Friday, October 31, 2008

New Royal Enfield owner rides with pride

Last for Four Parts

Josh Moore of Kansas chose a Royal Enfield Bullet as his first motorcycle. What's it like? He writes:

"Lately, I've been riding the bike to school, about 30 miles one way, and to work, about 15 miles one way, and have enjoyed the rides immensely. I can't go anywhere without people bombarding me with comments and questions.

"I work for an astronomical observatory, where my primary job is to work the telescopes and to give tours to the general public and to school groups of all ages, showing them the wonders of our universe through the eye of a telescope. It's a great job. One night, we had a group of about 75 high school students. I had my bike parked out front, and could hear kids saying 'Wow, COOL bike!' as they parked their cars and walked to the building.

"Later, in the telescope room, after showing them all sorts of fascinating galaxies, nebulae, planets, and star clusters, I received more questions about my bike than about anything I had shown them. Essentially, they were telling me that, to them, my bike was
pretty much the most fascinating thing in the entire Universe!

"On another day, I was riding my bike around town and to school, and went to a shopping strip where I was planning on picking up a face mask and some ear warmers. After parking my bike and going into one store, I came out to go to another, and there was this guy walking all over the place like he was looking for something. Or someone.

"He ended up spotting me and my riding gear, and came over to me. He told me that he'd been 'looking ALL OVER the place for the owner of that bike!' and continued talking to me for about half an hour about how amazing he thought it was, and how he'd love to have a bike like that.

"It's a great feeling knowing that so many people love the bike as much as I do.

"As a first-time bike owner, I don't think I could have made a better decision on my first bike. I also have a feeling, very strong and abiding, that I will be a life-long Enfield owner. I seriously cannot fathom owning any other bike in my life. I am just too in love with these.

"I don't mind the fact that these bikes aren't really for highway driving; I'm not much of a highway driver anyway. Even if I owned a motorcycle that would cruise quite easily at sustained 85-mph speeds, I really don't think I'd do too much highway driving on it.

"I much prefer cruising smoothly along on nice, picturesque back roads.

"I love how this bike has all sorts of little quirks; I love discovering them. This bike has so much personality and character, that it becomes difficult at times to convince myself it's only a machine. My girlfriend, Jasmine, loves it just as much as I do, and jumps at every opportunity to go on rides with me.

"She's planning on getting a bike of her own now, but I believe she's leaning more towards a new Sportster 883. I'm not really bummed out about that; she's a beautiful girl, and I'm more than content with the knowledge that I'm the person that won her heart, and that, two years later, it was my Bullet that made her fall in love all over again. They're just motorcycles, so it's not really like cheating, y'know?

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Royal Enfield makes man into a mechanic

Part Three

Josh Moore of Kansas knew he was in for a challenge when he bought a Royal Enfield Military. For one, he confesses he has always been careless about maintaining his cars. He was going to have to learn to take care of the Enfield. He writes:

"Thus far, it has been one of the greatest decisions I've ever made. The bike was brand new, but even so, had a few problems when I got it delivered to me. The headlight was already burnt out. Two fuses were blown. I ended up tinkering with the bike, and basically taught myself how to change out these parts on my own.

"For me, this was a HUGE accomplishment, and signaled the dawn of a new era in my life: gone were the days of not knowing or caring a thing about the mechanics of a vehicle; gone were the days of the constant neglect and lack of appreciation for the machinery underneath me; gone were the days when I would rely on someone I knew, or a mechanic, to take care of even the most routine and minor issues.

"The phrase that I'd heard repeated ad nauseam on Enfield forums across the Internet, 'Enfields turn men into mechanics,' was becoming a reality for me.

"It has been about two months now that I've owned my Bullet. I've replaced the headlight twice, and have replaced four blown fuses. I'm almost positive that I have a regulator putting out too much energy, and a loose wire or two slapping against the frame. My dealer is sending me a new regulator for the bike, which will arrive in about a week. Further, I have just put about 500 miles on the bike, and it's time for my first service and maintenance.

"I've decided, for better or worse, I'm going to attempt to do all of this on my own. I'm a fairly intelligent guy, and can usually trace the source of a problem from Point A to Point B. I think with the guidance of a well-informed and enthusiastic Enfield community and the right tools, I can get the first service accomplished on my own.

"As far as riding the Bullet, it has been nothing short of fun, fun, FUN! I absolutely love it. I've been very meticulous about the break-in period, but have thoroughly enjoyed riding the bike slowly through gorgeous back roads here in the heart of farm country in southern Kansas. Every time I ride, heads turn, thumbs point up in the air, and hand waves abound."

Next: Riding with Josh Moore.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A man 'out of his time' buys a Royal Enfield

Part Two

Josh Moore returned from his travels in the Sahara determined to buy a motorcycle to ride at home in Kansas. He was drawn to the Triumph Scrambler but something stopped him. If you've looked at his personal blog, you know it has an "Indiana Jones" theme and he has the experiences to justify that. Moore liked the appeal of heroic times. He explains:
"I've always been a man obsessed with most things vintage and retro. My girlfriend Jasmine and others have sometimes referred to me as a 'man out of time' -- and I tend to think that I should've been born 50 to 100 years earlier. I'm stuck in a past that, for me, never even existed, and feel such a nostalgia for an era that I never knew.
"The price tag on the Scrambler was my only hesitation. I decided to keep looking around. No choice could've been better made. Whenever I ran across the Royal Enfield online I was instantly in love. I informed everybody I knew that I would be buying a Bullet ASAP.

"It was also no contest which bike I would buy: the Military model pulled every string inside of me that was tethered to my love for vintage and military-esque items. It's hard to even put into words how giddy I felt when I first laid eyes on it. I knew it would be mine.
"I did some research and found out about the fabled 'constant maintenance and repairs' that these bikes demanded from their owners. As a young kid with absolutely ZERO mechanical experience, I was a little concerned (to say the least). I never knew how to change the oil on my car. I tended to ALWAYS neglect taking care of it -- never washed it, wouldn't change the oil until I was about 3,000 miles afterthe 3,000 mile oil-change mark, never worried about new tires, etc. I was a bad owner. This made me a little worried about how I would fare with the Enfield Bullet.
"I loved the idea that this was a bike you could tinker with and work on while on the side of the road, if you had to. I loved the idea that this was a bike that would probably run forever if you treated it right. Slowly, I began to fall in love with the idea of learning to become a mechanic, learning to treat the bike as, essentially, an extension of myself and taking care of it. I took the dive and 'bought the Bullet'."

Next: So how does he like his new Bullet?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

An unusual new Royal Enfield owner

Perhaps there is no "typical" owner of a Royal Enfield motorcycle. Josh Moore of Kansas says he doesn't "fit the typical demographic of Bullet owners," and he is probably right about that. Here's the story of this first-time Bullet owner and how he came to buy a Royal Enfield:

"I'm a 25-year-old college student with little-to-no motorcycle experience. I used to ride dirt bikes when I was about 13, but that's really the extent. My father has been a bike owner and rider his entire life, and has built his own bikes for the past 15 years.

"I first decided that I absolutely needed a motorcycle this past summer. I have traveled around much of the world for the past five-to-six years, but for the past three years I have been spending my entire summers in North Africa -- in Morocco, to be specific. I have been doing ethnographic fieldwork among a small Berber tribe who live between the world's largest desert, the Sahara, and North Africa's tallest mountain range, the Atlas Mountains.

"On this most recent trip I brought my girlfriend Jasmine with me to help with my research; basically, she could get into the world of women in ways that I could never dream to, as Morocco is a traditional Islamic nation and the Berbers are very deep-rooted in time-honored traditions.

"When we arrived in Marrakesh, we were strolling through the open-air markets, and after seeing a horde of little scooters zooming by, I made the comment that it would be really neat to rent a scooter for ourselves and use it to take us all around Morocco. A passing comment turned into an obsession over the course of the next few days. I vigorously tried hunting down a scooter that I could rent, to no avail. Upon hearing my plans to ride the scooter up and over the Atlas Mountains and through parts of the Sahara Desert, they all deemed me 'crazy' and told me that such a trip was utterly impossible on these little 49cc scooters.

"So I just bought one. We found a shop that would sell us a brand-new one for just under a $1,000. A few days later, we were packed and ready to go. The impossible turned out to be very possible. Our little scooter, christened 'Jamiyla' ('the little camel' in Arabic), took us up and over the tallest mountain range in North Africa with little problems. We took the scooter out to the Sahara Desert, despite numerous warnings that this would be utterly impossible, and only manageable with a four wheel drive vehicle. In all, we ended up putting over 3,000 miles on the scooter in about two and a half months.

"The trip was breathtaking, fascinating, and opened me up to a whole new world: two wheels and the open road. I told Jasmine that immediately after getting back from the trip, I would have to get a motorcycle. My initial intention was to just get a cheap little scooter similar to what I rode around Morocco. I did some looking after I got back, and I always hesitated when I found a scooter that seemed like it would be decent enough. Then I happened upon the Triumph Scrambler. I was an inch away from making the $8,000 plunge to pick up the Scrambler, as its vintage look really appealed to me."

Next: Buying a Royal Enfield
To read about Josh Moore's journey to the Sahara on a motor scooter check his blog. Be sure to watch the touching video at the end of one post, with Josh's girlfriend Jasmine singing The Star Spangled Banner beautifully inside a Berber tent.

Monday, October 27, 2008

One Royal Enfield Bullet, two adventurers

Reality TV star Charlie Boorman on DL BS AL 220.

Photographer-writer Paul Grace watched Episode Three of the BBC reality TV show "Charley Boorman: Ireland to Sydney By Any Means," in which Boorman mounts a Royal Enfield in India. Grace wrote the Yahoo Bullet-Mania group to report what he saw:

"I noticed the registration number of the Bullet he was riding in India looked familiar! It's the same bike I borrowed from the shop in Delhi to ride to the Himalayan Snowline in March this year. The bike was well and truly run in for Charlie!"
Paul Grace with the same bike near Jalori Pass a few months earlier.

With so many Royal Enfields in India, the odds against this seem very long, indeed.

Grace is the author of No Way to Treat a Classic British Motorcycle, about racing a home built Royal Enfield scrambler in the UK. His latest effort, including the story of the ride to the snowline, is The Classic Motorcycle Diaries. Here he "invites you to take a peek inside the private diary of a classic motorcyclist... from local shows, the big events, foreign travel and trail riding."

"This book is all about enjoying your motorcycling, enjoying life to the full, getting out and about to experience new places; the solitude of the ride and the companionship of friends," Grace writes. "There should be something here for everyone."

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Royal Enfield inspires riders to heights

Royal Enfield motorcycles exist in the greatest number in India and they naturally inspire terrific devotion there. For those of us in, say, the United States, where the Enfield is admired but rarely seen, blog postings by Indian riders are truly a glimpse into a world turned upside down.

Visitors to the factory web site chose the page created by Bhaskar Das as the best of the month for October. It is very good. He weaves his words around remarkable photos that illustrate the impact the Royal Enfield has on its riders. He writes:

"People sometimes find it difficult to understand why we do, what we do. To them we ask... have you experienced the high when throngs of people rush to wave at you, from the remotest of villages, as you roar by? Have you had policemen flag you down, only to click photographs with you? Have you been chased by elephants, sputtered through freezing glacial rivers and hugged your broken down bike, in the back of a truck? Have you ever whispered sweet nothings, verbally encouraging your bike along an insurmountable slope? Only then do you understand what Bulleteering is all about!"

I don't expect I ever will be chased by an elephant, here in Florida. My appreciation for my Bullet will have to be based more on what it has proven it can do than on what I ask it to do. I suppose I am like the owner of the Jeep or Land Rover who never challenges terrain tougher than a freeway ramp. The Royal Enfield excites the adventuring part of my brain even when I am not on an adventure.

Bhaskar Das, keep on riding and writing. We're right behind you, all over the world.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Royal Enfield's old Bullet carries Gordon May to factory where the new ones emerge

Gordon May writes: The good news is that both bike and rider survived to tell the tale.I undertook my overland journey to India between August 22nd and October 8 2008. I rode for 9 hours a day on average, often without stopping the engine for more than a couple of minutes to refuel. Despite intense heat, a crash and some appalling road conditions, my wonderful 55-year old motorcycle hardly missed a beat.

Gordon May's epic 8,000-mile trip on an antique Royal Enfield Bullet ended at the factory where the very newest Royal Enfields are being made. You can read Gordon's entire account of his ride from England to Chennai, India on a 1953 Bullet on his travel blog. Or you can follow the whole route by clicking the icons on the map below.

Gordon finished his journey with a deep affection for his trusty Bullet. He also was impressed by the craftsmanship and old world values he saw in operation at the Royal Enfield factory. He comments:

"The export EFI model is by far the most exciting machine that I see. In the packing area there’s a long row of G5 versions being crated up for export to the UK. Finished in black and chrome like the old deluxe models, this new variant looks truly gorgeous. I learn that today is in fact the long-awaited launch day of the new Bullet at the Intermot motorcycle show in Germany. There’s a buzz of excitement around the offices as people await news of the reception the bike receives. Word comes in that the response has been extremely encouraging, a real success for the company. Of the three variants on display, it’s the all maroon and all green Classic models that have stolen the show. No wonder. Their retro 1950’s styling is absolutely stunning. I can’t wait to get my hands on one myself."

Wanted: A real Royal Enfield toy

The Royal Enfield tin motorcycle toy shown here doesn't exist. It is a photo of a different motorcycle toy I've doctored to look vaguely like a Royal Enfield Bullet. I wish I could buy a toy like this for my young cousin William, who just turned 2. He loves everything that goes "VROOOMM," especially motorcycles.

The Moto-Mini web site features pictures of a wide variety of great old motorcycle toys. It is a virtual museum of motorcycle toys and well worth a look, especially if, like me, your first motorcycle was a toy. You might find it listed. Unfortunately, the web site offers only a small number for sale. Most, like the ones shown here, are just something to dream about.

Are there Royal Enfield Bullet toys for sale in India? I wonder. With the holidays coming, I think there would be a ready market for them among Enfield fans here in the United States.

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.

Friday, October 17, 2008

India's reaction to new Royal Enfield: Yes!

Kevin Mahoney/Classic Motorworks

Reaction in India to Royal Enfield's new fuel-injected, left-shift, unit-construction Bullet Classic 500 is positive. To say the least. News accounts and blogs I've seen largely don't reflect any concern that the bike is abandoning its basic roots. And I have found little carping about the fact that the new model will go on sale in Europe before the home country gets it.

I suppose there is pride in the fact that India can produce a motorcycle to Euro III standards, and one that is capturing increasing attention around the world. For a change, the attention it is getting is based on modern features and revamped styling, instead of just the fact that the Bullet is old-fashioned -- its previous claim to world fame.

"Definitely the most beautiful ‘Bullet’ of our times," said the cubi[CC]apacity blog. It went on to say: "This is one Bullet which anyone would like to lay his/her hands on, even the most hardened of the brand’s critics, because just look at it: Its Beautiful! Thank you RE!"

The DWS Auto India blog said, "Royal Enfield has a launched a mouthwatering classic version of its legendary motorcycle the Bullet. It is amazing to look at - a real vintage motorcycle look, if you ask me.

"The front number plate, the logo, that classic green colour and 1950s looks. The new Bullet Classic 500 really looks like a post World War II motorcycle. Bullet lovers would be drooling, I am sure.

"So far there is no information on the expected price. We guess it would be close to Rs 1 lakh, but better to wait in case they throw us a surprise!"

You will have to translate this comment on their posting, but I gather it is positive:


The best stated complaint I've found is on the Hot Air Cold Love blog: "Yeah 'Made in India' but not for Indians. Well Eicher is not an Indian company and it owns the Enfield brand. But with all the benefits of our booming economy, the love for the cult brand and the stronghold of Enfield India factory that still survives all obstacles – why don’t Indians deserve this bike?"

The Rocking Team blog noted: "There is no idea about the launch of Bullet Classic 500 EFI in India. When it launches in India, then it will be one of the most powerful bikes in India."

India obviously can't wait to get its hands on the new Bullet. Just like the rest of the world.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

'Enfield Girl' was a classic of her times

Advertisements for Royal Enfield motorcycles through the decades sometimes featured pretty girls. None have been quite as unreal as the pinup called "the Enfield Girl." She is one of my favorites from the modern era. Her cartoon proportions combined with a real photo of the Café Racer kit precisely define the Royal Enfield: It is a vintage product you can buy new.

I was surprised to learn that the Enfield Girl was "discovered" at an advertising agency in Milwaukee. I asked a partner in the firm about her.

Q. I think that ad did a marvelous job of attracting the eye while also capturing what is so unique about the product. Would you introduce yourself and your agency?

A. My name is Ignacio Catral. Our agency name is Catral Doyle Creative Co. We do a variety of work including advertising, branding, environments and electronic media. We have been in business in Milwaukee, Wis. for 14 years. Some of our clients include Kohler Co., Marquette University, Derco Aerospace, and Crescent Cardboard

Q. Is there a story behind how you began working with Classic Motorworks, the U.S. importer for Royal Enfield?

A. There is actually. My partner Shawn and I were avid motorcyclists, but when we decided to quit our cushy design jobs and start our own business, we sold off our bikes to buy computer equipment. Shawn at the time rode a BMW K75RT and I rode a Honda Shadow 600. After being established for a few years, and looking to expand our client base in our geographical area, we found Classic Motorworks in a Walnecks Cycle trader ad featuring the Enfield Bullet. We were amazed that a product like that still existed in today’s marketplace.

"We sent our customary marketing materials to Classic Motorworks, trying to forge a relationship. We had a couple of conversations with the person in charge of marketing at the time with no luck. The perception was that we might be a bit too pricey, based on some of our existing clients at the time. Then it hit me: what about doing some trade for a couple of bikes and in no time we would be on two wheels again.

"I wrote a letter to the marketing guy outlining the concept. He called me back and gave the go ahead to start concepts. That was the birth of the 'Astroturf' Electric Starter ad campaign.

"Shawn and I both have 1999, kick start classic Bullets, running like champs. And we have been working with Kevin Mahoney and Classic Motorworks ever since.

Q. So you are you a motorcyclist yourself?

A. I am. I have ridden many bikes in my life; nothing compares to riding an Enfield.

Q. Where did the idea for the Enfield Girl come from?

A. The Enfield Girl came to us in the form of an old royalty-free pin-up CD. At the time, we were in charge of developing a campaign for an amazing new kit that you could bolt on to the existing Bullet and create this fantastic café racer. We had a chance to spend some time with the bike during the photo shoot and we came up with the idea of this pin-up calendar shot with the bike in it. We had the bike shot already but no budget for another shoot and the pin-up talent. In our research we found the image of this girl straddling an artist’s horse, and knew she was the one. After finding the correct shot with the correct posture we had to treat the shot of the bike to match the existing technique of the pin-up illustration.

Q. Does the Enfield Girl have a future? Or was that pretty much it for her?

A. The Enfield girl is retired now, but still collects royalties every time the ad is mentioned or shown, so she sends her thanks.

Q. Do you have a favorite ad you did for Royal Enfield?

A. We are very fortunate that Kevin gives a long rope on the creative side of things, and it lets us be playful and push the creative a lot more than with some of our other corporate clients. We try to be creative and stretch budgets so we can be side-by-side with bigger players in the industry. To keep the budget small I was one of the models along with my bike, for the 'My Bullet' campaign. I particularly like the look of the 'This is no Replica' ad, and of course the Enfield Girl will always have a place in my heart. I also like the feeling of the 'My Bullet' campaign.

Looking back over the ads Catral cites I am impressed again by how carefully crafted they are. The 2001 introduction of the electric starter was an important innovation that conceivably could detract from the "revered classic styling" of the Bullet.

The ad plays off this, asking "What's next? Astro Turf at Wimbledon?" But it's all perfectly acceptable, you see, because the Royal Enfield is "the only motorcycle to earn an enthusiastic 'high five' from the Palace Guard!"

Posing Catral as the male model in the "My Bullet" campaign doesn't in the least detract from the purpose of the campaign. His chiseled features worked well with the powerful line-up of Bullets. It's a Mount Rushmore effect -- a character study. According to Catral Doyle's web site, that purpose was "portraying what Royal Enfield motorcycles do best -- get noticed.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Don't get caught without your potato

You can get anything you need for your Royal Enfield at the Classic Motorworks web store. It turns out, you also can get something to eat: A potato. It's a good idea to check your local supermarket first, however, since you may be able to find potatoes available locally. That will save the expense of shipping.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Near naked motorcyclist made record run

If you're like me, you doubted your eyes the first time you saw a picture of Rollie Free making his speed record run stretched out full length on a Vincent motorcycle and wearing only a bathing suit. The AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum web site has an excellent review of a new book on Free's record-setting run.

In Flat Out! The Rollie Free Story, author Jerry Hatfield tells how Free eked the final bit of speed from his Vincent Black Lightning by donning a woman's bathing cap. The AMA review includes an audio clip of Free describing how he had practiced his "flat out" riding position since the 1920s.

To purchase a copy of Flat Out! The Rollie Free Story, send a check for $54.96 (Texas residents: $58.95) to Jerry Hatfield, 605 Hinsdale Dr., Arlington, TX 76006.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Royal Enfield didn't spare any expense in design of its new Bullet Classic 500

Kevin Mahoney/Classic Motorworks

Royal Enfield repeatedly chose more expensive design features for its new Bullet Classic 500. (No, the kick starter was not left off to shave pennies.) The design process was described by Kevin Mahoney of Classic Motorworks, the U.S. importer, who was among the importers consulted by Royal Enfield.

"Lack of kickstarter: This has received a lot of comments. The lack of one has nothing do to with cost as one might suspect. In reality it is the engineers at Royal Enfield saying 'we did such a good job on this starting system it doesn't need one.' There are quite a few (unit-construction engine, or UCE) bikes on the road now in Europe and so far no starting system failures. My ever-roving eye wonders if the Indian-market 350cc engine will have a kickstart. If it does I would guess that there may be a kit that could be developed for those who feel insecure without one."

The UCE engine itself was an elegant but expensive solution to meeting standards, Mahoney said: "The reasons for the increased power and 'green' running engine is due in larger part to the unit construction. Some say they went that way to reduce costs, but in reality the opposite is true. The new engine is significantly more costly to produce. A lot of details such as reduced friction in the primary system, gear box, roller cams, hydraulic lifter and a wedge type combustion chamber all contribute to lower emissions and increased power."

Royal Enfield also went to the expense of keeping the classic look for the improved and longer swing arm rear suspension. A square swing arm was suggested by developers, but importers felt it detracted from the vintage look. Importers also didn't like the original suggestion that the bike have a 1970's look. The factory went back to the drawing board to come up with the more retro styling finally unveiled in Cologne, Germany on Oct. 7.

No expense was spared designing new parts either. The new bike has 300 new parts. While Enfield kept the bike close to its roots in specification (500cc pushrod, two-valve, long-stroke engine) and appearance, "the look of interchangeability is deceptive," Mahoney said.

The forks have more rake, for better handling, and fenders are curved to fit the new 18-inch wheels (chosen, again, for better handling). The tank has a fuel pump inside it for the fuel-injection system and therefore needs a roll-over shut-off sensor.

Who would have thought designing an "old looking" motorcycle would require so many modern complications? I suppose, when you stop relying on gravity to supply the fuel to the engine, you are suddenly in NASA territory.

Mahoney emphasized that Royal Enfield wanted a more modern machine with the built-in reliability that could only come from a design on "a clean sheet of paper." But the company was determined not to abandon its "DNA." That means its single-cylinder "thumper" engine and the swing-arm rear suspension that made the original Bullet famous.

Gordon May's trek to Chennai complete

Checking comments by others on his travel blog, it seems apparent that Gordon May has successfully reached the home of Royal Enfield in Chennai, India. Gordon's 8,000 mile trek from Manchester, UK on a 1953 Enfield Bullet began Aug. 22. He seems to have reached Chennai Oct. 9.

Gordon's travel blog is running about 10 days behind his actual progress. It's an exciting story of friendly people along the way, highway robbers, crashes and encounters with police. You can follow his progress on my interactive map here.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Gordon May escapes highway robbers

Gordon May's journey from England to India on a 1953 Royal Enfield Bullet nearly came to a dramatic end in a confrontation with highway robbers.

Confronted on a narrow road by a half-dozen men who have blocked the road with tree trunks, Gordon had no room to turn around. As they ran toward him he made the courageous decision to crash through the barrier.

The exciting story is on his travel blog. Or you can follow his route on my interactive map. Click on the icons to track his progress.

Royal Enfield speed record remembered

The New York Times reported that James Enz of Lynwood, Calif., set a motorcycle speed record at the Bonneville Salt Flats on Aug. 26, 1964. Fellow blogger "Stretch" dug up a period picture from Cycle magazine for his Nostalgia on Wheels blog.

The picture shows Enz preparing for a run on his 750cc Royal Enfield in the semi-streamlined class. He went 135.314 miles per hour, according to The Times.

I've pointed you toward Stretch's blog before. He tells us very little about himself, but seems dedicated to showing great motorcycle pictures "from a more civilized time." I question whether the outlaw-obsessed magazines of the time were more civilized. But the motorcycles are great. Take a look.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Royal Enfield books chosen for you

Royal Enfields and other vintage motorcycles are highlighted in the Amazon store I've added to the bottom of this blog. The store was just one suggestion made by Enfield fan Al Tweedie, of California.

Al and his partner run QuinnTweedie, a marketing agency that specializes in firing up clients' advertising, public relations and interactive efforts.

The Amazon store is just brilliant. First, it's a way I can highlight and make available to you books I recommend. The genius of the thing is that it automatically finds similar items, many I'd never heard of, and offers them up for inspection. Click on a book and you get a good description, maybe a reader review and, often, a discount.

Scroll down and take a look. Thank you, Al!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Bright idea gives Electra a new look

A clever modification by a Royal Enfield dealer gives this Electra model an unusual look. The rear fender now rides up and down with the rear wheel. The change almost gives the rear suspension the clean look of a rigid motorcycle.

Royal Enfield dealer Mark Leef of in Belvidere, N.J. is responsible for the modified Electra. Kevin Mahoney of Classic Motorworks brought it to my attention. Leef explains:

"The story is that a customer approached us on building an Enfield that no one else had: 'one of a kind.' I took a software package and cut and pasted some things together from different bikes from the era and we started building. We ended up with a 'hooligan bike concept.' We chose the aluminum fenders, chrome tank, polished fork top yolk, chrome headlight bracket and 6.5-inch halogen headlight, original Smith gauges, shorty pea-shooter muffler, fork gaiters, braided cables and brake line and solo seat.

"The biggest issue was the large ugly metal sub frame that the original seat and fender were mounted to. Once the solo seat was mounted it looked awful no matter what we did. After several tries we had an epiphany: Let's eliminate the sub frame all together and fabricate a fender that moves with the swing arm as it rises and falls.

"We had to come up with a swing arm clamp that would allow the fender to pivot and fabricate a hoop over-design to hold the fender and turn signals in place while allowing it to move up and down with the swing arm. While we were at it we decided to fabricate a new mount for the seat and clean that up so we welded up what we needed and used hair pin springs instead of the traditional coil springs.

"As you can see from the pictures it turned out to be a pretty cool and functional design. Really the only things that are still original Electra are the frame, engine and wheels. The passenger pegs are still on. You can loop your feet over them for a different riding position. Not sure if they're staying on at this point.
We do quite a few Enfield customizations at our shop. If someone wants something unique we discuss it and usually we can do whatever they want. We like the creative aspect. We are just starting another one that's going to have a leaf spring solo seat mount, will be stretched about 3 inches and end up being more of a cafe bike but with a longer and lower line than any other Enfield."

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."

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Royal Enfield not only retro single on way

Suzuki's styling is more '70s than '50s, but it's still retro.

Royal Enfield's new Bullet Classic 500 will face competition when it reaches the United States. I lamented indications that Honda may abandon its simple CB250 Nighthawk in 2009. But the Royal Enfield will not be the only clean, upright, standard motorcycle on the market with retro appeal.

Reader Prof. Stack alerted me to Suzuki's plan to bring its TU250 (above) to America in 2009. It has been available and has many fans elsewhere in the world. It will reach the U.S. in March and may be coming at just the right time.

"I’d like to tell you what it was like to sit on, but it was kind of the star of the show as well as the show stealer. The thing was continually surrounded by a crowd of curious dealers," reports Pete Brissette. He covered the Suzuki dealer meeting for The TU250 is much racier in his photo than in the Suzuki catalog artwork. He comments:

"I’ll venture a guess, though, that if the current state of economics in the U.S persists, Suzuki may have another high-demand model on their hands, and this time the dealers will know better than to not have enough of this bike on hand. The people will vote with their dollars. Cheng Shin tire-shod or not, the TU250X looks like a deal maker! Just not in California, yet."

Pete Brissette Photo
The Suzuki TU250 has a single-cylinder, single-overhead camshaft engine with fuel injection and electronic ignition. It has a five-speed transmission and front disk brake. It comes in red. Compared to the Royal Enfield Bullet, the Suzuki's styling is more '70s than '50s. It is no substitue. Still, you can practically see the suggestion of single-seat and pillion pad.

Suggested retail price is $3,499, according to Suzuki's web site. It will save money and gas and will bring back memories for many people. As for heritage, this is what Suzuki motorcycles looked like once upon a time.

Here's what I think: the TU250 will appeal to the many people who want to travel cheaply and comfortably through space. The Royal Enfield Bullet will continue to appeal to the smaller number who also want to travel through time.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Enfield Bullet Classic looks good all around

Readers Johann Franz and Michael Clark sprang to my aid when I complained that I hadn't seen a picture of the left-hand side of the new Royal Enfield Bullet Classic 500. The new bike was unveiled Tuesday at a ceremony in Germany but seems to have kept its right side facing the cameras.

Thank you Johann and Michael. To my eye, the new motorcycle is even sexier from this angle. Personally, I would remove the headlamp visor, but that's just a matter of taste.

Johann points out that the horn is still mounted to the frame on the left. I guessed wrongly that it had moved up under the headlamp.

Royal Enfield recalls what Honda forgot

Honda CB250 Nighthawk was really 'just a motorcycle' under a bit too much plastic.

The subject of this blog is Royal Enfields, but under discussion today is a Honda motorcycle that seems to share much with the Royal Enfield Bullet. It is relatively unadorned, stops with drum brakes, delivers terrific gas mileage, is just barely fast enough for American roads and has a bargain price.

Unlike the Royal Enfield Bullet, however, the Honda CB250 Nighthawk may drop out of the American market this year. It is not in the company's announced model line-up for 2009.

Contrast this with the fact that, Tuesday, at the INTERMOT convention in Cologne, Germany, Royal Enfield unveiled a new Bullet that shares its heritage and look with Royal Enfields of the past.

The Nighthawk's departure would leave Honda with cruisers, sport bikes, off-road bikes and everything in between, but nothing that looks like "just a motorcycle."

The whining began immediately on the Yahoo message board devoted to the Nighthawk. Would Honda replace it with a motorcycle that offered a navigation system? Why not a baby monitor? How about an on-board espresso maker?

Honda does seem to be losing sight of what the Royal Enfield Bullet epitomizes in the world market. As one person put it: "At the end of the day it is meant to be a simple, economical, beautiful and practical bike-- all that you need in a motorcycle -- and nothing more."

Nighthawk fans have been in fear for years that their favorite mount would be orphaned. This is a design that has had a 20-year run. Most Americans encounter it as the motorcycle they learn on in their Motorcycle Safety Foundation training course.

That's where I first rode a Nighthawk. When my beloved Bullet went into the shop for an extended time I bought a Nighthawk of my own to get to work. I enjoyed the simplicity it shared with the Bullet. I missed the kick start (although you can clearly see the embossed circle on Nighthawk transmission where it belongs).

I also missed the center stand and, forgive me, the neutral finder of the four-speed Bullet.

You can buy an aftermarket center stand for the Nighthawk, but the glory of the neutral finder is apparently a lesson only Albion learned.

My Bullet is back and so my Nighthawk is up for sale. Should I ever need another motorcycle it's good to know that Royal Enfield continues to produce what is needed -- and nothing more.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Royal Enfield shows off new Classic

Royal Enfield India offers an attractive gallery of pictures of its new Bullet Classic, unveiled this morning in Germany. The picture above seems to show a crease across the top of the tank but that must just be a lighting effect; it doesn't show in other pictures.

Also not shown is a kick start lever or rear-view mirrors. Perhaps they just wanted to clean up the looks of the bike for pictures. But we do see an odometer and fuel gauge. A note at the bottom of the web site notes that the up-swept exhaust shown in some of the pictures is optional, and for off-road use only.

Color options shown are black, red and pastel green.

Here it is, the new Royal Enfield Classic

Kevin Mahoney of Classic Motorworks is in Cologne, Germany for the unveiling of the new Royal Enfield Classic. He provided these pictures from the stand at the INTERMOT convention. His comments and more pictures are on the Classic Motorworks web site here.

New Royal Enfield Bullet comes to light

It's official: the first big change in the appearance of the Indian made Royal Enfield Bullet since 1955! Reader Johann Franz spotted this first, in a press release from Royal Enfield on the INTERMOT web site.

Monday, October 6, 2008

New Royal Enfield will look like '50s model

Royal Enfield G2 from the 1951 brochure.

Royal Enfield's latest press release on the "New Royal Enfield Bullet Classic" suggests its appearance will go all the way back in time to the G2 model of the 1950s.

Royal Enfield will unveil their all new Bullet 500 at the INTERMOT convention tomorrow. According to Sunday's press release, Enfield's newest model celebrates the early Bullets.

"The new 'Bullet 500 Classic' harks back to the 'G2' Bullet of the early 1950s, retaining the quintessential classic British style that is inextricably linked to the Royal Enfield name. The new 'Bullet 500 Classic' is powered by the new 500cc 'Unit Construction Engine' (UCE) and is homologated for Euro III norms.

"This new model is expected to be in the Europe Distributors showrooms by January 2009," the press release concludes.

Riders test new Royal Enfield motor

Chris Janes photo.
Chris Janes and others got to ride a Bullet with the new unit-constructed engine at the Rally on the River gathering in September in Missouri. Janes wrote his impressions for the Royal Enfield Yahoo message board:

"Kevin (Mahoney) from Classic Motorworks brought it out for us to run through the mill. It is a UCE motor in a modified Electra chassis, not the model (Royal Enfield) is going to be "unveiling" tomorrow in Germany. It's a bike to do all the government testing crap on.

"We all got to put it to the test and everyone's opinion was positive. And even though I am resistant to change and turned my back on electric start models and wouldn't even look at an Electra my opinion was positive too. Time will tell.

"It started easy with no choking or blipping the throttle. It is coldblooded and needs to warm up a bit before you ride. The first thing you really notice is how much more torque it has over an iron motor. We went on a 40/50 mile ride and I was following Kevin (he was riding two up) and the whole time I think I saw him downshift one time going up a steep hill. The rest of the time you just roll on the throttle and it goes up the hill.

"There is a really steep hill on 19 by the campground. If you turn onto it and accelerate real fast into fifth gear the UCE would accelerate all the way to the top of the hill. I would be in third and slowing down on my Bullet.

"Throttle is very responsive compared to a bike with a carburetor and Kevin has been in touch with Power Commander already about making an adjustable 'black box' for those all important improvements. It sounds like a Bullet!

"The only thing I think it could use is a bigger counter shaft sprocket and those rubber fin spacer things removed. Aside from that with all the emission standards looming in the future for most of RE's export markets I think they did well to preserve the feel and sound of the Bullet. I guess it beats having no Bullets for the future.

"I can't wait to take one apart to see what makes it tick. I did have tools but they wouldn't let me at it!"

Sunday, October 5, 2008

How to make BIG money as a blogger

Take the money and run! Yes, YOU can get rich as a blogger. Apparently it's just me who can't seem to manage it. At least not so far. I'm not going to give up because I still want to make BIG MONEY BLOGGING.

I do love blogging about Royal Enfield motorcycles, although it would be even better if I could do it and GET RICH BLOGGING.

I also love motorcycles in general, especially vintage machines like the sidecar outfit shown above. The illustration is the cover of Private Detective magazine from January, 1945. The artwork is by Richard Lillis and was in the collection of Robert Lesser. I encountered it in the calendar from his August, 2003 display at the Brooklyn Museum of Art.

Technically, the illustration has nothing to do with How to Get Rich Writing a Blog. Getting rich writing a blog is nothing at all like escaping in a sidecar with a beautiful redhead and bundles of cash. What can I say? I was misled.

The idea for this blog came from my wife, a beautiful redhead who teaches a class at the university on How to Make Money Blogging on the Internet. Actually, that is not exactly the title of her course, but, hearing her describe her lectures, I discovered The Secret to Making Money Writing a Blog.

The secret was to write about something I loved, like Royal Enfield motorcycles. Only after I confidently began this blog did my wife the professor explain to me that "that will never work!" It's too much of a niche, says the professor who tells her students that no niche is too small for the mighty Internet.

"But, look," I protested to her, "I have readers. My blog is drawing eyeballs. I have page views." It's then that she told me the Real Secret to Making Money Blogging:

"They don't pay you for page views," she said. "They only pay you when people click on the ads."

Still, I love what I'm doing. I did complain to my friend, the screenwriter and wit Douglas Kalajian, that I was endlessly pushing a rock up a hill.

He replied: "Just to keep you focused: you're pushing the rock downhill."

I deeply appreciate the support of you readers who follow this blog regularly in hopes of watching How I Get Rich Writing a Blog. I hope to have some advice for you on that just as soon as I in fact do Become Rich Blogging!

In the meantime, I hope to be able to share the fun information and pictures I dig up about Royal Enfield motorcycles. If you have something to offer or suggest, especially something that will help EARN MONEY BLOGGING, be sure to leave a comment here. It also wouldn't hurt if you clicked on some of the little ads you see scattered about by Google.

But only click if you're really, really interested. Because Google and its clever little robots dodging about looking for Tips on How to Get Rich Blogging are a blogger's best friend!

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