Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Woman on Royal Enfield in old photo from 1930s

Vintage photo of a woman motorcyclist on a Royal Enfield in the 1930s.
A striking period photograph of a goggled woman on a Royal Enfield motorcycle arrived recently in an email forwarded from Royal Enfield USA. In it, Ole Kragh of Denmark wrote:

"I've just found this old photo. It's my late mother, born in 1913, so my guess would be that this photo was taken in 1935 ( Denmark) give or take a few years. I'm sure you can identify the bike she's sitting on?"

I can try. Old Royal Enfield catalog art usually shows the right side of the motorcycle, which has the showier bits such as gearshift and transmission. Photos of restored motorcycles can't always be trusted to date old pictures, since restorers may have changed elements of the original.

The mystery motorcycle is clearly of the era after 1928. According to Jorge Pullin's Royal Enfield Virtual Museum, Royal Enfield introduced the rounded saddle tank (straddling the frame), as seen here, in 1928.

The primary drive cover has a nice circular lump, bisected by a rib, something like the cover seen on a photo of a 1930 Model K V-twin posted at the Royal Enfield History Facebook page.

Some details match this 1930 Model K V-twin.
At the rear, the passenger seat and the various frame rails, rear stand and fender supports may match the Model K as well.

The arm running back to the tank appears in Ole's photo.
Speaking of the tank, photos of the same Model K show us a better view of the shiny rail running across the top of the tank from the front suspension. It's visible in the original picture, under the woman's arms. We also see the very prominent adjuster wheel atop the forks, as seen in our photo. The headlight is all wrong — our motorcycle has a streamlined headlight.

And where is that magnificent fishtail silencer seen in our picture? It appears that Royal Enfield ran both exhausts of the V-twin down the right side of the motorcycle. In fact, this would have been good policy, since, if placed on the left the dual pipes might have interfered with fitting a sidecar. Pulling sidecars (fitted on the left in England) was an essential duty for V-twins of the day.

I think the mystery motorcycle is a Model J of the early 1930s. Although it had only one cylinder, this cylinder sloped forward like the one in our picture to give a sporting  appearance (and perhaps also to ease sharing parts with V-twin models).

The Model J was the only single-cylinder Royal Enfield with dual exhaust ports. Since tugging a sidecar was not its primary duty, a gorgeous sweeping silencer could run down each side of the motorcycle to service each port.

Here's a catalog illustration (as usual, from the other side) of the 1930 Royal Enfield Model J.

1930 Model J; one sloped cylinder, two silencers.
The sloping single-cylinder design did not last long in the Royal Enfield lineup. It appears to be gone by 1936. But it was still a feature of the Model J seen in the 1932 catalog illustration on the Sheldon's EMU site. The squarish knee pads are a match here too (the 1930 knee pads were round).

 As a match, I like the shape of the silencer in the 1932 catalog illustration better than the 1930 version, as well.

1932 Model J silencer looked more like that in the old photo.
I think Ole's mom was posing on a 1931-'35 Royal Enfield Model J.


  1. Also, the lower-mounted headlight in the 1932 illustration better matches the photo than the 1930 model. I think you nailed it!

    I'm amazed at the number of photos of woman riders I see from this era. Perhaps I shouldn't be. The motorcycle afforded independence and mobility to a lot of people, and I suppose women at that time were really starting to gain independence in many ways.

  2. Matt Law6/13/2013

    By Jove,Blasco;you've solved another one!Good work,old chap!

  3. The squarish knee pad is not there in the 1930 models. It appears in 1931 and 1932. There is no J model starting in 1933, and it reappears in 1937 without the sloped engine. The 1931 model has that knob on the handlebar (steering damper?) that is seen in the picture. The 1931 model has "Royal Enfield" in light color on a dark small oval (like in your 1930 photo), whereas the 1932 has "Royal Enfield in dark on a clear, longer oval (the tank was chromed). So I'd say it is a 1931.


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