Friday, August 18, 2017

It's hard to be humble when you ride a Royal Enfield

"Some people will tell you that slow is good – but I’m here to tell you that fast is better. I’ve always believed this, in spite of the trouble it’s caused me. Being shot out of a cannon will always be better than being squeezed out of a tube. That is why God made fast motorcycles, Bubba…"
--Hunter S. Thompson

It's hard to be humble when you ride a Royal Enfield

Here are some thoughts about Royal Enfield motorcycles, pride, humility, Lawrence of Arabia, Hunter S. Thompson and the plague of scooters on our roads.

If none of this makes sense, forgive me. It will at least serve to illustrate the train of thought a Royal Enfield rider experiences as he motors to no where in particular.

I took such a ride yesterday, with no goal in mind, "just to keep the battery up," a woeful excuse lacking all sense of real purpose.

Being in no hurry, I of course found the traffic moving too fast for my taste.

Hunter S. Thompson wrote that "fast is better."

It's not. Speed is exhilarating but it robs the ride of all the small joys that make motorcycling so pleasant. In this case, I was particularly enjoying how well the gearbox of my Royal Enfield shifts now that I've improved the linkage.

T.E. Lawrence — Lawrence of Arabia — has been said to have been addicted to speed. His wonderful description of his race on his Brough Superior motorcycle with an RAF Bristol Fighter certainly captures his love of speed.

But I ask you this: if Lawrence so enjoyed speed, why didn't he just get an airplane?

Well, perhaps, even at its bespoke price, the Brough was more affordable than an airplane. But I have another explanation.

Motorcycle riders can go for a blast, as Lawrence did that morning, and then return and park the motorcycle without diminishing the excitement in their veins.

Contrast that with flying an airplane. The take off may well be exhilarating. But then there is that long, slow approach to the landing, deliberately giving away altitude while carefully loosing speed.

Up ahead, barely in sight, is the precise spot on the runway where the airplane must finally be going so slowly that it stops flying, with its all too delicate landing gear just kissing the ground without being crushed by the fall from the sky.

It's a fraught, exacting process that no doubt leaves pilots sweating and grateful for their luck — not at all like roaring home on a motorcycle, still flushed with the thrill of speed.

Which is why I bring up Royal Enfield motorcycles. These have more personality than other motorcycles. Chief wish of the Royal Enfield Bullet I own seems to be to ensure that I remain, at all times, exhilarated, yet still humble in its presence.

And so, as I made my ride-to-nowhere yesterday, I displayed too much pride when a fellow on a damned little scooter shot by me — in my lane! — as if I was standing still!

Offended, I kept the guy on the scooter in my sights and, as traffic would have it, was soon able to overhaul him when he stopped for a red light.

Choosing the lane next to his I went by as slowly as possible, obviously drawing his attention. I raised my right hand and I — waved.

It was a gallant little wave — knights of the road and all that — to illustrate that not only could I catch him, I was confident of my ability to do so and not at all offended that he had momentarily seemed to show me up.

At that very moment my motor quit.

Smile frozen on my face, I coasted to the curb and paddled the motorcycle up a curb cut and onto the sidewalk. The scooterist beeped his horn as the light changed to green. Bye!

I turned off the ignition with the key and dismounted, prepared for whatever punishment the Bullet meant to meet out.

I immediately noticed the kill switch was on "off." I had waved with my right hand and returned my palm to the right hand grip, apparently brushing the switch there to "off" in the process.

Examining the switch, it's hard to see how it's even possible.

Yet there is no other explanation — unless you believe the Bullet itself moved the switch to teach me a lesson.

The source of my humiliation.


  1. A few years ago some friends had a very irresponsible traffic light grand prix game. You would pull up next to another motorcyclist (preferably someone you knew...) at a red light. Next step was to blip the throttle like a hooligan as if challenging to a drag race, keep the bike in neutral and then just before the lights turned quickly reach over with your left hand, flip their kill switch and then snick your machine in to gear and pootle off at a sedate pace.

    1. My favorite mechanic claims he pulls that trick when he rides with his brother. Apparently, it never gets old.


Follow royalenfields on Twitter