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Return of the royal

With reincarnation of the Royal Enfield J2 of the 1950s as the Classic 500, it’s renaissance once again. Praveen Donthi reports.

india Updated: Dec 04, 2009 22:49 IST
Praveen Donthi

What’s your Enfield story? I’ve got many. But this is about my baptism into the Bullet brotherhood long after I had started riding it. It was a book release I had gone to with a couple of colleagues and bumped into more. The evening’s fun was reaching a crescendo, when one of them said she had to leave as she had parked her car far away and it was getting late.

In high spirits already, calling on chivalry, I said, “main hoon na”. My bike was parked right outside. I was trying to sound like SRK but, I think, ended up like Dev Anand. Another senior colleague, let’s call him J, asked: “Do you ride an Enfield?” Making no effort to conceal my surprise, I replied: “Yeah, but how’d you guess?” He smiled and said, “Pata chal jaata hai.”

J told us about his bullet side story, which I wouldn’t have guessed in a hundred years. My respect for him went up manifold. Later I found a piece his wife had written for a magazine: “Of the six consecutive suitors who applied for the post of husband, I chose J, the one who showed the most promise of being adventurous, the one with the throbbing Enfield, the unkempt matted ponytail, the scent of Sweat by cK and the mien of a wandering, conquering Turk.” I felt like I was part of a Knights Templar-like brotherhood tradition going back to medieval times. Royal Enfield is, of course, the oldest and longest production run model.

Engine: heart of a lion
The lure and allure of Enfield is all about legacy. Anything new from its stable has to be old in a way, or it wouldn’t be the same. So, the new Classic 500 is an ode to the J2, the World War cult bike. Let’s talk about the new engine first, before talking about its lovely shape and gorgeous details.

What makes the heart of this lion is a single cylinder 500cc unit construction engine (UCE) supported by electronic fuel injection (EFI). The engine, gearbox and clutch come in an integrated assembly that’s unique.

Only when the speedometer needle touches 60 does the engine show any sign of being alive. Twist the throttle a bit more up to 80 and there’s an instant, insistent roar — think of a hungry lion inside a cage, and you hoping the grills are strong enough. But it’s a roar that even a prudish peacenik would find enticing to use more throttle, especially because the bike seems remarkably stable even at 100 kmph. Beyond that you could feel the vibration in your hands, and the thumping. The pickup is instant and amazing. You will be way ahead of your fellow road users when the red light goes green. True to Royal Enfield’s legacy of weapon manufacturing, this bike indeed is “made like a gun” and “goes like a bullet”.

Enfield’s fuel efficiency has always been an issue for many. But this bike promises 39.62 kml under standard test conditions. The showroom guy will assure you of 30/35 kmpl, which is not a bad deal at all. It is possible due to the EFI that controls the fuel combustion making sure it’s not burning up a hole in your pocket.

If looks could kill
A parking attendant in my office was keen to know if I own the elegant stunner and even offered advice about how cool the single seat was looking. While I was on the road, for all the looks I had got, thanks to the Classic 500, I could’ve as well been Megan Fox in hot pants. There is no doubt it’s a headturner and the look is its USP. The insignia-crested fuel tank, a spring-saddled split seat, an oval toolbox and a sober round tail light gives the bike its cool quotient. Not to mention its classy green colour.

The bike clearly is meant for lone rangers — think Robert Kincaid in The Bridges of Madison County — and the rear seat comes free and is fitted only upon request, of course, at free of cost. But with the rear seat on, it’s not as gorgeous. The angular silencer, seen in the promotional pictures, costs an extra Rs 2,800. It looks cool but it might be uncomfortable for the pillion as it’s too close to the footrest.

The Classic 500 comes at Rs 1,25,000 (ex showroom), a price any Enfield fan will say is justified for all it is offering. It’s a bike for the long haul, for those with impassioned spirit and love for the open road. But with such good mileage, it’s also for those who want to thump some life back into their urban commutes and for weekend getaways. I’ve been riding an Electra 350 for four years now and all dreams of a car are muffled by its thumping. But now I know what I want next.

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