Friday, October 10, 2008

Summary: Here's what we know so far about the new Royal Enfield Bullet Classic

Royal Enfield, a company that makes old-fashioned motorcycles, introduced its first new design in 50 years Oct. 7. The new motorcycle it introduced is mechanically more up-to-date. But it looks even more old-fashioned.

Royal Enfield unveiled its new "Bullet 500 Classic" at the INTERMOT motorcycle convention in Cologne, Germany. Originally built in Britain, Royal Enfield went out of business in England at the end of the 1960s, but the Bullet of 1955 continued to be built, virtually unchanged, in India.

In recent years, these brand new but vintage looking motorcycles from India have been imported into the United States, Europe and Japan, where they appeal to riders who love the vintage feel and look of British motorcycles. One of the aspects best loved is the "thump" of the Bullet's 500cc single-cylinder motor.

The "new" Bullet Classic introduced at INTERMOT retains the 500cc capacity and its beloved thump. But the old iron motor and its separate transmission are replaced with an alloy engine that sports fuel injection, electronic ignition and all alloy "unit" construction (combining engine and transmission to save room). The transmission now has five speeds, instead of four, and there is an electric starter. There is a front disk brake. On the dashboard is a fuel gauge and odometer, luxuries not seen before on the Bullet.

And yet the styling deliberately harkens back to the Bullet of the early 1950s, making the newest Bullet look older than the 1955 model. Royal Enfield showed the bike in red, black and a vintage pastel green.

Why change a design that has weathered 50 years and remains beloved in India and around the world? The Euro III pollution standards forced Royal Enfield to radically update the motor. The styling changes seem prompted by a desire to show off what the company can accomplish.

This new model is expected to be in the European distributors' showrooms by January, 2009.

"What isn’t apparent and is only known to a few is that the new bike is about as new as it can be," says Kevin Mahoney, of Classic Motorworks, the U.S. importer for Royal Enfield.

"For example the body work is being made by a new and more expensive vendor. The engines are being machined by a new company that makes Japanese engines so that they are better than current ones, which aren’t too bad in and of themselves. The entire frame is new and was designed by the people in Italy that make Ducati frames. The new bike really is a new bike. There are a few things that are the same, but not many. At a quick glance it will look like a more retro-model of what we have now, but a closer examination will reveal that it is a way different bike."

What about price? Royal Enfield Bullets typically sell for under $6,000 in the United States. The Bullet with the new motor (but the existing body and frame) is on sale in Europe for the equivalent of about $7,500. Mahoney says the price in the U.S. will not be that high, but it will be more than bikers here pay now.

"But you will also get a lot more for your money," he says. He also said it looks as though the existing Bullet will remain available in the U.S. in 2009 as well, "which will give the consumers a better choice of technology and price point."

At only 500cc, no Bullet of any vintage is a speed demon, and many considered them too slow for American Interstates. A Bullet thumps along happily at 40 miles per hour, cruises at 55 mph, feels stretched at 60 and the rider is typically lying flat on the tank before it will go 70. But that may change, Mahoney says.

"The new engine should be a great thing to tinker with. It is designed so that it can be pumped up to 40 hp with no sacrifice to reliability. It will be brought to the market in a very tightly controlled form that will meet all emissions standards and should be in the neighborhood of 25-27 hp. I am told that you can put a sport exhaust on it and the horsepower goes way up, but then of course you have eliminated the catalytic converter, which is illegal.

"We do expect a line of 'race track only' parts to become available though. I have ridden one and it is really strong with a lot of torque. They spent a lot of time and money on getting the 'thump' right, which is totally critical to sales in India."


  1. Thanks for the info--I appreciate your efforts to put it all in one place. I called the nearest dealer to me yesterday and they were not aware of the new model. For that matter, it almost sounded like he was trying to talk me out of a Royal Enfield altogether. Perhaps if he thinks so little of them, he will lower the price!

  2. Roy, thank YOU for the comment! I suppose Royal Enfield dealers learn to "manage expectations." These aren't for everyone. That's why you see some "used" ones for sale with very low mileage, I suspect. I also think we need to keep this new Bullet in perspective. It will not be all things to all people either. Much of what it offers (distinction, great looks, great heritage, great gas mileage, the great "thump" sound) you get with any Bullet of any year.

  3. So, how many hours a month tweaking and tightening and adjusting and hitting-with-a-hammer does a relatively new Bullett in good condition require?

  4. Roy, I can really only speak about OLD Bullets, since mine is a 1999. The new ones should need less fiddlig since they do away with points and carburetor and the clunky bodge used to make the 4-speed tranny shift on the left in the U.S. It was the case with my bike, and others have said this too, that once you got things sorted out they stayed sorted out. Even the valves seemed to stay in adjustment. Mine went 40 thou before it needed a main bearing and that may have been my fault (I tried to "improve" the lubrication system).

  5. Anonymous10/13/2008

    Hi David,

    Thanks for the link to your site.

    Great to see Enfield still has fans after all the troubles it gives.

    Best Regards,


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