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Wednesday, April 27, 2011


Amongst my many motorcycles, I owned a succession of three Royal Enfield “Bullets” back in the ‘60s. An underrated motorcycle, they were never as popular as BSA, Velocette and Norton amongst single cylinder machine riders. Here is my 1956 version, suitably posed, in 1963.

Some history is now needed. The first Royal Enfield motorcycle was made in 1901 and over the years the company was responsible for many innovations in the motorcycle world – the first to use swinging arm rear springing, for instance. During the 1950’s they received a big order from the Indian Army for their 350cc Bullet model. This led the company to help India set up its own Royal Enfield factory in Madras (now Chennai). Morris cars did similarly and now versions of their old 1956 “Oxford” model form the bulk of Indian taxis.

The British motorcycle industry withered and finally died in the late ‘60s/early ‘70s, Royal Enfield included. But its “child” matured, prospered and continued to flourish in India. There will always be those amongst us that enjoy traditional, simple, solid motorcycles and, with almost poetic assonance, the Indian child began exporting its machines back to Britain in the ‘80s. They still do so and we are their best export market. Thus Royal Enfield can claim to have the longest continuous production run of any motorcycle in the world.

Which brings me to the reason for this posting. I remember with affection those Royal Enfields I owned over 50 years ago. I have often hankered to own another. I could have bought an original to recondition, but age and a prostate operation have led to a drawback – no electric starters in those days and kick-starting a 500cc single cylinder is only for the young and active! But, praise be, India has now equipped their time-warp machines with electric starters. A chance trawl in eBay brought up a 2005 model so equipped. I succumbed and won the auction for it.

My 48th motorcycle, it now shares the garage with the BMW and the Honda scooter. By no means a motorway rocket, it is happiest thumping along between 50 and 60 miles per hour, but returns an incredible 85 miles to each gallon of petrol. In this manner one enters an earlier motoring world - delightful, serene and relaxed. Almost without exception, whenever I park it I am engaged in conversation; “I had one of those when young”, “Is it original?” etc.

There is something about the exhaust beat of a “big single”. Akin to the chug – chug – chug of a traditional canal barge, it is deeply relaxing and pleasurable. Some have said that this is the result of spending 9 months nestling in the womb under a mother’s steady heartbeat.

Here is a picture of the beast  (It has been re-registered with a 1963 number plate - the year I first owned a Royal Enfield) There is not a lot of superficial difference between it and the1956 version above, but it has an ELECTRIC STARTER!

(click either photo to enlarge)

Wednesday, April 06, 2011


Spring, with the cuckoo-sob deep in his throat,
O’er all the land his thrilling whispers float,
Old earth believes his ancient lies once more,
And runs to meet him in a golden coat.

(origin of verse, anyone?)