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Bullet: Name, set and match!

2012-04-16 16:47

80 YEARS OF BULLETS: While other brands have shot their bolt, as they say, Royal Enfield is now the world's longest-running brand name.


It’s official: the Royal Enfield Bullet motorcycle has the longest-running of all motorcycle model names - 80 years old and still going strong! Somehow, I felt sure that the Bonneville [Triumph], Gold Star [BSA], Red Hunter [Ariel] or maybe the Gold Wing [Honda] name would have been made for longer – but that’s clearly not the case!

Like so many other great British motorcycle makers, Royal Enfield started out designing and selling their own pedal cycles way more than a century ago. In the case of Enfield, they were based in Redditch in Worcestershire, central England - the ‘Royal’ prefix was only added in 1893 as a result of obtaining contracts from the Royal Small Arms factory in Birmingham.


Not surprising, then, that the slogan of the Royal Enfield company could proudly proclaim: “Made Like A Gun”. Their bikes really were well made and exported all over the world and I can vouch for their toughness and reliability, having owned one back in the UK almost 50 years ago.

Royal Enfield’s core business down the years has always been the manufacture of light motorcycles – the first maroon Bullets seeing the light of day back in 1932 in 250, 350 and 500cc engine sizes.

With the odd foray into manufacturing large capacity machines – strictly for sidecar-hauling – the firm soldiered on with the manufacture of the popular Bullet line until the early 1970's when an order placed by the Indian military for 900 bikes meant the manufacturer was left with little choice but to close down the British operation and rather ship the entire tooling factory to its new home in Madras, India, to complete the order.


The Bullet was usually considered a sports machine – but in truth could only boast a top speed of 120km. However but the bike lent itself perfectly for those who preferred their bikes to be capable off-roaders. What really marked it out as a sure-fire winner was the pivot-fork frame that came as standard.

Swop the cast-iron head for one of the competition alloy jobs with a bigger inlet valve and that’s all you needed to win grass track/trials-competitions that were held up and down the UK… until the Japanese/Spanish invasion of powerful, lightweights came along, that is!

At the 80th birthday celebrations, to be conducted at various marque motorcycle clubs in the UK and at the present factory site in Chennai, India during the summer of 2012 where production of Royal Enfield motorcycles continues to this day. It’s interesting to note that last year more than 70 000 bikes rolled off the manufacturing line in 2011 for export around the globe — Britain taking the bulk of them(!) — most of them being 350 and 500cc Bullets.


Should you be considering Royal Enfield Bullet ownership so that you can enjoy that Sunday morning breakfast run aboard a true British classic bike, or maybe you might want a bike that you can actually still fettle and tinker with without resorting to professional help(!), you might like to get in touch with Garth Brandon-Podd, the man who runs Thruxton Motorcycles.

He can be found at Somerset West Business Park, Cape Town. Prices start from around R43 000. Call 072 761 6531.

Royal Enfield UCE 500cc
Top speed:
135km/h (est)
Tank capacity: 13.5 litres
Seat height: 800mm
Starting: Kick start/electric
Gearbox: Five-speed
Kerb weight: 188kg
Wheelbase: 1370mm
Brakes: (F) disc (R) drum
Final drive: Chain
Prices: From R42 950

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