Friday, March 8, 2024

Royal Enfields are "retro," not "classic"

1999 Royal Enfield Bullet.
I rode my Royal Enfield Bullet to the Dania Beach Vintage Motorcycle Show, but it entered the parking lot, not the show. 

 I like to say  that my 1999 Royal Enfield Bullet "lives in the real world." 

It gets ridden a lot more often than it gets washed. If my homemade bodge fixes some minor issue or other (a loose turn signal, for instance) I don't sweat trying to make the repair look factory original. 

My Bullet is old fashioned, and it looks it. Kickstart only. Drum brakes. Wire wheels. Carburetor. Points. It shares many of these obsolete features with true classic motorcycles that would cost many times more. 

Yet it is decidedly not classic, regardless of what Royal Enfield calls its new "Classic 350." Those new motorcycles are classic only in appearance and certain specifications. They are what Landon Hall of Motorcycle Classics magazine calls "Retro Rides." 

Someone once defined a valuable antique as something that is:

1. Expensive originally.

2. Rare.

3. Still in superb condition.

My Bullet fails on all three counts. It was originally inexpensive. It has been produced in thousands (one source says 4.5 million since 1932) and is still in production. Finally, of course, it's no longer in perfect condition.

To that list of qualities I would have to add that any valuable antique probably also should be old.

At, now, 25 years of age, my Bullet is oldish.

But, wait. It's still WAY younger than I am. It's not old, compared to me, and I don't feel old. (I just am.) 

Besides, how can a Royal Enfield Bullet be truly old when I could go to a dealership and buy one factory new?

Effectively, Retro Rides provide the pleasure of vintage riding without the heartache of maintaining a museum piece.

Landon Hall wrote, in praise of Retro Rides: "A retro can be easy to own and maintain, and frankly, easy to replace if it’s damaged or stolen. I have bikes I hate to leave out overnight when traveling, and I bet you do too," he wrote.

That's feels a bit harsh. I sure would miss my Bullet if it was damaged or stolen.

But he's correct about not feeling guilty when I don't wipe it down after a ride. That feels liberating. I'll take "retro" over "classic" any day as something easy to live with.

But "Classic 350" is a prettier model name than "Retro 350."


  1. But in many places (e.g. VMCC) use the definition of a bike that is 25 years as a classic, so your 1999 just qualified! :-)

    As for the numbers produced, the 4 million is today, since production ramped up quite a bit in the last decade. Before that, the numbers were much smaller. I have not found reliable numbers. But the Bullet was produced in the UK 1949-62 (the 1930's one were different bikes and the numbers were very small anyway). I think the production runs of those years for Bullets were of the order of 1000 bikes per year or less (Enfield sold many other models at the time). In India also production was quite small until Lal took over. I would take a wild guess and say there had been about 300,000 Bullets produced by 1999 (I'm happy to be corrected; I argued in 2015 that 1,000,000 Bullets may have been produced by then and we should have a celebration, but no one paid attention). Other classics, like the Vincent Black Shadow, had total production runs of 11,000. So I'd say the 1999 Bullet is not that out of line in terms of production to be a Classic, given the length of years of production. Your mileage may vary :-)

  2. Mike Bolasna3/17/2024

    I enjoy your articles. I agree with Jorge. My 2002 Bullet 500 E is not as old as yours. It may not be classified as a classic, but it looks like one, sounds like one and when you are riding Your older model. I am certain it feels like one. Enjoy your classic. I will wait a few years and I can enjoy a classic also.


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