Friday, May 20, 2022

Secret to a faster Royal Enfield Bullet: Just give her the gun

Man sitting on Royal Enfield Bullet in 2001.
My brand new 1999 Royal Enfield Bullet and I come home from the dealer. (I can't believe it was ever that shiny.) I had no jacket or motorcycle gloves yet. Look closely and you'll see I was giving a thumbs-up with my right hand inside a canvas work glove.

 My brand new 1999 Royal Enfield Bullet had 11 miles on it when I picked it up from the dealer. And I had exactly zero miles on the brand new "motorcycle" endorsement on my driver's license. 

Both my Royal Enfield and its rider were pretty green. 

I'd taken the beginner's class, with a few laps around a parking lot on a loaner motorcycle, of course. And, years earlier, I'd ridden a couple of miles on my brother's Hondas. 

Those miles barely count, however, because, before I took the beginner's course I did not understand that motorcycles have positive stop gearboxes. My brother hadn't mentioned it when he handed over the keys. 

No wonder I could never find the gear I wanted! 

My dealer watched me ride my brand new Royal Enfield up and down the block a few times and then offered one, and only one, piece of advice.

"Wind it out a little more before you shift," he said.

I didn't really take that to heart. The Bullet seemed to be pulling strongly and I was already going as fast as I dared.

I would use the Bullet for daily commuting for six years, running up more than 40,000 miles on its odometer. The commute was, naturally, the same length, back and forth, every day, and always on the same roads. I was riding 50 miles a day, but only 50 miles a day. There was never an occasion for a longer ride.

What happened is that my riding techniques, self learned, soon became firmly fixed. I never did "wind it out" much. I was getting where I wanted to go, and getting excellent gas mileage doing it.

When I lost my job, my riding naturally declined. So I didn't learn any new techniques.

Until just the other day.

Going nowhere in particular, on a sunny morning with little traffic, I decided to use a bit more throttle between gears.

What a transformation! After two decades of riding it, I discovered my Royal Enfield Bullet really can scoot.

I know this sounds silly, but it really did happen that way.

My iron-barrel, push-rod, low-compression, long-stroke Bullet actually likes to be wound out in the lower gears. It will keep up with traffic (until it runs out of speed) if I use what rpm it has available.

I'd always ridden my 1999 500 Bullet "easy does it" but easy doesn't do it. 

With a little throttle (surprise!) it actually will get away at a light. But after about 55 mph it's clearly indicating "OK, you've had your fun, that's not what this is about."

As a kid I recall reading a Reader's Digest snippet about the guy who had an old Cadillac with the three-on-the-tree gearbox. When he finally went to sell it he realized that he only had ever driven it in second gear, forgetting for all those years that it had three forward speeds.

(Understand that when I was a kid in the 1950s, this was a rear knee slapper of a story.)

I now believe there really was a guy like that Cadillac owner. Because I grew up to be him.


  1. It's that moment of glorious revelation, David. I once experienced the same with my first BMW, an R65. Before I had always ridden Jap fours and the slow slog of a flat twin was alien to me. But one day I went for it around the bends and I remember stopping and thinking "hell, this is good". After that I never looked back and had 27 years with a BMW R100, which I loved. I went back to (Indian) 500EFI Bullets when arthritis convinced me that the Bee
    Em was too heavy for me to push around when off it.

  2. Anonymous5/20/2022

    Great story David!

  3. My old girl gets feisty when you wind her out. I feel the same way as you did; it doesn't seem like the kind of engine that would relish higher rpms but it really does. Took my first ride of the season yesterday (thanks to a junk battery) and I swear she ran better than ever. They like to GO.


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