Friday, May 25, 2018

Royal Enfield Pegasus displays military heritage

A wartime Royal Enfield Flying Flea in the background as Royal Enfield
introduces its new Pegasus commemorative model. Only 1,000 will be built.
Royal Enfield confirms that some of the new limited edition Pegasus models will be available to customers in the United States.

The military-look model of the Classic 500 comes in Service Brown or Olive Drab, has World War II style canvas saddle bags and a unique serial number stenciled on the tank, just as British military motorcycles did in the 1940s.

The Pegasus logo, insignia of British airborne forces, also appears on the motorcycle's gas tank.

Only 1,000 examples of the commemorative model are to be built for the entire world.

"I can confirm we are getting some. Although I’m not at privy to say how many and when just yet!" Bree Poland, senior marketing manager for North America, wrote me in an email.

The new model is meant as a tribute to the veterans and Royal Enfield motorcycles that served in the great wars of the 20th Century.

The company points in particular to the diminutive Royal Enfield Flying Flea, which could be dropped by parachute in aerial assaults, including the "Bridge Too Far" battle at Arnhem in 1944.

The Pegasus was introduced May 21 at the Imperial War Museum in Duxford, England, complete with Royal Army parachutists, Parachute Regiment veteran and a C-47 Dakota airplane in D-Day colors.

Perhaps the most impressive part of the introduction is the elaborate website for the Pegasus, with a video on the history of the Flying Flea, the meaning of the Pegasus insignia and description of the new model's features.

All this for only 1,000 motorcycles? Clearly the Pegasus has a greater mission than selling a few more Classic 500s. It looks to be one more effort to strengthen Royal Enfield's emotional connection to its English roots, even as the motorcycles themselves inevitably become more modern mechanically.

Similar in appearance, today's Classic 500 is far advanced beyond the Royal Enfield Bullet design that began production in India in the 1950s. Yet its looks still tug at the heartstrings.

In Pegasus colors the Classic 500 looks a bit like the Royal Enfields that did dispatch duty for Commonwealth armies in World War II.

But it looks nothing at all like a Flying Flea, which was much smaller and far more crude — the Flea was a 125cc two-stroke popper with rubber band front suspension!

And while peculiar — it could be dropped from airplanes, or tucked into an assault glider — the Flying Flea was far from Royal Enfield's greatest contribution to the war effort.

Just after World War II, Royal Enfield distributed a richly illustrated hard-cover book to its employees in Britain. Entitled "A Proud War Record," it detailed the wide range of the company's wartime production of shells, gun aiming devices, lowly generators and, of course, motorcycles for the dispatch riders of the British military.

Among these last was the tiny (one man could lift it) motorcycle nicknamed the "Flying Flea." Never meant for war, it had an odd history. Originally dubbed the "Royal Baby," it was virtually a copy of a German DKW design. Its production for civilian use was an outright slap at the Nazis, who denied DKWs to Jewish Dutch importers.

Drafted for wartime service, the Flying Flea design and virtually every other British motorcycle (Royal Enfield, Triumph, BSA, Norton, Aeriel among them) served in the Empire's armies in World War II. They were used the same ways that made the Jeep ubiquitous in the American military.

Royal Enfields are now made in India, but there's a military connection there, too. When India needed motorcycles for service with the forces, it chose the 350cc Royal Enfield Bullet. A factory was established in Madras (now Chennai) in 1955.

Today, the Royal Enfield military models, including the Desert Storm and Battle Green Classic 500s, are good sellers in the United States. There's obviously an appeal to riding a military looking motorcycle. And, while its appearance may be just paint, the Pegasus has a legitimate claim to military ancestry.

Historian and rider Gordon May's article on Royal Enfield's military heritage gives the full story.

Royal Enfield prepared a video about the inspiration behind the Pegasus.

But you ought to first watch the video on the history of the Flying Flea.

1 comment:

  1. This is an uber-cool idea. And although I see a fairly limited market, I give RE a lot of credit for putting this product out there. I like the "service brown" color. Even though modern, it cannot get any more retro.


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