Sometime earlier this year Royal Enfield launched a new variant of the oldest motorcycle in continuous production, the Bullet. The Bullet series has been in production in India since 1955 when Redditch company partnered with Madras Motors in India to form ‘Enfield India’ to produce the 350 CC Royal Enfield Bullet.
The Bullet motorcycles have had a very old connection with me, from the times I would wait to hear the thump of my father’s Standard Bullet 350 when he came to pick me up after school to my uncle’s ex-armed forces G2 Bullet which he picked from the army disposal auction at Panagarh.
Last March they launched the Bullet Trials Works Replica 350 & 500 motorcycles in India. The question that popped in my mind, ‘Another Bullet! Why?’
I managed to take a spin on the 500 variant last week and this is what I found. The motorcycle is based on Bullet 500, which essentially means there is no change to the engine. This engine is the tried and tested 499 CC air-cooled fuel injected unit doing its job in the older variants of the Bullet. Oodles of low-end torque from the word go makes it an easy to manage motorcycle, in traffic or trails alike. Yes, trails and Yes, the motorcycle is called the Trials.
Back in 1948, the Trials Bullet was the first production motorcycle to feature a swinging arm suspension. And, the Trials Replica is a homage to the motorcycling legend, Johnny Brittain. He, as a young 18-year-old had great success at the International Six Days’ Trials with the Royal Enfield Factory Team.
The motorcycle has a stripped-down look, with a luggage rack where the pillion seat should have been. Maintaining an old school charm with a dash of bright coloured frames. Functional, with higher handlebars, raised mudguards and knobby tires to make it more capable off-road. An upswept exhaust to tackle deep water crossings without any worry. Though, personally, I would have loved slightly taller handlebars. With all these old-school and functional bits, Royal Enfield also ensured modern dual-channel ABS working in tandem with the block pattern tires to provide all the grip and stopping power you would need across varied terrains. Add to this a bunch of classy accessories to make the motorcycle look butch.
I have said this before and will say this again, Royal Enfield knows how to integrate a bullet motorcycle in your lifestyle. Did we really need another bullet or even a function-specific trials motorcycle? Maybe, Not. But they DO make it desirable. And that is what sets this motorcycle apart, with history and legacy from an armed forces work-horse to a lifestyle statement today and a fabulous service network across the country, Royal Enfield knows how to sell a lifestyle.
Concerned fellow biker buddies – “But, why did you ‘downgrade’ to a Royal Enfield Himalayan?”
One of the most common questions I was asked by people when I bought the Royal Enfield Himalayan. The funny thing is I find the tagging of ‘upgrades’ really stupid. You move or change to a motorcycle as per the riding style. If you can’t change you improvise and use what you have. And, on that point, people who know me well did not bother to question my choice.
Now, my question is, what is an upgrade? Is it bumping up to a higher cubic capacity? Is it a more powerful bike in terms of numbers? or just spending more money, compared to your existing one, on a new motorcycle? Or is it just doing more than what you did with the last motorcycle?
I feel the matter is imperceptible and cannot be summarized by just throwing around numbers. If I could afford to, I would love to keep both the motorcycles. Maybe, sometime in future, I will.
My last motorcycle was the Benelli TNT 300, a street bike which I had used extensively for the daily commutes and touring. Even a fair number of off-road trails have been covered on the motorcycle. And, I still do not have anything to complain about the TNT 300. A 360-degree parallel twin with oodles of low-end torque, kicking in as low as 2500rpm. Subtle linear power delivery made it a breeze to ride, especially while touring.
So, coming to the point of why I sold my Benelli TNT 300? Well, I have just one reason. My riding style changed. I started avoiding highways and travelling more of B Roads and off-road trails. People who have ridden with me also know that I have taken the Benelli to a fair number of technical trails. As long as ground clearance was not an issue, the motorcycle chugged away miles after miles. I loved the low-end torque and how useable it was when I was tackling trails and inclines. But – there is always a but, when it came to rocky terrain, the ground clearance was a hindrance. I had to take it slow and worry about the motorcycle making it past an obstacle. For water crossings, the under-belly exhaust was an added worry.
Now, coming to the Royal Enfield Himalayan. I had a few parameters for my next motorcycle. It had to be less than 3.0 lakhs INR on road in Bangalore. It had to be an off-road capable and comfortable stress-free touring motorcycle. The RE Himalayan fit the bill and the bonus was a wide service network across the country and low cost of ownership. This also meant I could spend on some good premium accessories and have extra moolah for my travel funds. Show me another touring motorcycle in India capable enough, within the said parameters. The Hero XPulse, some might say. A capable off-roader, yes, it is. Touring, maybe not.
So, in my outlook, the purchase of the RE Himalayan is an upgrade for me (even though I went from a twin cylinder to a single) as I can do all that I did with the Benelli TNT 300 and additional I can do more off-road trails, even the rocky terrains. I had money left after selling the Benelli and buying the RE. My service costs are less now because the motorcycle and spares are made in India and labour costs are less, which in turn lets me save more for my travel & motorcycle fund.
Eventually, I had to take a call between my ‘wants’ and ‘needs’. What I ‘need’, may not be what I ‘want’. But it will get me going for sure. And, what about my ‘wants’, well – that story is far from over my friend.
Since my last post, “Almost There!!!”, two of the common questions that I have been asked are – Why a Royal Enfield and Why the Himalayan? I thought why not write about it to make things a little less repetitive for me.
So, let me start with the motorcycle first.
Why, the Himalayan?
To begin with, off-road capability. The Himalayan is the first purpose-built motorcycle from the Royal Enfield stable. 21-inch wheels up front, mated with a 17-inch at the rear, with dual purpose tyres to tackle no-road situations. Ground clearance of 220mm while keeping the seat height at a comfortable 800mm. This was the perfect recipe for a dual-purpose motorcycle, regular highway touring and off-road trails, both could be handled with ease on the Himalayan.
One might argue that the Himalayan had so many issues when it was launched. Yes, it did. And have you ridden the BS4 variant yet? Anyone who has ridden the BS4 variant will agree that Royal Enfield has no doubt taken all the learning and feedback and fixed most, if not all, issues in the Himalayan. The engine has got a good low-end grunt and stress-free even at high speeds. The motorcycle I tested allowed me to cruise comfortably at 120/130kmph. The low-end torque is a saviour in off-road conditions. It would have been nice to have a little more power and torque but nothing to cry home about. All this at a lovely price point of just 1.8 lakhs INR ex-showroom. Honestly, I do not see any other motorcycle in the country which is as purpose-built as this in such a price point. Before I continue, I think I can get the 2nd question into consideration here.
Why, a Royal Enfield?
Continuing from where I left off, one of the reasons for selecting the Himalayan is the low cost of ownership. Royal Enfield has somehow managed to price it right. I do not have to worry about dropping the motorcycle, which is inevitable in an off-road terrain as the spares are pocket-friendly and easily available. With over 1000 service centres across India, I will never be far from one, in case I need help. It’s like the SBI of motorcycle service centers, you will always find one, no matter which part of the country you are in.
Additionally, the roadside assistance also ensures you do not break a sweat trying to get to one either. Royal Enfield has managed to build an ecosystem around motorcycles and motorcycling activities. From being the oldest motorcycle manufacturers in the country to creating a community around riders. No other brand can boast of having a dedicated ride team which creates experiences for its riders. Various brands, like Mahindra-Jawa, KTM, Bajaj have tried their hand at creating something similar and I have been to a few. However, none of them implement it as grandly as Royal Enfield. The legacy and lineage show in the finesse with which these rides are conceptualized. There is no stone left unturned to ensure that the rider is part of the entire experience.
To cut the story short, I chose the Himalayan because it meets my requirements as a capable off-road motorcycle, one on which I can also tour comfortably. I chose a Royal Enfield motorcycle because of the low cost of ownership and easy access to spares and service.
No manufacturer can vouch for a 100% perfect machine, what matters is what they are willing to do to address the issues if you have one. I believe Royal Enfield is doing a good job of it.
Last December, I spent a week with Royal Enfield motorcycles, in Rajasthan. The experience changed something in me.
On a cold winter afternoon, as I walked out of Jodhpur airport, I was wondering what’s in store for me, for the next week. I was part of a new concept, a ride which would start late afternoon and take us through the night. Aptly called the Royal Enfield – After Dark.
Over the next few days, I rode various motorcycles from the Royal Enfield stable. Some modern hooligans, some old school classics. It took me back to my early teens when I rode pillion on my father’s black Bullet 350. I fell in love with the distinctive ‘thump’ and loved the attention, the black and chrome motorcycle gathered, as we rode across our small steel city township. I was never allowed to ride it (not surprising, of course) but I could push it in/out of the garage. I would get my hands dirty when my father used to work on his motorcycle. Engine-oil leaks, throttle/clutch cables breaking and even the wiring harness burning out were part and parcel of the experience. Old school motorcyclists were meant to know how to fix and tinker with their machines. Certain circumstances led to the sale of the Bullet before it could be passed on to me. I wished to keep my father’s motorcycle, however the sentiment was gone.
Over the years I never got around riding a Royal Enfield long enough, let alone, own one. I am not sure what kept me away. I think somewhere between working on the motorcycle with my father to touring around the country on one, I was looking at spending more time on the road than in the garage. My love for touring surpassed my love for getting my hands dirty. I wanted to ride and not spend all my time fixing my motorcycle. I was looking for more reliability and maintenance free motorcycles, compared to what I had come across so far. I don’t deny that the learning from those DIY sessions still got me out of sticky situations.
Coming back to the After Dark trip, I rode the Thunderbird 350 & Classic 350 Signals motorcycles. These were still the old generation motorcycles from the Royal Enfield stable. However, they felt different. Different in a good way. Unlike the older motorcycles I had come across in my early teens, these felt better. Gear shifts were smooth. Fewer vibrations. Comfortable seats. Overall a big jump from the oil spewing, bone shakers I had known from the olden days. All this was without changing much of how they looked. Old school, the legacy was kept intact.
Next, I got my hands on the Thunderbird 500x, a modern funky take on the older sibling. Black treatment on most of the motorcycle and contrasting bright colours on the tank, made it stand out. The overall styling was urban centric, and the updates did not end there. The engine was more refined. The overall dynamics of the motorcycle was a lot better than the older sibling. And I realized, I could keep good speeds without any jarring vibes, so much that I did not realise how fast I was going till someone said she was having a tough time keeping up on her Himalayan. Flicking it around city traffic was fun too and it did make heads turn.
A couple of days into the trip, I got my hands on the Himalayan (BS4). The youngest (the 650 twins had just been launched and were not yet available for the ride) of the Royal Enfield stable, the one I call, the hooligan. This one blew my mind. Yes, most of you who know me might find it hard to believe that I am saying so.
I will explain. I like my motorcycles fast. My existing one (Benelli TNT300), touches 170 kmph, but in a true sense, my cruising speeds were never over 130 kmph. I loved hunting for trails, always looking for ‘slower’ roads to reach my destination. I could do that on my TNT300, but off-road capabilities – well, let me not get started. It was a good motorcycle, but I must admit the maintenance was a little on the pricier side. Also, the cost of spares, most of which imported, kept me recalling my balance sheet while tackling technical trails off-road.
Now, in case of the Himalayan, it is bang for the buck. I was able to do decent triple digit speeds and it handled well. The motorcycle was equally at ease in off-road terrain. It was lighter than most adventure motorcycles, except may be the BMW GS310. If I wanted to buy one, I would have to sell my kidney in the black-market. I had ridden the Mahindra Mojo earlier when I was considering a tourer which would help me occasionally bash some trails. However, the overall ergonomics of the Mojo did not make it comfortable for me. Something always felt a little off for me. I’d probably avoid the Jawa for the same reasons.
The Himalayan is butch to look, and the features are more function than form. I felt that it would fill the blanks for my trail riding requirements. I was looking for a comfortable tourer that could do good speeds and tackle off-road terrain, without breaking a sweat. Something, I will not be worried about dropping as it won’t be that expensive to fix. Something, which has a massive service network in India, so, I am never far from one, if I need one. By the end of the trip I had made up my mind, the Himalayan will be part of my stable soon.
Overall, as if the motorcycles were not enough, the trip was a lot more to talk about. May be, I will talk in detail about it in another post. The places we stayed at, were unique in its own sense, two of which were age-old palaces. The amazing team from Royal Enfield worked in sync to ensure we had a fantabulous experience. I will not leave out the Gun Wagon, which was tailing the group all through, ensuring they are present to support, in case needed. Though we did not need their support, it was reassuring to know that the Gun Wagon had our back.
Coming to the point where I mentioned, something changed in me. Well, I started looking at Royal Enfield as a legacy, something which got my father and me on common ground. An entity existing to ensure that they don’t just sell you a motorcycle, but an experience. I am glad I went for this ride. It helped me reconnect with my past, one which I had almost forgotten.
Like someone once said, ‘Royal Enfield does not sell motorcycles anymore, they sell a lifestyle.’