A better Bullet – Telegraph

28 May 2015 | Author: | Comments Off on A better Bullet – Telegraph
Royal Enfield Bullet Electra X AVL

A better Bullet

The new Royal Enfield Bullet Electra-X is a true classic for the modern rider, says Kevin Ash

It’s not often we get a new engine from Royal Enfield. In fact, the last one made its debut some time during the 1960s, and even that depends on what you’d call new, rather than updated. And it was in 1967 that production of the single-cylinder Bullet was transferred to Madras in India, when Enfield’s Redditch factory decided to cease production of this 1954 machine (itself an update of the first 1949 Bullet).

At first, the idea was to produce spare parts only to keep the Indian army rolling, but complete bikes were soon being built, and production hasn’t stopped since.

Changes to the Bullet have been remarkably few, with the odd cosmetic update here and there and for the 21st century, an optional five-speed, left-side change gearbox (designed in Britain, of course).

But while the Bullet has stood still, so legislation has moved on, and it has been increasingly difficult to get the 350cc and 500cc pushrod engines, with their pre-war roots, through modern emissions regulations: most of the international rules for 2006-2007 would outlaw the Bullet altogether.

So Royal Enfield had little choice but to come up with a new engine design or cease production altogether. It went to AVL, an Austrian engineering consultancy, which produced plans for a contemporary lean-burn replacement, using more or less the same crankcases but with most other parts renewed. A mere 51 years after the original

We rode a prototype of the 350cc lean-burn motor in India three years ago and were impressed, and now the more practical 500cc version has arrived in Europe, mated to the five-speed box and called the Bullet Electra-X (the 350 is not being imported). The 500 also comes with a front disc brake, a slightly modified frame, gas-filled rear dampers and Avon tyres far superior to those fitted to Indian models.

The engine is not as attractive as the original but still has a classic British single mien, and it feels the part, too, which is crucial. It is low-revving with a thumping delivery of its very modest torque and power, but the crucial advantage over the old model (the very old model) is that you can use everything it has to offer all the time.

As you might imagine of a half-century-old British design built enthusiastically, if not very well, in India, one long motorway stretch at 70mph was often enough to finish off a Bullet. The new AVL motor is thoroughly modern inside and is even designed to be built in typical Indian factory conditions, which means you can wind the throttle to the stop and hold it there without expecting to see a piston flying past the fuel tank.

This is where romance meets reality. Too many people have forked out rose-tinted cash to buy simple, solid Bullets as dependable everyday transport, only to find that, even after their high maintenance demands have been met (some of which have to be carried out on the move, it seems), they’re just not up to a modern daily commute. They might be priced like a scooter but they’re not a realistic alternative.

However, the Bullet Electra-X is up to the job, according to the importer, Watsonian-Squire. It’s no longer a true 1950s bike, but it’s far, far closer than you’ll get with any other modern retro model, both visually and in the way it rides.

The entire chassis, after all, is near-identical to the first Bullet, obvious disc brake aside, and while the motor is smoother, slightly more powerful, much more reliable and even more absurdly economical (90mpg is a normal fuel-consumption figure, much better than most scooters), it feels very close to the model it replaces in every other respect.

You still have to put up with a build quality that is well short of true modern motorcycles but, then again, parts are very cheap and it’s now more likely to keep going.

Royal Enfield Bullet Electra X AVL

If you really must have an original Bullet, production will continue for another two years. But if you want to use it regularly, the Electra-X gives you the best of old and new worlds.

Royal Enfield Bullet Electra-X [tech/spec]

Price/availability: from £3,495 on the road. On sale now; contact Watsonian-Squire, tel 01386 700907, www.royal-enfield.com .

Engine/transmission: 499cc, single-cylinder four-stroke with two valves; 25bhp at 5,500rpm, 20lb ft of torque at 3000rpm. Five-speed gearbox, chain final drive.

Performance: top speed (est) 75mph, average fuel consumption 85mpg.

We like: Engine feel, economy, originality.

We don’t like: New engine style, build quality.

Alternatives: Harley-Davidson Sportster 883, £5,195. Kawasaki W650, £5,145. Triumph Bonneville T100, £5,649

Royal Enfield Bullet Electra X AVL
Royal Enfield Bullet Electra X AVL

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