The Royal Enfield Dynasty - First Look

After 54 years, this Indian vestige of the golden era of British motorcycling builds an all-new model.

The Royal Enfield Dynasty - First Look

The Royal Enfield Dynasty - First Look

We had arrived on the other side of the Earth. Not only is India a land far, far away, but it felt a bit like we had traveled through time, too. And it wasn't just the jetlag and 3 a.m. arrival after almost 30 hours of flying. No, the greatest sense of time travel came from visiting the Royal Enfield factory in the coastal city of Chennai, on the Bay of Bengal, where they have been making essentially the same Royal Enfield Bullets since 1955, when the English factory shipped the tooling over so they could build bikes for the Indian army.

Only now, after 54 years, it was time for an all-new model. And it actually looks older! Target year for the new styling was 1951.

As for the mechanicals, much like Harley-Davidson needed its Evolution engine in 1984 to ensure long-term survival of the company, so Royal Enfield needed this new motorcycle with its redesigned, modernized Unit Construction Engine.

And that's what they call it, the UCE. Name for the new model? Well, it's called the Bullet Classic C-5. Apparently, five decades of making the same bike brings a certain conservatism, at least as it regards naming!

All the creativity is built into the machine. The only idea that wasn't new to Royal Enfield was that the virtues and pleasure of riding a (formerly) British Single should carry on.

"We had to retain 'the beat,'" said company CEO R.L. Ravichandran.

The beat is that distinct sound of a long-stroke Single with plenty of flywheel. That engine character is ingrained in the very fiber of Enfield's customers, especially in India. So when designing the new motor, the engineers kept the 90mm stroke, working with an 84mm bore on the 500 (the 350cc versions of the UCE won't be brought to the States). The basic goals for the new engine were increased reliability, ability to cruise all day at 70 mph and extra passing power. Electronic fuel-injection and EPA- and Euro III-compliant emissions (with dual-catalyst exhaust) were also a must, because the new Classic is an export-only machine meant to sell in the U.S., Europe and other markets to help increase sales outside India from 10 percent of current 45,000-unit production to more like 25 percent.

The old engine really was essentially like the 1955 version. Carburetion and ignition had been updated, electric start had been added and a lot of work had been done to increase reliability and reduce oil leaks, etc. But tooling and manufacturing methods were quite old, and holding the kinds of tolerances that lead to trouble-free long-term running were problematic. Not to mention that the fundamental design could only be updated so much. The final nail in the old Bullet's coffin was that getting it to meet forthcoming emissions regulations both in India and the rest of the world would have been next to impossible.

Helping break Enfield out of its old mold is Ravichandran, a former executive with India's TVS/Suzuki and Bajaj Motors, in charge of Enfield since 2005. Ravichandran was brought in by Siddartha Lal, whose family truck-manufacturing business, Eicher Motors, bought Enfield in 1991. Lal was a long-time rider and Enfield enthusiast, and had convinced the board after acquisition to give him a shot at reorganizing the company. It was a harder job than he thought, but Enfield started making strides in both quality and sales numbers. He was drafted to work at parent-company Eicher (recently allied with Volvo's truck division) but knew that Enfield needed a future beyond the old non-unit engine. He convinced Ravichandran—"I worked on him for two years!" said Lal—to oversee the next phase in Enfield's evolution.

For the first time ever, the company set up its own in-house design group and also sought extensive European consulting both for engine and chassis design, and for testing.

This bike is the result. Some of the challenges have been finding Indian suppliers who could work to the new quality-control standards. But the influx of Japanese motorcycle companies in the 1980s that decimated domestic Indian makers also has elevated manufacturing and quality standards, making this new Enfield possible. Also, key people beyond Ravichandran have been trained by working for Japanese companies, including one of his former and now current associates, head of Quality Assurance, Dr. K.P. Nair. They have quantified everything and used extensive computer modeling in an effort to produce a fully reliable, modern interpretation of a 1950s-era classic British Single.

At the core, the engine cases are now pressure die cast, leading to a much finer, stronger structure and vastly improved exterior finish over the old gravity-cast version. The iron-lined cylinder is alloy and the head uses modern, wedge-style combustion-chamber design with lots of squish, derived from the last "lean-burn" update of the previous non-unit Enfield engine. An interesting note about the external design: "We could have removed at least 2.5 pounds from the cylinder head weight based on our structural and thermal analyses," said head of product development R. Anbuselvan. "But the extra material was retained for style!"

Oil flow was drastically increased on this wet-sump design, while hydraulic lifters for the pushrods were sourced from the U.S. (looking a lot like H-D parts) so valve adjustments aren't necessary. An automatic decompression system is used to relieve load on the electric starter motor when firing up. Kickstarting was deleted from the list because Enfield found most of its customers weren't using it when it was fitted on past models that also featured e-start.One of the more important improvements is that of electronic fuel-injection. This is provided by Keihin, with all the electronics hidden in the left toolbox. Because of the long history of Enfields conquering the Indian Himalayas, testing included riding up to 18,380 feet on one of the highest navigable roads in the world, which is some dang high-altitude EFI mapping!

In styling terms, it was a big challenge to fit the injection system to the bike. "We couldn't have suppliers design components just for our bike because of cost, so we had to use off-the-shelf parts, and it is very hard to fit them into a classic design," said S. Sivakumar, head of Enfield's in-house design group established in 2006 for this very motorcycle. "We can't use covers over things very much because of the character of the bike, so we needed to hide the components as much as possible to keep from disturbing the visual harmony of the motorcycle." The only truly jarring element of modernity is the oxygen sensor that juts out from the header pipe.

Other efforts to keep the bike in the projected styling era were the sprung saddle (with special bushings for smoothness of action and isolation of vibration), the black-painted alloy cylinder, meant to look like the cast-iron jugs prevalent in the 1950s, and even the spray-painted frame.

"Powdercoating is much more common and less expensive than painting," admitted Sivakumar, "but we felt that color-matching the frame paint to the fuel tank and fenders was very important. Even the seat covering we used and how it is stitched was chosen for its era-correct texture and finish, based on the manufacturing and material limitations of the time. If we didn't replicate the old finishes and material types, the level of 'Wowness' wouldn't have been achieved and it just won't have the same impact."

About the only piece that mars the overall visual is the very long, straight, catalyst-equipped stock silencer—which is why our testbike was fitted with the shorty, upswept "off-road-use-only" accessory pipe.

Strangely, my first ride on the new Classic came at a racetrack, the 2.3-mile Madras Motor Sports Club circuit in the Irungattukottai area. It was chosen because Enfield uses it as a test facility, and our hosts thought it would be a better place to get an idea of the bike's winding-road character than the mostly straight public roads on the flat coastal plain where the factory is located. Plus, there was no traffic. Well, no traffic except for the pigs! Yep, about 10 oinkers crossed the track together at various times during the day.

And, I kid you not, as I entered top-gear Turn 1 late in my morning session, two local dudes in traditional Indian dress were washing their clothes with buckets on the concrete outside curbing!

It really wasn't much of a safety issue, to be honest, because I was only running about 70–75 mph, and cornering clearance ran out before traction ever would have. The track was resurfaced in 2007 but remains quite bumpy, so I got a good idea of damping character and steering feel. Trail is a very short 3.2 inches, coupled with a rake of 27 degrees. As a result, steering is very light, with a little more twitch than you might expect from this type of motorcycle. At parking-lot speeds, minimal bar input and care with your actions give the best results. In the 20–50-mph range—prime cow-dodging velocity—the Bullet is light and agile-feeling. Above 50 mph and when you are cornering hard, the bars can shimmy slightly, but in its intended mode of use, this bike handles well.

Ride quality is surprisingly good, too. The gas-charged dual shocks and conventional, damper-rod fork are set up on the soft side for compliance, and even out on some of the bad public roads we encountered, the Bullet remained quite comfortable. I suppose the sprung saddle didn't hurt, either.

And what an experience riding on public roads in India was! Chennai is one of the most densely populated cities in the world. Traffic is insane, beautiful and terrible all at the same time. It is beautiful because somehow it all works and driver awareness is actually very high. So vehicles flow, even though the only lane markings that are observed are the ones that separate the opposing sides of the road, and the only reason those work is because in Chennai they are usually walls!

"The horn is a wear item," said Enfield's American importer, Kevin Mahoney, and after a few minutes in traffic, you understand that he isn't joking. The horn is its own language, with a meaning I can't pretend to fully understand. Except that there is no aggression in traffic, no rage, just a fluid dynamic of variously sized vehicles constantly jockeying for position and right-of-way. There was one moment on the car ride to the factory when I quite literally could have reached out and touched the nose of the auto-rickshaw driver next to us. Later, as I was waiting at one of the few heeded red lights (stopping is usually optional) on our day ride into the countryside, the very edge of my boot was run over by another motorcyclist riding one of the prolific sub-150cc single-cylinder motorcycles used for goods and family transport. Three people on one of these small bikes was so common as to become mundane, but the family of five riding past was truly impressive.

"This is how India moves," said Ravichandran, adding that Enfield's 350cc Singles are really "aspirational" machines in the home market. More than one person associated with the factory called Enfield the Harley-Davidson of India, and once you have seen the market, the people and the dealerships—with standardized colors and design scheme—it is hard to argue.

It is also hard to argue with the new bike. Clearly, one 150-mile ride is not the definitive test of the C-5. But the bike operated with no fundamental running issues and really felt like a motorcycle you could use every day. That is to say, the previous non-unit model was an interesting novelty, a second or third bike with a unique flavor, whereas this new one feels as though you could operate it as real transportation and for worry-free pleasure riding.

According to the factory, power is up 20 percent over the previous version, and torque between 3500–4500 rpm is boosted considerably. Stated output is 27.2 horsepower at 5250 rpm and 30 foot-pounds of torque at 4000 revs. Claimed top speed is 82 mph. Fueling was flawless, with easy starting and excellent throttle response. Idle was consistent, there were no detonation issues (even with the relatively high 8.5:1 compression ratio) and the bike just ran. I never worried, even in the hectic Indian traffic, about what the engine was going to do. It just responded as expected, smoothly and predictably. The single front disc brake and drum rear worked quite well, too. At a 65-mph cruising speed in the top of five slick-shifting gears, the vibration level through the bars and pegs was very low, although it was present enough to blur the view in the mirrors. Clutch action was light and consistent.

This all was a huge departure from the 1999 model I rode nearly a decade ago ("Bullet Slow," September, 1999), which vibrated quite a lot, had a four-speed transmission with horrendous shift quality, and disappointing drum brakes. That was truly a vintage bike, whereas the new Bullet Classic is a modern retro-bike along the lines of Kawasaki's W650 or Triumph's Bonneville.

There are still items the company is working on to improve and elevate manufacturing and quality-control processes to higher levels. But, especially considering the $6395 asking price, this bike is a legitimate, albeit niche, alternative.

And this, according to Lal, is just the beginning.

"We have low-cost manufacturing," he said. "We have a heritage you cannot buy off the shelf. We have a name you cannot buy off the shelf. And our cash reserves are good. The Classic is just our first product designed for international markets. Over the next 15–20 years, you'll see more specific bikes for the U.S. and Europe, and other bikes for India."

For now, we have a new Royal Enfield, both more classic and more modern than ever before. Hey, after 54 years, it was time...

2009 Royal Enfield Bullet Classic C-5

2009 Royal Enfield Bullet Classic C-5

2009 Royal Enfield Bullet Classic C-5

2009 Royal Enfield Bullet Classic C-5

2009 Royal Enfield Bullet Classic C-5

2009 Royal Enfield Bullet Classic C-5

Family of five.

2009 Royal Enfield Bullet Classic C-5

2009 Royal Enfield Bullet Classic C-5

2009 Royal Enfield Bullet Classic C-5

The Royal Enfield Factory

The Royal Enfield Factory

2009 Royal Enfield Bullet Classic C-5

2009 Royal Enfield Bullet Classic C-5

The Royal Enfield Factory

2009 Royal Enfield Bullet Classic C-5

The Royal Enfield Factory

The Royal Enfield Factory

2009 Royal Enfield Bullet Classic C-5

2009 Royal Enfield Bullet Classic C-5

2009 Royal Enfield Bullet Classic C-5

2009 Royal Enfield Bullet Classic C-5

2009 Royal Enfield Bullet Classic C-5

2009 Royal Enfield Bullet Classic C-5

2009 Royal Enfield Bullet Classic C-5

2009 Royal Enfield Bullet Classic C-5

2009 Royal Enfield Bullet Classic C-5

2009 Royal Enfield Bullet Classic C-5

2009 Royal Enfield Bullet Classic C-5

2009 Royal Enfield Bullet Classic C-5

2009 Royal Enfield Bullet Classic C-5

2009 Royal Enfield Bullet Classic C-5

2009 Royal Enfield Bullet Classic C-5

2009 Royal Enfield Bullet Classic C-5