Friday, November 9, 2012

Royal Enfield folding bicycle an oddity seen in U.S.

Before it went out of business in Britain, Royal Enfield made a wide variety of bicycles. But the factory in Redditch, England, hardly matched the breadth of bicycle designs imported from Asia to the United States under the Royal Enfield name.

There were cruising bicycles, BMX style bikes and — most remarkably — tricycles.

There's yet another kind of old Royal Enfield bicycle that comes up for resale frequently in America: the folding bicycle. Here's one for sale on CraigsList near Chicago, Ill.

This Royal Enfield folding bicycle looks almost new.
It appears that these "Royal Enfield Quality Bicycle" models were imported from Asia by the G. Joannou Cycle Co., headquartered in the U.S. The New Jersey company held the trademark for Royal Enfield bicycles from 1975 through 1977.

The Royal Enfield folding bicycles I've seen in ads are always in surprisingly good shape. They appear hardly used. I suspect this is a comment on the actual utility of a folding bicycle. Once folded and put away, hardly anyone ever bothers to go to the trouble to unfold and use it.

Hinge of folding bicycle.
Folding bicycles save (some) room but weigh just as much and perhaps more than standard bicycles. Once folded they can no longer be rolled around; they must be hefted. You wouldn't carry one of these very far in your arms.

Although the folding Royal Enfield bicycles pictured in ads look almost new, their general design gives them away. Full fenders, long chainguards and metal badges instead of cheap decals mark them as products of the past.

The Royal Enfield folding design is characterized by a single, long, curved bar stretching from headstock to seat. This must be immensely strong as there is no secondary reinforcing bar to prevent the bicycle going all willowy. This is especially the case as the hinge that allows the bike to fold is in this bar. The single bar has the advantage that there thus need be only one hinge to lock into place.

Tricycle shares similar shape but doesn't fold.
The long single bar, curving like the neck of a swan, is a distinctive feature of the Royal Enfield tricycle design as well. Obviously, the tricycle needed a step-through design so women riders could take it shopping. Other tricycle manufacturers nonetheless typically incorporate a second, low reinforcing bar to add strength.

I suspect the Royal Enfield tricycle lacks the second bar precisely because it shares its single-bar manufacture with the folding bicycle.

Folding bicycles might work for someone who wants to pack them along in a camper, airplane or yacht. But the original Royal Enfield company in Redditch had what I consider a far better idea: the Revelation.

This was an adult bicycle with small wheels. A commuter could easily roll the Revelation into a subway train or the corner of the office and forget it. There was no need to get greasy operating the hinge and huffing the bicycle into folded position.
Royal Enfield Revelation didn't fold; still small.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous11/15/2012

    The RE Revelation was an attempt to cash-in on the small-wheel fade of the '60's as started by the Moulton and later picked up upon by Raleigh with the "Raleigh 20". The frame configuration is known as an "H-frame".

    Al in Philadelphia


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