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Friday, April 22, 2016

Old Royal Enfield gearbox shows how things changed

It's a Royal Enfield gearbox but some parts looked unfamiliar to me.
Most modern Royal Enfield motorcycles look pretty much like Royal Enfields did 75 years ago. It's a big part of their appeal. But in fact they've changed a lot, and looking at old ones is occasionally startling.

It's sort of like looking at an old picture of myself and realizing "Wow! I had hair on my head back then."

That's how I felt when I came across this rusty Albion gearbox, for sale on eBay in Alabama.

It's labelled "Royal Enfield" and some aspects look as familiar as the gearbox on my 1999 Royal Enfield Bullet.

There's the neutral finder. There's the kickstart lever. And, of course, this one shifts from the right as any old British gearbox would.

Here's a closer look. What's that swing arm at the center of the box?
But what's that other lever on the face of the box? Oh my gosh, that's the clutch mechanism on the outside of the box. On my Bullet that is completely hidden inside the outer gearbox cover.

What is it doing hanging out in the breeze? Vulnerable to dirt and impact?

And what is that mysterious pipe on the bottom of the box, plugged with a bolt? A drain plug?

What's that pipe at lower left doing there?
No.

Royal Enfield enthusiast Chris Overton took a look at the photos, and his guess is undoubtedly correct.

"I think the elaborate 'drain' you see is the oil filler pipe. Piece of tube that would slope up to a cap when the gearbox is in a bike.  My guess is the cap is removed and oil added until the level is up to the top of the tube.  More convenient than our 'modern' gearboxes where we pour oil in one plug hole until it runs out another."

Here's that fitting as it would be seen from underneath the bike.
It does slope upwards, as a filler pipe would.
Cute. Again, this lump — only somewhat shielded by the rest of the box at the bottom of the bike — strikes me as somewhat vulnerable.

Graham Scarth, chairman of the Royal Enfield Owners Club, dates this gearbox as being "from postwar model G or J."

In its present condition it may never see the road again. As an artifact, though, it has its own appeal.

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