Royal Enfield, from the Bullet to the Himalayan, the making of a legend

It’s 40 years since the last Royal Enfield motorcycle rolled off the production line in Redditch, Worcestershire, but interest in these iconic machines from the heyday of British biking is greater today than ever before.

Everyone with an interest in classic British motorbikes it seems, wants to find a Royal Enfield for sale at the right price to add it to their collection.

While the Royal Enfield Bullet remains the holy grail for collectors, flash the highly polished tailpipe of a Royal Enfield Interceptor or Crusader, and pulses will be set racing just as fast.

But what is it about the Royal Enfield, and the Bullet in particular, that classic bike enthusiasts adore?

Well, for a start, RE motorcycles look like handmade classics, even though the newer Royal Enfield machines – the ones built post 1978 – are based on their illustrious predecessors but manufactured in India using the latest factory methods.

Royal Enfield

10 feats that fashioned a legend

    1. The classic growl of the Royal Enfield engine is the stuff of dreams, music to the ears, a symphony of seething power.
    2. Royal Enfield is one of the world’s oldest motorcycle manufacturers, the first having been built way back in 1901.
    3. In the early 1900s the Royal Enfield company was famed for making lawn mowers and rifles.
    4. The original Royal Enfield logo, which gave its name to the company’s most iconic model, featured a cannon and the tagline “Made like a gun, goes like a bullet”.
    5. Royal Enfield was the preferred manufacturer of motorbikes for the Russian military, the British Army in World Wars I & II, and the Indian army and police force.
    6. The Royal Enfield sidecar was developed during WWI to carry a machine gun.
    7. In WWII the company developed a 125cc two-stroke bike of just 60kgs called the Flying Flea which could be parachuted with personnel behind enemy lines.
    8. In 1955 Enfield partnered with Madras Motors in India to form Enfield of India which started assembling the 350cc Royal Enfield Bullet. The first machines were assembled from components imported from England. By 1962 components were fabricated in India too.
    9. In 1978 Royal Enfield production ceased in Redditch and in 1984 Enfield India began exporting the Bullet back to the UK.
    10. In 2015 Royal Enfield overtook Harley-Davidson in terms of gross global sales.

Royal Enfield

But don’t take our word for it, what do the owners think?

Case study 1:

Chris Cobbold and his Royal Enfield 250 Crusader Sports

Royal Enfield
Pictures of Chris Cobbold and his Royal Enfield by Simon Finlay

Chris Cobbold, 77,  from Ipswich bought his Royal Enfield new in 1959 for £212. He has owned many other bikes since then, but the Royal Enfield still sits proudly in his garage, after clocking more than 150,000 miles and having no less than four major engine rebuilds.

The 250cc Crusader Sports was perfect for Chris: “I’m a very small chap, only 5ft 2in, and it’s a jolly good little bike for people like me – it was very easy to handle physically.

“Everything about it just fitted me. I could, and did, ride many big bikes, it was just a bit more of a challenge. That’s why I kept it – I liked it and it just suited me.”

Chris built his own first bike in the era of austerity from assorted pre-war parts at the age of 16.

“Motorcycling was in the blood – my grandfather and father were always that way inclined,” he explains.

Before Chris found his perfect bike in the Royal Enfield, he owned, among others, a Vincent 1000, a Tandon 125cc and a brand new Ariel Square Four.

The Crusader was one of Royal Enfield’s biggest-selling bikes during the 1950s and 60s, and the hot Sports model – capable of 80mph – featured downswept handlebars, a tuned engine with hotter cams, a larger inlet valve in an aluminium cylinder head, and higher compression.

Chris told the Bikesure Forever Bikes blog: “Royal Enfield was a good company with a good reputation. They were the first people to make the 700cc vertical twin, regarded as the first superbike.”

Royal Enfield

The basic price or his Crusader was £205, about £4,400 in today’s money, and Chris paid an extra £7 for an enclosed chain case and an air filter.

“My first trip on the Enfield was to Switzerland. I went with a friend who had an Ariel Leader. My father was based there for part of the war, he knew all about that part of the world and it’s probably one of the reasons we went there,” he says.

A series of motorcycles followed, including a Triumph 350cc, a Yamaha 1200, a Kawasaki 600, a brand new Honda 750, and two further Hondas, a CBX500 and a CBR400, but none of them lasted the distance and had the same hold on his emotions as the Enfield.

Chris still loves biking: “For me it’s always been about the enjoyment of the road. I don’t need to do 100mph to enjoy it – I’m happy doing 50 or 60mph,” he says.

Chris has always done his own maintenance, including the four major engine rebuilds that have kept the bike running sweetly for almost 60 years.

“It’s very easy to get parts – Hitchcocks in Birmingham have everything,” he says. “It’s actually easier than getting parts for a lot of the Japanese bikes. My bike came out before they changed the valve gear to make it better, but I can still get parts for the pre 59.”

Chris has always kept it taxed and insured and its still running sweetly. Why did he keep the Royal Enfield? “I kept it because I’ve always liked it – I’ve never really thought about or tried to sell it. I had nothing to lose – what’s the £200 it cost me?”

Case study 2:

Paul Stewart and his Royal Enfield 500cc EFI Bullet Classic

Royal Enfield

Paul Stewart, 66, from Hemel Hempstead has a pretty impressive biking CV having started riding in 1968. In the 50 years since, Paul has owned no less than 27 motorbikes – the list reads like a who’s who from the world of classic bikes.

His first was a Royal Enfield 250cc Crusader Sports. Since then, and in no particular order, he has owned and ridden on a daily basis:

  • 1 x Triumph Thunderbird
  • 2 x Triumph Bonneville – America + T110
  • 2 x Triumph Rocket III – 2.3 ltr cc
  • 3 x Harley Davidson – 1600cc Dyna Super Glide – 1200cc Sportster sport – 1600cc Street Glide
  • 3 x Kawasaki – VN 800cc – GPZ 650cc – W650
  • 2 x Ducati – Monster
  • 3 x BMW – GS – R850cc – F 800cc
  • 2 x BSA Bantam – 150cc – 175cc
  • 1 x Matchless – 250cc
  • 1 x Triton 650cc (Café racer)
  • 3 x Yamaha – R1 998cc – YBR 125cc – Diversion 600cc
  • 2 x Honda – Super Dream 250cc – CB 500cc

And Paul, has finished back where he began, having bought a brand new Royal Enfield 500cc EFI Bullet Classic in Battle Green for £4,500 in 2014.

What made him settle on a Royal Enfield? “That’s the question everyone asks!” he mused.

“It’s a question that is especially perplexing when one considers that over the years I’ve owned and ridden some of the most sophisticated and capable bikes ever manufactured.

“At a conservative estimate, I have ridden 250,000 miles, commuting to work, touring for pleasure, in the UK and overseas, on and off-road, in all weather conditions – wind, rain, sunshine, the great freeze, blistering heat, humidity, even monsoon!

“I have no simple answer, other than to say that at this moment in time it just feels right to own and ride this truly classic motorcycle.”

Royal Enfield

And why this Bullet model?

“After working for many years as a motorcycle instructor and with the looming realisation that I was fast approaching retirement age, I made a decision to purchase what may well turn out to be my last daily-use motorcycle.

“I wanted a machine with old world character but suitable for all year round daily-use. I wanted a machine that would demonstrate the true heart of what motorcycling is all about.

“But it also needed to be one that took into account my modest funds, current riding skills and foreseeable physical capabilities.”

He considered heritage, reliability, manageable weight, low tech maintenance, presence on the road, low running costs and machine safety.

When Paul inspected the Royal Enfield Bullet and assessed its qualities and “honest value for money”, it was very quickly a done deal.  In the four years he has owned it he has chalked up almost 8,500 miles of blissful biking.

The bike is still factory spec, though he has replaced the pilot/parking bulbs with LED and the headlamp bulb with a high luminosity Philips City-Vision H4 bulb.

Peter has attended countless bike shows and rallies and though he has never showed the Bullet it always creates a stir. “Whenever I park the bike up, be it a show, event or simply local shopping, it gets attention, kind words of admiration and is photographed.

The one problem with the Royal Enfield? Without a doubt, the engine vibration.

“Travelling at speeds of between 40 and 50mph keeps vibrations down to a minimum but speaking quite honestly, after 40 minutes of riding everything gets a bit much. Ride any longer and it could truly ruin a perfectly good relationship between bike and rider.

“But don’t misunderstand me, the Royal Enfield really is something very special and of all the bikes that I’ve ever owned, this is the one that has meant the most to me.

“If I had any sense I would get myself another make of manageable bike, one that offers more in terms of comfort but guess what. Somehow I just can’t bring myself to part with this nostalgic classic Royal Enfield.”

Royal Enfield

Bikesure’s fab four Royal Enfield motorbikes

Royal Enfield Bullet 500cc

Styled in the image of its 1955 namesake, Royal Enfield’s latest 500cc Bullet offers bikers a classic motorcycling experience.

Steel mudguards, hand-painted gold coach-lines, and winged Royal Enfield badges could lead you to mistake the brand new Bullet for a restored model from the 1950’s.

Brakes, suspension and electrics have all been updated; the 280mm front disc brake provides reliable stopping power, gas filled rear shock absorbers give a smoother ride and the 12-volt battery powers the halogen headlight, indicators and starter motor.

The Bullet 500 even gives owners a choice of both kick and electric starting.

Royal Enfield Classic 500cc

Harking back to the G2 Bullet of the early 1950’s, Royal Enfield’s newest model retains the British style associated with the world’s oldest motorcycle manufacturer.

With its highly polished and detailed engine cases, 18” wheels and two-tone livery, the Bullet Classic exudes authentic charm and the exhaust note won’t disappoint either. Solo saddle with pillion seat are now supplied as standard.

The Royal Enfield Classic range now includes Classic, Classic Chrome, Battle Green, Desert Storm and Squadron Blue, Despatch Stealth and Pegasus.

Royal Enfield Continental GT 535cc

The Continental GT is currently the fastest, lightest, most powerful Royal Enfield in production – a first Cafe Racer for 60 years.

Powered by a 29.1HP 535 4-stroke single, the Royal Enfield Continental GT comes with 5-speed manual gearbox. Keihin electric fuel injection, electric starting, digital electronic ignition and dual gas-charged rear shocks for a fast both silky smooth ride.

Royal Enfield Himalayan 410cc

Quite simply Royal Enfield’s most versatile motorcycle, able to take riders almost anywhere they want to go – on road or off road – in comfort and confidence.

An adventure tourer built for purpose, with long-travel suspension, natural upright riding position and durable and torquey engine. It promises (and delivers) a comfortable and responsive ride whether you are on the urban cycle, the motorway or on remote country roads.

It looks pretty good too!

Royal Enfield

Classic motorcycles deserve classic protection

If you own a classic motorbike like the Royal Enfield Bullet you will be in need of a classic motorcycle insurance policy to give you absolute peace of mind.

Bikesure insurance experts understand your needs as the owner of a classic motorcycle, and our classic motorbike insurance is designed from the outset with you in mind.

And because we have access to many quality, but cheap classic motorbike insurance schemes, we can find you the perfect policy at the ideal price.

Bikesure’s best quotes are always available over the phone. Dial 0330 123 1028 or 0800 369 8580 (free from a landline) for our best deals.

You May Also Like …

Classic motorcycles for sale in mint condition and at a bargain price


Most Popular

August 8, 2023