Saturday, October 18, 2008

Web reveals Royal Enfield history

The Classic Motorworks website in 1999.

It's amazing what you can find on the Internet. Kevin Mahoney told us that one of the first things he did when he became the U.S. importer of Royal Enfield motorcycles was to set up a web site. If you're willing to wade through a few broken links and missing images you'll find that a lot of information about the "Great Old Days" of 1999 is still out there.

What fascinated me about a look at the old Classic Motorworks web pages and posts was the innocence and enthusiasm that pervades not only Mahoney's work but the immediate response it evoked from buyers.

Here's a quote from one buyer, displayed on the site on Oct. 12, 1999:

"I bought my new Bullet on my 42nd birthday, 20 years to the date since I last rode a motorcycle. It's hard to describe the experience. In between the years it was marriage, responsibility, education, bills, money, debt, hard work, more debt, car payments, therapy, graduate school, more debt, children, adulthood (briefly), post maturity depression and, thank God, the death of disco. The Bullet is life in the real world, perfect no, but a humble slice of life pie. My first ride lasted 421 miles. I picked my bike on Saturday morning and came home late Monday afternoon, changed forever. For crying out loud, how can a $4k investment in life recalibration be characterized as anything less than a redefining moment in WHO YOU ARE."

Now, that is a testimonial. In those days the price of a 350 Bullet started at $3,495. Inflation alone would bring that amount to $4,312 in 2007 dollars, and certainly more in 2008. The Classic Motorworks web site gives the starting price of today's much improved and more powerful Bullet 500 Classic as $5,349. Obviously, the Royal Enfield remains a bargain.

Touchingly, the early web site featured articles about how to kick start a Bullet (the first thing you needed to know) and the history of Royal Enfield motorcycles, including an explanation of how they got to India. This was all news to most Americans.

Kevin Mahoney was "on the road" showing off Royal Enfields to people who had never seen one. He was learning too, as he explained on the web site:

"Today we started the road show for the new millennium (I'm so sick of that word I promise to never use it again). Our trailer has a fresh paint job that is awesome. You won't miss Royal Enfield going down the road. Our first show is in Fort Worth, Texas this weekend. We have six crates with the first of the 2000 models waiting for us there. I am very excited to see these new bikes with all of the latest manufacturing improvements on them.

"Today's Lessons: When you accidentally operate the tow vehicle in four-wheel drive all day on the dry freeway, fuel mileage (about 4 mpg) and handling will deteriorate."

The web site message board began April 26, 1999. By January, 2000 the board contained all the topics familiar to Royal Enfield fans ever since. Sample posts:
  • "My husband is interested in buying a military Enfield, but he has heard that you need to be a mechanic to own one or to have a mechanic as a close friend. Is this true?"
  • "I am now settled in California, can anyone tell me if I can own one in California, and if so what dealers are near Bay area."
  • "When I return to the USA (I currently work in Dubai) can I import the bike with my household goods and license it in USA?"
  • "Is anyone using synthetic oil in his Enfield?"
  • "What standard are the nuts and bolts, etc. made to on the Enfield Bullets from India; i.e. is it metric, or Whitworth, or ?"
  • "When I am told that the transmission oil is mixed with 00 grease what in the world is it and where do I get it?"

The answers haven't changed much over the years but the answer to the last one was a classic:

"For what it's worth, 00 grease is a substance that is not oil and not grease, it's in-between. It has the consistency of mucous (nice huh?)."

If you'd like to take your own jaunt through early editions of a web site, go to the WayBack Machine and enter the name of the site you wish to search. It's sort of the ancient history of the future.

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