Royal Enfield and the Indian Connection
The Royal Enfield motorcycle is a page from history. It is an English motorcycle that unfortunately had to shut shop in 1970.That was the period when most British bike companies came under intense pressure from cheaper and more efficient Japanese Bikes. Against the likes of Honda, Suzuki and Yamaha the Royal Enfield Company just folded up.
Royal Enfield first started bike production in 1898. The company continued making good bikes for many years. Among the models produced were the Bullet, the 250 cc Hornet and the 500cc Fury. Actually the UK Company was sold in 1962.But the new owners also floundered and the gates were shut on the Enfield as far as England was concerned.
In the fifties the Indian government carried out a survey for motorcycles to patrol the border with the newly created state of Pakistan. The choice was the bullet a 350cc bike made in England by the Royal Enfield Company. 850 bullets found their way into India. The bikes were quite successful and it was thought to assemble the Bullet in India. Subsequently an agreement was signed with the parent company and the bike production started in India at Chennai.
The machine made under license was the 350cc bullet. This had a BHP of 18 and gave an average of 10miles to a liter of gasoline. The Army, navy and Air force soon found the bike a success and put it for use for Police duties, Dispatch rider duties and more important for escort and out riding duties on ceremonial occasions for the President and Vice President of India s well as the service chiefs.
The main market for the Bullet was the government. But Enfield India also began marketing the bike for civil use in India. They also launched a smaller 175cc version called the Sherpa which unfortunately failed in the market. A slightly improved version of the Sherpa the Crusader a 175cc bike with a telescopic fork was also launched in early seventies. But this bike also fell by the wayside.
Enfield India in a bid to match the competition of the Japanese bikes set up collaboration with Zundapp of Germany. A manufacturing plant was set up at Ranipet, a place close to Chennai. A series of light weight bikes like the 50 cc Silver Plus, Explorer motorcycle and the Fury 175 were launched. Though the bikes were good technically yet they failed to fire the markets and production was soon discontinued. In 1994 Eicher took over Enfield India. In 1995 the trade mark Royal Enfield was adapted by the Indian company which now became the inheritor of the Royal Enfield Brand. The India Company still makes the same original Bullets as they were in 1955.Due to pressure from the Japanese bike manufacturers Royal Enfield has brought out the 500 cc bullets and a more streamlined option the Thunderbird. This has a self start option as well. It is classified as a cruiser bike.
The Bullet as made in India has acquired a reputation for reliability. Though the pickup is a little poor the bike more than anything makes up for its stability. For Indian roads which are generally below par the bullet can hold its own against any bike. You can hit a pot hole at 70km an hour and the bike will be none the worse for it.
Royal Enfield bullets made in India have carried on the legacy of the original Royal Enfield Company. Lately this bike is getting exported to the UK as well where there is a small market for these rugged machines. The Japanese bikes are sleeker and faster but a Bullet has charm of its own. We must thank Enfield India that the legacy of the Royal Enfield bullet has been kept alive.