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.
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?
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?
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?
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.
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.