Monday, September 5, 2011

Ralph the Royal Enfield: The saga rolls on

Royal Enfield guru Pete Snidal is best known today for his series of owners and workshop manuals for the Bullet. But before that, he was a constant contributor to the Royal Enfield Yahoo message board, offering advice and encouragement to owners.

Along the way, he shared the story of "Ralph," a made-in-England Royal Enfield he encountered growing up in Vancouver. Ralph was a 1957 Royal Enfield Moto-X Bullet, owned by a friend. The full story is in the Files section of the Royal Enfield Yahoo group.

Ralph the Royal Enfield as it looked in 1962.
The short version is that, as the years went by, Pete would own Ralph himself, sell it, get it back, sell it again, get it back and then give it up to Myles — a boy who'd grown to love the motorcycle before he was even old enough to ride it.

I wrote about Ralph's story on this blog, and that's all I knew until recently, when I received an email from Myles himself, with these pictures of Ralph the Royal Enfield, the way it looks today.

Ralph today, looking better than new.
"Good morning. My name is Myles Attewell, son of John Attewell, who was best friend of Peter Snidal a long time ago. I am the owner of Ralph the Royal Enfield. I read on your blog about this bike — well the story of this bike — my bike.

"See, I am the boy — well, no, the man — who inherited Ralph at the age of 19.

"It's now 15 years and a few pay checks later. I wanted to up date the story."

I was surprised and thrilled. It's not often that you come across the story of a motorcycle that survived so much and meant so much to different people.

Ralph's "saga" as Pete calls it, began with The Kickstarters, a competition club of Vancouver friends who raced among themselves. The undisputed champ was a Velocette Venom 500, Pete writes. One day, Ralph's owner took on the Venom "and Ralph just cleaned him up." Pete raced Ralph himself, and was Ralph's tuner for awhile.

Time passed. Ralph was sold, and loaned out, and went to seed. In about 1962 Pete found Ralph leaning against a fence in the rain; he bought the motorcycle for $100. With repairs and paint, Ralph looked great. Two years later Pete got $450 for it, a tidy profit.

But Pete "really missed Ralph." In 1967 he went looking for the Royal Enfield and found it in a basement, in many boxes, its timing gears stripped. Ralph stayed in boxes through several moves until Pete sold it again, this time to friend John Attewell, on the condition that John could never sell Ralph to anyone but Pete.

Later, on a spring afternoon, John let Pete take a spin on Ralph, newly assembled and painted. John used Ralph as daily transportation and obviously loved the motorcycle. Pete didn't expect he'd ever get a chance to own Ralph again. But he did.

John died, of a heart attack, at only 39. That sad event brought Ralph back to Pete, but with a condition: John's widow wanted their son to have Ralph when he got old enough. That day came and Pete remembers loading Ralph into Myles' pickup truck.

"Ralph the Legacy," he wrote. "An heirloom you can ride!"

Ralph the Royal Enfield as it looks today.
Myles picked up the story for me:

"Pops died when I was young (3 years old), so reading the story is the best part for me. Most of this happened when I was young — real young. But the moral of the story to me is make sure your day is a good one 'cause you never know what is there for you tomorrow.

"The bike now is painted in a shade of the original color; I didn't want to change the original maroon, but instead mixed a custom version and then had a friend shoot it in that color and apply a prismatic clear that is basically bouncy ball sparkles. Pretty neat in the sunlight.

"Next the swing arm mount was moved to the rear of the down tube, and the rear fender was built and mounted to the swing arm. The motor got a freshen up — and the oil pump drive failed. Apart came the motor for bearing, rod bushings and rings. This took almost a year to get all the pieces right and to do it myself — it never left my site.

"Ralph runs the stock Lucas magdyno, but is need of a genny. I have a battery box that runs LED lights so charging is pretty few and far between. Of course this is on the list."

Still an heirloom you can ride.
"I live on Salt Spring Island, in British Columbia. I am 34 and work as a mechanic, marine right now. I kind of do a bit of everything. I was general automotive before this job. I have a dirt bike as well right now and have owned a few others, mostly trail bikes. Always been a bit of a speed freak though — that is why I will not buy a sport bike!

"My mother passed about five years ago so there is not a lot of checking on any of the details I am afraid, but the story makes sense and I think I like the ending just fine! (Winking smile.) I talk to Pete every few months."

But there is a bit more to the story. I'll add that in the next blog posting.

1 comment:

  1. Matt Law9/06/2011

    Thanks for the update,Myles and David...what a great story!


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