Where does one find contentment? On a Royal Enfield, of course. Before we delve into the specifics of how and where, it seems prudent to ride the time machine back to a distant past and witness the genesis of this hallowed marque. The ‘Townsend Cycle’ manufactured by Givry Works in the early 1880s, reputed for its sturdy frame is what spawned the first seeds for motorcycles ‘Made Like a Gun’. After a financially tumultuous phase the company changed hands to become the ‘Eadie Manufacturing Company Limited’. Fortunately, the owners Albert Eadie and R W Smith were good businessmen who won a contract to supply precision rifle components for the Royal Small Arms factory in -cue the drum roll- Enfield, Middlesex. To commemorate this contract, in 1892, they designed a new bicycle to be manufactured and sold by the ‘The Enfield Manufacturing Company Limited’ which then became ‘Royal Enfield’ the next year. It was in 1893 the trademark ‘Made Like a Gun’ appeared first.
In 1901 the first Royal Enfield motorcycle, a belt driven machine with the engine mounted over the front wheel was born. After more experiments with quadricycles, tricycles and four wheelers Royal Enfield found its calling when it put on display a small 21⁄4 hp V-Twin powered small motorcycle, at an international motorcycle show. The company survived the war, and the depression to give the world the first ‘Bullet’ in 1932. It was finally in 1949, after the II World War, Enfield arrived in India, through the Madras Motor Company.
It was in 1994 the Royal Enfield name was purchased by the Eicher group, who still own the brand. You can read more about Royal Enfield’s progress through the years in this article the Ed penned a while back. We have to head straight to August 2001 when Royal Enfield launched the Electra.
The Bullet Electra, was one of the first Royal Enfields to have coil ignition, technically CDI (Capacitor Discharge Ignition). This made the motorcycle far more reliable than previous Bullets that had to rely on contact breaker points (point Bullet saar!) ignition. The Electra has a four-stroke engine that delivered 18 bhp when it rolled out of the assembly line. How many horses the bike’s powertrain is capable of now, is anybody’s guess. It was available in three colors when launched, Silver Ash, Riviera Red and Amazon Blue. While the Bullet Electra was launched at Rs. 56,931 ex-showroom, Chennai, a second hand Electra in today’s market is anywhere between twenty to thirty thousand more expensive!
Royal Enfield had tie-ups with Criterion Engineers,UK for gear box design and AVL, Austria for engine design. The Electra owes much if its engineering to these firms. Engineering, a word that sounds extremely delicious and inviting while we’re on the topic of Bullets. The Electra squashes notions of a heavy, lumbering, unreliable, usually unstoppable mass of metal AND metal and probably stakes claim to being the first Bullet that started the phase of putting the Bulleteer’s ear to ear grin on a larger number of motorcyclist faces. Who can say no a Bullet that doesn’t compromise too much on the ‘thump’ and still manages to start up perfectly when fully drenched?
That question brings us to the Classic. We had the Royal Enfield Classic 350 with us for a day, thanks to our movie star doppelganger friend Selva. Saurabh, the man ( he probably prefers boy! ) with the 2002 Bullet Electra was only too willing to join us for the ride.
The Classic 350 is powered by the 19.8 bhp, 28 Nm torque Unit Construction Engine ( UCE ) with a 29mm, CV Carburettor while the Classic 500 is of course, fuel injected. The Classic 350 definitely scores lower on the characteristic ( uh-oh) thump, but for somebody who started learning to ride on his brother’s ye old Bullet, Selva seems to not mind. Saurabh though, will sit you through hour long classroom sessions on how the mechanical clatter ( not that I noticed any ) of the Classic’s engine makes more noise than the exhaust, the combined effect being a thump that cannot be compared to the full lunged bellow of the cast iron engines.
Bah. Flintstones-ish we say. As Bassee will mention somewhere else in this article, the appeal of a Bullet is that you can sit back comfortably, let the revs rise up slowly thanks to the long stroke engine with all the torque in the world and allow yourself to be transported to your intended or preferably unintended destination while astride the magnificence that is a Royal Enfield accompanied by the sonorous thump. When a Bullet can take you from Kanyakumari to Leh like no other motorcycle can, and not break down in the process of doing it, I’m sure you can find it in your hearts to forgive the perceived loss of the thump. Can you Saurabh?
The four speed gearbox on the right hand side of the Bullet Electra needs a bit of coaxing to slot it in the cogs properly. If the 5 speed gearbox on the Classic 350 is any improvement, let’s just say, there is scope for perfection. Ride quality on both motorcycles was stunningly fantastic and gave new meaning to Evo’s off hand comment that I’d be so much more comfortable touring on a Bullet than on my 220. Getting off the Classic 350 was as hard as trying to wake up in the middle of the night and getting to the loo, afraid that when you do wake up the fantastic dream would vanish leaving no trace in your memory.
The 19 inch rims on both motorcycles coupled with working front discs make either Royal Enfields a breeze to ride in the city and also bravely attempt to take the few long winding curves on the ECR at a clip reserved for sportier motorcycles. This 2002 Electra was modded to have a front disc setup and if we aren’t wrong, it was only in 2005 that the Electra got the disc brakes as standard. The tyres on the Classic 350 may not be very Royal Enfield, but they sure do make an appreciable difference compared to the ribbed ones on the Electra. Again the Bulleteer will argue that an Enfield can have only ribbed tyres and anything else will ruin the character (uh-oh).
Before we wrap up the first half of this article, we should mention Mark Wells and Ian Wride from Xenophya Design, the firm that worked with the industrial designers from Royal Enfield and brought back the oval toolbox, the sprung seat, the unique tail lamp and the fantastic winged RE emblems stamped on the crankcase, back from the 1950s to the motorcycles that have defined the future of Royal Enfield, the Classic range, now including the Classic 500 & 350, the Classic Desert Storm, Chrome and the Battle Green. It would be an understatement to say the Royal Enfield revival was primarily brought about by the desirability factor of the Classic range. Thousands of lads ( and some lasses) across the country lost their soul to the Classic 500 that was unveiled in Teal Blue and oodles of chrome, and went on to buy one.
I was feeling extremely out of place astride either Royal Enfield in my Cramster Breezer mesh riding jacket with armour. Royal Enfield, when can we get one of those scuffed leather jackets? Thanking Bassee for graciously allowing me to kick start his article, allow me to ask you dear reader to click on the link to Page 2 below to continue reading the article for Bassee’s perspective on a day well spent and some more fantastic photographs!