| Make no mistake, the Bullet is no stripped-down, tuned-up café racer. The half-litre engine produces just shy of thirty brake horsepower - enough to propel it to 85mph if you try hard enough.
EIGHTEEN (AGAIN) WITH A BULLET
Whether it was blasting around a field on a friend's Honda chicken chaser, or nervously wobbling through cones on your DAS, fun was probably high on the list of priorities. Since those giddy glory days, however, some of the fun may have been lost. It's easy to forget why we started riding in the first place. We know what you're thinking, what has this got to do with a Royal Enfield Bullet 500? Well it's just that. Back-to-basics, grin-inducing fun.
At a glance you'd think this particular Bullet was a pristine example from the 1950s, not a brand-new machine. Royal Enfield are still producing new Bullets to this day, albeit hand built in India instead of Redditch. Modern parts have been added to satisfy EU regulations such as Fuel Injection and a disc brake at the front. The kick start has also been replaced with newfangled electricity. The Bullet still preserves its character even with these modifications, and if it weren't for the number plate giving away its age, it could quite easily pass as a vintage machine.
Starting the engine is a lot simpler than it would have been back in the day. A press of a button has the 500cc single cylinder reverberating a steady duff duff duff off the walls of the garage. I'm grinning already. I decide to take the Heritage Coast route featured on our website www.gearupmag.co.uk (in the G-UP Ezine). Plenty of lovely views, tight winding single-track country roads and virtually zero traffic make this an ideal route for this bike.
Make no mistake, the Bullet is no stripped-down, tuned-up café racer. The half-litre engine produces just shy of thirty brake horsepower - enough to propel it to 85mph if you try hard enough. This really isn't what the Royal Enfield was designed for though. If the route turns gravelly or bumpy in places, as it does on the Heritage Coast route, the Bullet takes it in its stride, the softly sprung suspension making light work of imperfections in the road. The brakes are perfectly up to the job.
Gear choice isn't crucial. The Bullet will pull in top gear from below thirty. The other four gears are only there if you're in a rush. Rushing the gearbox isn't recommended, though. It will change at its own pace, and going for a swift down change of the box will result in a firm protest in the form of a false neutral. Nearing top speed the Bullet gives a slight weave, enough to convince you to slow down a tad. Best to relax into the plush saddle and let the thumping waves of torque carry you along at a more sedate pace. The engine actually sounds better at lower revs, making a deeper putt putt putt note from just above idle.
After a while behind the bars of the Bullet, the novelty still hasn't worn off, and I've yet to wipe the silly grin off my face. I'm starting to understand what this bike is all about. On a sportier machine these roads would be a pain, always waiting for the next opportunity to open the throttle. When the extra power isn't available, the craving for roads to utilise that power simply doesn't arise, leaving you to get on with the job of bimbling along taking in the views.
It also has a certain character that is difficult to pinpoint. The engine vibrations aren't overwhelming, but add to the riding experience, almost as if it is a living, breathing machine. Simply put, on the right road the Bullet is hard to beat.
It's easily possible for the Bullet to return a hundred miles to the gallon. I'll repeat that. For every gallon of fuel burnt it's possible to travel one hundred miles provided you don't try testing the top speed too often. There are reports of as much as one hundred and twelve miles to a single gallon. For an engine that hasn't changed much in design since the original machine of the 1950s, this is incredible. Couple that with a tank capacity of three gallons and it's possible to ride for three hundred miles without stopping. Having ridden a fraction of that distance aboard the Bullet I would be quite happy to ride until the tank was empty.
The frugal nature of this machine will surprise many who think of single cylinder machines as inefficient. The fuel-economy issue is enough to drag this bike up to the present day, making it relevant to those who would otherwise discard the idea of owning a Royal Enfield. It's impossible to make a judgement over long-term reliability but from what we saw the build quality was of an acceptable standard. There are certain parts such as the front of the tank mounts which are quite clearly hand finished.
The stripes on the petrol tank are also hand painted, which adds to the overall character of the bike, setting it apart from mass-produced machines. The individual features are unremarkable, but together they create a special machine steeped in heritage. The Bullet is a classic example of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. If you sometimes forget what it is you love about motorcycles, it's quite possible the Royal Enfield Bullet will remind you.
WORDS SHAUN POPE PHOTOGRAPHY MOJOFFOTO
A big thank you to Llandow Classics in Cowbridge for the loan of their machine. A trip to their showroom is highly recommended. What the staff don't know about Classic British Motorcycles probably isn't worth knowing.
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