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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

For sale: An honest Royal Enfield 350

What should I buy? A Royal Enfield Bullet 350 or the 500? That was the single question most prospective buyers asked when I started looking to buy one in 2000. For me, there was only one answer:

"All I have is the 500," my local dealer told me. "There is absolutely no market in the U.S. for the 350." So I bought a 500cc Bullet and I've been very happy.

But there is a special romance that attaches to the only slightly smaller 350cc Bullet. Owners praise is gentler "thump" and insist that it's more reliable (being, presumably, under less stress) and very nearly as fast.

Some of the 350cc Bullets available now in the U.S. were imported privately from India so, if you want one, you either have to be prepared to deal with that (is the paperwork really in order?) or make sure that the bike is one of the 350s officially imported.

Just such an "honest" 350 Bullet has gone up for sale on CraigsList in Boulder City, Nev. It is a 2000 model, Avon gray, and is advertised as having only 589 miles. Asking price is $2,000.

How do we know it is a legitimate import? Simple: it has the shift lever on the left, as U.S. laws require. This was accomplished by running a goofy shaft under the bike to carry the motion to the four-speed transmission, which is on the right. Royal Enfields from India had shift levers fitted directly to the transmission.

Many owners of left-shift Bullets have removed this "bodge" and converted their bikes to shift on the right, as intended. It works better that way. No one would deliberately convert a right-shift Bullet to left shift. So, while a right-shift bike is not necessarily a private import, we know that every left-shift four-speed Bullet must be legit.

The 350 Bullet is time-honored. Many thousands of 350cc Bullets were built in India over the decades since 1955. The 500cc model is a relatively recent addition and mostly for export. The 350 created the "Legend," of which Royal Enfield is so proud.

The history goes back even farther, to England. There, in the 1940s and '50s, 350cc was thought about right for a standard motorcycle. No need to go larger, unless you planned to haul a sidecar. Royal Enfield in England did not introduce a 500cc Bullet until 1953, just before the 350cc model went off to be built in India. India did not create its own 500cc model until 1989.

8 comments:

  1. Nice article, David! My 350 ES (very rare and legally imported --- source, CMW) has 17k reliable miles to date.

    Al in Philadelphia

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  2. Thank you, Al. No doubt 350s are special.

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  3. I own both a 350 and and a 500 and I'd say that the 350 feels much more balanced and "sweet" to ride.

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  4. Ask the man who owns one! Thank you for the comment Jorge. That seems pretty definitive.

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  5. I'd love a 350, and intend to get one as soon as funds allow, after riding one a couple of years back. But I have to say the 500 is certainly not so recent. It dates back to the 50's, it's just that the Indian factory was slow to produce it.

    Malc.

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  6. Karl from Illinois USAJune 14, 2009 at 8:13 PM

    I have a 1999 Bullet 350 in Avon Grey...legit imported model left shift. This bike is excellent and reliable. Have mine "sorted out" and now have 12,600 miles with no major problems. Once sorted out these bikes will run forever and are totally dependable simple, and parts available very reasonably from Indian sources.

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  7. Does ANYONE in the US sell 350cc??? I can't find them anywhere....

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  8. As this (very dated) article says, the then U.S. importer did bring some 350s into the U.S. starting in 1995. These were the old iron barrel Bullets. To my knowledge the modern UCE 350 has never been officially imported into the U.S.

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