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Monday, October 1, 2012

Memories led him to restore beloved Royal Enfield

Before and after pictures of the same Royal Enfield Bullet.
A Royal Enfield Bullet sat unused in India for 20 years, falling into sad condition, before its owner returned to India, had it restored and shipped it to his home in California.

It was all the memories associated with it that prevented Charles Fernandes from just selling the motorcycle at any point over the years.

"How do you sell memories?" he wrote. Here is his story:

"I bought this bike new in 1971, and by 1981 I had put in about 200,000 kilometers in south India. Then came marriage and a child, and my riding days were muted.

"I had kept the bike in good condition. The month after I got the bike, I took it to Seenappa, a very trusted mechanic in Mysore, a city 90 miles from Bangalore. He took the entire bike apart and put it back. He explained that they might not do a thorough job in the factory.

"He also gave it two overcoats of paint. It was at this time I made the only change to the bike: I painted part of the tank a metallic maroon. The rest of it, I tried to keep original.

On a trip to Nagarhole National Park south India in 1973,
Charles' Royal Enfield is at left. He is at far right.
"In 1990, I was accepted for a master’s program in zoology at the University of Wyoming. Many people wanted to buy my bike since I was leaving the country. This was the bike of my youth and an extension of my body. To everyone else, it was a bike to be sold and bought.

"But to me it was a trusted friend that had brought me home safe every time. When it was out of gas in the middle of nowhere, it accepted kerosene without a complaint. It would come home from a romp in the jungle and then have a flat (there would be a big acacia thorn in the tire).

"Close encounters with elephants, terrorists, did not matter. It always pulled through each time. I took my future wife on it on our dates, and when my son was born, I took my wife to the hospital in the middle of the night on it. Am I sentimental about this bike? Of course not!

"So I politely told the prospective buyers that they just did not have enough money to buy it

"Even at that time, I had decided if this bike became too old and unusable, I would just clean it up and keep it in my living room. But we left it back in my mother-in-law’s house 'til we could come back from the U.S. Life had other plans. I went for a second master's, got a job and moved to Redlands, Calif. in 1998.

Restoration used as many original parts as possible.
"The bike stood and slowly rusted away. It hurt to look at the pictures they sent me. There was no way of bringing it here. Involved too much of time, money and effort. So I pushed the thought away from my mind.

"In 2009, my wife and I saw a Royal Enfield parked outside Trader Joe’s grocery stores in town. We had never seen an Enfield here in 18 years. My wife was more excited than I was. We would have gone to all the stores to find out whose bike it was, but on our first inquiry at Trader Joe’s, we were told that it belonged to one of the employees, Steve Reagan.

"We met him and told him about our bike in India and we talked animatedly for half an hour. A few months later, I met Steve again in the store. He said 'I lost your phone number, but was hoping you would come in. I want to sell my Enfield, and I want to sell it only to you.'

Charles' 2002 Royal Enfield responded to his knowing touch.
"I became the owner of a 2002 500cc Enfield. Steve said the bike had starting problems, and the gears were hard to shift. Later on, I put my arms around the bike and gave it a hug, and did some minor adjustments. It started on the first kick, and no complaints from the gear shifter either. It had been about 17 years since I rode or took a wrench to a bike, but the Enfield set me right within a few minutes.

"While riding this bike, I began to think more and more of my Old Faithful (one of my friends had named it that). In 2010, there was the first ever alumni meeting of my college in Bangalore. I was not too keen at first, but my wife felt I should go. Then came the thought of 'What if I get my bike repaired when I am there?'

Charles watches his motorcycle being disassembled for restoration.
"We landed in Bangalore, met the mechanic. I asked him to salvage every nut and bolt that can be salvaged. (Later I got the horn switch and the choke lever from Hitchcocks).

"I watched the bike being dismantled and the parts put in piles to be sent to chroming, nickel plating, buffing and painting. He said it would be done in a month, but took three months. My wife stayed back 'til it was done. She was not going to leave her child there alone.

Parts put into containers for plating. 
"Finally the bike was ready. The next hurdle was to get the papers done from the RTO (Regional Transport Office, the equivalent of DMV there) and get police and customs clearance to ship it here. That is another story in itself.

"The bike was crated and put on a truck to Madras (the same place where some of its parts had arrived from England by ship, in the late '60s). Then on to a ship to Singapore, and picked up by another ship to Taiwan and to Long Beach, Calif. It arrived here in June of 2011.

Removed from its crate, the Royal Enfield Bullet is home at last.
"I run it on weekends at a leisurely pace on a two-lane canyon road that runs parallel to a railway line, and horse properties — the scene being right out of the British countryside of the '50s. One day, I told my son to look after it well when he inherits it. He said 'That bike is going to stay in the living room after you are gone.'"

1 comment:

  1. Any chance the owner could email me at M S D 7 Y at h o t m a i l ? I am also about to undertake importing a vintage Enfield to the US and could use some advice, mostly about the Indian end of things.

    ReplyDelete

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