Over the last 20 years or so the motorcycling landscape on this green and pleasant island of ours has seemingly changed beyond recognition. Indeed, when MotorMartin first turned 16 at the back end of the 1980s it was a relatively easy decision to seek out a 50cc powerhouse and take to the roads for adventure and mayhem. 6 months in the company of The Wild One, Easy Rider and BloodRunners was all you needed back then as far as training went whilst looking forward to taking the old part 1 and part 2 if you had managed to make it to your seventeenth birthday.
Back in the good old days, you just stuck, sellotape or bluetacked a pair of ‘L’ plates onto your 50-125cc bike and away you went, with nary a care in the world. MotorMartin well remembers the sheer excitement of riding a white Simson s51 Back in the day around the lanes of Essex at heady speeds of up to 40mph, (downhill and with the wind behind you), dreaming of one day owning a Yamaha FZR600 described at the time, as being the four stroke RD350 YPVS F2.
There was still a thriving Classic British bike scene as I was experiencing motorcycling for the first time, which mixed comfortably with the sports bike riding scene back then, with regular Sunday lunchtime meets taking place all over the country. They’ll still be many readers who were based in Essex and North London at the time, who still remember their regular rides out to the White Bear at Stamford Rivers, a regular haunt of MotorMartin and friends. And over the following few years, on the aforementioned Simson, followed by a Honda 125 twin cylinder Bentley, Yamaha RD200 DX, Honda XBR500 and finally, a Yamaha RD350YPVS F2, all the while enjoying the sheer variety of machines that were being ridden to and from the meetings, autojumbles, bike shows and races that of took place, seemingly every weekend.
What all this rambling does is highlight a particular time, in the late eighties and early nineties, when motorcycling was truly accessible to all and less taken with the vagaries of fashion and although the bikes themselves were rapidly becoming technological masterpieces, they weren’t anywhere near the level of today. Even the best of the breed, the four cylinder Japanese Supersport bikes, culminating in the truly groundbreaking Honda Fireblade of 1992, were still able to be serviced and accessorised by an experienced home mechanic, or a dad who’d grown up making sure that their Triumph, BSA, Norton or AJS didn’t drown in a puddle of its own oil or destroy itself at a ton along the local bypass.
And now, in 2016, perhaps it’s a nostalgic desire to revisit those times before fancy electronics or maybe it’s about when engines weren’t quite up to the complexity of todays but there is definitely an increased profile and desirability for Royal Enfield today. In MotorMartin’s opinion, there’s a marked groundswell of people that want that classic bike experience without all of the associated classic bike pitfalls as motorcyclists’ remember the sights and sounds of their youth, a time spent watching those of the previous generation enjoying their machines.
Why Royal Enfield and how can you buy a brand new, modern Bullet 500 EFI today?
A little history lesson I think. In 1909 Royal Enfield rather amazed the motorcycling world by introducing a small Motorcycle with a 2 ¼ HP V twin Motosacoche engine of Swiss origin before developing their next model in 1911 which was powered by a 2 ¾ HP engine and included the well known Enfield 2-speed gearbox. Development of new models continued apace as in 1912 came the JAP 6 HP 770 CC V twin, this time with a sidecar combination. 1914 saw the 3 HP motorcycles this time with Enfield’s own engine which now had the standardised Enfield paint scheme of black enamelled parts and green tank with gold trim, a design which is still recognisable on Enfield’s machines today.
Rather than lose ourselves in the rather fascinating topic of Royal Enfield’s incredible history and innovative engineering, it’s time to forward wind a few decades to perhaps the most important decision that Enfield’s management made. A decision that meant that whilst we’ve witnessed the slow decline and eventual death of the once world beating British Motorcycle industry, (the reborn Triumph and Norton excepted) Enfield motorcycles have continued to be built and exported across the globe with last years output totalling around 400,000 units. But we’re getting rather ahead of ourselves here.
I’ll let Royal Enfield themselves take up the story from here: In 1955, the Indian government started looking for a suitable motorcycle for its police forces and the army for patrolling duties on the country’s border. The Bullet 350 was chosen as the most suitable bike for the job. The Indian government ordered 800 of these 350 cc motorcycles, an enormous order for that time. Thus In 1955, the Redditch Company partnered with Madras Motors in India to form what was called ‘Enfield India’ to assemble these 350 cc Bullet motorcycle under licence in erstwhile madras (Now called Chennai). As per their agreement Madras Motors owned the majority (over 50%) of shares in the company. In 1957 tooling equipment was also sold to Enfield India so that they could manufacture components and start full-fledged production. The Enfield Bullet dominated the Indian highways and with each passing year its popularity kept rising.
Hitting fast forward again and we see that UK production of Royal Enfields finally ceased in 1970 with the company being dissolved in 1971 and adding another headstone into the graveyard of once great British manufacturing brands. The thing is, Enfield India just, sort of, carried on making the Bullet in both 350 and 500cc form, improving it as they went along with their Bullet 500 now including a unit construction gearbox and a thoroughly modern, complete redesign of the venerable single cylinder engine, including electronic fuel injection as standard and putting the gear lever and brake on the correct sides at last, whilst not forgetting fully working indicators of course.
Which brings me rather nicely onto this weeks review of the Royal Enfield Bullet 500 EFI, a 27hp powerhouse of a motorcycle. Actually that’s terribly unfair and a way of looking at the Bullet that needs to be changed as you almost need to forget what you already know about riding motorcycles and adapt to the Enfield and it’s general outlook on life. It’s fair to say that although the Bullet is a comprehensively reworked motorbike, very different from the original 1950s model, compared to a Japanese single cylinder such as the Yamaha SR, it could be said to have taken a rather leisurely approach to development.
In part 2, MotorMartin will be discussing the riding experience and styling of this charming throwback to motorcyclings’ past.
Where will you go?