Friday, June 8, 2018

1977 article described Royal Enfield's return to Britain

Motorcycle Sport magazine tested the 1977 Royal Enfield Bullet.
The Royal Enfield reference book I turn to most often is Roy Bacon's "Royal Enfield, The Postwar Models." Bacon's book is entertaining as well as informative, as he often relies on the British motorcycling magazines of the time.

The magazine testers are often amusing, and their observations take you back to how it was in "those days." Failings that would disgrace a motorcycle today were taken in stride then. If a motorcycle came with a good tool kit, for instance, that seemed to excuse many flaws.

Recently I was fascinated to come across one of the original articles quoted by Bacon: Motorcycle Sport magazine's June, 1977 examination of the Royal Enfield Bullet.

By then the Bullet was made in India, and in 1977 had just been returned to English shores by an importer.

I spotted the magazine for sale on eBay.

Royal Enfield had been gone from the UK for almost two decades by the time of the article. The original item reveals there was still nostalgia in Britain for the Bullet.

"How many letters have been published in the pages of Motorcycle Sport decrying the demise of the traditional British single? How many readers have said that they would buy one tomorrow if only it were still made? Now comes the chance to put their money where their mouth is... straight out of the past comes a bike that is so unchanged, so traditional-looking and so economical that we are forced to take a step back and ask ourselves: has the motorcycle industry been wrong for these past 10 years?"

The magazine found that the brakes weren't very good, the kick starter didn't fold, and there was no lock to secure the steering while the bike was parked. (The writer guessed you might drill some holes in the steering head and use a padlock — can you imagine doing that today?)

The magazine worried that it was being too optimistic about the Bullet.

"It is difficult to decide whether we have been over-indulgent of the Enfield's faults in our delight at seeing a machine of such character back on the market."

But, ultimately, the writer found the Bullet from India to be "Ideal for the two-bike man and the enthusiastic commuter, we would say, and fun too."

This was not the final judgment. Bacon notes that:

"A little later, in January, 1978 Motor Cycle Mechanics also tested the Bullet and were less impressed by it, concluding that it was a nice machine but really ought to be in a museum."

The return of the prodigal motorcycle would have its ups and downs, and after 1977 the made-in-India Bullet was sometimes available for sale in Britain and sometimes not.

In modern times a revitalized Royal Enfield has became seriously interested in exporting India's iconic motorcycle to the world and Royal Enfields are back in Britain.

Royal Enfield says it intends to become the world leader in middle-size motorcycles, offering products that aren't too big, aren't too small, but are just what riders around the world really want.

Which is interesting; because the title of the 1977 Motorcycle Sport article envisioned the same sort of future. It read:

"1977 350 Royal Enfield: Suitable for maybe a quarter of the motorcycling population?"

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