Friday, July 14, 2017

What Royal Enfield needs more than a twin: reliability

Royal Enfield promised reliability back then. It's even more important now.
Reliability was a selling point for Royal Enfield in 1952.

The cover of Motor Cycling magazine for December 20, 1951 carried a Royal Enfield advertisement wishing "sincere and hearty Greetings to sporting motorcyclists the world over, for Christmas and the coming year."

The ad went on to claim that "Royal Enfield reliability means maximum mileage with minimum maintenance."

The headline promised "You'll log Trouble-Free Miles in 1952!"

The smiling rider waving to admiring friends from his Royal Enfield 350 certainly seems confident.

I wish I could say I feel that confident when I take my 1999 Royal Enfield Bullet for a ride. I have no special reason to be worried that my Royal Enfield will let me down.


There have been 66 years of progress since that Royal Enfield ad appeared in Motor Cycling. Yet my Bullet looks a whole heck of a lot like the Royal Enfield in the illustration.

Can I really expect reliability from a Royal Enfield Bullet, now made in India, where it was seemingly frozen in time in 1955?

After all, the issue of whether the British motorcycle industry could stand up to Japanese competition in reliability was settled, in the negative, by 1980. Building a 1955 British design in India probably does nothing to change that impression.

The Royal Enfield Bullet has improved greatly since mine was made. The Bullet has added a Unit Constructed Engine (made of alloy not iron), five-speed transmission, electronic fuel injection, electronic ignition and disc brake. It is built in new or modernized factories. All good things.

But standards have not stood still, either.

In 2015, Consumer Reports magazine  surveyed U.S. motorcycle owners and concluded that only 11 percent of new Yamaha motorcycles need work in their first four years. Suzuki, Honda and Kawasaki ranked next. Harley-Davidson owners were twice as likely as Yamaha owners to have problems. Surprisingly, the U.S. maker Victory did almost as well as the Japanese brands.

But a whopping 40 percent of BMW owners could expect troubles in the first four years of ownership, the magazine reported.

Royal Enfield owners weren't surveyed, but if a prestige brand like BMW experiences such a high rate of problems, what can Royal Enfield owners expect to experience?

I actually suspect Royal Enfield might do fairly well in such a survey. Royal Enfields cost much less than BMWs, and Royal Enfield owners might dismiss minor flaws that would disappoint BMW buyers.

Reliability doesn't mean what it did when I was a toddler. Back then, a product that "never wore out" meant that, with careful break-in and constant maintenance, it could be rebuilt as often as needed.

Today, reliability means a product that is perfect right out of the box, accepts any abuse, requires little or no maintenance ever, and yet lasts longer under these conditions than the owner would want to keep it.

Not only will it not need to be rebuilt in that time period, it may not even be repairable.

"There are no consumer serviceable parts in this appliance," appears on the bottom of many household products.

Can Royal Enfield live up to the expectations of consumers growing up in this environment?

I hope so.


  1. Once again I went to start my 2014 GT, 1000 mile son it and yet again I know something has worked loose in the wiring harness. QA at RE sucks, the wiring harnesses are crap and no-one actually cares. The dealer network in the USA is a total joke. However I am not surprised. What does of course piss me off is that Indian work can be very good. KTM's smaller bikes are made in India, they are little gems, well built and reliable. Why can't RE do this?

  2. Anonymous7/15/2017

    The problems with BMWs are related to the fact that BMW wishes to be at the forefront of gadgetry in all forms.Their strong suit was once they were the only reliable bike made anywhere.They have progressed as needed and so they are about in the middle on reliability.They pioneer "stuff" and that is always a crap shoot.Speaking of crap,why is reliability so important anyway.Isn't a challenge supposed to grow one's abilities to cope?My RE has made me a more capable,resourceful,and defiant individual.Would I ride it anywhere?You know,I just mite,on a dare with money involved.Or honor.Remember "honor"?The little sucker has actually never left me stranded.It has evidently even forgave me my trespasses against it.It has a name,"Jolly".Only bike I ever named.Jolly has it's own criteria about whatever.It is a 1999,last year of the worst century that ever happened,possibly.I am drawn to a make of anything that others disdain.And those companies generally fail and go"out".Somehow,RE has done well.Reliably well.

    1. Thank you for a great comment. My Bullet is a 1999 as well. In 40,000 miles it has been towed home twice -- after the first I learned to carry a spare clutch cable. That one's on me. And I could have limped home the second time but it would have meant punishing the bike, so I called the tow.

  3. Anonymous7/17/2017

    There ARE people in this world that shouldn't be allowed to own anything. These shmucks are the first ones to disregard owners' manuals and then whine and moan when the product rolls over and dies. Remember, "sympathy" is located in the dictionary between "shit" and "syphillis."

    1. Good comment. But pity the poor consumer who finds that his "assembly instructions" consist entirely of drawings, without words, to make them "understandable" without language considerations. And they're fine (if your eyesight is perfect). Or the owner who finds that the instruction book is online only -- not in print -- and it's a pdf, virtually inaccessible on a smart phone and even then unreadable. Or the instructions have been written to address the features of several models (all too common) in which case the illustrations and information will hardly ever match the device actually purchased.

    2. Anonymous7/17/2017

      Touche! However.......remember the story of the frog and the scorpion: "You knew what I was when you picked me up."


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