Friday, July 31, 2020

Convert gearbox to get Royal Enfield shifting right

Motorcycle with gearshift on the right-hand side.
Owner wanted original-quality shifting so he bought an original gearbox for parts.
Since 1995, when Royal Enfield Bullets were imported to the United States, it has been an Act of Faith that owners of four-speed, left-shift Bullets ought to convert them to shift on the right.

The Bullet was intended to shift on the right, when designed in England in the 1940s, and had been built that way in India ever since, until the introduction of the five-speed gearbox.

The left-shift "bodge" required for the U.S. is blamed for introducing slop, false neutrals, and inauthenticity. Sometime in 2004 the new five-speed gearbox, designed from the start to shift on the left, brought relief to Bullet riders everywhere.

But let's say you have an older U.S. Bullet, and want better shifting.

You could do as I have, and just make the left-side bodge work as good as it can.

Or, you could purchase and install a kit to convert the Bullet back to right-shifting. (This is not for beginners.)

Or, it turns out, you could purchase an entire old Albion gearbox built from the start to shift on the right, and harvest its parts to convert your Bullet to right shifting.

And that is exactly what Mitch Smith, of California, did for his 1999 Royal Enfield Bullet. He was kind enough to explain how he did it. (He calls his formerly red Bullet "Krasny Oktobr" — Russian for Red October — after the fictional submarine).

"I got tired of the mystery-slop shift linkage on my '99 Bullet Red October. Hitchcocks had a used trans for about $250, so I had them ship it over along with a $25 chrome brake pedal and brake pivot stud. Shipping was about $100. The regular right-hand shift conversion kit is about $340-ish plus maybe $30 for shipping.

"So for about the same money I now have the shift conversion plus a transmission case and gears to muck about with. The transit time was supposed to be about 8-10 days, but it was at my door four days later. I guess maybe DHL has an old SR-71 Blackbird and a retired Air National Guard pilot on the payroll?

"The sale transmission supplied all the shifter bits I was needing to take Krasny Oktobr back to right-hand shift. A new brake stud fitted up to my frame with no problem, so now Red October sports a spiffy chrome brake lever on the left side, as is only proper. I removed about 10 pounds of iron shafts and linkages of the factory bodge. Maybe I'll try a little shift plate adjustment tomorrow, but it's pretty good for being thrown together.

Gearbox parts and tools on the ground.
Taking only parts leaves most of the donor gearbox to play around with.
"Pretty straightforward stuff. All the pix are post-event as my hands were quite black and greasy for the entire process.

"The muffler and header have to come off, as does the kickstart lever and shift lever. All work was performed whilst on the center stand.

"The brake bits extract from the right, eventually. The stud threaded right into the factory tapped hole on the frame; there is a lock nut applied to the backside. Vice grips were invaluable.

"I ordered extra stainless nuts as the thread is that peculiar Brit motorcycle pitch. Anti-seize and grease. The angled Zerk from the old brake fit right in.

"The shift bodge has a subframe section that also supports/guides the footpegs and retains the shift bodge. It's retained by two bolts: the footpeg hex stud and another rear cross-frame stud that looks to be involved with the centerstand.

"The left footpeg is removed and the hex bar drifts back with some persuasion from a wood block to clear the sub frame. The rear bolt has nuts on both sides; loosen and the sub frame pivots down. I separated the linkage behind the bodge shift lever, and after the sub pivoted down that part came out.

"The shifter crossbar is harder. Loosen the shift arm linkage bolt and now attack the actual shifter. Pull the outer cover and hardware. A manual is highly advised unless you are already painfully familiar with the guts of it.

"When you get all five of the inner cover retaining screws out (don't overlook the countersunk flathead!), remove the circlip from the shift shaft and the inner cover comes off. There are two shouldered bolts on the back side of the trans that block the shift shaft from sliding out — remove these. The link arm near the sprocket can now be worked loose as the shaft is pulled out from the right side. Put your shoulder bolts back in and re-tighten.

"The shift mechanism bits from the donor cover can now be fitted in place. Use the manual to confirm what you think you know. I had to reuse my existing kickstart shaft as the donor one's bushing was hinky. Any trans oil leakage will be from either around the kickstart shaft or through the layshaft bearing. The kickstart has a nifty O-ring, as does the cap on the bearing. I've never had much issue with running oil in the trans but many others have. Since the kickstart shaft is lower in the case, I'd make sure it's O-ring is a good one.

"Hoo Hoo Hoblin has posted an excellent how-to-video on YouTube about this.

"Anyway, I did it (mostly) with used junk and it works.

"I put about two miles up and down my rural 300-foot driveway today working on the mental changeover gymnastics for right-hand shift, left-hand brake mode. The basic shift operation is dramatically improved; it feels like you are actually operating the shifting mechanism instead of just sending a hopeful suggestion somewhere.

"The ancient strategy of holding the shifter engaged whilst releasing the clutch works well. I'm trying real hard not to entertain the other drivers by downshifting the brake on a hill or upshifting to fourth gear in a corner instead of applying the rear brake.

"Note to self: It's now ONE UP, THREE DOWN... on the RIGHT."


  1. Restored to right-hand shifting as the Good Lord and Redditch had intended AND on a budget. Well done!

  2. ChennaiWrencher8/02/2020

    It was a good learning opportunity with some usable spares left over to sweeten the deal. "What one man can do, another can do!" Good to see you here! -ACR-


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