Royal Enfield: Indian vs. English made

Australian William J. Rice is one of those Royal Enfield owners who has motorcycles that were made in England as well as Royal Enfields from the factory in India. That makes him unusually qualified to answer questions about differences between them. He recently undertook to answer such a question on the Royal Enfield Yahoo message board.
"Paul" in the United Kingdom already owns a Royal Enfield Electra, but would like to acquire a Royal Enfield Bullet from the 1950s. He asked: "how do they compare to the 2000-2009 Bullets being produced from India in terms of finish and reliability?"

Rice's reply:

"You must compare like with like. My Royal Enfields are kick start only, unlike your Electra. I own a 350 made in England and a 350 made in India. Even though there is 50 years between them, I find there is little difference providing I treat them both the same. I also own a 500 made in England and a 500 made in India, with 50 years between them. Again, providing that I treat them both the same I find that there is little difference.

"None of my bikes leak oil because they have been assembled using modern sealants and seals. I have friends in my local club who ride Royal Enfields made in England and in India. They find little difference between them providing they are treated the same. I find that owners who have 50-year-old Royal Enfields made in England, and then buy a new Royal Enfield made in India are satisfied with what they bought. They know what to expect.

"The problem owners are the ones who buy a new Royal Enfield without having owned or ridden an older one. They expect the new Royal Enfield to perform like a Honda. When it doesn't they are unhappy. They should have bought a Honda in the first place.

"In your case if you buy a 50-year-old Royal Enfield made in England you will find that it will not be up to what you have become used to with your Electra. You will have to learn to kick start it. You will have to remain below 90 kmh, and allow greater stopping distances than for your Electra. In other words you will not be able to substitute a 50-year-old bike for your modern Electra.

"In my case I use my old bikes to ride in club events and rallies, and my new bikes for road work. If you change the brakes, the primary drive and whatever else, then you will wind up changing the character of the bike, so what is the point? If you are prepared to live with a 50-year-old bike, and treat it with the respect you would give to your elders, then you will have a lot of fun; but you must also hold on to your Electra."

I wrote to Rice asking about his experience with English and Indian-made Royal Enfields. It turns out, that's not how he divides the brand. Rather it is a question of the design.

"This is where I disagree slightly with you when you seem to say...that it is possible to buy a new Royal Enfield that is the same as one made in England 50 years ago," he wrote. "It is not. When Royal Enfield India withdrew the kick-start, cast iron barrell models that comparison ceased."

He ought to know: "I own a number of bikes in Indonesia including three Royal Enfields and I go there a few times per year. I have an interest in a small motorcycle business over there called Bali Classic Bikes. We sell restored bikes, spare parts and conduct tours of Indonesia. We are Royal Enfield agents for Indonesia. I am going there again at the end of June for one month and can't get enough of the place.

"In answer to your questions I live near the Greater City of Taree, New South Wales, and turn 66, Thursday, 25 June. I started my career as an engineering apprentice at age 16, and I retired as a Head Teacher of Engineering at the local Institute of Technical and Further Education at age 60. I became interested in motorcycles at 16 out of necessity as I had to find a cheap way of getting to work, and that interest has lasted 50 years to date. I hope to be involved in motorcycles for many years to come."

Two photos of him here were taken in Amed, on the northeast coast of Bali; the group photo was taken in Ubud. He rode a 1954 AJS 350 on this trip. From his ride report:

"The tour started in Denpasar... with a stop planned for lunch at Candi Dasa on the northeast coast. After lunch at Candi Dasa the group rode on to Amed for an overnight stay at a hotel overlooking the sea...

"Day two began with a short tour of the beautiful seaside village of Amed, photos were taken, then it was on through Sinjaraja to Lovina for night number two, and early to bed for all after dinner. The group was up before dawn the next day to go dolphin watching... The dolphins put on a stunning performance right on cue.

"After breakfast the group rode through a National Park towards Gillimanuk where accommodation for the night was booked. A stop along the way for lunch at a fishing village saw the riders treated to fresh snapper... Early next morning the group headed along the west coast, planning to reach Tabanan for a late lunch... After lunch at Tabanan it was on to Ubud, and the accommodation for that night.

"Following breakfast the next day an hour or two was spent seeing the sights of Ubud and taking the necessary photos, then it was on to Kintimani to see a volcano close up. Fortunately the volcano has not been active for a number of years. Accommodation for the night was booked at a lakeside hotel at the foot of the volcano. There were hot springs in the hotel grounds so a dip in the hot pool was welcomed by all. The following day it was back to Denpasar at a leisurely pace with stops along the way for photos."