Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Yahoo group built Enfield community

It all began with Martin Walton's Model G Royal Enfield.

Royal Enfield motorcycles, so common in India, were so rare in the United States in 2002 that I had never seen another one on the road and now I had a problem with mine. To get advice I turned to the Internet and was delighted to find the Royal Enfield Yahoo message group swirling with news and gossip, photos, technical tips and, best of all, companionship.

In the years to come I would turn to the group again and again for answers to my questions and reassurance that whatever I broke, someone knew how to fix.

More often, I followed the group's messages simply for entertainment. Watching members from around the world spar with one another over carburetors and politics, oil pumps and wars, friendly chatter and racism, I came to feel I practically knew these people. Occasionally, characters like the (probably) fictional Maj. Bunty Golightly reminded me that the punches were just electrons and it was all really just for fun.

Jan. 27, longtime moderator Martin Walton announced that he had approved the 2,500th member since the group was created 10 years ago. His message pointed out that: "Soon after I started this group in 1998, I was told by some expert that the maximum number of members for a discussion group was around 100 -- any more than that would result in so many arguments and disagreements that the group would fall apart. Glad that it didn't work out like that -- although I never thought we'd grow to this size!"

Arguments and disagreements led to new Yahoo groups as some members broke away. At least two groups prospered and grew. The community fractured but in the end it seemed to be for the good. The conversation broadened and individuals found companions with whom they were comfortable. Walton's light touch on the controls tolerated some heated arguments, despite his fond hope, restated monthly in his "Guidelines for Use," that those who came to abuse would "Please find another list."

As he put it: "This list was created for the FUN, enjoyment and benefit of enthusiasts of Royal Enfield and Enfield India motorcycles. Anyone is welcome to join and participate, providing they don't interfere with others' enjoyment."

Mission accomplished. Here's how Walton describes the beginning:

"As I recall I was fed up of no one locally with Enfield (particularly Model G) expertise, so searched Internet and emailed everyone who might be interested in joining an Enfield discussion group. Initially created on 'egroups' which was taken over by Yahoo. Sweden provided a large proportion of early members, several from UK, with a smaller proportion from Canada, U.S. and India, so it wasn't a U.S. orientated group at all, in fact the number of correspondents writing in Swedish caused a few translation headaches initially. Bullets weren't such a big international seller 10 years ago, so there was probably a wider range of Enfields under discussion, but times have changed. I'm always on the lookout for members who can provide experience -- and photos -- of other Enfield models besides Bullets, to maintain the wide knowledge base and interests of the group.

"The group has always been open to all and is certainly not a preservation society -- more of a 'get out and ride it' ethic, if any predominates. In my opinion, the best bike is one that an owner has developed and modified to suit themselves, not a bog standard or pristine museum piece -- but everyone has a different view -- that's one beauty of motorcycling."

The Guidelines for Use always end with these words:

"In case you wondered, as moderator, I don't get anything out of this, except for a bit of aggravation and a lot of enjoyment... I own a 1952 Royal Enfield Model G which I ride at every opportunity (i.e. between breakdowns). I have been known to ride bikes of various other nationalities and marques. Born in Manchester, I now live in Southampton, England, with my Turkish wife and four kids. Regards, Martin."

When I asked for a picture of Martin and his Model G he was kind enough to wheel it out for a photo in winter weather (the explanation for the snow falling on him at top!).

The Model G in nicer weather.


  1. Anonymous2/04/2009

    How great to hear about a fellow who has helped so many RE fans find each other. Truly, this guy has done a great service.

  2. I really like the lower stance of the "G" and "J" models of the late 40s. Great tribute interview to Martin too.


Follow royalenfields on Twitter