Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Is Royal Enfield bringing back the old Bullet? Not yet

My 1999 Royal Enfield Bullet, how I love it.
An Internet story recently reported that Royal Enfield has gone back to producing motorcycles that shift on the right side, as Brit-style motorcycles did in times past.

It's not true. New Royal Enfields shift on the left, the international standard. But there are some who wouldn't have minded if the story had been true. These same fans of the brand would like the iron barrel back, too, and the separate gearbox with neutral finder.

No Unit Constructed Engine (UCE) and front disk brake for them.

The topic of the good old days vs. compromise with modern times was intelligently explored in 2012 on the Ace Performance Bullets Yahoo Group.

"Kris" opened the conversation with this:

"It surprises me that there seems to be an interest for the new UCE Enfield in the West. I can understand in India, where the choice of bikes is sparse. But why would one buy a UCE Enfield in the West? It is no longer an Enfield, but a totally new design. It does not have at all the feel that one gets when driving a real classic engine. On the other hand, it is much poorer quality than modern bikes. Why not buy just a good Japanese bike instead?"

My own answer:

"Kris, I am far less qualified than others on this forum to respond, except to point out that any motor vehicle purchase past an economy car is an emotional purchase. I have a 1999 Bullet and love it, but my test runs on a new C5 UCE definitely made me feel that the company hasn't 'lost' it.

"It's still a single-cylineder, pushrod, slow turning, low compression motorcycle that (except for a few built without a kicker) I can kick start. Still slow enough to encourage me to stay off the Interstate. Upright seating... well, it goes on an on. My point is, the Bullet is still the fastest way back to 1955 you can buy in America with a warranty. If that is the trip you have planned, it's the best choice."

Kris asked why Royal Enfield didn't just modify the Bullet "with soul" to meet emission requirements, without making it modern. His guess:

"There are no enthusiasts there, just a bunch of old guys trying to make money."

And make money they do, as the new UCE Royal Enfields have proven immensely popular in India.

"Vivek" wrote a long post explaining how, with modern touches and vastly reduced maintenance, the UCE hit a sweet spot in the market. "That means they are doing something right, in terms of getting customers."

"Rattan" rejected the argument that "if it sells it must be good."

"I love the Enfield Bullet for what it  stands for," he wrote. "An Iron Dinosaur that made it through the Ice Age. And going by the current prices for the 'standard' Bullet in the used bike market in India, I believe a significant number of enthusiasts agree."

Vivek, in fact, is one of those.

"Someday when Royal Enfield is rich enough, I hope they bring back the old school Enfield, but that's a long shot. My strategy is to get rich and acquire as many of those as it would take to ride out my life. As long as I have a frame and a crankcase, I'm all set!"


  1. Anonymous10/29/2014

    Main thing is that there is virtually no way for an bike like the iron barrel to meet emission standards around the world…or even in India with lower fuel quality. The UCE does that, while delivering greater reliability, easier maintenance and better braking, for about the same price. Not much to fault there.

    If RE were to stay with the iron barrel, they would undoubtedly get run over int heir home market. Hero, etc produce modern, small displacement bikes in the millions. On the other end, prestige imports such as Triumph and Harley are coming to the Indian market with technological advanced, yet classically style bikes, aimed directly at REs core customer.

    RE is completely right to move towards the UCE…let's hope they keep moving in that direction with a twin. (V-twin, I hope?)

    1. India is a signatory to the Kyoto climate-change treaty on greenhouse gasses etc. Enfield could no more bring back the iron barrel Enfies than VW could bring back the original air-cooled VW.

  2. Anonymous10/29/2014

    UCE is rubbish. It's not a classic bike anymore. It's new bike pretending to be classic alike. Do you want reliable classic single? Go and buy SR500. Do you want good looking bike that looks classic - go and buy w650 or w800. If you want classic go and buy real iron, not this emission standards piece of sh..t.

  3. I've heard the Indian Bullet called a dinosaur before,but around our house we call it "The Coelecanth"…named after the famous living fossil fish discovered still living in the depths of the Indian Ocean, which had been thought to be extinct for 300 million years. Like the Enfield the fish has survived due to the isolation and lack of competitors in it's native habitat :-)

  4. I've recently discovered (due to David Blasco) that a C-5 sells in the USA for more than Yamaha's rebooted SR400. Which REALLY raises the question of "Why not buy just a good Japanese bike instead?" Any deficiency in the SR's sound could be be remedied with a sufficiently long drill bit ;-)

  5. This morning i happened to sees very cool Thruxton in British racing green. While i can imagine that i might choose to "musketize" my Bullet instead of getting one like it.. I can't imagine buying a C5 or even a Continental instead ;-(


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