The continuing history of the Royal Enfield marquee can
be traced as far back the 1870's and from early on was associated with
bicycle manufacture. However, it wasn't until 1893 that the prefix of
'Royal' was first used: as with many other businesses and forms of advertising
at the time, the usage of a regal sounding name helped make a product
more attractive to the public, despite the company having no actual
In 1902 The Royal Enfield Manufacturing Company
Ltd followed the example of many other bicycle manufacturers in
developing a fascination for attaching internal combustion engines
to their bikes, thus producing the first motorcycles, three-wheelers
and even four-wheeled models.
The 'Classic' Bullet we know today has its roots firmly
planted in the town of Redditch, in the West Midlands of England. The
first Bullet was a British built over-head valve, single cylinder, 4-stroke
workhorse-of-a-bike, with the unique distinction of having remained
continuously in production since 1948. The name, 'Bullet', first appeared
in the 1930s with a range of 250cc and 350cc overhead-valve singles,
which were successfully aimed at the sporting trials competitions --
a good way to put a new product through it's paces. After wining many
competitions the Bullet gained the reputation for being both sturdy
and reliable. So much so, that Royal Enfield was chosen to supply 30,000
units (the 350cc model), to the Army for dispatch rider service, and
a further 3,000 units were supplied to the RAF during the Second World
War. In 1948 the more familiar post-war Bullet model was introduced
with the pioneering 'swinging-arm' suspension, telescopic front-end
and a semi-unit construction engine (the gearbox is a separate unit
bolted directly to the engine casing). The 500cc model appeared in 1953.
Royal Enfield Bullet fitted with the Continental kit
From 1949 the Indian army placed vast orders for
Bullets to use in patrolling its borders, well known for their
challenging terrain. As a result of additional large orders it
was decided (quite wisely as it turns out), to open a second factory
based in Madras, India. So, in 1955, in a partnership deal established
with the Madras Motor Company, the first 350cc Bullets left the
new factory. But these bikes were actually sent out from the Redditch
factory in kit form to be assembled by the new Indian workforce.
Soon Enfield India Ltd developed their new factory to produce
Bullets entirely themselves, with no input from Redditch; thus
more effectively meeting the heavy demands of the Indian Army.
For years to come, the production of the 1955 model would remain
virtually the same and the factory produced over 20,000 Bullets
annually, taking great pride in their home-grown product.
By the late 60's/early 70's, new Japanese-built bikes
gained the advantage in the UK market over the more traditional British
built motorcycles. Many companies couldn't compete and were slowly forced
out of business, including Royal Enfield. However, the Enfield India
Ltd. factory flourished with business spreading throughout Asia thus
keeping the 1955 Bullet design alive and well, and riding abroad. The
Bullet was finally re-introduced to the 'home' market in the UK back
in 1984, under the manqué 'Enfield' (for legal reasons), but
sadly its reputation at the time was not all that it once had been.
Then, between 1993 and 1994, the factory was taken over by Eicher Motors
Ltd during their merger with the Enfield India Company. With the launch
of Royal Enfield Motors Ltd, and thanks to dynamic new management, substantial
investment in research, design and development with modern engineering
and production methods, a new breed of Bullet 500 proved once more to
be a reliable and robust machine. Finally, in 1999, the right to market
the bike in the UK as 'Royal Enfield' was granted to Royal Enfield Motors
Ltd. The Bullets they produced were proudly labeled as such for the
developing export market.
Royal Enfield Bullet fitted with the Trials kit
The Bullet is still manufactured today in a similar
manner as it was then and remains essentially a handmade motorcycle.
Hailed as the new 'modern classic', the 2005 range of bikes offers
a variety of models, which are variations on the Classic Bullet
and available in 350cc or 500cc. In a wise move to court the young
rider and American markets, the traditional 4-speed right-foot
gear change can be adapted or replaced with the new 5-speed gearbox
and left-foot change (designed at Cranfield University England).
The new 500cc model was christened the 'Sixty-5' in a bold move
away from the '55 style, looking towards the 1960's. There is
also a 'Deluxe' model with chrome trim, a street legal 'Trials'
model, an 'Army' model complete with metal construction panniers
and a café racer or 'Clubman' version with clip-ons and
The Bullet today is a bike with good looks, low running
costs and insurance group and has the added attraction of an affordable
price. But despite its 'modern classic' status, it is still essentially
a 1955 motorcycle that requires a certain amount of care and attention.
Yet, surely this is how the real enthusiast develops a personal relationship
with his/her bike? The Royal Enfield: she's a fettlers dream,
becomes one of the family, is lovingly nurtured and - more often than
not - given a pet name. As every Royal Enfield owner knows, theres
nothing like the distinct thumping sound of the single cylinder engine
of a Bullet. The legend lives on, untainted by technology.
Royal Enfield Bullet fitted with the Classic kit
Royal Enfield India/Royal Enfield Motors Ltd. www.royalenfield.com
UK importers of Royal Enfield Motorcycles Watsonian-Squire Ltd
Unit 70, Northwick Business Centre, Blockley Gloucestershire GL56
9RF UK www.royal-enfield.com
Hitchcock's Motorcycles is the UK's leading specialists
in supplying parts by mail order for both vintage and new Royal
Enfield motorcycles offering conversion kits for 350 or 500 bullets
including the Continental kit with alloy tank
(Clubman), Café Racer kit (60's styling) and a
Trials kit www.hitchcocksmotorcycles.com
Thinking about buying a Bullet? Try Hayward's of Cambridge, UK
Royal Enfield dealer of the year 2002, 2003 & 2004, Hayward's
Girton Garage, Huntingdon Road, Cambridge CB3 0LQ, UK www.haywards.co.uk
USA's exclusive Royal Enfield motorcycles importer,
Classic Motorworks, 1220B 4th Street NW, Faribault Minnesota 55021
USA. Classic Motorworks offers a comprehensive parts and accessories
catalogue for both new and vintage Royal Enfield motorcycles.
Highly recommended is their clear and easy to use hard copy catalogue
(free!) call 800-201-7472 or check out their websites: www.enfieldmotorcycles.com
Royal Enfield Owner's Club website for the owner's
of Royal Enfield motorcycles, all models, any year. www.royalenfield.org.uk
Bullet Mania is an internet discussion group for
owners/enthusiasts of Royal Enfield Bullets, be they 350cc, 500cc,
or any other size that you have, or aspire to have... and in whatever
state of tune you wish. It is for people to discuss/ask/impart
info on these wonderful bikes.
Real Classic Magazine - This is a magazine that focuses on the
mind set of its readers and not the cheque book of its advertisers.
Not available in shops, Real Classic is all about buying &
selling, running & riding real classic bikes - and having
fun with them, of course! For a sample of what this popular subscription
based publication is like check out their comprehensive web site.