Sunday, November 9, 2008

Enfields 'contribute' to challenging ride

River crossing in Lahaul Valley on way to 12,500-foot elevation.
Neale Bayly photo.

Stories of riding Royal Enfields on the India/Enfield Challenge begin to crowd the Internet this time of year. The seven-day motorcycle ride through Northern India into the Himalaya Mountains is popular with Brits, but Americans get in on it, too. One such account is by Speed Channel TV personality Neale Bayly, of Charlotte, N.C.

Bayly's experiences include riding in 41 countries and doing 200 miles per hour on a Hayabusa. But his story from India is similar to others in the description of the Royal Enfield motorcycles. As Bayly relates:

"The Enfield itself is a cantankerous old beast. Treat her with love and affection, gently nurture her along and she will perform just fine. Ask her to start in a hurry from cold, or change down from second to first on a steep, blind, hairpin turn and it is a definite no. There was a rumor that the Enfield 500 we were riding had four gears on the right hand side, and a front and rear brake. In reality there was a back brake, and on the odd occasion when the moon was in correct alignment she had all four gears.

"We soon learned to dry out the rear brakes after river crossings, as no rear brakes meant no brakes at all. She leaked oil, vibrated and rattled but bumping along in India she was the perfect bike for the job. The Enfield 350 riders seemed to have the most problems, and there was some form of breakdown or other on every day except the last. This was how Ron, our friend
from Florida, became 'The Saint,' as he quickly assumed position as head mechanic, fixing the Royal Enfield carnage that was littering the Indian roads.

"In all fairness, the bikes were extremely old and worn when we started so the breakdowns came as no surprise. I also think the lads rode a little too hard and would have had better luck being easier on the old beasts."

Bayly's story notes that riders were injured when missed shifts and missing brakes put them over cliffs and into rocks. For those not badly hurt, this sort of thing always seems to figure in these stories as part of the fun. No one ever seems to explain why Enfields in India have no front braking power, while, elsewhere in the world, they do. It must be part of the challenge.

Bayly writes of the beauty and friendship he experienced on the ride. "It lifted ordinary people to perform incredible deeds." He adds that it raised $50,000 for cancer victims in India, a splendid bonus.

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