by adil jal darukhanawala , Photography : kunal khadse |
September 29, 2011 11:30 IST
Royal Enfield is whipping a storm in khaki and chrome, with two new variants based on the hard-hitting Classic 500. Ever since its roll-out in November 2009, the Bullet Classic has quite clearly made an impact on motorcyclists' psyche, and the two new models promise to take the same effect forward. It's not just a paint and lipstick job though. We welcome the Desert Storm and the Classic 500 Chrome into the thumping Royal Enfield family!
Embellishment, thy name is what sells Auto Americana by the millions, be it on two, four or 16 wheels! Custom craftsmanship, swathed in chrome and adorned with slick paintwork to make newer versions of regular production models has long been the magic mantra to spice things up and shift countless Fords, Chevys, Cadillacs, Harley-Davidsons, Caterpillars, Macks, etc out of showrooms and this practice continues unabated to this day. Of course when it is wheeled tradition which is being peddled, this line of customization at the factory level holds some esteem and residual values to the product.
So if you are thinking this is pretty much the line of thought being borrowed and adopted for India by Royal Enfield you would be both wrong and right – to varying degrees! Fact one is that Royal Enfield never believed in what it could do and spent much time fretting over who their customer was – the Machismo type, the dudhwala, the lone ranger type of long distance rider, the evolved rider, the born again biker or maybe even the young dude who wants to typify cool on the move. The key to their muddled thought process was just going with gut feel as a biker and the rest would pan out. Hesitatingly the firm worked on tweaking its staple product since inception (in India of course), the Bullet but then it had to for the simple reason that emission standards evolved and the need to stack up on technology to meet legislation saw the old push-rod lump get a sizeable makeover. The separate gearbox was junked and the unit construction engine incorporated a new 5-speed constant mesh cluster within the crankcase. From this substantially revised bottom end, the scene shifted to a twin spark plug top end job along with electronic fuel injection and the resultant 500cc motor that emerged set the new standard for what many wanted from a Bullet.
Do understand that to date the Bullet has never changed in form but only in makeup and till now Royal Enfield has been spinning variants from the same armoury, never making an all-new model (but that should change in a year or so). Nothing wrong in that for when you see the bent twin iron from Harley-Davidson which goes right back to before World War II, the Bullet has just climbed the upgrade wagon, so to speak! What I am driving home is the point that Royal Enfield should not have worried for their Classic job was exactly what the market needed – a refreshing modern throwback to an era of motorcycling which can cut the mustard even today. From its roll-out just prior to Auto Expo 2010 to right now, the Classic has stumped the Royal Enfield management by accounting for over 40% of total sales for the marque and it shows no sign of petering out
Ever since its roll-out in November 2009, the Bullet Classic has quite clearly made an impact on motorcyclists’ psyche and from that point on the firm put into place a whole new programme on two fronts: get the production process upgraded from a technology and efficiency angle while planning even more upgrades to the basic product. Mind you when I tested the Classic almost two years ago, I marveled at the bike as the single biggest techno-leap Royal Enfield had ever accorded the Bullet in its long history and it showed in the way it brought forth the smiles on many faces. Heck, I wasn’t even a Bullet traditionalist, more often than not joking about them just so that I didn’t get to ride these Royal Oilfields but the Classic made me a convert – I can’t believe I am saying this! From there on I have been badgering the folks at Thiruvottiyur to further make the few decisive improvements on the bike which had not got the ‘Classic’ treatment. The rate of development pace may not have been up to Ninja or Fireblade speed, but given the wafting pleasure of a Bullet in its element, the new Classic introduced this week packs in a small raft of improvements in hardware and software which have yet again honed the calibre of this long standing gun on two-wheels for the better.
First a mention about the new variants, or to be precise the new models which will now constitute the 500cc Classic range. To be turned out in two distinctly different liveries, the first one is the Classic Chrome version which is resplendent in the traditional Brit bike turnout of yore with a painted and chromed tank, the same theme being carried over lengthwise on the two mudguards. Again in this variant there is a choice of maroon or black to go with the chrome and the Classic in this traditional stance does look dishy. The second variant is one which harks towards the Bullet being the defender emeritus via its links to the armed forces and it’s decked out in a khaki matt finish throughout. This unusual is also brilliantly turned out with tiny rubber knee guards on both sides of the petrol tank to give the machine a period aura which only goes on to emphasise the overall charm of the package no end. The badging on both variants is the traditional Royal Enfield script and the medley of retro style overtones with modern tech essentially massaging ‘old’ muscle makes for a heady concoction.
One doesn’t buy a Classic or for that matter a Bullet to trip the light fantastic or out drag Hayabusas and its ilk but to deliver a most pleasurable ride where the exhaust beats can be heard at the convenient rate of one every other telegraph pole! No wonder it is the epitome of relaxed adventurers but with newer converts to the Bullet’s wholly non-violent cause, Royal Enfield knew that if there were some nut cases out to extract and use every iota of the 27.2bhp the long stroke 499cc single produces, they needed to give better control and stability to the package.
This was what I had mentioned in my report from two years ago, especially calling for the front fork to be junked with modern internals allied to revised rake and trail. The earlier Classic with the added thump from its fuel injected twin spark motor had a new found urge to gallop but the handling stability, especially under braking made the front wheel hop and skip and this did detract from the other gains made on the Bullet platform. Nothing would have happened had the powerful front disc not clamped so well, twisting the archaic forks beyond their capability so something was needed to be done, and soon.
The boffins at Royal Enfield took this to heart and have a completely new front fork and revised geometry for the 2012 Classic range in focus here. To the unsuspecting eye this may yet look the same but peer close and you see that the forks (built by Endurance who also provide the rear gas charged shock absorbers) act directly on the axle and even though their housings remain yet in the traditional retro style, the internals and their construction are all new. The revised geometry this brings in its adoption sees the trail hiked to 101.49mm from the previous 72.54mm while the centre shift of the forks measure 26mm at a rake angle of 26.09 degrees.
So much for the number crunching but moving on to the placement of this directly on the axle has meant a positive shift in the weight distribution plus also the ability to soak up braking forces without affecting the directional stability of the machine. There is much more poise, more ease and generally a much calmer approach when hitting the anchors. In fact the Royal Enfield engineers went back into history to revert back to a 19-inch front wheel, junking the 90/90-18 tyre for a 90/90-19 unit. The good thing is that this entire revised front end set-up works a treat and the near neutral handling ability colludes well with the overall character of this machine to make it a pleasure ride every time one swings a leg over its minimalist single seat and hits the road. The rear tyre is also changed, a slightly wider 120/80-18 unit coming in place of the 110/90-18 detail on the original Classic.
While the new front forks and larger diameter wheel up front constitutes the main detail changes on the 2012 Classics, there are some important tweaks elsewhere on the machine. One of these is the new mapping of the electronic fuel injection system, the Royal Enfield engine men worked with Japanese fuel equipment supplier Keihin to make for a much smoother power delivery without sacrificing any of the crisp response (in relation to the pre-Classic Bullets) which has been just as much of a revelation in the smiles-per-hour stake as has been the overall pleasure factor in the ownership experience.
Make no mistake about it, as I have mentioned earlier, the Bullet Classics are a throwback to a different era of motorcycling long lost to us but just as relevant among a section of motorcyclist which is going fast forward into the past and enjoying every second of this journey. To try and convince us hard-nosed journos and disbelievers, the firm organized an exclusive ride in what was supposed to be sandy desert wastes in and around Jaisalmer. Based at the uber exclusive resort, The Serai, we spent a day and a half exploring a Rajasthan with good tarmac, some sandy stretches to put the woollies in one’s stomach and acres and acres of greenery! Yes the strong monsoon this year had changed the golden yellow desert landscape into a lush green forest with strong shrubbery and trees making for a surreal base to ride what are essentially two-wheeled blasts from the past albeit with a very promising future.