Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Royal Enfield Clipper was a half-strength Bullet

Indian Fire Arrow for sale on eBay.
Imagine a Royal Enfield motorcycle half as powerful as my 1999 Bullet (which seems to think 42 mph is an ideal cruising speed). Who would want such a thing? Especially in the United States?

Royal Enfield built just such a thing, back in 1950s England. They were called Clippers. Royal Enfield sent them to the United States badged as Indian Fire Arrows. There's a 1955 Indian Fire Arrow for sale on eBay in Pennsylvania that amply illustrates the breed.

Clipped the Clippers surely were, down 100cc from the 350cc Bullet, and equipped with a casquette that didn't carry pilot lights — presumably to save a few schillings. The early ones used a soon-to-be-discontinued engine design from the Model G, with the oil filler cap looking awkward in front of the barrel.

But they did have the modern swing-arm rear suspension of the then-new Bullet.

The pre-unit Clippers ran from 1953 to 1958, when they were replaced by an entirely different Clipper II that was a cheapened version of the unit-motored Crusader. There was briefly a 350cc Clipper in 1956-'57, but most would have been the 250cc models.

The Clippers were there for those who couldn't afford anything more, and to cater to British regulations limiting beginning riders to 250cc. (Those rules are even tougher now; since 1982 learners in Britain are limited to 125cc, with some exceptions.)

The Clipper's power was listed as 11 bhp at 5,500 rpm against 22 bhp at 5,400 rpm for my 500cc Bullet. Exactly half! Holy smokes.

Back in 1956 Britain, the 250cc Clipper was only 35 percent less expensive than the 500cc Bullet. As usual, a bit more power was always a bargain.

Would I want one? Yes. For some reason, I find the notion of a half-strength Bullet fascinating.


  1. My first RE was a 1957 350cc Clipper in a fetching khaki-green with RE panniers. It was a good, solid bike but I can vouch for its lack of "go". About 60 was a good maximum. However, it did lead to my lifelong love of Enfields -3 traditional Redditch Bullets (350 and 500) and 3 Indian versions (now on a 2009 EFI)

    1. Love to see a photo of that 350 Clipper if you have one handy to share. All best.

  2. The Royal Enfield sales brochures claimed a top speed for the 1954 250cc Clipper as 60-65 mph, obviously highly optimistic. Actual was more like 50-55. My 99 Indian Bullet 350 standard (basically same as a 1955 model) is hard pressed to do a verified 65mph, but cruises comfortably at 50

  3. Oil leaks were an even worse problem on these than other British bikes. The unit-construction primary chain case was a large alloy casting that could warp!


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