120 years of Royal Enfield motorcycles

By DPA | 17 October 2021

LONDON: Puristic motorcycles are popular with riders these days and few companies are as good at making them as Royal Enfield, the Indian-based manufacturer whose new products look much the same as the old ones, only better.

This applies especially to the 2021 Royal Enfield 350 Classic, a more refined version of the firm's bestselling single pot thumper with styling changes that only eagle-eyed enthusiasts would spot.

The Classic gets the same setup as the popular Meteor cruiser in terms of engine, frame, suspension and brakes. The headlight and instrument panel are new, while a beefier suspension makes it more stable.

Stability is a byword at Royal Enfield which goes back to 1897, when the Royal Small Arms Factory in Enfield, Middlesex started making cycle parts.

Motorbikes with sidecars were a mainstay from 1912 and these proved successful with British troops during World War I. From the 1930s onwards Royal Enfield sold the iconic Bullet in various capacities and from 1955 the 350 cc version was built in the Indian city of Madras.

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The country's army had chosen the model for its forces and it was the beginning of a remarkable success story, with millions of machines since sold.

It was a different picture in Britain where Royal Enfield went bankrupt in 1967. The onslaught of Japanese motorcycles spelt the end for many British motorcycle manufacturers whose products were seen as old-fashioned and unreliable.

Japanese competition made life hard for Royal Enfield in India too, but customers remained loyal. The firm was taken over by the Eicher Group in 1994 and the latest generation of motorbikes has been developed with English engineering input.

Royal Enfield's winning formula seems to be a mixture of traditional styling paired with straightforward technology and a rich heritage. The bikes were seen for decades as sturdy, everyday transport but now appeal to enthusiasts as well.

"Hardly any other manufacturer can look back on such a rich tradition," said Markus Biebricher who writes for the German motorcycle magazine Motorrad. Royal Enfields are also a refreshing alternative to the complicated, high-tech two-wheelers from Japanese and European brands.

Royal Enfield never went in for track competition unlike rivals Triumph and Norton and it focussed instead on making solid, workmanlike bikes.

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Current models like the Meteor, Continental GT, Interceptor and Himalayan look old-fashioned from new but that is part of their appeal. Fans would call the look timeless and prices start at a modest 3,750 pounds or 4,400 euros.

Frank Meissner from the market-watching organisation Classic Analytics particularly admires the 350 Bullet, which has been in production since the 1970s and the 700cc Super Meteor.

It emerged in 1960s and the contemporary superbike was later superseded by the mighty Interceptor 750.

Classic Royal Enfields which have survived the years sell for around 6,000 to 8,000 euros but with a modern version like the Classic 350 available in showrooms, fans can easily opt for a new one.

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