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    Royal Enfield Bullet-The Indian Cult ?

    Royal Enfield Bullet-The Indian Cult ? Find out !!

    Indian Enfield

    Tuesday, October 13, 2009

    The only old British bikes that I could afford were rats. That left the intriguing possibility of the Indian produced Bullet, a mildly updated version of the old fifties thumper. Could nostalgia be blended with a touch of practicality? In India, I'd read, they were viewed as top notch, the machine to have. Over here, even British bike enthusiasts dismissed them as not the Real Thing.

    There are two capacities available, 350 and 500cc, the latter merely a bored out version of the smaller bike. Logic indicated that I should go for the 350 version, the excess vibes of a big thumper being more pertinent than any extra power. However, in the real world of Manchester Enfields turned out to be as rare as Vincents and when a one year old 500 turned up I grabbed it with both hands.

    The 500 has a bore and stroke of 84x90mm, develops 22 horses at 5400rpm whilst maximum torque is reached at a startlingly low 3000 revs. Starting, if like me you had an history of old British bikes, was easy. A combination of a relatively modern carb and electrics saw to that. Mind you, I wouldn't like to leap on the kickstart wearing trainers but as someone who values his ankles I always ride with motocross boots. From cold two or three kicks were needed, from hot just one.

    The controls were heavy but smooth. Again, those used to old Brits will have no troubles but effete riders used to the sophistication of Japanese bikes will end up with swollen wrists and ankles. Persevere, your muscles will soon adapt. The handlebars were a curious throwback, halfway to being ape-hangers. The bend didn't rest naturally with my body. After two days they were replaced with a flatter bar from, I think, a sixties big Triumph.

    That was my only immediate complaint. The exhaust was only mildly subdued, the effect of the Enfield running through traffic being to send waves of noise and vibration reflecting off the tin boxes. Despite 12V electrics the horn made only a mild impression, so the combination of engine and exhaust noise was jolly useful.

    Torque thumped in from tickover, the bike quite sprightly off the mark. It was hilarious to watch some caged pinhead's astonishment as I took off from the lights. I often played with him, let him stay alongside up to 15mph before I knocked the box up to second and tore off up the road. The engine seemed willing to pull to 6000 revs but by then the primary vibration was churning out, turning the bike into a moving massage machine. It could be held at those revs for about five minutes until my eyesight went.

    There were always some sensations coming from the engine, it could never be called smooth but at more moderate revs there were no nasty effects upon my aged body. After a while, the engine mutterings went into the background and the bike and I adjusted to each others whims. Every week, though, I went over the chassis, tightening up all the screws and bolts!

    It might not look it but the Bullet's a light, compact machine. Dry mass is just 370lbs and the wheelbase a mere 54 inches. Modern Jap singles for all their high technology are rarely able to match these figures. The Enfield is thus able to combine reasonably stable handling with manoeuvring that needs little effort, though first experiences suggest that it's slow turning. I think it's the big 19' wheel that's reluctant to start the turn.

    Suspension travel is not generous, a problem on our bumpy country roads and pot-holed filled city streets. Perhaps they ought to do a trail version! The only good point arising from the lack of movement is that it still holds a reasonable line - probably down to the lack of suspension travel allowing the engine to be very lowly mounted. Circles within circles.

    I'm not sure if the limit on banking over was coming to the edge of the tyres' tread or the undercarriage meeting the tarmac. The couple of times I did it, by entering the corner about 20mph too fast, the whole bike felt like it was going to wobble off the road. I held the tank in a death-grip with my knees, flicked her back up and used the wrong side of the road to take a survival line. The footpegs (with hefty rubbers) don't spring up, just dig into the ground.

    Braking was better than I'd expected, the front sporting a 7'' TLS drum that looked like it'd been inspired by a sixties Honda. Repeated thrashing through hilly country would make it fade eventually but that was riding against the character of the machine. The Enfield was all about relaxed, pleasant cruising, sticking the box in top gear and using the grunt to power ever onwards. I often found that engine braking was sufficient for losing moderate amounts of speed. The rear drum was a touch on the weak side but it didn't seem to matter. Drum brakes are nice because they don't seize up or have any delay in the wet, and also the shoes last twice as long as disc pads.

    It's possible to put 90mph on the clock but 70 to 75mph is the most I'd like to hold for any length of time. A few times I pottered down the motorway slow lane without causing a massive pile-up but it left me feeling a bit edgy, the whole purpose of the bike was negated. One pillion complained about dead feet after ten miles at a constant 70mph, although their extra mass didn't make any difference to the performance.

    Comfort, with the non-standard bars, was pretty good once I'd become used to all the road shocks getting through the taut suspension. The seat was well padded and shaped, the riding position held me in the optimum stance for absorbing shocks without wrecking my spine and the gentle thrumming at sane cruising speeds didn't affect my body. I was quite happy doing 250 to 300 miles in a day.

    Unless it rained. Then I found that the tyres would slide under the slightest provocation and the engine would cough and stutter under the onslaught of a typical English spring. With a thumper when one cylinder cuts out that's it, finito! The ignition was coil and battery, benefited from a new HT lead and cap. I also found that the spark plug rarely lasted more than 2500 miles, which was probably down to the rudimentary plunger type oil pump, oil being contained in the sump at the bottom of the crankcase, although it was in fact a dry sump lubrication system. A mishmash unique to the Enfield range but at least it eliminated such quaint British habits as broken oil tanks and sheared supply pipes.

    Another unique feature was the neutral finder, a separate lever on the gearbox that when given a good boot would knock the box into, er, neutral. The gearbox didn't seem to need this as it was precise if heavy enough to need a good pair of motorcycle boots. Clutch drag was the only thing to spoil the transmission (if you ignored the frequent chain adjustments), making town riding rather awkward if the Enfield was stuck in heavy traffic for more than 45 minutes. At such times there was enough heat coming off the engine to boil an egg.

    One other quaint habit was the way it'd stutter into silence when the fuel ran out. The fuel tap is well located but small and fiddly when wearing motorcycle gloves (compulsory fare with the heavy controls). The first time I was caught out, I was so distracted by the fiddling that we nearly ran off the road and some blind twerp almost back-ended me.

    With over three gallons in the main tank it was dead easy to forget when I'd filled up as it'd go for over 200 miles. This was one amazingly economical machine that could do as much as 85 miles on a gallon of petrol. True, it'd go down to 60mpg if it was really thrashed, but as that wasn't practical, I was getting around 70mpg for most of the time. Reserve was good for 20 miles - I found that out the hard way and had to push the beast all of four miles before a cager stopped and gave me a lift to the gas station and back. He'd owned a real Bullet in the distant past and I didn't have the heart to tell him that mine was made in India rather than nicely restored - besides, he might've made me walk back.

    Servicing is easy enough, although the primary chaincase is held on by a single nut and easily warped. I give the engine a good going over every 500 miles, less than an hour's work seems worth it for the peace of mind.

    The clock read 7000 miles when I bought it, has had 8000 miles added with no serious problems. I've just bought a bigger tank with a neater shape and am working out how to tidy up the mess of boxes and electrics under the seat. It's one of those bikes that calls out for a bit of serious attention to detail and a mild bit of customization.

    They are cheap (mine cost seven hundred notes), distinctly cheerful and just about up to the vagaries of modern traffic. They are also functional, tough and robust (in India whole families crowd on to them).


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    1 Comment
    1. Anonymous Said,

      Dear Rob,

      Love your review. I also have an Indian Bullet (battle green C5 500). It is for the most part a head turner, especially older chaps who remember the bikes from the 50's and 60's. I think that is also due to the fact that my one is battle green and looks rather like an old military courier's bike. I have only had a few purists who turn their nose up at me once they discover it is an Indian Bullet. Personally, I don't have a problem with it being Indian after all they have been successfully making them for over 50 years surely that in itself should be reason enough to admire this machine? Also I have to agree with most of your observations. I haven't yet attempted to go faster than 60 mph and therefore avoid motorways, and bends I approach with caution and respect because I am not sure how far should I dare to lean over before the rear wheel loses it or like you said the undercarriage meets the tarmac. Also I find that even riding at 60 mph, the legal limit on A roads, some 'caged pinheads' will still cut me up because they must overtake me at all costs. Having said that I have also rode old bikes, so I feel very comfortable on the Bullet, and I am for the most part very pleased with it. However, I do get a lot of vibration on the foot rests especially over 40 mph, which concerned me at first but not any more. Also in the Spring I plan to change the tires as I am not too sure about the tires supplied with the bike. Also I plan to change handlebars and replace the exhaust with the sports version. It would benefit from a little extra customisation.

      Happy and safe riding from another Bullet rider!

      Posted on 6:10:00 PM


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