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Royal Enfield 2011 Line-up

Take a look under the hood

So you like retro but you want something other than V-Twin? Well, Ducati Seattle has got you covered. In August of 2010, the dealership in downtown Seattle began carrying Royal Enfield motorcycles, the classic Brit-style single-cylinder 500cc bikes built in India. If you're looking for a very uniquely-styled and reasonably large displacement bike that's ideal for city commuting, and even the occasional day ride out in the country, you may want to stop by to have a look at one very cool ride.

At first glance, a new Royal Enfield could be mistaken for a restored bike manufactured in the 1950s. In a way, your first impression would be correct. While the bike's styling heritage remains true to the first Royal Enfields built in the mid-twentieth century, on closer inspection, you'll find a few modern updates. That's a disc brake in front on that old-styled spoke wheel, and the stamping below the cylinder head reads "EFI." Yes, an electronic fuel injection system delivers "petrol" to the single cylinder. It has a five-speed transmission, and hydraulic valves to make routine engine maintenance little more than changing the oil and plugs at the proper intervals. Updated electrics complete the picture, with conventionally-placed push-button electric start and an engine kill switch on the throttle side grip, and the turn signal switch, high beam switch and horn button on the clutch side. An interesting spade-shaped housing above the headlight contains a large white-faced analog speedometer with a high-beam indicator, neutral light and turn-signal indicator positioned below. Low fuel and engine warning lightsare contained in a separate circular-shaped housing to the lower right of the speedometer, and a large round ignition switch is positioned to the lower left. The bike has modern turn signals mounted fore and aft. Think of it as a type of factory built "resto-mod" - an old school bike updated with modern technology.

Along with the retro vibe, you get something else; a one-off custom look by virtue of a wide array of color options and hand-painted stripes and emblems that add a touch of originality to each bike built. Unless you were up on your Royal Enfields, you would never guess that both iterations of Bullet C5 on the showroom floor were different variations of the same model. One has a flat olive-drab military paint scheme with a solo sprung seat and white military-styled lettering;the other has a cranberry and tan two-tone high gloss paint finish with separate rider and passenger seats, and is accented by plenty of chrome with an upswept exhaust pipe, giving the two C5s startlingly different appearances. It is certainly not a "cookie-cutter" approach to motorcycle manufacturing. A third bike on the floor - a G5, which is modeled after the Royal Enfields sold in India, is entirely different still, with gloss black paint and tan 'Royal Enfield' logo matched by attractive hand-painted striping on the gas tank. It's a very classic British color scheme. It features a longer more heavily padded dual one-piece seat, and only the G5 has both an electric start and a functional kick-starter, if you want a pure retro finishing touch on the already 100% retro-classic vibe.

The nicely laid out chrome and polished engine, with its simple construction and overall straightforward design, along with the "EFI 500' logo stamped below the cylinder head, also greatly adds to the retro look of any of the Royal Enfields, and would likely make routine maintenance or cleaning of the bike an uncomplicated chore.

There is a choke for use when starting the bike, but it was not needed with the EFI system in the fifty-plus degree afternoon temps. Just turn the key, pull in the clutch and thumb the starter, and the one-cylinder engine rumbles quickly to life. Of course there is the thumping pulse of the single cylinder engine, which only adds to the character of the bike, and produces a nice exhaust note. The engine seems to have plenty enough pull, although I will admit that in the February-in-Seattle rainy weather I only briefly rode the bike in an alley behind the shop and in the large covered parking lot next to the dealership. Still, at 412 pounds and 27 horsepower, while it may not have tire-shredding power (and who would want to shred the tires on a bike like this anyway?), it is lightweight and easy to handle, and there is certainly enough power to get the bike and rider comfortably up to highway speeds on those days when you want to hop on the I-5.

You might want to allow extra time for the morning commute; you'll want to rumble along at a comfortable pace to have ample opportunity to soak up the retro-classic "cool factor." The Royal Enfield certainly has more than its share of that.

Philip Buonpastore/Winter 2011


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