Friday, September 11, 2020

Riding a Royal Enfield Flying Flea in 1949

Vintage photo of man and wife on small Royal Enfield motorcycle.
L.Golding and wife thought nothing of a journey on their Royal Enfield Flea.
Probably you've been wondering what pleasures were contained in the June/July and August/September editions of The Gun magazine, publication of the Royal Enfield Owners Club UK.

Rather than running through the list of helpful "help" articles and the chatter of chapter reports, let me just thank editor Alan Barringer for including more than the usual reprints of historical articles about Royal Enfields of the past.

Today's authors may be informative, but few can top the witticisms and British-isms of those earlier writers, from back when health concerns might include not only epidemics, as we have today, but, say, a very entertaining World War.

The Gun for August/September 2020 includes not just one, but two reprints of post-war vintage articles praising the Royal Enfield 125cc two-stroke, nee Flying Flea.

Here's a short account of my favorite:

In the September 1, 1949 edition of The Motor Cycle, L. Golding writes the "Case for the 125 c.c., A Summing-up After 38,000 Miles on a Royal Enfield One-two-Five."

I love that "One-two-Five" wording. As an American, I would have said "One Twenty-five."

You'll encounter this difference in period British films about the Blitz, in which the Messerschmidt One-Ten (as I'd call it) is termed a "One-One-Oh" by RAF pilots. I'll grant that they knew what they were talking about far better than I.

Golding's case is for the practicality of the Royal Enfield Model RE (the Flying Flea).

He writes:

"Examine your intended mileage with all honesty, and work out just how much will be done in conditions where cruising speeds in excess of 38 m.p.h. will be used."

He means there is rarely a need to go faster, although he admits that he once — apparently on a lark — got up to 55 mph going down a hill.

The fact is, he argues, 125cc is plenty, "except, of course, for high-speed work."

There's another great phrase: "high-speed work." Typically British, this wording seeks to put blasting around on a motorcycle into the category of necessary "work." I imagine it's usually said with a wink.

If you must have a racer, Golding writes, go ahead and save up your money, "but by the time you get it your pal on his 125 will have had many thousands of pleasurable miles to his credit."

Another sly wink there, as your pal's pleasure will have been racked up droning along at 38 mph. Your miles of pleasure will quickly catch up at, say, a whopping 60.

Golding goes on to demolish his own appeal for 38 mph as a cruising speed by noting that he personally takes up to an hour to build up to that pace. This is to "give the engine a chance to warm up to its cruising speed."

Pitiful as this seems, it gets worse. Don't expect to go full blast like this up hills, into headwinds, or with a passenger (yes, he's willing to plop the wife on the back).

Just how hard post-war life is can be appreciated in this element of his argument: since the two-stroke requires a gallon of oil for every 16 gallons of gas, his Royal Enfield gets, in effect, 17 miles of "fuel" for every 16 gallons of gasoline coupons. It's 1949, but gas is still rationed in England.

As for maintenance and repair, there's hardly anything to do, he boasts. Then he writes two long paragraphs detailing bearing, brake, coil, cable, clutch (relined three times), chain, piston ring and sprocket replacements, and regular de-cokes.

After all that, "The fork assembly is somewhat sloppy, but not excessively so..."

On the up side, the "spokes have given no trouble whatever."

I don't mean to make fun. Well, of course I do. But I admit that I find 42 mph (probably 38 mph true) the most pleasant speed on my 1999 Royal Enfield of 500cc.

For pressing-on-regardless Golding is a better man than I. For instance, he writes that he knows of no better motorcycle for riding in snow. Something I never see in Florida.

My fellow Americans, I know you enjoy watching all those BBC television shows when they make it here. For Royal Enfield specific fun, I urge you to join the Royal Enfield Owners Club UK, and enjoy your copies of The Gun.

1 comment:

  1. I have a 1948 Flea that I'm restoring. It came standard with a rear rack of approx 7/16 dia thinwall tubing that also holds up the rear fender. The rack that originally came with the bike was bent down so bad at the rear and on the sides, that you can see the torture that it endured with someone sitting in it. The tabs were broken off that attach the rear fender to the rack. I can't imagine someone touring on one with a passenger, and luggage. Even the rear fender stays were broken. I can't think they he made it very far without rewelding and straightening the rack. Maybe his was a rack especially made from much stronger materials. Ken Davis


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