Fritz Egli is one of the most innovative custom bike builders in the world, He is also Swiss, which means that he occasionally gets the urge to do something bizarre, like a turbo a Vincent.
But choosing an Enfield India Bullet as the basis for your ideal single cylinder, cafe racer special, probably rates as one of the odder decisions in Fritz´s bike-fettling career.
Formerly manufactured in Redditch, the Bullet 350 and 500cc singles went to India following the collapse of the old British bike industry in the late 60s/early 70s. There, they provide worthy, low cost, old tech transport.
Fritz Egli however wanted to revive the sporting potential of the Bullet and this 535cc special certainly looks a million miles away from Bombay..
The humble Enfield Bullet is not the type of bike normally associated with Fritz Egli, the veteran Swiss engineer best known for building highly tuned caf-racers, many using his trademark steel spine frame. But Egli is the Swiss and Austrian distributor for the Indian-made machines. And typically, rather than being content to sell standard bikes, he has set to work to improve the Bullet.
Egli’s Bullet Clubman features an enlarged, 535cc engine and a number of modifications basically, a thorough overhaul of engine, gearbox and chassis designed to make the original 500cc Bullet more reliable and more suitable for European road conditions. Some of these changes, including the larger capacity, will be incorporated in Indian-built machines next year, following Egli’s work as a consultant for the Madras factory.
The Clubman specification incorporates Egli’s “Swiss Finish” blueprinting process. This includes machining cylinder barrel and valve seats for improved fit, deburring gearbox parts and fitting bronze bushes, uprating the lubrication system with a high-output oil pump, overhauling the 28mm Mikcarb carburettor with a new slide and needle, and comprehensively uprating the ignition system.
This bike also features an engine bored from 84 to 87mm to give 535cc, and fitted with a higher compression (6.5:1 to 8.5:1) piston, gas-flowed cylinder head with larger valves, alloy instead of cast-iron barrel, and a balanced crankshaft. In conjunction with the other modifications this raises the two-valve, pushrod motor’s output to 33hp at 5000rpm a 50 per cent increase on the original figure.
Egli also turns his attention to the chassis. His overhaul of frame, suspension, wheels and front brake is designed to cure common Bullet problems such as out-of-true frames and wheels, and oval brake drums. The Clubman specification adds progressively wound fork springs and adjustable Koni shocks, plus cosmetic touches such as the seat and polished tank.
These and the incongruously modern Krober tachometer gave this Bullet a distinctly different feel even at a standstill, and Egli’s tuning work was even more apparent the moment I pulled away. The bike felt much crisper than a standard Enfield, chugging along happily and very smoothly at 55mph. It accelerated from that speed with reasonable enthusiasm, too, and on one long downhill straight rumbled up to an indicated top speed of just over 90mph.
Performance was distinctly improved throughout the range, but there was no denying that some traditional Enfield drawbacks remained. Vibration started drumming through the seat at 4000rpm, and got worse towards the 5500rpm limit. Egli says his bigger-still 624cc conversion, which uses a new crankshaft with stroke increased from 90 to 105mm, is considerably smoother. It also gives much more midrange torque, and a peak output of no less than 45hp.
This bike’s most annoying weakness was its gearbox. Despite Egli’s blueprinting, the four-speed, right-foot-change gearbox combined stiff operation, a large gap between the third and top ratios, and a tendency to jump back into neutral. I was not surprised to learn that Egli was planning an improved four-speed box of his own.
Handling was predictably slow and heavy, but the Bullet remained stable and was fun to ride on the typically tight and hilly Swiss roads near Egli’s base at Bettwil. Suspension, though still rather crude, was an improvement on standard. And although both brakes were needed for serious stopping, the Clubman’s Avon tyres gripped sufficiently well and, overall, its chassis was a fair match for the bike’s modest engine performance.
The Egli Clubman certainly worked much better than a standard Enfield Bullet, and was likely to be considerably more reliable too. Although by modern standards it is still neither fast nor sophisticated, this British-designed, Indian-built and Swiss Finished single would doubtless prove an enjoyable bike for riders able to ignore its limitations and appreciate its old-fashioned charm.
Egli has produced a detailed menu of modifications, so every stage can be budgeted precisely, from a simple ignition tune to a full 624cc “Super Bullet”. Egli’s consultancy work and the Enfield factory’s plans may soon make such tuning unnecessary, however. Many of the Swiss engineer’s suggestions including both 535 and 624cc engine capacities are due to be incorporated into bikes built in India by mid-1995.
Whether the Madras factory can approach this hand-built bike’s standard of machine preparation remains to be seen. But with the help of Fritz Egli, Enfield seems determined to keep improving the long-running Bullet on its improbable journey towards the 21st century.
Take out Carole Nash bike insurance for the Clubman 535.
Engine Air-cooled single-cylinder
Claimed power (bhp) 68hp @ 5400rpm
Compression ratio 8.5:1
Transmission Four speed
Front tyre 3.25 x 19in Avon Speedmaster
Rear tyre 3.50 x 19in Avon GP
Front suspension Telescopic, 150mm travel
Rear suspension Twin Koni shocks, adjustments for preload
Front brake 177mm tls drum
Rear brake 153mm sls drum
Top speed 90 mph
Fuel capacity 14.5 litres
Current price £