by Michael Kamrad
ANSWER: A 1955 Royal Enfield Bullet built in 1996 in Madras, India.
QUESTION: What do you get when you cross an old English bike, a 41-year production run in India and an American importer?
“Holy Cow!” That’s right. Stop the presses. Classic Motorcycles, Inc. of Maryland has bestowed a true relic upon us. This is no reproduction replica. This, my chums, is a motorcycle that has been manufactured the same way since 1955. Royal Enfield Motors of India has always used the same production techniques. The bikes are hand made.
The oldest continually produced motorcycle of British design is now available to us Yanks here in the states. A 350cc version and 500cc version have washed upon our shores. When Delano Motorsports invited us to test ride a 500cc model, we put down our brass ware and curried rice, jumped on our 125 horsepower race replicas and headed out to do a little time traveling.
“Goodness gracious, mi dude. What a hip shakin’ machine!” was one way to describe what we found at Delano. The test ride of the Enfield Bullet was more like a test encounter. The 1996 Bullet is still a 1955 motorcycle. It’s a rickety ride compared to anything modern. Don’t get me wrong. An encounter is a nonconformist’s dream. It has huge amounts of character. There are three versions from which to choose–a custom Bullet with chrome tank and fenders, a standard version, and an all green military-style version. They all sit at under $5,000. They all come with a warranty. They all come with their own set of quirks that make the Bullet a gearhead’s delight.
Many people see the Bullet as a showpiece, a bike that wows the kids, an antique to baby with TLC. Some may want it to be the only bike in their garage. Modified to double the horsepower and dressed in cafe racing clothes, this bike could be a real uptown screamer just like the other British bikes. To tell you the truth, I’ve yet to meet the second group of Enfield enthusiasts. Collectors are buying most of the India made Royal Enfields. At $4,500, it’s a reasonably priced treat.
The Enfield India does have modern hand controls, mirrors, shocks and seat that greet you most hospitably. The motor is peppy and torquey–good enough to outrun Bengal tigers. The transmission is a real experience. It’s a four speed with a neutral finder on the right side. After neutral, it’s anyone’s guess. The suspension is smooth, but…WHOA, watch out for that curve! The brakes will stop you. Don’t panic.
The build quality is quirky yet good. We hear it’s a reliable creature, as well.
In an age when we seem fascinated with what is classic, the Royal Enfield works. It’s a classic, hands down. You’ll be the first on the block with one of these. When I see that first Bullet-Uptown-Screamer go past me I’ll think to myself, “Holy cow! What a hip-shakin’ good idea.”
Royal Enfield Bullet
Engine Type: 499cc overhead valve single
Bore and Stroke: 70mm x 90mm
Compression Ratio: 6.5:1
Fuel Capacity: 3.8 gallons
Wheel Base: 53.5 inches
Seat Height: 30 inches