Friday, January 20, 2023

Old Royal Enfield Bullet going racing again

Streamlined Royal Enfield racer.
A streamliner built from an old Royal Enfield Bullet is reborn.

 Dan Holmes' old Bonneville Bullet is going racing again.  

Tim Lewis, an experienced SCTA competitor, sent this message to let me know: 

"It’s back. Now happy in California, it will start its racing season at El Mirage Dry Lake with the SCTA in May." 

The Southern California Timing Association (SCTA) has been hosting land speed racing meets at El Mirage Dry Lake in the Mojave Desert Since 1937. 

Tim, of Costa Mesa, Calif., is the motorcycle land speed racing consultant for Team Bucket 372. He had been president of Red-E-Rentals tools and equipment, where he had a 45-year career. 

Dubbed "the Bonneville Bullet," the streamlined racer went up for sale in October, 2022.

It was originally built around an obsolete, iron-barrel 2003 Royal Enfield Bullet by a volunteer team led by Dan Holmes, a onetime Royal Enfield dealer in Goshen, Ind. 

Despite wind, rain and a blown motor the partially streamlined speedster eventually did set a record after Bonneville attempts in 2009 and 2013.

Holmes repeatedly came back from life threatening illness and accident in his uphill fight to make the Bonneville Bullet a record setter. He died at 63 in October, 2020 from complications of a heart transplant. 

Tim Lewis emailed me again this week with "the latest news from the old Bonneville Bullet.

"We took the Glen Kyle magneto and put it in the collection. It is a Joe Hunt prepped 'farm engine' mag without an advance mechanism. It has a second set of points that retard the spark when the starter switch is engaged, after that it's 34 deg. A way better part to be displayed on the wall than a modern engine.

"Salvaged from the spare motor is the Royal Enfield point system; it has a mechanical advance like most old school distributors. It is easy to see why the previous crew blew it up with the NOx. We are looking at the programmable ignition unit from MSD; however, without the NOx we will be fine with our nitro mix and points.

"The rear wheel had to go. Having a rear sprocket cast into the brake system is not a land speed item. I used a flat track wheel with an alloy rim, spokes and aluminum hub. Adding a disk on the right required a custom adapter for a R1 front rotor. This will stop the beast!

"The drive side got a 520 aluminum sprocket drilled to fit the hub. The wheel has the almost one-inch bearings so a sleeve was machined to use the Royal Enfield rear axle and adjusters. The front sprocket will be narrowed to the 520 'GP' chain size. With some racing in the brain, we started with two less rear teeth.

"Racing is what it is."

Reading back over some of Dan Holmes' reports from 2008 it is apparent that he was concerned about the electrical issues and, under extreme time pressure, was having to guess and make do.

Something of his anxiety can be caught in this July, 2008 report from him on the Classic Motorworks Forum:

"It is with great enthusiasm that I am sharing that we have finally chased off all of the gremlins and I have successfully tested the Bonneville Bullet with all of the complex systems working. I had an exhausting (time), with multiple problems overlapping. I had some support from Phil when he was available and was ultimately rescued by Glen Kyle our engine builder as we discovered the timing was going away. I was able to determine that the timing had changed and Glen diagnosed the mag was at fault.

"We have a mag designed to operate the opposite direction that the Royal Enfield turns and therefore the impulses are unscrewing the two-piece shaft and retarding the timing. Glen was able to pin the shaft and prevent the armature shaft from unthreading. I assumed as Phil and Glen did that this was the solution; ironically the mag had a bad condenser and this ultimately caused an ignition glitch and in the process we discovered a defective plug cap...

"As the story goes if it were not for bad luck I wouldn't have any luck at all; well at least I am persistent."

In 2009 the streamlined bike was sidelined at Bonneville by jetting problems, but Holmes left the Salt Flats thinking records were in reach. He overcame health challenges, weather and more gremlins to finally score in 2013, but remained modest. He wrote, at the time:

"So, Heart Break Hotel. We lost Wednesday due to wind; we lost Thursday due to rain... We left the salt with a record but it is sort of shallow: our two-way record is 105 mph and this was with a 120 mph pass and a return run of 91 mph coasting. We are confident we can run 130 plus; just did not get a chance to prove it!" 

A former Royal Enfield dealer, Holmes' DRS shop in Indiana was legendary in the early days of Royal Enfield's return to the U.S. Holmes not only sold the the Indian made Bullet motorcycles, he became a chief authority on them. He offered practical advice and marketed a "shift kit" that cured some of the ills of the notorious left-side shift bodge on motorcycles sold in the United States.

Two men pose with Royal Enfield racer.
Dan Holmes, left, with son Nathan at Bonneville in 2013.


  1. Tim Lewis1/23/2023

    Well since we talked I have ordered the MSD programmable ing. unit. It can have 2 switchable maps. When the Nitrox comes on it will change the timing. The magnetic pickup for the timing will use a wheel that replaces the guts of the RE point style distributer donated by the spare engine. Anyone need a modern ing. for your older RE I’d be happy to share the details.

    1. Tim, I used to be one of the founding members of "bulletmods " where dan and Glen would figure out how to make the thing go faster there was some good data there I only have a few bits left now !


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