Thursday, July 18, 2024

Royal Enfield revives the real roadster

The Royal Enfield Guerrilla 450.
Its purpose is to "challenge established conventions."

 The Royal Enfield Guerrilla 450 launched July 17, 2024 for Europe, the UK, and India, with a stage event in Barcelona. 

This new motorcycle is no clone, the event insisted. 

It is a sibling of the Himalayan 450 off-roader, yes. But, if anything, the genes it inherited from that machine only help set the Guerrilla 450 apart from other "roadsters." 

The purpose of the Guerrilla 450 is to "challenge established convention," Royal Enfield boss Siddhartha Lal said. 

Siddhartha Lal introduces the Guerrilla.
Siddhartha Lal introduces the many colored Guerrilla 450.

The Royal Enfield website puts it this way: 

"Modern roadsters look generic, sound synthetic and feel plastic. 

"The Guerilla 450 is a declaration of independence from this mind-numbing conformity. In a age when automation has dulled sensation, algorithms have stifled imaginations, and feature sets have replaced soul -- the Guerrilla stands defiantly apart." 

It goes on to say the Guerrilla "looks good naked." 

It sure does. I can't believe Himalayan 450's rough-hewn looks could be smoothed into this very pretty motorcycle. 

Guerrilla 450 in Brava Blue.
The Guerrilla 450 looks great naked.

Yes, it has the motor of an off-road thrasher in a chassis meant for the street. The 452cc liquid cooled Sherpa engine "wasn't designed for spec sheets or racetrack fantasies," the website confesses. 

"This motorcycle is tuned with real modes for real roads."

That means 40bhp, with torque way down in the rev range, and "before you know it you're getting down the road faster than everybody else," Royal Enfield Chief of Design Mark Wells told the audience at the launch event.

He described the Guerrilla 450 as "a bike that works in every situation." It's right for the city and for the mountains (meaning the roads through the mountains).

Compared to the Himalayan 450, the Guerrilla has a longer wheelbase, sharper rake on the fork, and a smaller front wheel and fuel tank.

And it comes in five sharp color schemes. The launch event went into detail on that. Obviously, Royal Enfield thinks looks matter a lot to the intended customers.

Guerrilla 450 with map displayed.
Where you're going, how much has you have to get there, and music, too.

High tech is there, including a big electronic instrument face in the upper Flash and Dash variants that can be configured to show your route map or play your music. There are two driving modes, Eco and Performance.

But the DNA, the launch emphasized, is pure Royal Enfield. Metal in places you'd expect plastic, a sound that pulses rather than screams, upright seating position, low seat height and looks that are sexy without being high tech.

Wells noted that the good looking graphics on the tank aren't pasted on: they're hand masked.

"That's some proper craftsmanship from our team in Chennai, and they hand mask and hand spray each one."

Is that really better, somehow? It is. For the soul.

Friday, July 12, 2024

Straight talk about old Royal Enfields

Paul Henshaw talks about British bikes.
Paul Henshaw talks about vintage motorcycles on YouTube.

 I've lately become a fan of YouTube videos by British philosopher-mechanic Paul Henshaw. He often features vintage Royal Enfields and their joys and problems on his channel. 

Other motorcycles may be featured, but what he really offers to me is his sometimes gruff, colorful approach to bikes, and bikers. 

His videos are not produced, scripted or rehearsed. Lighting can be poor, audio worse. His hair is typically mussed up. His jeans and his fingers are embedded with grease. 

It's straight-from-the-shoulder talk meant to be informative. 

You're welcome to take it or leave it, although you'd do well to listen since he knows what he's talking about. And he'll tell you so. 

Criticize how hard he tests motorcycles and he'll respond "Mistreatment! My butt!"

He's all for the joy of motorcycling and he'll tell you that, too. In this video he says:

"This is what I'm coming to. None of us are getting any younger, and none of us will. A lot of us, or I will, in many cases, think that we might want to do something and, ah, it's a bit cold, it's a bit wet, I'll do it another time. But. How do we know that we've got another time?"

If the bike's ready and you're ready, go for the ride, he says, rain or shine. Because "the only thing that we're guaranteed is NOW."

Do not mistake him for a Pollyanna. Paul is plainly frank about his impatience with people, even customers, who don't do the right thing. He can be grouchy.

He admits to, years ago, having pinned to the wall a fellow who insisted that "British bikes are crap" but wouldn't agree to prove it by racing against him.

In another video he courageously details his own bouts with depression in an honest effort to help fellow sufferers. Agree or disagree with this guy, but if only we could bottle his sincerity.

Paul has more than 1,600 videos on YouTube, many of them showing him doctoring Royal Enfields.

His business Performance Classics is on Facebook, where he writes that he specializes "in preparing classic motorcycles for road and track.

"Since 2004 and long before on an amateur basis, we have also managed to bring some pretty sorry looking machinery back to life, where others might have given up on them. So whether a vintage or classic machine needs maintenance, restoration, tuning or the wheels rebuilt, Performance Classics is the place to go. Based in South Wales."

Friday, July 5, 2024

Retro motorcycles aren't going away

 The market for retro motorcycles like those from Royal Enfield will show strong growth between now and 2030, according to HTF Market Intelligence, a market research company in India. 

The retro motorcycle market "will witness a Compound Annual Growth Rate of 12.46% during the forecast period," it calculates. That's an increase of $98.34 billion over its current $56.9 billion market value. 

The report considers Royal Enfield, BSA, Honda, Yamaha, Kawasaki, Moto Guzzi, Triumph, BMW, Ducati, and Royal Alloy. 

It defines the retro motorcycle market as "a niche segment within the broader motorcycle industry that focuses on recreating the design aesthetics and styling cues of motorcycles from past eras, typically the mid-20th century. 

"These motorcycles are characterized by their vintage-inspired designs, which often evoke nostalgia and a sense of classic craftsmanship." 

The market is driven by its nostalgic appeal to older riders, but also by the appeal of retro styling to younger people.

The report states that, to compete, manufacturers will have to incorporate "advanced electronics, lightweight materials, and sustainable powertrains while retaining the timeless styling that defines retro motorcycles."

That won't be easy.

They will have to do this while competing with modern looking motorcycles, which, of course, will include all those features without the burden of limits on styling.

As an example I think of Royal Enfield's move toward water cooling with its new 450cc motor. Water cooling is more efficient, but it loses the graceful cooling fins seen on Royal Enfield's 350cc and 650cc air-cooled motors. 

The 450cc motor thus looks dull, in comparison, and is wisely delivered painted black to reduce its visual impact.

And as for putting modern features into retro motorcycles, even today Royal Enfield is criticized for offering motorcycles that don't include the latest features.

In fact, Royal Enfield has come a long way. Consider that my 1999 Royal Enfield Bullet lacked electric start, disc brakes, ABS, fuel injection, electronic ignition, and five or six-speed gearbox. All these features and many more are on today's "retro" Royal Enfields.

One more thing: realistically, retro motorcycles will also have to compete with the growing market for electric motorcycles, which, as something new, never had any particular style to be nostalgic about. 

Consumer preference for clean, quiet, reliable, and uncomplicated electrics will only grow as they improve. Will a Royal Enfield even be a Royal Enfield without the "thump" of internal combustion?

The full report can be ordered on line. Cost is $3,500.

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