Not too long ago, Royal Enfield was probably one of the least seen motorcycles on the road. It was really an acquired taste and not many people would even think of buying one. Fast forward to times like now and it has turned in to one of the largest selling motorcycles in Indian market. Everyone is now buying a Bullet. The amount of Enfields you see on the road now makes it hard to believe that it was once the most criticized motorcycles of our country; or maybe still is. People go on and on about why a Bullet was complete trash and a total waste of one’s time and money. The amount of negative opinions you will hear still definitely makes a person wonder about why people hate Royal Enfield so much?
To begin with, I am a proud Bullet owner myself. I have a 1980s standard Royal Enfield Bullet that my father bought and a 2008 Electra that I bought; and I use both of them. Even the older 1980s one is quite well maintained and in fine running condition. So will my opinion while writing this article be a little bias? Probably yes but I will try to be as neutral as I can.
Some time ago, I was reading this review over the web (cannot remember which website) but a certain statement from that article stuck in my mind; just for being so accurately correct. The article went on an on about how problematic a Bullet can be but how in the end, it all never seems a hassle to a Bullet owner. The whole pleasure of riding an Enfield and owning one was probably visible only to the person who owned it. For rest of the world, it simply just remained a mystery. For everyone else, a Bullet was an endless list of problems that one should avoid.
Was a Bullet full of problems? Definitely yes but then which motorcycle is not? Run any bike for over 1,00,000 kilometers or keep using it for over a decade; and it is bound to start giving you trouble every now and then. One of the criticism that I heard most was that a Bullet owner spends more time at a mechanic’s than anyone else.
It is true but then you have to consider the fact that these were vintage motorcycles people were talking about. Enfields were not a common motorcycle on Indian roads and the ones you would see were always a bit old. Just like old people, they too need more care. Which other motorcycle will you find on the roads that have lasted for over 20 years and is still capable of another journey?
Why People Hate Royal Enfield Motorcycles?
Why am I talking about this? Because this is what I believe gave birth to an opinion which over a period of time became a stereotype. The hatred towards Enfield motorcycles came out of three reasons. First one was that they were not everyone’s cup of tea, second was the age factor and last one was a mistake of Enfield riders themselves. Let me explain how.
Overall Bulk and Weight
And I am really talking about the old Enfield models here, that the company sold in 1970s or 80s. They did not sell too many of them, just a few. Why? The first reason was the overall bulk and weight of the motorcycle. This was one of the major factors that drove people away from buying an Enfield. There is no denying the fact that previous versions of RE were heavy machines, too bulky; and at times when bikes like Hero Honda CD10SS, Yamaha RX100, Kawasaki Bajaj KB100 were the trend, not many people were eager to buy them.
This just seemed a bit unnecessary to a lot of people. Bikes with 350CC and 500CC engine were mostly used by “Doodh Wala Bhaiyya” to carry around all that milk every morning and deliver it. Rajdoot, Yezdi and RE were the motorcycles that they commonly chose because they needed a machine that can carry all the heavy weight. To a common man, a smaller engine bike was more than enough for daily use and to travel around with their families. They just did not see much sense in buying a motorcycle with such large engine.
Motorcycles came into fashion in India towards late 90s. Before that, a Bajaj Chetak or LML Vespa is what people opted for. Not just RE but in those days motorcycles in general were not too common on the roads. Even in weddings, they used to gift a scooter as dowry. Scooters seemed a lot convenient and useful to people than a motorcycle. Yamaha RX100 and Hero Honda CD100SS were probably the ones ones you would see once in a while on the road back then.
In a time not too long ago, almost every motorcycle company was marketing their product based on its fuel efficiency. There were some motorcycles on sale that were claiming a mileage of 100 kilometers per liter. “One tank full for entire month” was the slogan that was being used. Poor RE on the other hand was still running only 30 kilometers per liter. Bound to generate hatred, correct?
And I am talking about the right side gear, left side brake, one lever for neutral and a weird looking key here. Royal Enfield continued with this for a long time. All other motorcycles came with a left side gear shift except for RE. This was one of the biggest reason that kept driving its customers away. People wanted a motorcycle that is like all others; on which they will not get confused about between gear and brake. They wanted a machine that everyone was familiar with; not something that not everyone can ride.
Another thing that RE kept constant for decades. They did not change the look of their motorcycles. What they sold in 1950 is what they produced in 1990. For younger generation, that was just too much of “old man” look. Why buy a machine that looked like something their father would ride? Younger generation wanted something a bit trendy and this is why RE did not sell much. It was only after they introduced newer and better looking models that it started to sell.
Availability of Mechanics
In today’s world, any mechanic would be able to check and diagnose an Enfield, at least partially if not completely. They all have some knowledge about it but in old times, “Bullet Mechanic” was a whole different class. They were not so easily available and people had to ride several kilometers to the nearest available Enfield mechanic. If a Bullet broke down, the rider would be struggling to find someone who would fix it. This was one of the biggest factors that kept people away from Bullets. Why go for a machine that cannot be easily fixed if broken down, correct?
The Incorrect Image
Let me explain how this came in to effect. Now since RE were not so commonly sold, there were two types of people buying them. One were the Bullet enthusiasts who chose to buy an old Enfield; second were people who just bought a “second-hand” motorcycle. In both these cases, they were riding a machine that was old and bound to give some common problems that any old machine would. Add this to the fact that Bullet mechanics were not so commonly available everywhere because of which, people ended up learning some minor fixes on their own; so that they do not have to run several kilometers every time a minor issue comes up. This was not the case with other bikes.
So slowly and gradually, an image started to get popular that anyone who owns a Bullet would have to be a grease monkey and would often be found fixing something on his bike. All this sounded like unnecessary inconvenience whereas the truth was that this was in order to avoid the inconvenience. People learned some quick fixes to avoid hassle but overtime, it was Bullet that became the very image of hassle because of this. To be honest, I take pride in the fact if there is something that I can correct myself; mechanical or electrical because these are not my fields. Same thing applies for everyone else I am sure.
Bullet owners learned to fix their motorcycles; took pride in the knowledge; started doing minor fixes on their own; people saw them doing it; and thought the motorcycle was problematic because they themselves never had to get their hands dirty. For them, every small issue was for a mechanic to fix which was easily available. See where I am going with this?
Royal Enfield Owners
How were the RE owners responsible for causing the hatred? Well it was the overall attitude. For someone riding a 500CC heavy engine, other people on 100CC motorcycle looked like a joke. Slowly, they started considering themselves as true bikers just because they had a Bullet and all other bikes were equal to bicycles, not real motorcycle. This attitude as a matter of fact still persists. RE owners consider themselves as king of the roads and to them, all other motorcycles are inferior. This ended up causing hatred not towards the rider but the poor motorcycle which had nothing to do with it.
Misuse of Thump
This too to some extent plays a vital role. RE was famous for its legendary thump and for some people, louder it was the better. Aftermarket exhausts then became a trend and the amount of noise they produced started to irritate people. I am myself a Bullet lover and even I get annoyed by this. How do they ride around with so much sound from the exhaust and still no headache is beyond me. But then I blame the rider for this, not the motorcycle.
I have absolutely no idea why and how people can complain about it and the ones who do probably have no idea what they are talking about. A Bullet was never marketed as a sports bike. Never ever the company said that you can fly sitting on it at a speed of 120 kmph. Everyone knows that a Bullet is happiest while cruising at a speed of 70-80 kilometers per hour. If you ride it over 100 for a longer duration then it will start showing signs of stress and cause lot of vibration. It is a hard known truth and no one denies it. So if you wanted a bike that you can keep over 100 for hours and still bought an RE than it is your own fault.
People say that Enfield vibrates a lot. Who are those people? They are people who have only been riding a 100CC or any other smaller engine motorcycle. They do not know what they are talking about. Larger the engine gets, it is bound to send vibrations throughout the machine of the body. Did you really think that a 500CC engine will not cause the motorcycle to shake even a bit? Seriously?
On a different note though, during my rides I sometimes had to cover 500-600 kilometers in one day which really was not possible if I was riding at just 60-70 kmph. I did take my Electra over 100 for hours and it never vibrated so badly that I ended up calling it a nuisance.
In the end, let us talk about the myths and I am talking purely mechanical here. Oil leaks, rusting parts, breaking cables, reliability issues, breaking down in the middle of nowhere are a few to name. I know people will start arguing with me over this but this is all nothing but a load of crap. As you can probably tell from this blog, I am a travel junkie. I have clocked over 1,30,000 kilometers on my Electra in last 9 years; have circled almost all of north India, have been to Ladakh and Spiti numerous times and never even once did my Bullet ditch me anywhere.
Even my 1980s Enfield still runs smooth and I can still use it for my daily commute to work. You tell me, which other motorcycle is capable of lasting that long and stand the beating of time? I just follow one golden rule. Every 1000 kilometers, I bring my bikes to the mechanic for a general check up on a Sunday and I get them serviced every 2000 kilometers. During my rides, and I am being TOTALLY honest here, all other cases of a bike breaking down or someone having to push it were of other motorcycles. It is extremely rare that you will find a Bullet rider pushing his motorcycle around.
Now let us talk about oil leaking, rusting parts etc. True, it happens but did you seriously think a 30-40 year old motorcycle will not have these problems? Are you 100% sure that there has never been such a case in the history of Pulsar, or Yamaha motorcycles or any for that matter?
Every negative opinion you hear about RE was a direct result of factors that I listed above. Truth is, that a Bullet is a machine like any other. You love and respect it and it will serve you well. It all depends on how well you are able to maintain it. When I bought my Electra in 2008, two of my friends bought different motorcycles with me in the same month. Our purpose was same, to travel around and ride to places like Ladakh. My Electra still runs and I took it to Ladakh last year with a Pillion and all the luggage; even after doing over 1 lakh kilometers. My friends however have long sold their motorcycles when they started to cause trouble after 50k kilometers and have bought new ones.
So if you were eager to buy an Enfield but hesitant because of all the criticism you hear, my advice is that you ignore it and buy your Bullet. Take care of it, maintain it well, love it, use it but do not abuse it and it will serve you well for a long time.
I know, this was just my opinion on the matter that a lot of people would love to disagree with. If you agree or have a different opinion, please feel free to share in in the comments section below; or at our Community Forum. If you are a Bullet owner, let me know if you agree or disagree with me here.