The Royal Enfield lives on for 2005, in the shape of the Bullet 500 Electra X, with a left foot gear change, electric starter, disc braking and a re-vamped engine tuned for better economy on modern fuel, cleaner running and reliability.
Alastair Walker finds the Enfield Bullet is a classic bike that can cut it on modern roads, so long as you like your biking the old fashioned way.
I have to admit to starting my biking life on British bikes. Not Hinckley Triumphs, but BSA Bantams, which for those of you too young to remember, were crude, cheaply made, two stroke commuter bikes once inflicted upon telegram boys as a preparation for the brutality of 1960s life in HM Forces.
Back in the late 60s, Royal Enfield’s production lines staggered to a gradual halt, as buyers found the Redditch made twins and singles increasingly outgunned by better value machines from Japan. But a subsidiary factory had already been set up in India in the mid 1950s and this factory continues to make Enfield motorbikes today, with the range starting at just £2000 for the Classic 350.
However, the 500 Bullet Electra X is altogether different bike from its 50s ancestor.
For a start, it has visible technology from the late 20th century, like a front disc brake and – hurrah – an electric start. As someone who never mastered the pointless fiddling about which always seemed to precede a kick start attempt on any four stroke single, I salute Enfield for joining the real world.
One detail which is old school is the choke, which isn’t mounted on the handlebar, but is located next to the carb, just behind the fuel line and tap. With gloves on, it’s all but impossible to knock off the choke on the move, so you have to warm the motor up, then head off a minute or two later.
But the bike soon settles down to run predictably, making a healthy lunge of torque off the line, which coupled with the five speed gearbox – which is all new – soon gets you chuffing along at 50-60mph in top. It isn’t a fast bike obviously, but the performance is adequate to commute around town, or travel 10-20 miles to work – so long as none of those roads involve motorways.
The top speed of the Bullet 500 is an indicated 75mph, but the bike vibrates badly at this velocity and anything above 65mph is a tough strain on bike and rider. Nope, this is a bike for gentle back lanes riding, visiting older relatives out in the sticks, or a practical `everyday’ bike for a classic bike enthusiast who has three or four restoration projects on the go.
Unlike a W650, or a Hinckley Bonnie 790, this isn’t a retro bike – it’s the real thing – with added modern touches to make it a workhorse, a viable alternative to a CB250. For some, I think that genuine, authentic biking experience will be a welcome antidote to the vague, bland riding experience you get from many modern bikes, even singles. Like a Harley 883, an Enfield lets you know straight away that this is a `real’ motorbike – a living thing.
BACK TO THE FUTURE MCFLY
One of the things that really impressed me about the Bullet Electra was the overall finish of the bike.
It looks great in its royal blue paintwork, the polished bits shone brightly and the alloy engine cases looked solid enough to take a direct hit from a mortar grenade. This thing is built to last.
What’s more, in 250 miles of road testing, it didn’t leak any oil. Not a drop. Now I know this sounds humdrum to owners of Suzuki GS500s, but for someone used to habitually setting an wash basin beneath Brit bike engines, this is indeed big news. Progress.
For this, we have to thank the Austrians, for the Electra X engine and gearbox was overhauled by AVL of Austria, with a little assistance from Cranfield University, after the Indian factory commissioned them to help modernise their classic design to meet noise and emission regs for 2006.
But there’s more; Watsonian Squire, who import the Enfield brand in the UK, also tweaked the test bike, by fitting a replacement exhaust pipe and carb, giving an extra 3 or 4 bhp. Not much perhaps, but every little helps and I was surprised to tour their workshops and see proper, old fashioned metal-bashing manufacturing taking place. Yep, even in 2005, some people actually know how to make things, to improve details here and there. More power to `em I say.
So what we have here is a 25bhp antique road show, with added extras like an excellent, progressive front disc brake, a faultless electric starter, a smoother engine than you might expect and outstanding fuel economy. I logged 82 miles on my way home from Blockley in Gloucestershire, then stopped near Bridgnorth to fill the fuel tank to the brim again, with precisely £4.87p worth of unleaded.
The bike is so light ( just 160kgs dry ) and well balanced that it is very easy to park, flick onto its centre-stand etc. It handles well for an old design, although the tyres fitted are too narrow for any heroic lean angles, especially in wet weather. There’s also a roomy dual seat, ( low seat height too ) which could take a pillion passenger, plus luggage with ease – something many modern commuter bikes fail to accomplish in the real world.
In many ways, the Enfield is a perfect first timers bike, although I don’t think many people would be convinced until they road one. The trouble is, it still looks very much a classic machine and despite its impressive ability on a quiet B road, I think many modern day bikers will be too scared to own something this old fashioned. That’s a shame, because the Electra X is so easy to ride, easy to maintain too.
If you feel ready to travel back through time, Dr Who style, to sample a slice of biking heritage which is fun, practical and handsome, then the Enfield Bullet really is a better choice than spending thousands on a restored bike – assuming you want to actually ride any distance, which most classic motorcyclists don’t do that often.
The Electra X also attracts attention like no modern day Honda 500 ever could – everyone over 40 wants to ask you where you bought it, how much is it, did you fit the disc brake yourself etc
So for just £3495 on the road you get authentic classic motorcycling – but without the hassles of spares location, oil leaks or monthly rebuilds. You’re also unlikely to lose 50% of the value of the bike in depreciation in just 12-18 months, as an orderly queue will probably form when you choose to sell it on.
Get Royal Enfield motorbike insurance for the Bullet 500 Electra X.
|Engine||Single cylinder, four stroke, 499cc, air cooled.|
|Bore and stroke||84mm X 90mm|
|Peak Power||25bhp @ 5500rpm|
|Frame||Single loop cradle type.|
|Suspension||Telescopic forks, twin rear shocks.|
|Braking||280mm front disc, 6 inch diameter rear drum.|
|Estimated top speed||75mph|
|Estimated fuel consumption||75mpg average|
|Equipment||Tool kit, mirrors, kick starter, grab rail|
|Accessories||Right foot gear change, sports exhaust, bigger carb kit|
|RRP||£3495 OTR March 2005.|