Sunday, August 10, 2008

A Royal Enfield named Ralph: Part I

Before he wrote the definitive Royal Enfield Bullet Owners and Workshop Manual, Pete Snidal authored pieces on Bullet maintenance and troubleshooting and posted them on the web. He also wrote a piece he called "The Saga of Ralph," the story of his nearly life-long relationship with a 1957 Enfield motorcycle.

The full story is in the files section of the Royal Enfield Yahoo Message Board. If you're not already a member of that group, it would be worth joining so you can access the files section. For those in a hurry, here is a synopsis of this remarkable story:

"Somehow, in our family, all vehicles had names," Pete writes. So, when he liked a Vancouver friend's 1957 Royal Enfield Moto-X Bullet, he called it Ralph.

Pete and the owner of Ralph belonged to a competition club called The Kickstarters. They raced among themselves, with the undisputed champ being a Velocette Venom 500. One day, Ralph's owner took on the Venom "and Ralph just cleaned him up."

In 1959, the Kickstarters were anxious to make a good show at opening day of a new track. Ralph's owner couldn't make it, so Pete raced it that day and went on to become Ralph's tuner for a season or two.

Then Ralph was sold to one of the gang, who used it for daily transport, letting it go to seed in the process. Ralph "got lent to people a lot, left in the rain a lot, crashed quite a bit and generally went really downhill."

In about 1962, Pete found Ralph leaning against a fence in the rain. He bought it for $100. Pete stripped Ralph down to the flywheel halves, cleaning and fixing as best he could. Remember, he points out, this was before the Internet. Pete figured the closest RE dealership was in England!

Buffed and repainted, Ralph looked great. But two years later, Pete let a friend buy Ralph for $450 ("a tidy sum in those days for a motorcycle"). He even threw in his motorcycle jacket.

The competition bug bit again in 1967 and Pete "really missed Ralph." He went looking for his old champion and finally tracked it to a basement. "Ralphie was in many boxes and his timing gears were stripped."

Royal Enfield was dead by then, and the Indian Enfield Company was unheard of in those days. With no way to fix Ralph, Pete carried the boxes with him through several moves until a lifestyle decision meant giving it up. He sold Ralph to a friend, John, on condition that John could never sell the motorcycle to anyone but Pete.

Things didn't turn out that way, quite. We'll complete the story of Ralph, as Pete left off, tomorrow. Click here to read it. Have you had a long tie with a motorcycle? Leave a comment here.

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