Royal Enfield: a thing of the past?
Is Royal Enfield a thing of the past? I have just completed a 3000 km tour of Rajasthan on a 350 Bullet and I believe that the answer is yes, the time of Enfields is over. There are three reasons why I say so. First, the technology of the Enfield is old. Second, it can let you down anytime and anywhere. Third, Hero Hondas.
There are many ways to be bikers, I am of the sort that wants his machine to work well. I care about the looks, sound and spirit of a bike, but ultimately it's reliability, driveability and performance that rank highest in my order of priorities. If you are the kind of guy that wants people to look at you when you pass by on the saddle of your machine, then the Enfield is your bike. If you want to re-live the dream of charras-smoking hippies on the road to Goa, then once again the Enfield is your bike. However, if you think that getting from A to B without stopping at the mechanic every 200 km is also important, then the Enfield is not your bike. The dream vanishes fast when you are stuck somewhere because one of the hundreds of mechanical failures that Enfields are prone to experience suddenly materializes. Once it is because the points go off synchronization, another time it is because there is an electrical problem. Another time, it is the chain that comes off or the forks that leak...
What is amazing is just how badly Enfields are built, when you compare them to modern bikes, but also in absolute terms. Just to give you an example, this is a bike that was conceived with a special lever - that to my knowledge no other bike needs - to find the neutral position. If you come to a stop and you are in, say, 3rd gear, you need to press this special lever to take the bike back into neutral, so that you can start it again. As it happens, the neutral lever is usually so hard that it is actually of no use at all. But, leaving that aside, the mere fact that a neutral lever is needed should tell the engineers at Enfield that something wrong is going on in the gear box. Indeed, changing gears is a nightmare, so much that you get used not to change them anymore. First gear for slow traffic, fourth gear for cruising. The good thing is that the engine is very flexible and allows you to go at 20 km/h in fourth gear no problem, and pick the revs up until you do 80km/h, with no need to change gear.
I have been using a '96 350 Bullet model that received full restoration by an expert mechanic, Niru in Pushkar (I will say more about him later on). The engine received a complete overhaul. Gear box, clutch plates (of the 500cc bike, which last longer), piston and cylinder, break pads, shock absorbers (front and rear), wheels and electricals were newly fitted, together with a new tank, new tyres, new battery and new seats. This job costs around 18.000 rupees (400$, 280 euros) and I watched Niru while he was doing it. I bought the bike for 32.000 rupees (730$, 500 euros) and sold it back to Niru after a month for 25.000 rupees. I must say that the bike never let me down (thank God) in the middle of a road. However, I am sure that I was lucky.
Driveability and performance are just treacherous. The bike has 12 hp and weighs around 200kg. If you are carrying a second person (as I was), luggage for two, full tank and luggage carrier, you will realize that the bike is as fast as a turtle, which is just what you do not want when you take over big lorries on a busy Indian road. The frame bends like a snake when you take a bend or you dodge a cow, while the shock absorbers are unable to cope with the ubiquitous pocket holes. This means that you will not average more than 30-35 km/h. The front drum brake is non existent. They might as well remove it. More recent models are fitted with a disk brake, which works well in comparison to the drum brakes of the '96 model. However, beware, strong front brakes in conjunction with poor forks is a dangerous mix, that can throw you off the saddle easily.
Finally, Hero Hondas. These are little 100 -125- 150 bikes that have invaded the Indian market during the last few years. They don't look good. I would say that they look rather uncool, in fact. They do not sound well, just like a scooter. However, they are cheap and reliable. So much that Indians have by and large relinquished the Enfields and opted for one of these sturdy machines, that can carry an entire family if needed. They average more than the Enfield and have engines that last longer (around 45K km vs the 20K km of an Enfield, after which you need to change at least cylinder and piston). There is one more advantage of Hero Hondas, they have a huge market. You can buy one and sell it back to Indians (not only tourists) for 15.000 rupees easily, as there are so many of them around.
Having said this, in fairness Enfields remain the best looking bike you can find in India, with an incredible sound and a great history behind. Indian youngsters who want to play it cool love Enfields and will often ask you if you sell them your bike. The Enfield remains the ultimate symbol of machismo in India, so much that one of their new models is called Machismo.
Buying an Enfield
Delhi probably offers one of the largest markets for second-hand Enfields, however it is rather chaotic and you will have to drive the bike out of Delhi, which will be a nightmare. A better place is Pushkar, where you can chill out while you wait for your bike to be ready. As I mentioned before, Niru is a very reliable mechanic and seller. Various friends of mine bought their bikes there in the past and were all happy. Niru cares a lot about his reputation and good name. Best is to get a complete overhaul, which gives you a good chance not to meet main problems for the first few thousand km. If you are short of time, you can phone Niru in advance and tell him to prepare a bike for you when you get there. Normally he will do it. He deals almost uniquely with standard 350 Bullets from the last 15 years or so. The electric start of the Electra 350 Bullet is generally unreliable. While the 500, so he tells me, is built more cheaply than the 350. He will give you the regular ownership paper. Niru is located in the main street of Puskar, you can't miss him, and his number is
I think you might be missing the point about Enfields and classics in general. Nobody gets them for their reliability - it is the quirkiness and the need for constant repair that gives them their esoteric appeal!
The mass-market in India for enfields may well be dead as a dodo, the Honda/Hero bikes make much more 'sense'.... Then again you could say that they are better than a Ducati 996 because they are a lot less twitchy on the throttle!
If someone is looking for a totally reliable bike don't get an enfield, certainly don't get one expecting it to perform like a modern bike - the design is about 50 years old! BUT.. some people actually like the pauses and breaks that having to repair your bike brings, along with the better contact with the locals (as they will always come and help a foreigner who's elbow deep in a vehicle by the side of the road). I guess the latter point doesn't help if you are the sort of person that would have to take the bike 'to a mechanic every 200km'
Old bikes don't leak oil, they ooze character!
Well said Henry. For me the Enfield will always have appeal, but it's not the only bike I want to own.
However I do strongly disagree with some of the comments in the first post, especially regarding their ability on rough roads. I thought they performed brilliantly on the washed out roads of India.
To be honest mate, it just sounds like you just had a crap bike. (They do vary a lot). Its a bit unfair to make sweeping statements about 'how badly Enfields are made' on the basis of one bike. A bike that sounds like it was put together by a muppet.
I've no idea what you are talking about with the neutral finder. It's there to make your life easier! You can still change up and down in the normal way! OK, the enfield doesn't have a lovely snappy jap style gearbox, but then it's a 50 YEAR OLD DESIGN!
My enfield has been going 11,000 km and in all that time has only had a couple of niggly electrical faults. (Apart from crash damage, ahem!) OK, its not as reliable as a modern bike, but um, its a 50 YEAR OLD DESIGN! People often compare them to modern bikes, expecting them to be the same in reliability and performance. This is a bit like expecting a Morris Minor to drive like a Citroen C5 or Ford Focus.
If you don't like old bikes, aren't prepared to get your hands dirty and prefer modern performance...er...ride a MODERN BIKE!
It doesn't surprise me in the least that the Indians are crossing over to Hero Hondas, after all, most Indians just want to get to work on time. For them it's transport, not a hobby. In fact, what does amaze me is that they rode Enfields for so long. There must be something about them that inspires illogical affection. (There is. Thats why they sell so many of them in the Western World, where there are any number of 'better' bikes available).
The basic tennet of your thread is correct, though. I understand that R.E. will be ceasing construction of the 'classic' model in preference for their new 'lean burn' Bullet. An updated design with similar aesthetics but more modern machinery.
You have to admit though, a production run of over fifty years ain't bad! :)
Never had any trouble with mine except a single wiring fault (fixed in 2 minutes with a swiss army knife) and two broken clutch cables. Comparing single bikes, my Bullet was actually more reliable than three BMW's that went before it and my current Triumph, which only proves the comparison isn't great. Parts are a heck of a lot cheaper than Honda too. I swapped it as I needed European performance levels. Mine was a five speed so I can't really comment on the Albion gearbox.
What the Indians actually want are cars. You can't actually blame them, the idea of not getting your clothes wet and dirty and been able to listen to the radio on the way to work will attract most people. Of course when you tell them that once everyone has a cage they'll get fed up of the radio while they sit in jams and will want a bike again, many look at you like you've gone mad!
Enfield will survive. They'll be the Indian Harley/Triumph so long as they follow what the US and UK companies did and apply their own business sense. They already did it by hooking up with Watsonian, so I see no reason why they'll fail now.
If my numbers come up I'll buy another Bullet tomorrow.
I m surprised that Enfields are being replaced by Japanese bikes, not chinese ones. In South America, Japanese bikes are such a luxury for local populations...
I met an Austrian girl travelling on an Enflield around South America when i got there first time. Her hands didn t look that dirty :eek3:
Here's a thread nicked from a forum of British Bullet riders. It gives a reasonable picture of what Bullet ownership is like I think. We're not talking the massive 200, 000 kms that people sometimes put on Transalps etc, but it shows that they do go reasonable distances without the endless problems people seem to experience when they rent them off, dare I say it, companies in India with rather relaxed attitudes to servicing...
Posted By Paul On 2008-08-14 At 09:12:03
There is always talk of Bullets being tempermental well lets put this to rest!!!
Also that some have put many miles on the clock.
Well how many miles on your Bullets. I would love to hear of 30000 plus.
Come on boys let me have your numbers
Posted By trevorch On 2008-08-14 At 10:54:42
Nov.2007 on the Road 500 Classic - 5,900KM to date. Rgds TrevorCH
Posted By Don On 2008-08-14 At 11:26:37
My 1959 350 Airflow Bullet was bought second hand in 1976 mileage unknown as the speedo was broken and has done 42000 miles in my ownership to date with no work done on the bottom end but has had a rebore and new valves and guides.
Posted By John R On 2008-08-14 At 12:10:36
'89 350. About 64000 miles. It has had new valves and guides and samrats. Reliable enough for day to day use, the only major problems have been recent cable breakages - not surprising when they were probably nearly 20yrs old.
And this is from the days when they were supposed to have dodgy build quality. I think it was well run in and maintained from the off.
Posted By Dave T On 2008-08-14 At 12:10:45
30,000kms, 2002 350 classic, never missed a beat, never even had to adjust the valves, only had to replace the rear sprocket bearing after 7000 kms. used every day for commuting and generally running around, happy riding, ans contrary to what you sometimes read on this site, it's not all doom & gloom. enjoy the ride, cheers, Dave
Posted By Matt C On 2008-08-14 At 12:26:08
11,000 km. A few niggly electrical faults but nothing major. Regular servicing seems to keep it happy and reliable. Perhaps a little romantically, I hope to keep it the rest of my life.
Posted By kevin s On 2008-08-14 At 12:35:52
39000 km 2004 sixty 5, no problems, burns a little oil, clutch slips sometimes. No real work other than oil change & grease.
Posted By coinzy On 2008-08-14 At 23:08:17
Mine got to 13000km before the big end went.
Posted By Leon Novello On 2008-08-15 At 08:52:15
23000kms, about 17000 with the iridium spark plug still in there.
Posted By Jorma Kontio On 2008-08-15 At 18:50:46
Electra 2005 19778 km. Half of that commuting: rear brake shoes just went..
I have no axe to grind either way, I like old bikes but I'm a duff mechanic so prefer modern reliability. For what bobbyslob paid for his '96 Enfield and service (practically a complete rebuild), he could have bought a brand new Hero Honda but two-up with luggage on a 125 would still have been hard work.
You pays your money, you takes your choice.
Been riding in a few weeks in South India on an Enfield, and last winter crossed the entire country north > south on a Vstrom...
The Enfield is fun to ride (slowly - and I agree, thats the way to go in India!) and looks classic, but frankly, thats about it. A lot of people kept telling me how the Enfields were the way to do India "properly"... well, maybe it is so.
But strictly as a bike, the Vstrom actually fit Indian roads and traffic about a hundred times better. It was nearly a perfect bike for that country.
Having a real, working suspension, and good brakes was so relaxing on potholed roads, and constant traffic jams. Being able to pass, and do it quickly, not having to use full throttle, and also finish the passing before 50 other 2-wheelers do the same, was a safety factor so many times.
We were doing the trip 2-up, and I can imagine that might´ve been a bit painful on an Enfield.
But its not really a fair comparison. Enfields are bikes from the 50´s and 60´s, and naturally modern bikes are better in many technical ways, its called progress.
You have discovered that a tractable engine is much easier to ride...
Truth is Enfields have modernised. The bike has a new ( well 8 years) five speed box that can be used left or right hand change. Also it has anew lean burn engine ( since 2004) plus odd little things like disk fron brake, air rear shocks etc. The newest model is sadly EFI (japanese) and Unit construction with the most modern tooling you will find anywhere on teh planet. Their pistons, crakshafts etc come from teh same Indian factory that Mack, Mercedes BMW and Porche get their bits from. ( ever wondered why teh lean burn Enfield had Nikasil cylinders ? same reason ( and same factory) as BMW. To meet emission requirements.
Unless I happen on a nice clean old Triumph before hand, next year my BMW will get traded for an Enfield Electra... And before you moan about old Brit Bikes, I did over 70K miles whilst in teh forces on a 500 Triumph with only one problem, once teh clutch cable broke going around the North circular one friday evening, I used to ride from Norfolk to Cornwall most weekends. Before they had motorways.
Just got back in the country after an attempt to get all the way to Mongolia with a mate on a pair of 500cc Classic Bullets.
I have to say that they were not the ideal choice of transport but that was more to do with the fact this was our first ever trip and we were carrying far too much weight in the form of spares and tools and we were also having to push them hard to try and stick to our tight timescale.
The only issues we really had was my bike, a genuine Indian market 535 Lightning, kept breaking spokes in the rear wheel. But this was finally sovled in Volgograd by the guys at Bikecity fitting a full set of modified Ural spokes. If any of you guys find yourself there look them up, excelent service.
The other problem was with the second bike, a 1992 UK market 500 Classic, the clutch had been dragging since Belgium but I solved this by rebuliding it in Kazakhstan and replacing the warped steels only one day before my co rider fell of and broke some ribs. So if anyone finds themselves on a Bullet in Maqat (Makat) Kazakhstan there are 2 Bullets there now being run by some locals.
We had a marvelous time on the road and covered in the region of 3700 miles, the only real issue was the speed that we were able to cover the really good roads in western Europe. Both the bikes were a pleasure to ride and caused a talking point where ever we stopped. They just required a little more TLC every morning with regard to fluid levels than the usual Jap choices.
I really see no reason why we would have not made it all the way had we not had the accident.
Now for the big question - would I go on an Enfield again? Yes and no. If time was not much of an issue then possibly yes, it is a fantastic way to see the countryside at 50 mph, but pushing for 300 to 350 mile days makes it hard, both phyically and mentally. They are not the ideal overland bike but are quite capable if treated with the respect that something of that age deserves.
Anyway, that's my two pence on this subject. If anyone is interested there are a few photos of the bikes at TEAM REMIT
Enfields sold for such a long time here because only they had the licence to produce this (350cc) bike. Similarly, until the late 70's there were only three types of cars you could buy here, not because they are timeless designs, but because they had the LICENCE.
Those crummy ambassadors are now exported to UK, (as are ancient, decrepit 70's Vespa scooters, with a paint job) - that does not make them "good" in any way.
Enfields sold in Europe/USA are manufactured to different standards as compared to the stuff sold here (reflected partially in their price tags too), so comparing them with the local stuff is not as accurate as it may seem. It's also unreasonable to compare 50's tech to modern stuff available here - these bikes have a lot of variation between pieces, and getting a good trouble free one can be a matter of luck. Don't expect to cover ground fast on this, and be prepared to keep checking that everything is in order more frequently than modern bikes.
But I guess for some people time is more important and the priority is to enjoy India in a limited time frame, as opposed to enjoying an enfield (which can be done at home). Admiring looks for the "cool" bike available at home too. While touring India, there are several places where you'd like to cover the boring km fast (and can), and on the bad roads, a better handling bike can literally keep you out of the hospital (or worse).
did I miss the point?
I am glad to see that my thread received so much attention and raised the spirits of a few. Some say that I missed the point: riding an Enfield in India is not about speed, performance and reliability. It's the experience... Well, I agree. So much, that I did take an Enfield for my tour, I knew exactly what I was going into. And I enjoyed it.
However, the point of my thread was not about the experience. The question was: are Enfields the best suited bike for a trip through India? Are there any more reliable, cheaper, faster bikes that can do the job? If the king is naked, is it still the king? Once you take the " Enfield experience", the "zen and the motorcycle maintenance" , the "go slow so you meet the people, out of the equation, would you still choose an Enfield?
After having read all your posts, for me the answer is still no. I would take a hero honda.
As a precise reply to a couple of posts I would like to say that the bike I was riding was not a bad bike for its year (1996). It was actually a very good bike, in perfect working conditions.
Furthermore, I am not the kind of guy "that needs to go to the mechanic every 200km". I have been riding bikes for the last 18 years. I haver ridden bikes in a number of countries. Traveled the Sahara extensively. Taken part to a number of moto rallies (including two editions of the Pharaons Rally) I have had a number of bikes and I do most of the maintenance by myself, which includes major engine work.
"Royal Enfield: a thing of the past?"
"The question was: are Enfields the best suited bike for a trip through India?"
are two very different things, which is why you got the response to the first question. And the second should be narrow down to a (second hand?) Indian built 350cc.
your question about the company and its bikes, and your review of one bike on one trip don't sit well together.
and did you actually ride a 'hero honda' two-up full loaded on Indian roads? A 100cc or 125cc would handle like a pig in those circumstances, but you'd not then come out with 'Has Been Honda's?', would you?
You get 220 cc Hero Hondas, which will outrun, outbrake and outmaneuver the 350cc enfield (though not the 500 in terms of top speed/ acceleration - marginal difference) TWO up, with luggage, if the enfield has the same loadout (unless your loadout looks like you are shifting house). All 17/18bhp bikes (at the crank, not the rear wheel), will give somewhat sluggish performance, the only point (performance wise) the 350 scores is the low rpm torque available.
There are issues with availability of parts, but then, a new bike will not really require any attention (apart from regular routine services) for at least 15K km, which is more than can be said for the average RE manufactured in India.
A fuel injected 220 cc Pulsar will leave all these for dead, two up, including the 500 except in terms of sheer low end torque. It's a closed loop FI system, not just a simple throttle body. The problem is that parts for this bike are not readily available. Big minus. Costs less than a 350 and SIGNIFICANTLY less than a 500.
Yes, the enfield will perform better than a fully loaded 125/98cc bike, but those are hardly used for touring. Besides, one bike displaces almost thrice the other.
5-7 years ago, if you wanted to tour on bike the enfield was the obvious choice, even though trouble free 150cc bikes were available.
Not any more.
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