Royal Enfield Bullet Classic

Bondo manages to get his grubbies on a Royal Enfield Bullet Classic for a first Canadian Test Ride.

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Words: Steve Bond. Pics: Sarah Moffat
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You may not realize it from my boyish good looks but I’ve been around for a while. I’ve also spent much of my time in decidedly vintage circles and as a result I’ve ridden a number of vintage bikes and will gladly testify that motorcycling’s “good ol’ days” weren’t really all that good.

Motorcycles of the 1950s and ’60s vibrated like a California aftershock, leaked oil like a BP well, had dodgy electrics, were difficult to start and then even more of a chore to keep running.

But, vintage motorcycles possess certain qualities that I still find desirable — namely, they are light(ish), simple, and easy to handle.

Thanks to the new-to-Canada Royal Enfield Bullet you too can experience the icing on your nostalgia fruitcake, replete with some of the better traits of old-time motorcycling, and more importantly, with few of the drawbacks.

THE ROYAL LINEAGE

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The 1950 350cc Bullet.

The Royal Enfield Bullet is about as close to a real retro bike as you can get — enjoying the longest motorcycle production run of all time of any motorcycle — the Bullet first appeared out of Enfield’s English factory in the 1930s. By 1955, the bikes were being assembled in India under license from the Royal Enfield parent company, with full manufacturing by 1962.

Although motorcycle production of the Royal Enfield (England) ceased in 1970, the Indian firm kept on churning out Bullets under the Enfield of India name, making a brief appearance on Canadian shores in the ’90s.

In 1995 the company finally purchased the right to use the full Royal Enfield name, but it wasn’t until 2010 that they ushered in a brand new, unit construction engine, complete with EFI and a catalytic converter which allowed the Bullet to meet the all important Euro 3 and California emissions standards.

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Latest unit-construction motor still looks like it could have come from the fifties.

Today — save for the distinctly modern-looking front disc brake — the new Bullet looks just like a mid-1950s Royal Enfield 500cc single, until you look a little closer …

Instead of a six-volt, “positive earthed” magneto supplying weak and intermittent sparks, the 2010 Enfield boasts modern 12-volt digital electronic ignition, and in place of a primitive, leaky Amal carburetor, you’ll find electronic fuel injection. The thing is, it’s all very well incorporated to keep that classic ’50s look.

After several months of hassling, hounding and general haranguing, we finally managed to get a Bullet Classic to test. It’s one of four models that are currently being imported into Canada, which include the Electra (dual seat, paint), the Electra Deluxe (dual seat, chrome) and the Classic Military (single seat, green).

THE FIRST CANADIAN TEST

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Bondo ges the first Canadian test of the new Bullet.

The starting ritual for vintage 500 singles was a complicated series of hand and foot gyrations known only to the rider. Tickle the carb, retard the spark, give it full choke, pull the compression release and then kick for all you were worth.

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There’s no kicker on the new Bullet Classic.

Especially recalcitrant examples sometimes required incense burning, Gregorian chanting and the sacrifice of a chicken or two.

Starting the new Bullet is much simpler — turn key, press starter button and the Bullet’s engine fires readily and settles down to a traditional lumpy idle. In fact, there’s not even the option of a kick start anymore, though there is an enrichener for cold starts. Our recent 26 C mornings didn’t require its use.

It won’t start or run with the sidestand down, however, even with the tranny in neutral and the clutch pulled in, so to let it warm up while you don helmet and gloves, you have to lever it up on the centrestand — a task that’s easily accomplished.

Snick into first and off you go, thump thump thump down the street. You hear and feel every exhaust thud because — despite being a redesigned motor — there are no counterbalancers to quell the power pulses of the 84mm (3.3 inch) piston.

As a result, vibration is your constant companion. Thankfully, it’s definitely not in the league of a BSA Gold Star or 441 Victor, motorcycles that shook so horrendously, they’d routinely shed parts and destroy every bulb filament on the bike before you’d got around the block.

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Single lunger pumps out 27 horses.

In contrast, the Enfield merely buzzes, but this only becomes excessive at highway speeds of 100 km/h or more — and even then, it’s mostly just a tingle through your feet.

Enfield’s moto used to be “Made like a gun, goes like a bullet.” Now it’s shortened to “Made like a gun,” which is more realistic because it would be a rather slow bullet as the air-cooled, 499cc, OHV single-cylinder mill thumps out real vintage muscle, to the tune of 27 horsepower and 30 lb-ft of torque.

That has to propel 187 kg (411 lb) of Enfield, and as expected acceleration can be charitably described as “leisurely.” An informal, seat of the pants test had zero to 100 km/h coming up in 12 steamboats.

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Handling is fine if you keep it chugging along around 90 km/h.

The slick shifting transmission’s bottom four gears are fairly close together, while fifth is suitable as an overdrive, allowing for cruising at 100 km/h. I saw an indicated 125 on the 401 (just keeping up with traffic, officer) but there wasn’t much left.

At these kinds of speeds, the Enfield feels a bit nervous and twitchy, likely due to the upright riding position and a seat height that’s level with the fuel tank, resulting in a centre of gravity that is fairly high.

But to push the Bullet is to not understand what it’s all about. The Bullet’s forte is a more relaxed pace — chugging along at 90 km/h on two-lane roads is right in the motorcycle’s strike zone.

The wide bars, narrow tires and light steering make for effortless handling around town, while the upright riding position gives you a great view of traffic.

The Avon Roadrider buns (90/90-18 front and 110/80-18 rear) have decent grip but I found the Bullet was much happier with a nice, smooth line through the turns rather than a “point and squirt” riding style. Come in hard on the brakes, flop it over and it feels decidedly unstable beneath you.

The ride is actually quite good and the front forks and twin rear shocks do an acceptable job of absorbing bumps, frost heaves and potholes. The Royal Bottom is further insulated from larger jolts by the sprung seat.

headlight.pngHeadlight keeps the classic theme going in both looks and performance. Two small lights above it are a mystery.

The single front disc requires a hefty pull on the non-adjustable lever to get any stopping power. Lever feel is rather wooden and feedback is somewhat vague, typical of motorcycle disc brakes from the Dark Ages.

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Sprung seat keeps the royal posterior suitably sprung.

Still, eat your Wheaties, work on your grip and you can get the Enfield to stop in a fairly short distance. Hey, it’s WAY better than the twin-shoe drum of the originals.

The Enfield really excels in the way it sips dead dinosaurs. At the first refill, I recorded 214 km on 8.16 liters. That works out to 3.8L/100 kilometers or 75 miles per Imperial gallon — not bad for a bike with less than 1,000 km total on the clock that I was riding fairly aggressively.

Expect close to 350 kilometers or more from each 13.5 liter tank once it’s fully broken in.


A CLASSIC ACT

Right up there on the Bullet’s list of attributes are the classic good looks. From the heavy gauge steel fenders (complete with girder-like braces) and the period steel fuel tank complete with rubber knee pads to the sprung single seat, everything about the Enfield screams “1955.”

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Disc brake is a bit wooden but much better than a drum.

There are also two lockable compartments on the rear frame downtubes. On the original Enfields, these were for glove storage and tool kits but on the 2010 model, the left one hides a bundle of electronics (hey, you have to put them somewhere) while the air cleaner resides inside the right one.

The engine is right out in all its alloy and polished aluminum glory for the world to see, not hidden away like an ugly stepchild behind layers of cheesy plastic.

Keeping with the classic design, the instrument package is about as rudimentary as it gets. You’ll find an analog speedometer with integral cable-actuated odometer and a separate dial for the low fuel light and an engine light that, for some reason, is shaped like an old Chevy V-8.

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What more do you need?

Sadly, the Enfield has carried over the British tradition of lousy headlights, even though (thankfully) the electrics aren’t made by Lucas. The headlight shell is surrounded by an attractive, beefy looking bezel with two rather odd illuminated nodules on the upper bezel quadrant. I have no idea what their purpose might be.

The beam itself has a rather odd pattern with one glowing spot about two meters in front of the front wheel and another about five meters out with a very narrow spread. To top it all off, there is a fairly strong reflection that goes straight down, giving a perfectly illuminated view of the front axle nuts.

The high beam is slightly brighter, and rounds off the last requirement of a sad lighting system, that of providing a perfect silhouette of the front fender. Hey, at least it’s an improvement on the Lucas rule of lighting where you had the choice of “dim, flicker and off.”


ATTENTION GRABBER

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It’s been around for as long as the Queen!

I liked the Enfield Bullet but to compare it to a modern motorcycle is completely missing the point. It doesn’t pretend to be something it isn’t. You won’t find one on club roadracing grids, nor are you likely to see one laden with bags and a topbox, traversing the Trans-Canada from Victoria to Halifax. Although I’m sure somebody will be fool enough.

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Happy times.

It’s a return to motorcycling’s simpler days — when bikes were reasonably priced and economical to run … only without the oil on the floor, gas leaks and myriad electrical challenges.

The Royal Enfield would make a great city bike or commuter (as long as you opted for a luggage rack or the dual seat to strap on a tailbag) not only because of the fantastic fuel economy, but its sheer uniqueness.

I haven’t had a press bike garner so much attention from the general public since I was riding the Triumph Scrambler around last fall. Everywhere I went, people asked about it and most of them weren’t even motorcyclists.

All I was missing was a pudding bowl helmet, split lens goggles, and the pukka waxed cotton Belstaff riding jacket and I’d be back in 1955.

SPECIFICATIONS


Bike
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MSRP

$7,395.00

Displacement
499 cc

Engine
type
Four-stroke, OHV single, air-cooled

Power (crank – claimed)
27 Horsepower @ 5,200 rpm

Torque (claimed)
30 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm
Tank
Capacity
13.5 litres

Carburetion
Electronic Fuel Injection

Final drive
Five speed, Chain drive

Tires,
front
90/90-18

Tires,
rear
110/80-18

Brakes,
front
Single 280 mm disc & 2-piston
caliper

Brakes,
rear
152 mm drum brake

Seat
height
800 mm (31.5 “)

Wheelbase
1372 mm (54 “)

Dry
weight (claimed)
187 kg (412 lb)

Colours
Black, Teal, Red

Warranty
2
years and 10,000 km

18 thoughts on “Royal Enfield Bullet Classic”

  1. Hey there , i was looking for the headlight and the ring which is in this model.
    Can you let me know where I could get one from ?
    And also what is the year of manufacture of this model shown in the picture ?

  2. I Have two Indian Royal Enfields 1994 deluxe 500 and a 2011 Elctra deluxe 500 both are cool bikes to ride, the old model is my play toy as it needs a little tinkering now and then the new style has alot smoother response being fuel injected and the engine noise is a lot quieter and needs less attention (up to now).
    The 94 has been converted to r/h shift which can be fun, you have to remember which bike your on be-leave me ! but these bike are fun to ride and own you don’t know what your missing.

  3. Its a super bike, only priced way higher-almost 3 times more than in India where its available for $2500/- I think Govt needs to ease import laws to bring down price of such great machine for Canadian enthusiasts

  4. Yeah, but my last reasonably modern m/c was a 1978 Yamaha XS750 with both electronic ignition [but carbs only] and it had a kickstarter and that’s what I miss about modern bikes, I actually enjoyed using the kick, rather than push a button.

  5. C’mon, you guys,
    Take a closer look. the maintenance is as negligible as any new bike with electonic ignition, hydraulic lifters and fuel injection. You may have to change a plug occasionally. At least you don’t have to half the bike apart to get at that or anything else, for that matter! you can compare it to a Suzuki 650 thumper, the Boulevard S40, similar engines, except the Suzi has 150 ccs on the Bullet, but it’s not much better performing and certainly does not have the style! I’d take the Enfield anytime.

  6. I still like it and if this old dog had the money,I would buy one, if i had the money. :cry

    There’s a nice retro accessory kit available from the U.S. distributor if one wants to complete the retro-look to it[even going back to a front drum,aftermarket,if you want to].
    The Canadian one could enter into some kind of agreement with them so as not to duplicate efforts to provide same for CDN customers. This includes also, retro steel panniers/saddlebags as well.
    Over all, couldn’t be any worse than my old ’69 scrambler was, if you don’t like vibration, you got no business on two wheels!

  7. You said “Latest unit-construction motor still looks like it could have come from the fifties.” Where’s the kick-starter? its gotta have a kick-starter! :eek

    :grin

  8. I have 3 Bullets, a ’49 350, a 94 350 military and a ’95 500 classic pulling a sidecar. I am very impressed on how they reflected the mid ’60s 250 GT styling into the engine casting. Very nice detail. As mentioned they are all mechanically simple and easy to keep going. Parts are also easy to sorce still too. However it is very true they need repeated, frequent mainenance. Usually timing and valve related. It takes practice but is learnable in a season. These new ones with their electronics I suspect will be more more reliable and require less user intervention. I wish them luck!

  9. No disrespect Bruce, but I think the new Enfields will prove to be MUCH more reliable than the previous generation … just as the newer Triumphs are far superior to their ancestors. I love the new Bullet Classic and hope that an M/C Dealership here in St. John’s, NL will eventually carry the Enfield line!!

  10. Remember, Enfield Bullets were imported into Canada for about 4 or 5 years in the late 1990s. I owned one for about 2 or 3 years, and put a few thousand KMs on it.

    It was actually a decent, if pokey, ride, but not particularly reliable. If you buy one, expect to spend a -significant- amount of time doing routine maintenance. The maintenace is straight-forward, but you will need to do a lot more of it than you will with any Japanese bike.

  11. My son rode one at Americade. He had a big grin on his face when he finished the test ride. Said that riding the Enfield “was just as he had imagined motorcycling to be”.

  12. Spot on comment, Wes. It’s dazzling to imagine what they will be like in another 70 years, eh? Apparently, at this moment, they are working on a top secret attempt to mix iron with other metallic elements to create something they are calling an “alloy”. It will be a mixture that has more strength than iron itself. Will wonders never cease?!

  13. absolutely amazing how many technical improvements have been made by enfield and ural and harley davidson over the past 70 years

  14. Unfortunately I have to ride on a lot of highways otherwise this would be a cool bike to zip around town in. Well maybe not zip but cool anyway…

    Good article…I like to mix of history with the review.

  15. I suspect the 2 mini-lights are “parking” lights. So that someone in a Morris Minor doesn’t knock it over when leaving the pub car park at closing time (10pm).
    /r

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