Monday, November 17, 2008

Royal Enfield: to buy or not to buy?

"It's a creature from another age."

It all started with a simple question from a member: should he get a Royal Enfield Bullet for his wife to ride? Replies on the forum quickly fell into the usual camps: "sure, go ahead," and "they're too slow, too cranky and not worth the money."

Some spoke from experience. Others had just heard reports. One Royal Enfield owner spoke with calm authority: JL, the owner of the bike shown above.

"I love my Bullet, my wife loves hers, too. Whether you will depends on your enthusiasm and expertise. They've been our main transport for four years and many thousands of miles, and we'll probably never part with them. (They're not worth much, anyway!) Despite all this I have no illusions about them; the quality is pretty low. Don't be fooled by the new ones either, they're not much better, and to me it's not worth putting up with the problems for what looks like an ugly '70s commuter.

"Plus points: Attracts a crowd every time you go out. Points ignition, kick starter, simplicity etc. Reliability (yes, really. We've stopped twice in 35,000 miles. Blown fuse, blown condenser. Had spares with me.) Incredibly cheap parts. Can be geared up (lots). Cool looks. I've lowered mine a couple of inches, changed the ugly seat and painted over the cheesy chrome.

"Minus points: Attracts a crowd of boring old men every time you go out. You will need lots of those cheap parts. (If you do a lot of hard miles like we do; daily commute, 1,500-mile camping trips, etc.) Pretty slow. We tend to cruise at 60ish, although we've ended up on some cool roads because of that."

Although especially well put, JL's comments won't surprise anyone who follows Royal Enfield forums. He did make one point that probably is especially important, but often overlooked: Price:

"If you buy one really cheap like we did, you may grow very fond of it, but if you pay too much you'll be forever cursing it."

Also instructive was JL's response to a member who had heard a story of an Enfield always being in the shop:

"I don't think a shop gives you an accurate idea of your average Enfield's reliability. The sort of person who has a shop look after his bike is always going to struggle with an Enfield. People who are interested in their own bike, and capable of moronically simple maintenance don't seem to have too many problems. Also, the 40-mph thing is just plain horseshit. If you read my earlier post you'll see I have absolutely no illusions about these bikes, but if you think of it as a brand-new 1955 bike rather than as a 2008 Honda, you shouldn't be too disappointed, as long as (crucially) you didn't pay too much."

The picture of JL's bike caused another forum member to comment: "JL's pic really captures the spirit of the old beast. It's a creature from another age, an age without freeways or many high quality roads. Like a Model T or something."

JL describes himself as a "bike mechanic,'' residing "near Pengenffordd" in the UK. Naturally, I had to check Pengenffordd on Google maps to see if it is a real place. Apparently so. And it looks like fantastic Royal Enfield country.


  1. I really like the look of JL's bike. I'd like to see an article describing how to go about lowering the bike like he did.

  2. Anonymous6/28/2010

    I'd like to lower my '99 the same way. Is it just softer springs?

  3. Richard Matthews8/29/2013

    Ahh, JL's bike. It looks alot different now, however...
    The swingarm has been stretched 2 1/4" and has 10" Hagon shocks with the hardest rate springs. The front has been lowered by 1 1/2". I found this info on Jockey Journal, along with new pics of the above bike. She is a beauty!


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