The Royal Enfield Bullet has come in an increasing variety of flavors in recent years.
By 2004 the United States was used to Classic, Deluxe and Military models. Then something new came along: the Royal Enfield Sixty-5.
It had new features, came in special colors, and had been named in England, not in India. The name implied that this Royal Enfield was more Swinging Sixties than Nifty Fifties. But what was it, exactly?
"It was the platform that the new five-speed gearbox was introduced on," explained Kevin Mahoney, of Classic Motorworks, the U.S. importer.
"The initial idea was that the five speed was only available on this new model. The idea was that we would keep selling the regular four speeds with the conventional Bullet. This was in response to the higher price point of the five speed as well as perceived resistance from some quarters about moving away from the four speed."
As for the name, Mahoney provided this note of explanation from Mike Williams, managing director of Watsonian Squire, the importer for the United Kingdom:
"The electric-start Bullet with the five speed box came from India without a name and it clearly (to us) needed one. Three of us and some coffee came up with 'sixty' because we wanted to present it as having moved on from the '50s of the earlier machines and '5' for five speed, hence 'Sixty-5.'
"Far too subtle for anyone to understand without it being explained but we thought it sounded OK, so that was it. We told the factory what we had decided (for them) and nobody argued. As soon as we introduced it it took 60 per cent of the sales."
Confusion about the unusual name was inevitable, as this contemporary Classic Motorworks advertisement for the "Bullet 65" proves. The toolboxes bear the proper "Sixty-5" spelling, however.
Mahoney said the Sixty-5 was never as popular in the U.S. as in Europe, but he noticed an effect nevertheless.
"It became apparent very quickly that the five speed was such a huge improvement that the market for the four speed evaporated. The small increase in price turned out to be inconsequential to the market. (Whenever we have made a big improvement, such as the addition of the ES or the five speed, our fears about market resistance have been unfounded.)
"Prior to the five speed the most common support issues we dealt with had to do with shifting difficulties with the four speed. Overnight they evaporated."
For 2005, the five speed transmission and electric start were standard on all new Royal Enfields in the U.S.
"Very quickly we moved to putting five speeds in all of our bikes, which didn't help Sixty-5 sales," Mahoney said. "Our market stayed with the conventional Bullet with a five speed. Both the Sixty-5 and the Electra have been great sellers in the European market and less so in the U.S. The U.S. prefers the older styles.
"Soon enough the Europeans had moved on to the Electra, which left just us ordering the Sixty-5. Since they had unique colors and the factory wanted to reduce the number of colors they were using, especially for this very low volume product, the Sixty-5 was dropped from the line."
Its short life-span (2004-2006 in the U.S.), unique colors and special place in the modern history of Royal Enfield should give owners the feeling they have something a bit special. The Sixty-5 was never intended to be a "limited edition" model. The number of 2004 Sixty-5s that come up for sale indicate that there are a fair lot of them out there.
The Sixty-5 was still listed on the Classic Motorworks web site in April, 2006 but its place as the "most modern" Bullet was shortly to be taken by the Electra X.
Prowling the Internet, I came across some of the information offered about the Sixty-5 on Classic Motorworks' web site of the time. Here are some quotes:
"Along with new period correct paint, body work schemes, many new technical and aesthetic features the Bullet Sixty-5 features the newly designed 5 speed transmission. The new transmission shifts 'as smooth as silk' and makes for a very reliable engine/transmission combination.
"Other new features include:
* Rubber fork gaiters. * New petrol tank shape. * 'Goldstar' like exhaust pipe. * Variable rate chrome rear springs. * New flatline ribbed dual seat. * Chrome points cover. * Comes standard with both an electric and a kick starter. * Excellent gas mileage!
"The Sixty-5 was introduced last year in England and has become one of the top selling bikes in its class. In the British market the Bullet Sixty-5 is outselling the likes of Buell and Moto-Guzzi.
"Bike is available in four beautiful period correct metallic colors:
* Bright Blue * Red (shown with optional chrome fenders) * Color changing Black/Dark Green (the black actually changes to a dark green in sunlight) * Silver