Over the past few years, new Royal Enfields have exploded onto Indian roads, and the company has made big profits. Certainly, this spurt in popularity of the retro-modern bikes is good for the company as well as for buyers and fans. However, old timers rue that Royal Enfield (RE) bikes have lost their charm. Here are 5 reasons for that.
No longer the status symbol
Once upon a time in India, the Bullet 350/500 was the most expensive motorcycle could buy. This gave Royal Enfields an exalted status, and the bike was the chosen ride of the rich. In the past decade or so, many new, expensive motorcycles have come into India, displacing Royal Enfields from their position as ‘status bikes’.
This for many, is a turn off. The company isn’t complaining though, as REs are now more democratic than ever before, appealing to a wider set of buyers than just the swish set. With better reliability levels, REs are selling by the truckload.
Way too common
Now, this brings us to the second major complaint of the old timers. Royal Enfields are way too common now. It’s not longer a ‘stand-out’ machine. There are Bullets at every street corner. Basically, you no longer buy a Bullet to be ‘different’ from the others, for even others are buying them.
Spending power in India is now much higher than the pre-liberalization (pre-1990) days, and more buyers can now afford 1 lakh + bikes, read Royal Enfields. Reliability and quality levels of REs have improved greatly, attracting even more buyers. If you want unique-ness, you simply have to buy something other than a Bullet.
Royal Enfields no longer have CB points. They run Transistor Coil Ignition (TCI) systems that are common on high end motorcycles too. There are better ‘big bikes’. They don’t run pre-unit construction (engine-gearbox-clutch as separate units) engines anymore and have unit construction engines.
Why,even the gear shifter is on the ‘right’ side and so are the brakes. There’s no neutral finder too as RE gearboxes have now become fairly ‘slick’. All these changes mean that there’s little to differentiate a modern Royal Enfield ‘mechanically’ from say a Bajaj Pulsar or a Honda Unicorn.
All these changes have made producing Royal Enfields easier, made them more reliable, and even universally accepted. But for old timers, the ‘Brit-bike’ character has been lost forever. And older Royal Enfields command premium resale prices now.
Not ‘hand-made’ anymore
Apart from the pin striping on the tank and other bits and bobs, Royal Enfields are no longer ‘hand-made’. They’re built on modern assembly lines, with complex CNC machining, a modern paint shop, etc. These things have made Royal Enfields better finished and more reliable than before. So now, old timers can’t brag about the ‘hand-built’ nature of their Royal Enfields.
There’s a back story to this. Siddhartha Lal’s Eicher took over an ailing Royal Enfield a couple of decades ago from Madras Motors, and set upon reviving the motorcycle maker. Revival meant new technology, focus on better quality materials and lower reliance on ‘hand-finishing’ of critical parts. This strategy has helped Royal Enfield become profitable. So, there’s no way that old-school hand-building will survive the modern era.
‘Highway Kings’, what?
Before India got 150 cc and 200 cc bikes, Bullets were the performance kings in terms of highway cruising, and long distance touring trips. Now though, things have changed. A modern 150 cc motorcycle will run rings around a 350 cc Bullet, and the 200 cc bikes will demolish 500 cc Bullets.
This means that 350 cc Royal Enfields are now mainly commuters, and the 500 cc bikes are for those who want to keep up with 200 cc bikes on the highways. Even the biggest engined Royal Enfield, the Continental GT 535, can’t hit a true 140 Kph. Now, Royal Enfields are more about retro looks than real world performance.
The only place they still lead is in carrying capacity (payload) and relaxed ergonomics, making them decent highway cruisers. The Himalayan is a great cross country machine, but there’s nothing retro or charming about it. Well, times have changed, and Royal Enfields have changed for the better, charm or no charm.