Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The ugliest thing about Royal Enfields

The least attractive feature of Royal Enfield Bullet motorcycles in recent years is not, in my opinion, the oversize "bazooka" muffler fitted to meet noise regulations. It's big, it's shiny, I can tolerate it. Owners frequently fit something smaller (and louder). I have.

The oversize turn signals and undersized headlight required in the United States, again to meet regulations, are unsightly but tolerable. Smaller turn signals and bigger headlights are popular options here, although I've left mine alone.

The one feature I can not forgive are the big, black plastic Mickey Mouse ears on stalks: the rear view mirrors. These are routinely replaced with more attractive items by owners or are simply removed in jurisdictions where police are expected to ignore their absence.

I kept mine until they wore out from frequent adjustment, then replaced them with smaller metal mirrors.

Good rear view mirrors are important safety equipment, but the overgrown appendages Royal Enfields come with instantly mar the looks and mark the motorcycle as not nearly as vintage as the rest of its appearance suggests.

In fact, what does a "vintage" rear view mirror look like? My examination of old pictures rarely brings a rear view mirror to light. It is possible they were not shown in advertisements, to make the motorcycles look more attractive. And, of course, they would have been removed from racing machines. But even pictures of motorcycles in ordinary use before the 1960s show few rear view mirrors.

This is remarkable to me because, at least in old photos from Britain, horns, often bulb operated, are generally fitted. Probably these were required to warn the unwary who somehow missed the noise of the exhaust and the clatter of valves coming. The motorcyclist didn't need to see behind because nothing else on the road could catch him.

But that's a guess. Does anyone know: when did the first rear view mirrors appear on motorcycles?

Circa 1928: Light, bulb horn but no mirrors.


  1. They appeared on bikes at least as early as 1950 as seen on police Harleys in the 1954 movie "The Fast and the Furious" (with photo)

  2. Oh, and I couldn't agree more about the Enfield mirrors. They're goofball ridiculous. Thankfully, it's easy enough to swap for a bar-end mirror!

  3. I think it's a personal preference. I live in India, and got an AVL Bullet Machismo recently. One of the nice things about it is the amount of chrome, especially on minor places like the mirrors and around the headlight lamps. It's still a rounded mirror, but better than the one in your photo and the after market ones available here.

  4. what kind of bike is that in the B&W picture? I love the backwards bar end levers. I know falcon cycles did a sick chopper with a 1950 Triumph thunder bird, but they never came with that kind of lever. check it out:


  5. Old English8/07/2009

    The photo is titled "Britain, circa 1928" but that is a GERMAN registration plate, certainly not British.

  6. Old English, thank you for the correction. I will make the change. The motorcycle I believe is British, a NUT (so-called after its place of manufacture, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne).


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