postheadericon Tech Talk: Royal Enfield – Improved?


As anyone who follows knows, I am not an enthusiast of high tech for tech's sake, even though that's what I write about here. So it should come as no surprise that I love my Royal Enfield.

I have had an RE Bullet 350 since 2004, and I am convinced it's the best bit of machinery produced during that decade, anywhere...

Some folks love their iDevice, but I love my bike because it's the farthest thing from anything starting with a little "i" that you can buy. Up until just a few years ago, these classic bikes had nothing more complicated electronically than the headlamp. The engine was something from a time past, when steel was forged with bare and bruised hands and the parts ball-peened hammered by humans  - and not bent by wild-armed T2-like robots.

But I am not one to get caught up into the romantics of yesteryear (although I do wish my phone still had a real keyboard), however, there is something to be said about the simplicity of design with old-world manufacturing... until of course you are broken down on the side of the road, wishing you had bought a Japanese bike.

This is the appeal of the Royal Enfield, whose marketing slogan of "riding a piece of history" rings true: you are riding atop tech that's so ancient it reminds one of the Flintstones. For example, while other bike manufactures are now thinking about how to make an electric battery-driven engine sound like a combustion one, RE has just added Electronic Fuel Injection. And while other bikes have dashboards that resemble an iPhone app (and may soon be run from one), the RE display still has you calculating the amount of fuel in your tank – in your head!

Now I sound like my father bemoaning the death of the slide rule...

With the 2011 models, RE is trying to bring these classic bikes out of the slide-rule age: replacing engines, CEO and manufacturing facilities, and many of the bike's fundamental mechanical systems. And ever since the bike appeared in a recent Harry Potter movie (opening scene of Deathly Hallows Part I), sales have been brisk, with enthusiasts now buying over 50,000 units a year from dealers in over 30 countries.


New CEO Dr. Padmanabhan (previously employed by GM and Daimier-Chrysler, with a Ph.D. from the University of Pittsburg) has been quoted in the press saying that even more improvements are forthcoming from their new state-of-the-art manufacturing facility... a new Café Racer, Parallel Vertical Twins in the 650-750 range, and even a regression to a diesel-powered bike dubbed the Himalayan Touring.

Yet I wondered, can a new dual-sparked engine with electric start and a new 5-speed transmission translate into what I own today: an inexpensive form of transportation that looks & sounds romantic, and can be left sitting in a yard for months on end, and still kick over with one try?

So I went to my trusted mechanic who works at the new Himalayan Enfielder's Workshop in Jhamshikhel to find out...

Me: "So what do you think of all the new improvements you've seen for 2011, and what you know about what's coming; will the RE be a good bike for the Nepali rider or not?"

Mechanic: "Good bike, good mileage, good power, and a good engine...what's not to like?

Me: "Flat out, be honest, are the new bikes better than the ones sold 5-10-20 years ago?"

Mechanic: "Old is gold. I prefer the bikes from 20 years ago."

Me: What's the one improvement this year that you like? And what's the one improvement that you don't see as one?

Mechanic: "The one I like is the new fuel injection system, the one I don't like is the automatic (hydraulic) tappets with this new engine design.

Me: "If you would, what new model would you recommend for the Nepali rider to purchase, and what is the cost?"

Mechanic: "The Bullet Electra...350cc, costs under 4 lakh.

Well, I trust this mechanic (as I have a high regard for anyone who can fix things today that were designed in the 1950's) so my takeaway from the interview was that my 2004 Bullet is still a great bike, and for those that need a new one, the 2011 Bullet is a good option...but one important note to all: the new models don't sound like the old ones (thump, thump, thump) but they can be modified to sound just as they always did...just ask your mechanic how!

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Jiggy Gaton
lives in Kathmandu and is an aging technologist - has been since the days of Woodstock - so in the words of Roland The Gunslinger "he is from a world now gone by." However, Jigs is extremely up-to-date on all things tech and is also available for hire.
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