Exploring the mood and spirit that's been designed into every Royal Enfield engine for the past century.
The retro-themed Classic 500 (above) and Continental GT (below) are both powered by long-stroke, single-cylinder engines that produce the iconic beat that Royal Enfield has produced for 100 years, and counting. Photos courtesy Royal Enfield.
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Anybody familiar with Royal Enfield’s single-cylinder, unit-construction engine knows what the “beat” means. It refers to the mood and spirit that’s been engineered into every Royal Enfield engine for more than 100 years and counting.
As one Royal Enfield spokesman stated in 2009 when the all-new 500cc unit-construction engine first appeared: “We had to retain ‘the beat,’ which is the distinct and time-honored sound of a long-stroke, single-cylinder, British motorcycle.”
In truth, today’s Royal Enfields are not British bikes; they’re motorcycles designed and built exclusively in India. It was in 1955 that Royal Enfield, a British bike company originally formed in 1901, first shipped its tooling to the coastal city of Chennai, India, so that bikes could be built there for the Indian army. But by 1970 the original Royal Enfield motorcycle company in England went out of business. A short time later the India-based Royal Enfield motorcycle company was formed, making it India’s oldest motorcycle brand. And things have continued rolling at a respectable pace for Royal Enfield ever since, leading to bikes like the 2009 Bullet and more recently the Continental GT, a café racer designed in concert with Harris Performance in England that looks as if it rolled right out of 1965. Today there are more than a million Royal Enfield motorcycles on the road in more than 40 countries including the U.S.
Indeed, the 2009 Bullet helped pave the way for today’s burgeoning retro-style motorcycle market, bikes boasting classic lines mixed with the modern technology that people expect in their new cars and motorcycles. The blend of Royal Enfield’s classic styling and cutting-edge technology offers another value that many of the more mechanically complex motorcycles today cannot give their owners, and that’s the option to perform routine maintenance on their bikes. Even though Royal Enfield boasts a strong North America dealer and parts network for servicing and maintaining owners’ bikes, the Bullet/Continental GT platform also allows for easy DIY routine maintenance, something that many retro-style bike owners prefer to do.
Accessing the single-cylinder engine is easy for changing oil, air filter and spark plug, or for performing slightly more complex tasks such as adjusting the cylinder head valves. Drive-chain adjusters and tire valve stems are within easy reach of a wrench and air pressure gauge, too. Simplicity and nostalgia are even found in the bike’s starting system; a gentle push on the handlebar button prompts the electric starter motor to spin the engine, even though the rider retains the option of using the time-honored kickstart lever that’s located on the bike’s right side to get going.
And once that engine fires to life and you hear the “beat,” simply click the 5-speed transmission into gear, gently feed the electronic fuel injection some throttle, and confidently motor away. The ride down any road or country lane transports you to another time, when life in America was perhaps a little simpler and the pace more sedate than today. The ride truly becomes the destination, and the view enjoyed from the saddle of any Royal Enfield is sure to put a smile on your face in no time flat.
But make no mistake, retro-style motorcycles such as the Bullet or Continental GT — and the soon-to-be available Himalayan, an all-new 410cc single for the adventure touring crowd — aren’t necessarily intended to win races. Instead, their mission is to win your heart. And they do that quite readily, thanks to the “beat.” It’s all part of Royal Enfield’s retro-based package. MC