Will Royal Enfield survive?

By Pieter – Every year many westerners flee their homes, wifes or jobs to ride a Royal Enfield Bullet in India, Nepal or Tibet. They are attracted by these mysterious eastern countries and the legendary Royal Enfield motorbike. After their trip they go home and write a blog on how fantastic their adventures on the Royal Enfield has been.

Showing off could also be a good synonym for their stories? Nothing wrong with that of course as everyone may have his own fun, but it made me think.

Is the Royal Enfield Bullet as good as everyone is saying? I experienced a lot of trouble with it lately. On top of that I see a motorbike brand that will be out of existence if it will not change. And no ‘holiday fans’ that can do anything about it.

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Bullet’s history

Royal Enfield is a legendary motorbike brand from India. The British designed Bullet has always been the flagship model of the Royal Enfield company. It has been in production for over 75 years, which makes it the oldest continuously produced motorbike in the world. With a few changes it is still the 1955 model you see on the road nowadays. Royal Enfield runs a few other models, but all are closely related in design to the Bullet.

Expensive and problems

Since a few months I have been driving a Royal Enfield Bullet 350 (CC) Electra in Nepal. For Nepali standards Royal Enfield is a expensive brand. The price to buy one is high and also its not efficient in fuel use. Not that a Bullet is consuming that much, but it’s competition exists of 150 CC motorbikes that are very efficient. For this higher expenses you expect a technical good bike. I had quite some problems with my Bullet though. Not that one can critic a motorcycle on the base of a short experience, but I doubt that in this high-tech era it is still the most reliable bike. On top of that, most of the so called mechanics in Nepal don’t know how to properly fix an Enfield. I experienced it a few times.

Royal Enfield success

So why is Royal Enfield for more than 100 years around? They must have done something right. Here in Nepal and in India that’s because it always was a reliable and fast motorbike. The British designed Bullet model has always been technical outstanding compared to the Indian designed motorcycles that ruled the streets. And it comes with 350 or 500 CC. Not that much, but compared to others with 150 CC, it was. If you wanted to drive fast with a lot of noise, Royal Enfield was the deal. Next to that, many rich and white folks were seen driving the Enfield and that made many others also wanted to drive this ‘cool’ motorcycle.

For speed you don’t need a Bullet any more. On a hill I am captain slow on my Royal Enfield now. Okay, than the masculine look of the Bullet makes the deal? Nope, not any more, the chopper motorbikes in Nepal like the Enticer, Avenger and Renegade coming close or even take over. What’s left?

Changing attitude

Nowadays though, Royal Enfield is losing its market. In Nepal there is a remarkable change in motorbikes you see on the street. A couple of years back you would only see the basic, same model, boring 100 to 150 CC bikes. In the last few years though, the type of motorbikes you see range from race, chopper, sport, off-road to naked. The people like a fancy bike these days with more horsepower. Many of these ‘new’ bikes come with a more ‘heavy’ engine, like 250 CC. So, for speed you don’t need a Bullet any more. On a hill I am captain slow on my Royal Enfield now. Okay, than the masculine look of the Bullet makes the deal? Nope, not any more, the chopper motorbikes in Nepal like the Enticer, Avenger and Renegade coming close or even take over. What’s left?

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The problem

Another thing is the entering of the ‘western’ bikes on the Nepali market, like the Ducati Monster or the Yamaha R1. I see those more and more driving around. Once the royal Enfield was the bike to ride if you could afford one. Now the foreign bikes are taking that position. There will always be a group who wants to stand out, doesn’t matter if the costs are higher, but you don’t need the Bullet anymore to be different. The rising middle class in India and Nepal is willing to spend more on a bike, but they also demand more. There are ever more alternatives and other brands and models are taking over Royal Enfield.

Bullet has resisted the change of time for a long time, but will it also withstand the changing society in India and Nepal?

Wake up!

As much as I regret to say this, I think it is time for Royal Enfield to wake up. I personally had some most memorable moments with the Bullet. I drove it through Tibet and to Mount Everest Base Camp. I have been driving it around in Nepal for the last months. I love the Bullet’s classic looks, it’s great sound and its romance. As much as I love it though, I also see the world changing and Royal Enfield losing is distinctiveness. Off course, it’s been around for more than a century and their winning formula always was not to change. Royal Enfield and particular the Bullet has resisted the change of time for a long time, but will it also withstand the changing society in India and Nepal? I hardly doubt it if they don’t modify. Something has to happen in order to survive.

India trip

Within a few weeks Mandy and I will go on a motorbike trip to India, most probably following the Ganges from its birth in the Himalaya’s to its outlet in the sea. I’m very curious about what I will see regarding Royal Enfield in India. After the trip I will put on a post here on my findings. The question now is on which bike we will go? The 350 Electra is to light for two persons and a lot of baggage. We don’t have one yet, but we would still love to ride a Bullet in India. It’s one of my favorites and I hope it will be for long times to come.

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19 comments

  1. By the looks of your Pic it seems like old (Royal Enfield Electra) with an old AVL Engine plus it looks rented. If its rented, then you shouldn’t have expected too much from this old bullet. For newer, Royal Enfield case its UCE (Unit Constructional Engine) so no more separate component like gear box, resulting maintenance considerably better by that perspective. RE is famous for its beautiful & addictive signature thumping sound that it makes and its a retro vintage ride for relaxed and chilled cruise so don’t bring up about speed & high tech stuff.

    Will it survive :- YES, In fact its skyrocketing at the sales figure over the world (especially in south Asia) overtaking the Harley Davidson sales figure.

    Royal Enfield has become the way of life for hardcore riders over here in South Asia, Bullet in this motorbike doesn’t mean speed of traveling bullet but the sound of bullet from rifle itself because it literally do sound like bullet.

  2. Hi there, my name is Siddharth Rajvanshi. I belong to Dehradun, Uttarakhand. I have owned a Royal Enfield Classic Chrome 500 in 2015. I was so troubled by that bike because, it brought nothing but trouble all the time.so, I sold it to a blind folded RE fan. . I was always attracted towards this brand even after being a user of Honda. Here is something or few things that i don’t understand that why is Royal Enfield being blindly followed by people in India! Maybe it’s because the habits of people. Like, praising an actress in Bollywood despite of her unworthy acting skills. Personally, what I think that Royal Enfield is just ‘sales oriented’ company. They are not focused on improving their technology. They still live in the era of 1950’s. There are also many small segment or quarter litre segment bikes are being sold in the market which are technically advanced and reliable and from this era. Also, Motorcycle design director Pierre Terblanche quit Royal Enfield and that shows that RE is slow and pathetic in advancement. Royal Enfield is still living in a dream that, they can fool everyone by their looks and design. I don’t see it has a good fututre.

  3. Love the Royal Enfields – this review is not doing the brand justice from my perspective – I have a new RE 500 classic – bulletproof and awesome and anyone over 50 would find them extremely reliable…..They are an industrial bike – they are designed for fun and maintenance free riding but repairable if need be….they are” not a superbike designed for rider to be in a fetal position ready to be T boned…”

  4. Royal Enfield is never gonna be left behind. The age old heritage and cult following will never let it die. I own a KTM Duke 390 Slipper clutch, Bajaj 200RS and the legendary Bullet. Its true that the Duke and the 200RS are more powerful than the Bullet. Its also true that they are better motorcycles than the Bullet BUT not one of them feels like the Bullet. The moment you get on a Bullet, you sell your soul. For most Bulleteers including me, the Bullet is not a bike; Its an emotion. Like the Indian national anthem is an emotion. My father and grandfather can relate to the Bullet. They both rode a Bullet, my brother (who’s in the BSF) rides a Bullet to patrol the borders and I ride a Bullet. I cannot explain the joy I get riding a Bullet. There are no words that can describe it.

  5. Its an interesting post. I myself drive RE classic 350 built according to European norms.
    I genuinely feel great to be a RE owner, not due to its masculine look, but a kind of authentic bike lover.
    The thumping sound is in my blood, is all that i can say!!
    Nice pics and thanks for posting

  6. Actually royal enfield is doing quiet well since last few years than it had done during its long troubled history. And people are lapping up it like crazy. The sales of RE are highest in its recent history. And the brand is filling the pockets of its parent Eicher motors

  7. Hi,

    I am Indian. Indians do like RE.The bike which was once designed by so called British Empire. India brought the sinking ship of RE to life and continued it’s production. Later on it attracted my adventurers from other countries who were not able to buy costly bikes in there country.They took the ride all over the country and realised that it’s not only the slums that are there but also the beautiful roads and highways full of beautiful scenery on both sides.Indians do and make a choice only if they like it and if they dnt they don’t care about the product at all.Yes bike has some issues but sometimes the core designers r not aware of it….So everyone out there welcome if you wnt to enjoy d journey.The above post shows India in bad light at some places which I never did for any country. People of the world need to get out of this-we r better n no one can b better than us,world is ONE.So love n respect all.

    1. Dear Raj, I never wanted to put India in a bad light or be better than any one else. I think its great India keeps RE going. I really love the bike and India as well. Maybe thats why I wrote the above post. Just recently we finished a trip through the North Eastern states (7 sisters) of India on a 1995 Enfield. Will post about that soon.
      Cheers,
      Pieter

  8. Royal enfield marketing guys are the happiest employees.. Though there are so many problems in there product you guys lik and promote it.. the fact is we have no choice other than Re in that category and RE is taken full advantage of having no competition with these metal beast.. I own a Re and we buy this product wit a pinch that it comes wit lot problems and we live with it.. All market say customers are the king here RE says shut and buy wat we build.. My mechanic earns better than any with these flaw full machines..

  9. Interesting article. I don’t think the Royal Enfield will be going away anytime soon and I disagree that they are loosing market share, I would say the opposite, they are gaining. There are more Enflieds on the streets of Nepal everyday, and it is Nepalis driving them not foreigners. Most people who ride an Enfield ride them because they want a bikers bike, one that needs tinkering and has character not a dependable boring bike. Same with Harley’s in America. If you ride an Enfield you have to love motorcycles because you are going to spend some time working on it, but that’s the joy of it, you get to know it well. I don’t see the market for Enfield declining at all. In the US now there are dealerships and I am seeing more and more on the road and with the addition of new models they are keeping the brand young as well as classic. On the streets of Kathmandu Enflieds are still the most distinctive bike. Sure now there are Dukes and others but they don’t stand out from the others like an Enflield does. It also about being a classic design. Show me any other bike on the street in Kathmandu that has a classic design…..none. Then you have vintage models, Enfeild has been around longer than any other bike in Nepal. Put a classic 40-50s Enfield up against a classic Honda of the sane era and it would be like comparing a Harley to a sccoter. Finally the so called new choppers Avengers, Enticer, Renegades may be popular at first but they are crap bikes. They are made to look like a chopper but are chopper in looks only. The whole point of a chopper is that it is not a production bike, it is a unique creation made to fit a unique personality. The new choppers are the least cool looking bikes on the street. I would rather ride a Hero 100 then one of those pseudo choppers. A friend of mine in KTM bought one after riding an Enfield because it was the cheapest thing he could find. He said it sucked.

  10. Hi there. I don’t like being a troll on th net however a royal Enfield is a mechanics bike. You need to know how it works and how to fix the basics and beyond. Yes it has a cult following and yes its best looking bike around (for the price). But really its the best because its basic. You will never be able to fix a ducatti of a KTM by the side of the road, sure they break down less but knowing your machine means you own it. And besides royal Enfield has been around long enough to the point where you can make the motor better. Ballenced cranks, pistons, you name it and someone has made it better. These parts do cost money but really you pay for what you get. My bullet has 10500 miles and will be in service until I say so… Or when ever I buy a 998 v-twin.

  11. Im Really sorry to say this…..still Royal enfields are the king of roads in india not only because of a white folk rode that bike because we are following a cult, a mysterious religion. Yaaa i admit that RE is a expensive bike to maintain under the Indian conditions but there will be a lot of hands will be there to help you from the northern Himalayas to Kanyakumari which you wont get if you own a new era Super bikes or efficient 150 cc bikes….Mandy buddy once we took something in our heart it too hard to rip it off……And i dont know why…STILL you LOVE to ride a RE in India….I doubt because , many rich and white folks were seen driving the Enfield and that made many other foreigners also wanted to drive this ‘cool’ motorcycle in INDIA??…..peaCE…

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