitled "Chalo! India" (or "Let's Go! India"). According to the Japan Times, it's meant to show off artistic thinking in a nation that is racing into the 21st Century from a starting point rooted in the 19th Century.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Royal Enfield riders answer 3 questions

Royal Enfield riders are surprised when they come back from a ride and no one has asked them any of the Three Questions. These are the questions you get in traffic, waiting at a stoplight. Someone will roll down a window and shout:

  • How old is that thing?
  • Did you restore it yourself?
  • How fast will it go?

Three seemingly simple questions, each with a complex answer that will not make much sense shouted across an intersection. The answers I would like to give (but rarely do) are:

  • Younger than it looks.
  • It restores me.
  • Not nearly fast enough, if the answer to that question is important to you.

Usually I take the coward's way out. I just point to the helmet, smile and shake my head to indicate I can't hear the questions.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Enfield Girl has best wishes for you

Happy Holidays to all, and especially to the anonymous commenter who challenged me to put the Enfield Girl in a holiday greeting.

So, here she is, our Enfield Girl. Apologies to Ignacio Catral of Catral Doyle Creative Co., originators of the Enfield Girl. Thanks, too, to renown pin-up artist Bill Medcalf, who did the Christmas setting. You can see Medcalf's work on a wholesome and fun web site.

I admit that I at first thought that "Anonymous" was a female member of my own family, setting me up. But those I've talked to claim not to have commented. So, Anonymous, thank you for the suggestion and best wishes for new year.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Powerful, cheap Royal Enfield still unsold

If you follow internet message boards devoted to Royal Enfield you will quickly encounter someone wishing that Royal Enfield India would re-create the big, powerful twins the English company made before going out of business. The Royal Enfield Meteor, Constellation and Interceptor were much admired in their day as among the handsomest and the biggest of the vertical twins from Britain.

This makes for an amusing discussion and, every once in awhile, there is even an actual rumor (but no evidence) that India might provide a twin.

Recently, I came across an Indian Enfield Bullet with a hulking vertical-twin engine for sale on CraigsList for $1,000 "or best offer." Amazingly, some impatient fan of Royal Enfield had built his own!

Even more amazing, despite the bargain price, the bike is still for sale, although the CraigsList ad has expired. The Royal Enfield with a Yamaha 650 engine and transmission is in South Bend, Ind. When I contacted the sellers again recently I got this message in return:

"Nope not (sold) yet. A lot of interest but no follow through yet. Thanks for the mention on your blog. Jessica and Jeff."

Why hasn't it sold? Surely, no purist can be offended, now that Royal Enfield India has itself dropped the time-honored iron-barrelled engine and Albion transmission. Where's the sin in fitting a modern engine into a 2001 Bullet? It sure would make for an exciting ride.

Naturally, this bike would take some fiddling, given its mixed origins, and would be powerful beyond its braking power. Nothing a Royal Enfield veteran couldn't handle. The pictures make it look sleek and attractive. Where's that fellow who is always dreaming of a twin-cylinder Bullet on the Internet?

If you're out there, buddy, Jessica and Jeff are waiting for a call at 574-217-8345.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Mystery motorcycle may throw you off

Everyone loves a mystery, especially when we get to know the answer without waiting until next season to find out who shot J.R. The Vintagent blog presents some lovely photos of a crud-encrusted vintage motorcycle and invites us to guess what it is.

As with any good mystery story, some of the clues are there to throw us off. We're shown a transmission clearly labelled Norton, for instance, but then told that it almost certainly isn't original equipment. So, then, what is this motorcycle?

I won't spoil it for you. Jump over to The Vintagent to see the clues and the final answer. The Vintagent is a very handsome blog about vintage motorcycles. In many ways it is the kind of blog I wish I could produce, the problem being that I would have to know 50 times more than I do about vintage motorcycles.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

I love Royal Enfield; I recommend Honda

My college roommate and I lost touch over the decades, finally "meeting" up again on Facebook. It turns out he rides, too, a Harley-Davidson. He found my love of Royal Enfields interesting enough to ask, some months later, whether I would recommend that a girl he knows buy a Bullet.

"Steve," I replied, "you are forgetting the First Rule of knowing anything about motorcycles and cars: Never recommend anything not made by Honda."

I didn't invent this rule. It was suggested to me by another friend, screenwriter and wit Douglas Kalajian. Doug has owned a long series of interesting cars and naturally finds himself consulted anytime someone he knows wants advice on what to buy.

He always recommends Hondas. When I asked why, he commented, "that's what they're going to buy anyway." Indeed, that always seems to be the case. Doug can nod and smile when the person shows off his brand new Honda, and say "glad you like it."

But far more important than always being right is never being the one to steer someone wrong. Recommend a "classic" Jaguar to someone and you are never going to hear the end of its woes, at least not as long as the friendship lasts. Jaguars are not for everyone. Neither are Royal Enfields.

So I've adopted the "Get a Honda" philosophy whenever I'm asked for advice. I've even taken my own medicine: I own a Honda motorcycle.

Of course, I would rather ride my Royal Enfield Bullet.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A Royal Enfield greeting card for you

Here's best wishes for a safe and happy holiday. Please feel free to right-click on this image and paste it into your own holiday emails and greetings.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Would you buy a smuggled Royal Enfield?

Honesty is the best policy and the fellow in Dewey, Ariz. who has a smuggled Royal Enfield Bullet to sell certainly tries his best to lay it all out. His description of the bike on eBay:

"A 1955 Royal Enfield Bullet 500cc motorcycle with 322 original miles. Now, I know what you are thinking, how could it only have 322 original miles on a 1955 model? Well the answer is that this bike was shipped to the USA in 2003 from India piece by piece until the entire bike was here, and then assembled. So this was not the normal Royal Enfield motorcycle that was imported in to the USA cause it was a bike that was designed to be sold in India."

The seller has been an eBay member since 2003 and has 100 per cent positive feedback. No doubt, his great honesty has served him well.

Obviously, the Royal Enfield factory would prefer that people didn't do this since it spends a lot of money preparing motorcycles for foreign markets and certifying that they meet the standards that apply. Usually the customs services will prevent private importers from sneaking the bikes in and, even if they don't, the bikes will lack the paperwork needed to register them.

In this case, the eBay seller says he has a valid "1955 Arizona" registration for the motorcycle. He presumes that other states would accept that as proof the bike can be registered where the buyer lives. His "Buy It Now" price is $3,500 if you want to find out if he's right. Let us know how it goes.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Clues to Top Secret Royal Enfield war work

Royal Enfield's contribution to beating the Axis in World War II naturally included the production of motorcycles, including the Flying Flea, the parachute dropped motorcycle that accompanied airborne troops into battle.

But the firm also contributed many other products besides motorcycles, including ammunition. Most intriguing, Royal Enfield operated an underground factory in the Wiltshire area, far from the headquarters factory at Redditch. You can see pictures of the deteriorated factory on the Underground Kent site.

Safe from Luftwaffe bombing, this subterranean plant in the galleries of the former Westwood Quarry was cutting edge technology. It was among the first fully temperature and humidity controlled space of its size. In other parts of these immense underground caves, precious paintings from Buckingham Palace and the British Museum found a haven. It was rumored that the Crown Jewels were there, too.

After the war, Royal Enfield did build motorcycles in its underground facility, which was no longer needed for defense work. But what had the company built there during the war? Surely not the side-valve motorcycles it was selling the War Department. Not in such premium space, next to paintings from the palace.

A Royal Enfield brochure from the immediate post-war period, shown for sale on eBay, may offer clues. In addition to touting motorcycles, the brochure proudly details "Our Wartime Record" and offers what it says is a "complete list" of goods the firm produced for the fighting forces.

The words "complete list" could be just casual phrasing. But I think there is a chance that the list is "complete" (after all, the war is over, the Cold War has yet to begin in earnest and secrecy may seem no longer necessary). If so, the weapons Royal Enfield was producing that were so precious they were worth protecting at high cost, are contained somewhere in this list:
  • Motorcycles, 125cc, 250cc, 350cc, 570cc.
  • Bicycles, military and civilian.
  • Predictors for Bofars anti-aircraft guns.
  • Oil motors for Bofars gun; ships stabilisers; searchlight controls; fuse setting, etc.
  • Diesel generator sets for wireless stations.
  • Petrol generator sets.
  • Electrically-driven generator sets, for testing aeroplanes and radar equipment.
  • Resetter boxes for gun sights.
  • Gyroscopic sight for Oerlikon and other guns.
  • Anti-vibration mounts for gun sights.
  • Armor-piercing shot for 40mm anti-tank guns.
  • Petrol-driven pump units for tank turrets.
  • Straight-line cams for use in precision instruments.
  • Self-synchronising equipment for 40mm guns.
  • Lag-compensating and self-sectoring equipment for gun sights.
  • Tubular crates for enclosing motorcycles to be dropped from parachutes.
But what are "electrically-driven generator sets for testing aeroplane and radar equipment"? Oil motors for guns, stabilizers and searchlight controls sound pretty mundane, but when this extends to "fuse setting" and "etc." you begin to wonder.

People who know more than I do about weapon systems may be able to identify what among the predictors, gyroscopic sights, resetter boxes, lag-compensating and self-sectoring and self-synchronizing equipment would be worth building in a secret factory.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Blogger details Royal Enfield drag bike

Blogger Kunal Bhaskaran is describing his ground-up remaking of his Royal Enfield drag bike in his Monster Bike blog. Bhaskaran runs a motorcycle shop in Pune, India. He says he rides a 535 Enfield Bullet in preference to all other transport.

He has raced his drag bike for three seasons but, after the 2008 races, took it completely apart with plans to extend the frame six inches (for greater stability) and switch from four-speed to the new five-speed transmission.

In the process, Bhaskaran has changed the five-speed transmission to shift on the right, which he considers the proper side! He is obviously a determined and talented bike builder. So far, he says, there has been no "visit" from the dreaded "Mr. Murphy."

Friday, December 12, 2008

Royal Enfield announces 2009 prices

2009 prices for Royal Enfield Bullets in the U.S. are set, according to Kevin Mahoney of Classic Motorworks, the U.S. importer. The Suggested Retail Prices are for the Lean Burn engined models now available; for the coming Unit Constructed Engine G-5 (which looks like the current Electra but has the new combined engine-transmission); and for the C-5, the new retro model, which also has the UCE engine.

He posted these prices:

Lean Burn Engine models
$5,349 - Classic
$5,449 - Deluxe
$5,545 - Military
$5,745 - Electra

Unit-Constructed Engine models
$5,995 - Classic G-5
$6,095 - Deluxe G-5
$6,395 - Classic C-5

These prices do not include shipping, set-up and taxes, Mahoney said.

Royal Enfield will move to all UCE engines in the U.S. in 2010, Mahoney said. 2009 also will be the last year for bikes without front disk brakes. The G-5 will have a UCE engine with kickstart, but the C-5 UCE engine will be electric start only.

"If you want the traditional Royal Enfield this is the last year that they will be available, better get one before they are gone. As you can see there is also a substantial price difference between the Lean-Burn Bullets and the UCE Bullets," Mahoney said.

The G-5 will not be available as a Military model initially, but that will come in 2010, he predicted.

The C-5 will be available in late spring (best case), Mahoney said.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Photos capture glory days in Golden State

I am indebted to the Jockey Journal site for this find, a Flickr album of photos built by a man whose youth off-road in California with his dad was well documented in beautiful black-and-white and color pictures. I couldn't find their complete story, but the dad's name was Bill Green and he apparently was a Yamaha dealer. His first motorcycle was a 1949 James, however, and he and his friends had a BSA Goldstar, Triumphs, a Jawa and other great bikes along the way.

There's even a picture of a Royal Enfield, stuck in Panamint Lake in a 1960s competition.

It's a big gallery. Many of the pictures show the bikes being loaded and unloaded for trips into the less spoiled spaces of the state in the 1950s and '60s. The son laments the treatment bikes that would be museum pieces got in the dunes and rocks off road. In those days, an outing with the bikes meant just throwing them into the bed of the pick-up truck. Old tires were dropped in between the bikes to keep them in place.

The pictures I've selected are just samples of the beauties you'll see in this gallery. Take a look for yourself.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Old Enfield carried rider to adventure

This blog followed Gordon May's long ride from Manchester, England, to the Royal Enfield factory in Chennai, India. Now the complete story of how a 1953 Royal Enfield Bullet was restored to carry its rider overland to India is out in book form. Details on how to order the book are here. Price with delivery charge to the U.S. converts to $23.

May is not promising delivery of the book by Christmas outside the United Kingdom.

The book should provide more details about May's multiple escapes from bandits, the rough roads, bad rooms, dust storms and encounters with Pakistani commandoes. Having followed his travelogue, we can be sure he also will recount the many human kindnesses he was shown.

May certainly proved himself the equal of every setback but so too did the 1953 Bullet, which carried on past wear and tear and a bad crash. And it did so heavily loaded. It's an inspiring story for those of us who feel guilty when we don't wash and wax our Enfields after a ride to breakfast on a sunny Sunday morning.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Neat details dress up Royal Enfield custom

I couldn't resist adding a couple more pictures of the Royal Enfield bobber created by Mark Leef and Motorcycle Warehouse in Belvidere, N.J. (See the posting below for full details.)

The floating rear fender is really distinctive.

What I really like is the clean way they dealt with the signals. Here's a close-up photo. Note that the lights are completely off the fender.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Royal Enfield bobber looks ready to roll

You don't have to take your Royal Enfield the way it comes from the factory if you are a customer of Mark Leef's at Motorcycle Warehouse in Belividere, N.J. He shared these pictures of a recent Enfield bobber project with us, an orange and black motorcycle that just looks like it wants to roll!

It even looks great in the picture shot before the paint went on.

The bike has a floating rear fender similar to one that Motorcycle Warehouse created for an earlier project. It gives the machine a definite rigid motorcycle look.

Mark advises: "When we moved the swing arm back six inches it lowered the bike and worked out real well. Just so you know, the bike handles beautifully with the longer wheelbase. A ton of fun to ride."

Motorcycle Warehouse offers customs "mild to wild" in addition to kits to make your Royal Enfield unique.

I asked Mark what this bike would cost to build. His reply:

"Let me give you a little background.
  • Swing arm moved back six inches.
  • 32mm Mikuni carb.
  • Air filter.
  • Invert the handlebars.
  • Rear fender made from an old BSA front fender, weld in the gussets and struts.
  • Mustang gas tank.
  • Fabricate fake oil tank to house the electronics.
  • Chrome gas cap.
  • Old style chopper mirrors.
  • Mini DOT bullet lights and control module.
  • Hot Rod Flats copper metal flake paint job.
  • Leather Ultima seat and fabricate seat mounts.
  • Bullet valve caps.
  • Chrome caps on all the engine Allen heads to dress up.
  • That's most of it!
"Price: About $8,000 when all said and done, including the cost of the bike. This project took about two weeks to complete from conception to completed product."

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Royal Enfield gets its future into gear

Probably the best place to learn what the future holds for Royal Enfield in the United States is by reading postings on the Classic Motorworks web site. U.S. importer Kevin Mahoney, who posts under the name "Royal Enfield 1," provides almost continual updates in the forums section. Here are recent postings from him about the new unit constructed engine (UCE) and the new Bullet Classic 500 unveiled at Intermot in Cologne (above):

"I can tell you that I was on the phone with the factory this very morning about production of these bikes. I can tell you for an absolute fact that not one bike has been made for the US market, much less 'on the way to us.' I can also tell you that pricing for the U.S. is not set. I know this because I am the one that sets price -- period. You can draw no assumptions from European pricing, it is an apples and oranges deal. What I can say is that the UCE bikes will be more expensive than the current bikes.

"REM prices its bikes based on cost of production. It is the only way a small brand can really do it. We do not have the luxury of selling something for a loss in one part of the world and making money in another country. (Why can you buy a Triumph much cheaper in the U.S. than in the UK?) Whatever price increases we will see are the result of increased costs and improved, more expensive parts and manufacturing processes.

"It looks like we will be selling three lines of bikes this year. We will have 2009 Lean-Burn bikes just as we do now. They will be the most modestly priced bike. Those prices are now on our web site. We will have bikes with the UCE engine that resemble the current bikes except with different side covers a new frame and a front disk brake. This bike will be more expensive. None of these have yet been made for us. Europe has priority because they cannot sell Lean-Burns.

"Later in the season we will have the new Classic, or C-5, which was introduced in Cologne. This bike will be more expensive yet. Worst case they all will be less expensive than the Bonneville. The one thing I can guarantee you is that the new bikes will be less expensive than a Bonnie -- period. When prices are solidified you will know. Those of you who follow this forum frequently know things before anyone else. Stay tuned.

"Lastly no UCE bikes will be sold to anyone until dealers have been trained. That will not occur until the first couple of weeks of February. So don't look for anything with the UCE engine to be available in the near future.

"The UCE is a great bike, especially for those of you who would rather ride than fiddle,. Other than changing oil ( which is a one-shot thing since the primary, transmission and engine all use the same oil) the only other adjustment is to tighten the chain once in a while. Unlike the previous models the chain on the UCE is an O-ring so they do not require as much adjustment as the current models."

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Something old, lots new on Enfield Classic

Royal Enfield's new Bullet 500 Classic should reach the United States in 2009, according to Kevin Mahoney of Classic Motorworks. Mahoney provides updates on new products in the forums section of Classic's web site. A few examples from his recent postings provide insights into improvements coming with the unit-constructed engine these bikes will feature:

"The chain drive was moved to the right for a couple of reasons. Since it is a unit motor with a self-contained transmission there was no need to keep it on the left. Another good reason to move it is to put the rear braking mechanism in a direct line with the pedal. This provides better rear braking.

"As has been pointed out the UCE models will all have a nice O-ring chain. This is a welcome addition. Actually chain and clutch adjustment are the only adjustments to do on the new bike. It has a automatically adjusted primary chain, hydraulic valve lifters and EFI which have all eliminated maintenance."

More information comes from Dan Callum, who attended the NEC bike show in Birmingham, England. He posted the pictures shown here and many others. Callum noted the comfy looking single seat shown on the new Classic (which was displayed with a sidecar). To my delight, his pictures show that clamshell chain adjusters continue on the new bike, quite a familiar touch on a Royal Enfield.

Callum filed this report on the Bullet-Mania Yahoo message board:

"I was very impressed with the new machine. They had one chaired up with a colour coordinated sidecar and it looked a treat. I was asking about the kickstart, well the production EFI Electra will have a kickstart, and I was asking about the possibility of adding a k/start to the Classic machine, and there will be no factory conversion available to to do this, although who knows what independent engineers may come up with. I also enquired about the possibility of converting to right hand shift, this has not really been looked into yet. It seems that the Classic has all metric threads everywhere, except for the rear wheel which is the existing unit and will continue with the imperial threads until tooling needs replacing. The seat is very comfy, it has foam AND springs, the best of both worlds, and the clutch is very light.

"I did notice on the Classic that the lovely painted battery cover left two areas of the gaudy plastic battery exposed; if I had one of these I would definitely be painting those parts of the battery black."

Next: When will the new Royal Enfield get to the U.S.?

Friday, December 5, 2008

Details out on Classic new Royal Enfield

The new Royal Enfield Bullet Classic 500 unveiled in Europe has yet to reach the United States but we know a lot about what it will be like, thanks to Kevin Mahoney of Classic Motorworks, the U.S. distributor. He provides constant updates in postings in the forum sections of Classic's web site.

We know that the new motorcycle, called the C-5 inside Royal Enfield, will have a unit-constructed engine (or UCE, meaning motor and transmission are inside the same case), fuel injection, electric start and electronic ignition. But read these recent posts by Mahoney for more specifics:

"The three colors shown at Intermot are in fact the colors the bike will be available with. However the turquoise will be first as they have it all sorted out. The black will be easy, but they are still working on the red. The painted frame has brought out some interesting issues with the welds. Because of the color the welds are much more noticeable. This now makes them an aesthetic item instead of a just a practical item. Even with this new bike quite a bit of it is still handmade, including the frame.

"I believe that a dual seat will be available. It takes a special subframe. A rear pillion with a matching subframe will also be available.

"The kickstart option is not an easy retrofit as I had hoped. It would require replacing quite a bit of the transmission. It does have a decompressor, but it is an automatic one controlled by flyweights for starting. Although this design has a (starter motor) sprag it has been trouble free on all of the test bikes around the world. It is designed differently than the current sprag set up. It is connected directly to the engine with no intermediate idler gears, which is where the real problem lies in the current design.

"While I was (in India) we took four bikes right off the assembly line and took them to the track. Right from the get-go they were thrashed, and I do mean thrashed. They were pushed as hard on the track as an Enfield can be pushed all day long. The next day we took them on a 200km ride again being less than kind to them. The performance of all four was absolutely flawless. It sort of amazed all of us. No break-in, no special preparation, etc. This new engine is awesome. Good sound and very linear torque, which is unusual.

"We do not think the new bike will turn us into a big motorcycle company. Royal Enfield and Classic Motorworks would be happy with a modest 10 per cent growth -- which is not much given the numbers we sell. What we do want to become is a small company that is known for selling very cool unique bikes that are reliable and very economical. We have the cool bike and economic thing down and have made big headway on reliability. We are hoping the new power train will put us over the top in that category. RE has enough confidence that they are going to double the warranty to two years on all UCE bikes. This alone is worth something.

"Some people will want a Sportster, some will want a Bonnie, some will want a Honda Rebel, we just hope some also want a Royal Enfield."

Next: More about the new Royal Enfield

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Royal Enfields becoming a 'relative' joy

Royal Enfield's direction is "up," said dealer Eric M. Engler of Velocity Motorcycles in Richmond, Va. "Especially with the new improvements, owning one has become relatively an absolute pleasure," he added, with a wry smile.

People who buy Royal Enfield motorcycles need to realize they are not buying Hondas. Other dealers may offer test rides, but Engler emphasizes that Velocity requires buyers to test ride their choice of motorcycle.

"We have never had a customer who felt they'd made a mistake, and that is in eight years," he said.

Stepping from the showroom into the shop shows how far Velocity is willing to go for customers. A vintage BMW 750 has been bulked up with a 900cc motor at a customer's request. It's a neat looking piece of work.

Another BMW in well used condition will be brought up to road worthiness but will be left with its vintage patina, for riding, not showing off, at the owner's request. It's hard not to envy the lucky rider, come Spring.

Far showier is a Confederate American GT with a nickle-plated frame originally made for one of the founders of the company. Velocity has turned it into a sports model, with single seat, smaller lights and foot controls moved back to be underfoot instead of stretched out front, cruiser style. Dual exhaust instead of two-into-one ("it was too loud!") and digital speedometer make it a very unusual bike.
Up on the shelf in the "attic" at Velocity is a 1947 Royal Enfield dual-port that "isn't ready for the showroom yet." Every turn at Velocity seems to bring you to something special. Creative thinking in every direction is the only way to describe it. Where do they find these machines?

Engler says "we look for motorcycles that are in good shape, complete and not running!"

The result is a fascinating collection. I recommend a visit to Velocity Motorcycles if you are in the Washington, D.C. area. The address is 1202 N. Boulevard, Richmond, Va. Yes, the name of the street is "Boulevard." I got lost. The phone is 804-353-3456 and there are directions on the web site,

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Richmond Royal Enfield dealer up to speed

Velocity Motorcycles neatly fills a classic brick building in Richmond, Va. The Royal Enfields on its showroom floor are protected by a big black dog named Lulu. She is friendly but she was rescued from Hurricane Katrina, so she is entitled to a few quirks. For instance, she barks at people in funny hats.

Owner Eric M. Engler is friendlier. In fact, if it was not for the Velocity logo on his shirt I would have taken this soft-spoken man for a fellow visitor, there to gawk at the magnificent vintage motorcycles lined up on the floor. He describes them almost as if they are human friends:

"This is a Thruxton, number 1,200 of 1,208 they made, so it may be the 'youngest' Thruxton living.

"This is a BMW with a Volkswagen engine. It's like riding a BMW that is heavier but with enormous torque. You have to be careful with the throttle. There were three or four firms in Germany that made kits for these. This one is very well done. Look at the welds here on the frame, to lengthen it. Those are beautifully done."

All the bikes are for sale. A 1969 Norton Commander 750S has a price tag of $9,500. I did not see price tags on two real veterans: a 1912 FN with shaft drive (FN was building shaft drive bicycles so all it had to do was add the motor, Engler explained) and a 1922 New Map 350. The New Map defined old-time motorcycle looks, right down to a small tin box on the tank that might have held the rider's pipe and tobacco.

The New Map is only missing the tire pump, Engler said, pointing to the empty lugs on the left front girder leg. He could get a pump but isn't sure what kind is correct.

In the window is a Royal Enfield cafe racer Velocity built. The price tag is $9,600. Velocity's motto is "The bike you loved then is here now." Their web site provides a good look at the many truly vintage bikes they offer, but the motto seems particularly appropriate for Royal Enfield. Two new Bullets sit on the showroom floor, but more are coming, Engler said.

Next: What Velocity thinks is in store for Royal Enfield.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Royal Enfields and rural roads hard to find

My search for roads appropriate for Royal Enfield motorcycles took me straight up the center of Florida. I hoped to stay far enough away from the beach towns on either side of the state to truly find myself out in the open country. My route up U.S. 441 took me to Ocala, Fla. and a few miles north on Baseline Road out of Belleview found me at a Royal Enfield dealership.

U.S. Highway 441 isn't very pretty in South Florida, where I live. It runs past the incinerator plant and endless rows of big stores. But at its northern end, in Tennessee, it becomes scenic Newfound Gap Road in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Unfortunately, the path to the MelilliMoto Ducati and Vespa dealership in Ocala was more like the U.S. 441 I know than any national park.

MelilliMoto is a neat and clean building with a showroom and a sizable shop area. The showroom when I got there included no Royal Enfields, however. Owner Sebastian Didato said more are expected in at the beginning of next year. A dealer for three years, he said he thinks interest in Royal Enfields is picking up.

I asked if the big complex of golf communities nearby along 441 called The Villages would be a good market for vintage style motorcycles like those retirees would remember from their youth. No, Didato said, the Royal Enfields he has sold did not go to The Villages. Those people were more likely to buy scooters, he said.

And, while 441 wasn't the best road for Royal Enfields, there is good motorcycle country around, he said. Glancing at a map, I suspect I should have taken Route 19 through the Ocala National Forest. I'll give that a try next time.

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