Royal Enfield Bullet 500 Classic

The quality is good. The Indian team was trained by the parent factory team in 1955 (or ’56, I forget), and they’ve never stopped since. The parent company in England went bust in 1970.

Some people buy one and aren’t happy with it, but it always turns out to be people who didn’t do their homework first and didn’t realize what they were getting into, or bought the bike for the wrong reasons. Although it’s new manufacture, they’re still being made (or they were anyway, until last year) by hand the way they were trained over 50 years ago.

A lot of people buy one because they like the look, but they don’t understand that this isn’t just a retro bike (by ‘retro’ I mean a modern design styled to look like an old bike). It’s the real thing. It’s a half-century old design, still made a half-century old way. It has some improvements, like an upgraded 12 volt system, twin leading shoe front brake, electric starter added in 2002 (which I never use, I prefer the kick starter), etc.

But basically it’s still an old design that was made the way the original makers made it. That’s why I bought one. I didn’t just want the look, I wanted the whole experience of owning/riding an old design. Many people are disappointed with them because they overlook this aspect of it. They buy the bike but don’t find modern bike quality or performance, and then they call it junk.

But it’s not a modern bike. That point escapes many people. It’s definitely not for everyone.

It has it’s quirks, and you have to learn to coax it to life and keep it alive, just like the original machines 50 years ago.

Maintenance is more involved than with a modern bike. That’s not to say it’s harder, there’s just more of it. Things have to be checked/adjusted/maintained more often. But the design is vastly more simple than a modern bike, so it’s easy to work on. Many people I’ve heard from say that’s one reason they bought one, they figured a simpler design would be easier to learn to wrench on.

It’s definitely a shaker (they don’t call them ‘thumpers’ for nothing), and nuts and bolts have to be checked occasionally to make sure they stay tight. It’s all part of the experience (although today we have Loctite ). I still have a lot to learn myself, but that was part of the appeal for me when I bought it. I wanted to experience what it was like for my dad when he rode around London with his buddies in the 1950s.

So it works for me.

It has an extensive break-in period, which I’m still in the midst of because I don’t get a lot of free time to ride. Speeds have to be kept low during this time. It’s also not a bike for extended freeway riding. The motor isn’t up to it.

It’s happiest exploring back country roads at 25-55 mph. That’s the primary type of riding I had in mind for mine. If you want to do a lot of freeway travel, look elsewhere.

Some people say If I want to ride an old bike, I’ll buy one, not a copy. First, it’s not a copy. The Bullet has the distinction of being the oldest model still in continuous production in the world. It’s not a modern replica, it’s the bike they never stopped making. Second, I like the Bullet just for it’s own sake.

Royal Enfield Bullet 500 Classic

It’s just a really cool bike. And third, I don’t have the time or resources to either buy a trashed 50 year old bike and restore it, or buy one that’s been restored. This bike was the perfect answer, it suits my needs.

If anyone is considering buying one because they love the look, I advise them to seriously consider why they want one and what kind of experience they want from it. If you want the experience in addition to the appearance, go for it. If you just want the look, but with modern reliability and convenience, this bike will disappoint you.

Consider a retro bike instead, like a modern Triumph Bonneville or something. A bike like that would beat the Royal Enfield hands-down in those categories.

These cautions don’t apply to the new EFI models. They’re retro bikes, a completely new design from the ground up, utilizing modern technology and manufacture methods and achieving reliability and smooth performance much more on par with modern bikes. They also gave it very attractive styling. It would be a much better choice if you want less intensive maintenance and more modern technology/reliabilty.

It’s also much better suited to freeway cruising, being a modern engine design, capable of higher-speed cruising for long periods.

But with all that being said, I love my Bullet for what it is, what it embodies in an old design, and the experience it delivers. It’s a machine with soul, not just a pretty face. I can hop on my Nighthawk, hit the starter button, and zip off down the road without giving it a second thought.

But when it takes a little time to coax this beast to life, let it warm up as I enjoy the sound of that glorious ‘thump-thump-thump’, and feel the furiously increasing cadence of that one big cylinder as I power through the curves, I know I made the right choice when I brought this machine home. Other bikes may come and go, but I’m keeping my Bullet forever.

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