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    Royal Enfield 500 Meteor Minor

    Tuesday, October 13, 2009

    Foolish things happen when the boredom sets in. The local rag had an advert for a Royal Enfield 500 twin. I didn't have anything better to do. The old codger wheeled the bike out. I had trouble stopping myself from bursting out laughing. The Meteor Minor looked smaller than a Superdream. Looked like it had not been touched for a couple of years. Odd bits of stray wire were hanging out, oil was everywhere and it didn't look like it would run. The bike appeared original but very tired.....it was, after all, over 30 years old.

    The old guy tickled the carb, freed the clutch, fiddled with the switches and then leapt a few feet in the air before plunging down on the kickstart. The old brute chugged into life, rattling and blowing out oil. The silencers sounded deep but flat. It wouldn't tickover, needed the throttle blipped.

    It might have seemed like a small bike but it felt like each ounce of power had to fight its way through the combustion process. The chassis buzzed ferociously, and as I eased up the road, the whole bike wobbled. It wanted to veer off to the right and when I tried to change up to second the box refused to move.

    An approaching junction made me grab for the front brake. Nothing from the SLS drum. I squeezed until my fingers felt like they were going to break, produced a little bit of retardation. Not enough, we rushed across the busy junction to a flurry of horns. I survived but it was a near thing.

    I quite liked the brutal, basic feel of the OHV twin. The price was low enough to be able to sell the bike at a profit if I decided it was too much of a heap to live with. The deal was done. Riding home I was careful to slow up way before junctions and kept the engine running between 2000 and 3000 revs, where vibes were not too horrifying.

    The gearbox did work, it just needed massive pressure from my foot to make the lever shift. The owner had warned me not to use the extra lever, which was supposed to find neutral automatically, but instead permanently locked the bike into neutral. Very quaint.

    A quick tidy up, cleaning out the dust from the drums and an oil change had the Royal Enfield ready for some serious motorcycling. Or not. The bike ground to a halt five miles from home. The magneto had fallen out of its mounting. The screws were still there, on the ends of their thread, so it was just a matter of tightening them up. Four miles later the right-hand footrest came loose. I decided I'd better return home via the accessory store (a couple of tubes of Loctite).

    Performance was nothing to write home about. I'd owned 250s that had more go. It would waft up to 65mph, start shaking its head wildly and resolutely refuse to break the 70mph barrier. The engine felt more than tired, spewing out oil all over the place and sending out such excessive vibes that I found my vision blurring after just ten minutes.

    I gave the engine a service. The valve clearances were way out and proved difficult to set up as the rockers were loose. I had to take two links out of the primary chain. Had great fun trying to stop the exhausts from leaking where they went into the head. Two tubes of Araldite did the trick. Took most of the bolts and screws out and fixed them in with Loctite.

    Went for a twenty mile ride, not really enjoying myself. All the controls were extremely heavy, causing my muscles to ache, as did the pressure I had to apply to the bars to stop the Minor veering right off the road. The frame could have been bent but it looked so minimally vintage that it would have been dubious even when equipped with a mild CB125 single engine.

    Coming home, after being unavoidably delayed by the charms of a country pub, darkness swiftly descended. I had already tested the lights, so had few qualms about turning on the huge headlamp. Its size didn't add up to much, with a dip that illuminated the front guard and a main beam that so startled and annoyed cagers that they immediately switched on their own main beams. I soon worked out that the best chance of survival was to find a car to tag along with.

    Two miles from home main beam blew, dip lasted a few hundred yards, leaving me with the pilot light. I don't know when it went, but the rear light had also blown. The horn didn't work, either (how he'd got a new MOT I don't know), but that didn't matter as the bike made such a racket it could be heard from a quarter of a mile away. Subsequent rewiring and rubber mounting of the lights made no difference to the frequency with which they blew.

    Every time I rode the bike something went wrong. It was crying out for a complete strip down and rebuild, but I was not going to spend thousands to resurrect a bike that would not be able to burn off the £250 CD175 that shared garage space with the Meteor. I will admit that under all the grime the Enfield engine was relatively advanced for an old British twin, but the clock read 82000 miles and that quite simply spelt trouble.

    I would quite happily get on the CD and do 300 miles in a day with no worries about reliability. I was reluctant to do a tenth of that on the Enfield. Apart from anything else, that was enough to empty the sump of oil. I'd guess that half of it was burnt off, the rest leaked out of the crankcases. It got so bad that the back tyre often got a soaking, which led to some uncontrollable weaves.

    I don't care how much the old codgers go on about on how well British bikes handle, my RE was infinitely inferior to the CD175. Just looking at the frame you can see where the accountants decreed that the absolute minimum of metal would have to suffice. It seems just adequate to holding up the mass of the Minor and its rider.

    The swinging arm feels especially loose, with the back wheel twisting all over the road even at 50mph. The tyres were ancient, square section Avons that probably didn't help, but I used similar stuff on the Honda without anything like the same horrifying antics.

    Its relatively low mass and some low rev power might've made it useful in traffic had not the clutch dragged so much that half the time the motor stalled dead. The starting technique was another piece of ancient mariner lore...... when the controls were set right, all it needed was a hefty kick - hefty in the sense that it needed at least 12 stones worth of mass to turn the motor over.

    This made for some interesting antics when the engine stalled, as at some point both my feet were off the ground! It's just as well that I've got quick reactions. I never managed to emulate the old codger by starting the bike first kick but got it down to two kicks on some occasions. Once, I stalled the motor in town, took ten kicks to start again; received a round of applause from the assembled mass of pedestrians. Embarrassing!

    I had the Enfield for six months in all. I did patch the chassis up as I went along, so the bike took on a gleaming appearance, apart from the oil leaks, the more the motor wore out. This was pretty much what a lot of the rogue dealers did, so I was in good company!

    A few times everything seemed to gell together and I could appreciate what all the fuss was about. There was a narrow range of revs, that equated to 55mph in top gear, where the mill almost smoothed out and the handling settled down. I had, anyway, come to automatically compensate for the strange veering tendencies.

    But, usually, I had to suffer vicious vibes, a graunching gearbox and traumatic handling. I can only say I was very happy when I off-loaded the Enfield at a very large profit.

    Riders' Reports BY-Hugh

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