The Royal Enfield Bullet Classic C5 – SFGate

7 Feb 2015 | Author: | Comments Off on The Royal Enfield Bullet Classic C5 – SFGate

The Royal Enfield Bullet Classic C5

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Amid all the buzz over vehicles coming out of India, here is one model you may have missed: the Royal Enfield Bullet Classic C5.

In some circles, this introduction is bigger news than the debut of the Tata Nano; if the past is any guide, the next all-new Royal Enfield Bullet won’t arrive for another half century. While a list of motorcycle brands predating Royal Enfield is short – Harley-Davidson, Triumph and a handful of others qualify – the tally of bike models that have lasted 54 years is pretty much limited to the Royal Enfield Bullet.

The Bullet Classic C5 (not to be confused with the Bullet Classic, a much older design, or the Bullet Classic G5, a model that uses the newest engine in an older chassis) went on sale in Europe late last year. The first production bikes destined for the United States began rolling off the assembly line here at the Thiruvottiyur factory, where Bullets have been made for more than 50 years, in mid-February and are expected in showrooms next month.

To say that the C5 is a striking motorcycle or one that looks to have been lifted directly from a motorcycle museum is no overstatement. On a visit to the factory in this coastal city of more than 4 million people (and known as Madras until 1996), it easily stood out from the olive-green military Bullets and chrome-laden domestic-market Electras and Thunderbirds awaiting final inspection and shipment.

The heart of the C5 is its air-cooled 499cc power plant, an all-new design that continues the single-cylinder layout of its predecessors. It retains the trademark cadence of a thumper – the common nickname given to large-displacement 1-cylinder bikes – but now the engine and transmission, formerly separate components, have been integrated to create the Unit Construction Engine.

The UCE, as Royal Enfield calls it, is fuel-injected and designed to be efficient, reliable and environmentally friendly. It will be used on all Royal Enfield export models.

The C5 will cost $6,395, not including a destination charge of about $300, depending on the dealer’s location. It will be offered in black, deep maroon and a retro teal green that is midway between mint and turquoise. The primary color is used on the frame, fenders and side-cover lids; the fuel tank features white panels with a prominent Royal Enfield logo.

Knee pads and hand-painted pinstripes complement the 3.8-gallon tank.

Taking into consideration the dense traffic and left-lane driving protocol around Chennai, my testing of the Bullet C5 was confined to Royal Enfield’s track. Fully fueled, the C5 felt solid at 412 pounds, and 18-inch Avon Speedmaster tires provided good grip. Steering was responsive, but not twitchy.

The bicycle-style sprung solo seat is comfortably large, and a passenger pillion will be available as a dealer option. The instrument panel is Spartan; I found myself wishing for a tachometer.

If the randomly picked test machine was any indication, Royal Enfield got it right with the electronic fuel injection from Keihin, a Japanese maker that supplies many bike companies. The C5 started quickly and the idle was smooth and quiet; transitions between power on and off – a maximum of 27 horsepower, according to the company – were seamless.

The C5 is electric-start only, though other models with the UCE will retain the kick pedal for now. A cable-actuated clutch provides good feel, allowing the 5-speed transmission to shift flawlessly. The front brake is a single 11-inch disc; combined with a rear drum, ample stopping power is on hand for the C5’s achievable speeds.

The claimed top speed of 82 miles an hour will not keep the C5 in the lead dog position for long, even in a pack of 250cc Kawasaki Ninjas. However, a design requirement was for all-day cruising at 70 mph. That’s higher than the speed limit in much of the United States, and should not overly tax machine or rider.

An unseen cost of many motorcycles is the need for regular maintenance that requires a trip to the dealer. The Bullet Classic C5 shines in this respect. Being air-cooled, there is no need to look after antifreeze and radiator hoses.

Hydraulic lifters in the UCE motor eliminate periodic valve-lash adjustments; the filters for air and oil can be replaced in minutes. Royal Enfields equipped with the UCE are being backed with a two-year unlimited mileage warranty in the United States.


Kevin Mahoney. the importer of Royal Enfield for the United States, said that the fuel economy of the UCE engine, over 80 miles a gallon in early tests, will be a pleasant surprise.

California riders need not reach for their checkbooks, at least not yet – Royal Enfields are currently 49-state machines. The company expects California certification to be completed this year and bikes to be on sale there by spring of 2010.

If you’re the owner of a few gray hairs, you can easily picture Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn. dressed in tweed and astride matching green C5s, out for an afternoon ride in the English countryside. A little younger? Substitute Brad and Angelina for Cary and Kate, leather for tweed, black C5 for green and upstate New York for the Midlands; it still works.

Like Harley-Davidson, Royal Enfield holds its heritage as an important part of the product’s story. Gordon G. May, author of Royal Enfield: The Legend Rides On, writes that 1891 was the year in which production of bicycles and rifle parts began in Redditch, England.

Royal Enfield was an established motorcycle manufacturer when the single-cylinder Bullet made its debut in 1932. Its chrome trim, full mud guards and peanut-shaped gas tank made it a sporty addition to a company whose products had become a bit stodgy.

The Indian military played a major role in assuring the Bullet’s longevity. In 1953, Prime Minister Nehru began encouraging development of a domestic automobile manufacturing industry. Subsequently, 800 British 350cc Bullets were sold to the Army as kits, to be assembled in India.

Enfield India was formed in 1955 to make civilian and military Bullets under license. The following year, the current factory in suburban Chennai began production, using tooling shipped from Redditch. In the succeeding half-century, the fortunes of Enfield India generally waxed, while those of the parent company – and the entire British motorcycle industry – were on the wane.

In the 1950s, the roster of British motorcycle brands included AJS, Ariel, BSA, Matchless, Norton, Royal Enfield, Triumph, Velocette and Vincent; today only the Triumph name continues as a production brand (and Norton has had many attempts at resuscitation). Bullet production in England ended in 1962. Attempts were made to revive the marque but it folded in the 1970s.

Enfield India continued churning out Bullets, even exporting them to Europe in the 1980s. The company was also innovative in production of a diesel-powered motorcycle, the Taurus. The 6.5 horsepower machine achieved over 160 mpg but production was halted in 2002, before the rise in fuel prices that might have secured its viability.

India has since become an automotive parts powerhouse. Local sourcing has helped Royal Enfield to remain competitive, and the domestic material content of the C5 exceeds 90 percent. With the Bullet Classic C5, the Royal Enfield designers have succeeded in building on the Bullet heritage and in their interpretation of retro-classic British style.


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