Friday, July 2, 2021

Old Royal Enfield bicycle a rare find in the U.S.

Antique Royal Enfield bicycle.
The apparent downward slope of the top tube makes this Royal Enfield bicycle even more rare.

I'd love to own the nearly 100-year-old Royal Enfield bicycle that recently appeared for sale on CraigsList. The asking price appears a bargain for so much priceless history and well-earned patina. It is not every day there appears for sale in America a Royal Enfield bicycle made in England, back when British bicycles were the class of the world across an empire.

How did it even get from Redditch, England, circa 1930, to a distant corner of New England in 2021? The seller offered little explanation. His father-in-law had owned it, and was remembered to have said it was from 1937.

Probably the bicycle is not all original, as the seller writes that "it was refurbished some years ago." The seat is in good condition, and it probably would not be if it were in fact the original fitted.

Old Royal Enfield bicycle.
Very old and very dirty but it looks very all there.

I only have one reference book that includes Royal Enfield bicycles: Peter Miller's excellent "Royal Enfield, The Early Years 1851-1930," which obviously does not run up to 1937.

Nevertheless, it includes pictures and descriptions of the Royal Enfield Model 52 Road Racer. It would have been a new model for Royal Enfield about 1926, and was still in the catalog for 1930. So the year 1937 does not appear impossible. If anything, the bicycle is even older.

I suspect this is the Model 52 because it this bicycle appears to me to have the curious forward sloping top tube of the Model 52. An Internet reference alleges that this sort of frame was preferred by the "path racers" of the time.

Headstock of old Royal Enfield bicycle.
Lever brakes! Restore them or leave the patina?

According to Wikipedia
, a "path racer" was a bicycle suitable for racing on both road and track. Oddly, "path" was the term then for a race track.

"Path is the old-fashioned Victorian/Edwardian cycling term for track,"Wiki claims. A "path bike" was strictly for the track, while a "path racer" was a hybrid that might also race on the road.

Even odder, to me, is considering what possible advantage a sloping top tube might confer. Anyone? Perhaps it seats the rider's butt higher relative to the crank, allowing greater extension of the legs.

I don't need to go bicycle racing. But look at the details on this relic of Royal Enfield history. "Royal Enfield Cycle Co., Redditch" on the headstock. The lever brakes. The "Made Like a Gun" motif on the chainwheel. The lighting kit with its massive light fixture.

And, perhaps more than anything, an immense bicycle bell!

Old Royal Enfield bike with big bicycle bell.
Both the headlight and the bicycle bell look oversize.

The light's broken, the seller notes, and probably so is much else. What else would you expect? Just having the remains there is enough for me.

"Paint condition seems decent but I have left the barn dirt on it (it has been stored in a barn and not exposed to weather)," the seller writes

I hope he leaves the dirt on the bicycle. It has worked for so many years to earn it.

So why wouldn't I pursue buying this Royal Enfield bicycle? Partly because it's far from me and other obligations should fill my time right now. But partly too because I wouldn't trust this in my care. Things I own tend to deteriorate and I don't like the feeling of guilt when they do.

It's not enough to appreciate the value of a material thing. An owner ought to be competent enough to preserve that thing or, at least, to use it up at a pace that honors its value.

That's one of the reasons I bought my Royal Enfield motorcycle brand new, with a warranty. One of the many thousands made, it isn't so precious I fear to use it; or even clean it, the way I'd feel with a genuine antique.

Old Royal Enfield bicycle made in Redditch.
The Enfield Cycle Co. made this bicycle.


  1. There are a couple of Royal Enfield's here I would like, Two particularly. typically Clubman's or café racers types But being in the USA it seems Kinda stupid when I can probably purchase them in the UK cheaper. But having said that the two I liked were or seem to be very well looked after

  2. That's a fine bike suitable for an "oily rag restoration". Royal Enfield also made lawnmowers. For some reason I'd like one of those.


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