- The Washington Times - Friday, August 25, 2000

The Royal Enfield Bullet is not a motorcycle for those squeamish about performing their own repairs or finicky about performance. It is, given or even in part because of those two caveats, still a tremendously fun bike.
Based on looks alone, with its raw mechanical utility and sparse design, it's a prize winner.
By way of pedigree, in 1949 Royal Enfield first offered the Bullet in Britain as a 350 cubic-centimeter, single-cylinder bike. A 500 cubic-centimeter model was introduced in the 1950s. The bikes won tons of races and, mysteriously, also won the adoration of the government of India.
India ordered so many of the bikes, a whopping 2,400 over three years, that Royal Enfield decided to build a plant in Madras, India.
The first all-India bikes, using the dies, tools, etc., from the 1955 model, rolled off the line in 1956.
And it is the 1955 Bullets, both 350 and 500 cubic-centimeter models, that are being produced today in Madras, shipped to Classic Motorworks in Faribault, Minn., and sold to vintage motorcycle enthusiasts throughout the United States.
To be blunt, by any standard set in the last quarter century, the bike rides poorly, accelerates slowly and brakes sluggishly. It is kick-started, uses points to fire the spark plug and has cork-and-rubber gaskets and so comes with, or will soon have, its own fresh puddle of oil.
(Joke: How come the British don't mass produce computers? Answer: They haven't figured out how to make them leak oil.)
Knowing all this, it was with some relief that I heard from the dealership lending the motorcycle for a test ride that it would not let it leave a four-mile loop and that if the rider did not return within 30 minutes, a trailer would be dispatched.
The first lap was a little frightening. The bike hadn't warmed up and kept wanting to stall. The engine vibration was astounding and cornering felt loose.
I was about ready to throw in the towel, but thought I had better take another lap just to be fair.
The second lap was a little less disconcerting. The engine still wanted to dip into a stall at the stop signs, finding second gear was still a challenge and steering was still vague, but in all cases these quirks were becoming predictable so that the third lap was almost fun and then on the fourth I just got into a groove.
Who needs to go from zero to 60 mph in seven seconds or less? And if you aren't going to go over 70 mph (which I couldn't get the bike to do, even down a hill), what is the point of worrying whether the suspension can handle 90 mph?
With this new frame of mind, it was kind of exciting buzzing along the country roads, feeling like a hero.
And that is the point of the motorcycle. For $4,495 manufacturer's suggested retail price you can have a slice of history not some modern remake, but the real deal. For an even better bargain, the 350 cubic-centimeter model costs $3,495, and unlike other vintage motorcycles, you can actually get parts for both models. All that said, there are a number of stock and aftermarket upgrades for the motorcycle. A domed piston increases the engine's compression ratio, shorter exhaust pipes allow the engine to breath more freely, a Mikuni carburetor can be retrofitted and an electronic ignition can even replace the points.
Combined, the manufacturer says, upgrades can double the engine's output. Of course, the manufacturer also claims the stock bike makes 22 horsepower, which seemed optimistic at best.
Members of Royal Enfield Bullet fan clubs there are at least two in the United States are also chock-full of suggestions on how to hop up, repair or maintain the bikes. One Web site describes how a soup can can be used to fix a leaky exhaust head pipe.
So if you are looking for a no-thought, no-work motorcycle, look elsewhere. But if you want a little adventure, a chance to turn heads, then the Bullet is not a bad buy.

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