A colleague brought a 1969 Royal Enfield Bullet back from India. It has been restored in India by (my deduction based on the keychain fob…) Ess Arr Motors, apparently one of the bigger Indian bike dealers. The Indian Enfield factory is the last outpost of the Great British Motorcycle Industry since the British factory closed down in 1970. Established in Madras in 1955 to supply the Indian Army, the factory has continuously produced the essentially unchanged 500cc Bullet for over 50 years.
He brought over the other day to get a hand with it. I had the chance to get my fingers into the gearbox – which apparently the Indians pack with grease, not oil. It was interesting to compare with the Norton Commando (being the British bike I know best – ok the only British bike I know). I now understand the impression the Commando left of being a race thoroughbred, the Enfield Bullet seemed positively agricultural as my friend Paul noted.
The Indian restoration was decent, it’s hard to tell what has been done to the engine. The paint was ok – I found the pin striping to be a bit wiggly, vinyl logo on top of the paint, instead of under or waterslide as original. The Tires are period looking, couldn’t make out what mystery brand they were. The seat leather looked cheap (dry and cracking) and showed wear already. The quality of the exhaust was on the low side. Most disconcerting was the modern switch gear and signals. They totally ruin look of the bike, and I’m not a rivet counting purist. The other item that seemed out of place was the knock-off Mikuni, but I can forgive that in the name of reliability, knowing what vibrations do to Amals.
With the choke on, the bike burst to life with one kick and settled down to a steady lump-lump-lump. I wound the bike up to 100km/h; it was happy to go there. For some reason my brain couldn’t wrap itself around the gear box, perhaps it was the two shift levers (neutral finder…?). There seemed to be massive false neutrals between every gear, especially between 3rd and 4th. Perhaps some fetteling needed or rider training.
If on a trip around India or loping down a country lane I can see this a a fun bike. It has a nice wind-me-up character to it, most likely derived from the big flywheel. It doesn’t like to be rushed, it will get there and get you there. The engine is in a state of very mild tune with very mild tune with a 5.5:1 compression ratio. The brakes, 7inch on front, 6 inch in back) do work, but I’m not asking much from 55 year old design on a 41 year old bike from India! The steering seemed very gyroscopic, but that could in part be from the giant handlebars and the fact I’ve been riding my Vespa scooter this week with it’s nimble little tires.
The Enfield seemed to be happy at a brisk, but relaxed pace, perfect for unwinding after a day at work and I could see this bike being a great solo commuter mount. I was already envisioning myself with goggles, paniers , dodging sacred cows on dirt roads in India.