Riding the 2005 Royal Enfield Bullet

Test riding the new Royal Enfield Bullet proves time-travel is possible

Royal treat: Motorcycle Classics' 2005 Royal Enfield Bullet test bike

Royal treat: Motorcycle Classics' 2005 Royal Enfield Bullet test bike.

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In late July, Motorcycle Classics took delivery of a 2005 Royal Enfield Bullet for a six-month test. The bike was provided by Minnesota-based Classic Motorworks, the United States distributor for Royal Enfield, and was set up by Vespa Kansas City. Here’s an update on our staff’s long-term test.

Richard Backus, editor-in-chief: Whoever says you can’t go back in time hasn’t ridden a new Royal Enfield. Slow, quirky, and displaying some questionable quality issues, the Enfield Bullet is nevertheless a gas to ride, and an instant reminder of just how far bikes have come since the Fifties.

True, this bike does have an electric starter and a five-speed transmission, features unheard of when the Madras factory in India first started churning out Bullets in 1955, but other than that it’s an absolute time capsule. From its lavish use of chrome (at least on our Deluxe model) to its rich, deep-red paint, our Bullet looks every bit the proper British single-cylinder. Which makes sense, of course, given the original Bullet was designed, manufactured and sold in England in 1949.

In spite of its relative lack of power (or maybe because of it), riding the Bullet is a blast. It’s light, agile and easy to handle, and other riders can’t help but notice it, unsure if it’s a super-clean resto or perfect original classic. Riding down Main Street in Sturgis, S.D., at this year’s Blackhills rally, the Bullet elicited more smiles and thumbs up than the thousands of hogs packed around me.

At $4,795 our Deluxe represents affordable transportation, made even more affordable thanks to the 70 miles it returns for every precious gallon of gas we put into its tank.

We haven’t put enough miles on yet to know how our Bullet will stand up over the long term, but so far we’ve experienced a stubborn choke lever, a sticking carburetor float needle and an occasionally sticking throttle grip. Minor annoyances, really, serving only to further my memories of years of riding old British iron, and making the Bullet that much more endearing.

Andrew Perkins, marketing director: It is a fun ride — especially for the classic enthusiast who can appreciate an old-school thumper. I feel more comfortable on it than most other contours — free from extra weight, overly contorted "racing" positions or the vulnerable sense I experience on low-seat cruisers. It is very useful as a get-around bike and buddy-maker — stopping at the local C-store to check tire pressure enticed a gallery of intrigued Slurpee sippers.

Performance-wise, I’m slightly anxious at speeds above 50mph when compared with multi-cylinder counterparts (new and old). And with no fairing, it gets a wee windy.

So far, the only problem I'll account for is the stuck choke that caused some carb flooding. And the weak vent hoses off the carb seem puny and haphazardly tucked behind the air-filter compartment, awaiting unwanted mid-ride detachment. The shifting is also far from smooth — clunky at best and with widely spaced gearing, making frequent down shifting "part of the fun." So far no real tinkering, but the public response is that it can be a tinkerer.

Ric Anderson, associate editor: The cold, hard truth about our loaner is that I suspect the bored-out Yamaha YZ80 I started riding at age 11 might have been able to run with it — if not ahead of it — through the first three gears.

But so what? If you want to peel your eyelids back, go buy a GSXR. If you want a rolling conversation piece that also happens to be an affordable around-town bike, get a Bullet.

In Sturgis, the thing triggered more smiles and wide eyes than a Lionel set on Christmas morning. It turned plenty of heads on Main Street (except when competing with chicks in painted-on shirts, of course) and did it at a fraction of the cost of most of the bikes around it.

Does the Royal Enfield do anything particularly well? If you’re talking about modern standards for acceleration, braking and handling, the answer is not particularly. If you’re talking about making you and the people around you feel good, the answer is hell, yeah. The easygoing Enfield’s charm makes it exhilarating. Reliability issues and all, I have a feeling I’ll be sorry when it has to go back to the dealer.

Details

What: Motorcycle Classics' 2005 Royal Enfield Bullet test bike.
Who: Classic Motorworks1220B Fourth St. NWFairbuilt, MN 55021; www.enfieldmotorcycles.com