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    Saturday, May 15, 2010

    Royal Enfield Clubman: Goggles on, lads, and off to the 1950s

    The bike maker, a part of biking history, has embraced modern technology. Well, up to a point, says

    The Royal Enfield's newly designed engine is a gem

    I don’t know what’s happening to the world of motorcycling, I really don’t. BMW is making superbikes, Italian electronics in Ducatis are better than Japanese, Harleys can accelerate, brake and corner and Royal Enfields no longer disintegrate at random in a puddle of oil and post-imperial disillusionment.

    And if you I think I’m being unpatriotic, I speak as a man who once rode an Enfield from India to Britain. 

    Enfield had a factory in Madras making 350cc Bullet bikes for the Indian army from 1949-55, and when the contract ended, the Indians bought the factory and kept on making them, even producing a diesel version that did 200mpg but had to be pushed uphill. It also made the 500cc Bullet, which was the model I bought new for £865 and rode the 7,000 miles home. 

    On the way, I quickly got used to the fact that every bit that could shake, rattle and fall off, would. I was riding through Istanbul when I heard a clatter and looked round to see that the horn had dropped off, and at the end of a day’s ride from Kent to the Lake District in the last days of the trip, I looked down to see that the air filter had become detached and was leaning wearily against the ignition key. 

    In recent years, though, Eurocratic emissions standards and market forces, including the fact that Triumph makes several retro models with modern running gear, have forced Enfield to drag itself kicking and screaming, if not exactly into the 21st century, at least to the end of the 20th. The bikes are still made in India but they now boast western build quality.

    Even better, I am now standing admiring one of the children of this revolution: the Clubman cafe racer version of the 500 Bullet Electra, with drop bars, a fabulous-looking hand-polished aluminium tank and a handmade seat with pop-off pillion fairing should a chap wish to take his girl for a spot of motorcycling. 

    Standing with me is Ben Matthews of Watsonian Squire, the Cotswolds company that imports the bikes from India. I have just spent a happy half hour wandering with Matthews around workshops where honest-looking chaps in faded overalls were tinkering with bikes in an atmosphere thick with the smells of oil and paint, like a ghost of my dad’s bike garage in the 1950s. 

    Best of all was the sight of row upon row of gleaming Enfields lined up and waiting for delivery, along with several of Watsonian Squire’s handmade sidecars, which, with wonderful irony, are mostly exported to Japan, the country that virtually killed the British bike industry. 

    Outside again, I bring the Clubman to life with its new-fangled electric starter, and listen with sheer pleasure to the sound of that single cylinder lolloping up and down. At cruising speed on the way back from India, it always became a purr, like a lion after a particularly satisfying wildebeest, and at higher speed a subtle threnody, which, in the moment before another bit fell off, sounded to me like the music of the stars. 

    I ride off, and it is immediately obvious that the Enfield has the performance to match its classic looks. The five-speed box on the left is sweet and clean, with none of the crunches and false neutrals of the old four-speed box, which was on the right. 

    As for the new engine, designed by Watsonian Squire so that it meets European Union emissions legislation but built in the factory in India, it’s a gem. It has the fabulous sound of the old one except that when it reaches 60mph, instead of forcing you to back off before 

    the thing shakes itself to pieces and leaves you snatching a look in your mirrors for assorted cogs and sprockets bouncing down the road in your wake, it urges you to press on to a mind-boggling top speed of 85mph. Which for an Enfield is practically supersonic. Heavens, you can even drop a gear and overtake things. Well, pedestrians and tractors, at least. 

    Faults? Hardly any, apart from the fact that it’s a bit vibey at higher revs, although I couldn’t tell you exactly how high, since it doesn’t have a rev counter. But then, that’s normal for single-cylinder bikes, and extended high-speed touring isn’t what the Enfield is about. 

    It’s about what I am doing right now — snorting through beautiful Cotswold villages that seem to be called Little Poggling on the Morrow or Greater Boobsnuggling, with my scarf fluttering in the wind, flies in my teeth and a song in my heart. 

    Ride over, I arrive back at Watsonian Squire and walk through the door to find an old chap wandering around the showroom. “Fabulous,” he says. “Fabulous to see these still being made. I had some grand old times on one of these in my youth.” 

    I leave him in earnest discussion with a salesman about the deposit on a new Bullet 500, close the door with a gentle ting-a-ling and walk slowly back into the real world.

    Royal Enfield Clubman 
    ENGINE 499cc, single-cylinder, air-cooled four-stroke

    POWER 28bhp @ 5250rpm

    TORQUE 30 lb ft @ 4000rpm

    TOP SPEED 85mph

    PERFORMANCE 0-60mph: not available

    FUEL 80mpg

    DRY WEIGHT 412lb

    ON SALE Now

    PRICE £5,100

    VERDICT It’s the journey, not the destination, old chap


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    1. Unknown Said,

      This comment has been removed by the author.

      Posted on 11:44:00 PM

    2. achin kapoor Said,

      nice article !!

      Posted on 1:10:00 AM


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