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Old 16th August 2015, 00:34   #1
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Default The Soul of a Royal Enfield...and other random thoughts

The Soul of Enfield

As I go through forums, articles, chats with Enfield riders there is a recurring theme that I come across; a very elusive, hard to put your finger on, taste it, smell it theme – it’s the soul of Enfield.

When I bought my first Royal Enfield bike – a Thunderbird 350 with AVL engine, a friend of mine who owned a 1984 Cast Iron engine Bullet dismissed my purchase with a very condescending, “Yeah it’s an Enfield, but it’s not really a Bullet.” Since then I have never mustered the courage to call my Thunderbirds – the older 350 and the newer 500 or my Continental GT a Bullet.

Talk about words wounding and scarring for life.

The upshot of all this has been a failed attempt at trying to turn my Thunderbird 350 in to a Bullet. I changed the company provided exhaust to the good old Dholki that turned the muted, sorry sound that the new AVL engine produced to the Enfield thump. Still no go. It was ‘Bullet enough’. Not according to my friend at least.

This was a good 8-9 years back, since then I bought the Thunderbird 500, the Continental GT and gave up the idea of trying to make my bikes true blue Bullets. Of course, I did my customary 4 pilgrimages to Leh, one to Kutch besides the minor Udaipur, Lucknow, etc run.
Still my bikes are not Bullet enough. Grrr.
It’s the launch of the Continental GT and the impending launch of the Himalayan, the comments around both of them that got me thinking, about this whole soul of a Bullet bit.

For some it resides in the thump, the thump that only the old cast iron engines could produce till the pesky noise norms kicked in. Some got around it by replacing the stock silencers with loud after market ones that were more treble than bass, louder than the loudest (to generalise)West Delhi Punjabi.

To some it lies in the notorious fickle nature of the cast iron engine – oil leaking, moody electricals and engine. They love what it entails – being able to go to a mechanic and being able to say something more specific than my “Bike jhatke kha ke chal rahi hai,” as opposed to “Ashokji, tappet ki awaaz zyada hai aur piston shayad weak ho gaya hai,” the fun, I guess, lies in the familiarity with the innards of the bike. The ability to strip it and put it back together, handle her mood swings with total, enviable nonchalance awes me.

What makes this breed of Bulleteers awesome is that they were the first to prove to us that Leh could be ridden to. If they could do it on their cast iron steeds then it was a piece of cake for the AVL and UCE shod bikes. And all the Pulsars, Karizmas and KTMs to follow.
Doing that kind of adventure on a Bullet with all its strengths and flaws, brought them closer to their bikes. After all, what is a journey without googlies. The unpredictability added a spice to the narrative that the more dependable AVL and UCE just can’t.

The bikes turned from a conglomerate of parts held together by nuts and bolts to an active participant in the adventure, a fellow traveler with her own quirks. Quirks, loads of it, that is what defines a Bullet. The earlier brake on the right and the gear shift on the right, then when they were flipped around to make the Bullet more like the other bikes leaving the chain on the right kept the quirk alive.

The gremlins on the newer Thunderbirds, the Continental GT carry forward that genetic quirk. The idiosyncrasies are what we buy, that is the soul of an Enfield. Whichever bike you choose – Electra, Thunderbird, Continental GT.

If you want metronomic efficiency, choose a Honda or a Kawasaki or even a Pulsar. Want retro styling with superb efficiency? Get yourself a Triumph or a BMW or Harley.

But don’t run down the Bullet for it’s less than Bulletproof quality or banker like solidity although those hit by the sub-prime crisis may quarrel with that comparision, but you get the drift right?

The Bullet delights, it frustrates, it’s less than perfect and so very human. Maybe that’s why it has a soul.
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Old 16th August 2015, 02:01   #2
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Default re: The Soul of a Royal Enfield...and other random thoughts

Quote:
Originally Posted by gopalmg View Post
The Bullet delights, it frustrates, it’s less than perfect and so very human. Maybe that’s why it has a soul.
That's a valid point. Most of the bulleteers I knew a decade or so back when I was actively part of riding clubs, named their bullets. Most jap bike owners rarely do that

and your point about the auditory diagnosis is spot on as well.

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Originally Posted by gopalmg View Post
What makes this breed of Bulleteers awesome is that they were the first to prove to us that Leh could be ridden to. If they could do it on their cast iron steeds then it was a piece of cake for the AVL and UCE shod bikes. And all the Pulsars, Karizmas and KTMs to follow.
*cough* It just happened to be the bike of the era. But I see your point, and I raise you this - Jawa/Yezdi at K-Top in 1977.
https://www.flickr.com/photos/63783963@N00/4371631755/
here's another gem from 1975:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/63783963@N00/168324805/
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Old 16th August 2015, 03:36   #3
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Default The Soul of Enfield and Other Random Thoughts

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Originally Posted by gopalmg View Post
Still my bikes are not Bullet enough. Grrr.

I am planning to buy a bullet. Asked a friend who owns one about the thunderbird - he replied "buying a thunderbird is same as buying a pulsar. No thump at all. No point buying it.".

He might have been exaggerating it, but you get the drift.

But good narrative and the reason for a soul. However, I would rather my bike be a machine than have a soul. Having 2 kids I have enough souls to take care of . But no offence to the true bulleters.

Last edited by GTO : 17th August 2015 at 12:54. Reason: Fixing quote
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Old 16th August 2015, 11:58   #4
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But good narrative and the reason for a soul. However, I would rather my bike be a machine than have a soul. Having 2 kids I have enough souls to take care of . But no offence to the true bulleters.[/quote]

Hahahaha, good one

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Originally Posted by phamilyman View Post
*cough* It just happened to be the bike of the era. But I see your point, and I raise you this - Jawa/Yezdi at K-Top in 1977.
https://www.flickr.com/photos/63783963@N00/4371631755/
here's another gem from 1975:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/63783963@N00/168324805/
Both the Java and Yezdi were superb bikes, they too had a quirk - the gear lever and kick lever was the same. You had to cut off the fuel cock or the bikes would get 'Over' and then you would be kicking it for ages before they would start. Their sound was again amazing. The two-stroke engine's phut, phut, phut followed by a sort of a bang and then phut, phut, phut

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Old 17th August 2015, 10:19   #5
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Default re: The Soul of a Royal Enfield...and other random thoughts

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Originally Posted by gopalmg View Post
The Soul of Enfield
gopalmg mate interesting take on the ever present Enfield.

Quote:
When I bought my first Royal Enfield bike – a Thunderbird 350 with AVL engine, a friend of mine who owned a 1984 Cast Iron engine Bullet dismissed my purchase with a very condescending, “Yeah it’s an Enfield, but it’s not really a Bullet.” Since then I have never mustered the courage to call my Thunderbirds – the older 350 and the newer 500 or my Continental GT a Bullet.
This has been a raging debate since the time RE started experimenting with their models with different engines. First it was the AVL LB and now its the UCE and soon a OHC engine(rumoured to come in Himalayan). Mate what you call your motorcycles depends on you and not what your friends want it to be.

Quote:
The upshot of all this has been a failed attempt at trying to turn my Thunderbird 350 in to a Bullet. I changed the company provided exhaust to the good old Dholki that turned the muted, sorry sound that the new AVL engine produced to the Enfield thump. Still no go. It was ‘Bullet enough’. Not according to my friend at least.
I fail to understand this but each rider is different and can do whatever he wants with his motorcycle. The point is you had the option of buying the Standard CI 350 for the Bullet stamping I don't know whether it would have satisfied you or your friend. I myself have a 2004 Tbird AVL and it has its own unique character. Mate as a rider I feel motorcycles especially RE's are only sought out for their sound which is not wrong but should a motorcycle be considered only by the sound it makes. There's much more to a motorcycle than just sound. I own 3 CI's out of which 2 of them are vintage from 1960's and 1 is a 1996 model. I know there's much more than just sound in these motorcycles. As you rightly call it "Soul".

Quote:
This was a good 8-9 years back, since then I bought the Thunderbird 500, the Continental GT and gave up the idea of trying to make my bikes true blue Bullets.
That's good mate I see that you saw beyond just sound.

Quote:
Of course, I did my customary 4 pilgrimages to Leh, one to Kutch besides the minor Udaipur, Lucknow, etc run.
Still my bikes are not Bullet enough. Grrr.
Why such a contradiction from the above statement. Mate to be honest Bullet CI is a different model and a legend in its own right. If you wanted a Bullet CI you could've skipped buying the Tbird500 and CGT. A Standard Bullet CI wont be available off the shelf and there's no guarantee you will find a good piece in the (ab)used market.

Quote:
What makes this breed of Bulleteers awesome is that they were the first to prove to us that Leh could be ridden to. If they could do it on their cast iron steeds then it was a piece of cake for the AVL and UCE shod bikes. And all the Pulsars, Karizmas and KTMs to follow.
Mate before riders went on their sojourn to Leh Ladakh on their CI Bullets. The CI bullet was already doing duty with the Indian Military in those harsh terrains. The AVL and UCE motorcycles and other motorcycles you've mentioned appealed to a different group of riders. Also understand that Bullet Standard CI in its current form was based on world war 2 models supplied by Royal Enfield England to the British armed forces. That was early 40's and mid 50's technology which was simple and effective.

Quote:
Doing that kind of adventure on a Bullet with all its strengths and flaws, brought them closer to their bikes. After all, what is a journey without googlies. The unpredictability added a spice to the narrative that the more dependable AVL and UCE just can’t.
For some it lies in the joy of motorcycling for some it lies in their adventure spirit and for some it is just their wanderlust soul. Each motor appeals to a different group of riders. Some choose the CI Standard Bullet whereas some choose the AVL while some choose the UCE.

Quote:
The gremlins on the newer Thunderbirds, the Continental GT carry forward that genetic quirk. The idiosyncrasies are what we buy, that is the soul of an Enfield. Whichever bike you choose – Electra, Thunderbird, Continental GT.
Aptly put mate

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Originally Posted by phamilyman View Post
That's a valid point. Most of the bulleteers I knew a decade or so back when I was actively part of riding clubs, named their bullets. Most jap bike owners rarely do that
I will show you some of them Japanese bike owners who name their steeds. Case in point iconic Japanese motorcycles offered in India like Yamaha RD350, RX100, RX135, FZ, Fazer, Suzuki Shogun, Shaolin, Kawasaki KB100 KB125, etc.

Quote:
and your point about the auditory diagnosis is spot on as well.
There's much more to a motorcycle than just its sound mate. Else we would not see so many riders riding the KTM Duke 200 and 390.

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Originally Posted by deep_bang View Post
I am planning to buy a bullet. Asked a friend who owns one about the thunderbird - he replied "buying a thunderbird is same as buying a pulsar. No thump at all. No point buying it."
If you are one of those who listens or gets influenced by your friend without riding the motorcycle then you're missing something mate. Ride it to feel it mate. As I said a motorcycle is much more than just sound that's why you will see all my RE's are still on their stock silencers.
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Old 17th August 2015, 14:40   #6
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Default Re: The Soul of a Royal Enfield...and other random thoughts

Quite an interesting take on the Royal Enfield "soul factor" that many of us owners have brought up. It's something that I haven't been able to explain despite having extensively used an Electra 5S, a 1967 Bullet, and my own 2010 Thunderbird Twinspark.

Quote:
When I bought my first Royal Enfield bike – a Thunderbird 350 with AVL engine, a friend of mine who owned a 1984 Cast Iron engine Bullet dismissed my purchase with a very condescending, “Yeah it’s an Enfield, but it’s not really a Bullet.” Since then I have never mustered the courage to call my Thunderbirds – the older 350 and the newer 500 or my Continental GT a Bullet.
Every UCE Enfield buyer has had to face this issue, and there's honestly no end to it. My friend gave me grief for buying a UCE Enfield because he owned an Electra 5S. Then, I met a friend of his who said the 5S isn't a real Bullet because the shifter is on the left. The "purists" have their criterion for what Royal Enfield should make, but if RE went by their opinions, the company wouldn't be running the way it is today.

Quote:
To some it lies in the notorious fickle nature of the cast iron engine – oil leaking, moody electricals and engine. They love what it entails – being able to go to a mechanic and being able to say something more specific than my “Bike jhatke kha ke chal rahi hai,” as opposed to “Ashokji, tappet ki awaaz zyada hai aur piston shayad weak ho gaya hai,” the fun, I guess, lies in the familiarity with the innards of the bike.
Precisely! I have learnt so much about fixing motorcycles because my bike had me visiting the mechanic often enough to know what the cause of a given issue is, even if I didn't have the know how to fix it. Friends and even strangers have thanked me for helping them with simple issues they'd struggle with and that's a special feeling.

I agree with your explanation of a Royal Enfield's soul. My bike has been a white elephant since the day I got her, but despite all the frustrating issues and the fact that my mechanic thinks of the next installment to his daughter's college fund every time he sees me, I can't let go. My desire for more performance has me on the hunt for a pre-worshipped high-end sports tourer, but this "soul" has me waiting to try the Himalayan first.

Last edited by Tushar : 17th August 2015 at 14:45.
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Old 17th August 2015, 14:54   #7
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Default Re: The Soul of a Royal Enfield...and other random thoughts

I agree with your explanation of a Royal Enfield's soul. My bike has been a white elephant since the day I got her, but despite all the frustrating issues and the fact that my mechanic thinks of the next installment to his daughter's college fund every time he sees me, I can't let go. My desire for more performance has me on the hunt for a pre-worshipped high-end sports tourer, but this "soul" has me waiting to try the Himalayan first.[/quote]

Tushar, it's something about this bike. I just feel good when I am on it. The Thunderbird has me sitting upright and feeling like the king of the hill. On the other hand, the GT has me crouched feeling like a racer and both have different sounds yet the Enfield has this gravitational pull on my heart like no other bike does. Actually even I am waiting for the Himalayan. I have promised myself the next Enfield I buy will be a 750 but I know resisting the Himalayan will be a huge test of will. I think I might just lose that battle
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Old 17th August 2015, 16:13   #8
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Default Re: The Soul of a Royal Enfield...and other random thoughts

This is a very touchy issue that I have noticed in many old school bulleteers for whom bullet means the CI Bore, Brakes on left and Gears on right. They feel that people with AVL Engines/UCE Engines are all dull duds and who have no business calling themselves as bulleteers.

These old school bullets were never reliable. They could sustain themselves in the market only due to generous orders from Indian Army. Unfortunately Yezdi could never make the cut for service in Indian Army for reasons galore.
They are known for their inconsistent performance for which 'English' provides a beautiful word to sum it as CHARACTER. People fail to add an appropriate prefix and I would term bullets as 'Weak Character' .

Inspite of me having a TB500 I would never want to call myself as a Bulleteer. I just see it as just any other bike with no heritage attached to it. The UCE Engines are reliable and have solved my purpose. People might complain about weak electricals but 'touch wood' I never had any challenge with it despite riding through many water crossings during my Sikkim ride couple of years ago.

Many a times I feel that these so called 'Bulleteers' are just stuck back in a time capsule and have refused to move on from their fixation for CI Engines, Unconventional Foot Controls. They are simply emotionally weak to accept changes to their thought process on the newer products from Royal Enfield.
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Old 18th August 2015, 18:30   #9
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Default Re: The Soul of a Royal Enfield...and other random thoughts

I am not a bullet fan boy, but can’t stop typing the following,

The old bullets were un-reliable, not so comfortable with the excess vibration, not so easy to maintain as with the oil leakage, electric problem etc. It constantly needed your attention. It constantly needed to take good care of, but I believe it gave the bullet its unique character. Either you love it since you are always near it giving your attention or you hate it because of constant niggles. For some it may be week but the bullets were unique that time.

Back in the day the one who owned a bullet had a serious reputation as a TOUGH MALE. We were not even able to think of a lady riding a bullet (Generally not seen also). Forget ladies, we guys were afraid of taking bullet for a ride even if it’s offered. We were constantly under fear that we can’t manage the bike due to its not so conventional gear-break alignment, weight of it and even the sound. That’s what is lacking in new bullets (err, enfields)

Even though the new Enfield’s has its own set niggles, they are much much toned down and easy to leave with, Now situation is changed so much that every other bike we see in Bangalore (at least) roads are classics or TB's and I am not bothered to look at one now. But when an old BULLET pass through, the proper CI one, I can’t help but give it a look of admiration. Even hearing it from a distance, we can recognise it.

May be all put together, The niggles, The attention it demanded, The reputaion of a tough customer, The sound, may be that’s the soul every bulletier talking and admiring about.

Can't comment of the ride comfort, as I still not have the courage to ride one old bullet, still got the fear of something going wrong


Asish

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Old 18th August 2015, 18:49   #10
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Default Re: The Soul of a Royal Enfield...and other random thoughts

No other non CI Bullet feels (or sounds) like a Bullet because it is not a Bullet.

I don't know about soul or any such waxing lyrical stuff. But I do know all three 500 cc engined bikes from Royal Enfield because I've owned and ridden all 3.

It is not just about the sound. It is about the whole feel of the bike from the moment your decompress it and the kick goes down softly with the escaping khuiiiiishhhhh, to the kick start itself and the feel in your feet and your hands and yes, your bum.

Its a vibratory, tactile, aural and sometime even olfactory experience. Even visual. None of the 3 engines are as aesthetically pleasing, actually as beautiful to look at. The complete package.

Keep a bike long enough, it grows on you, and achieves what you would like to think of as a "soul." My KB100 RTZ in college on whom I courted the girl who is now my wife and then all the way to when on which my little first born son used to sit on the tank and ride with me, who I called Simone and was with me for over 10 years, definitely had soul. So does Doppie, my Std 500.

Last edited by ebonho : 18th August 2015 at 18:51.
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Old 18th August 2015, 20:47   #11
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Default Re: The Soul of a Royal Enfield...and other random thoughts

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Originally Posted by ku69rd View Post
They are known for their inconsistent performance for which 'English' provides a beautiful word to sum it as CHARACTER. People fail to add an appropriate prefix and I would term bullets as 'Weak Character' .

Many a times I feel that these so called 'Bulleteers' are just stuck back in a time capsule and have refused to move on from their fixation for CI Engines, Unconventional Foot Controls. They are simply emotionally weak to accept changes to their thought process on the newer products from Royal Enfield.
I couldn't agree more. The Classics are a step in the right direction, more specifically a case of better late than never. For me the THUMP, and even more so the thump added to sound from badly modified exhausts are nothing but noise. I have never got this fascination for Bullets. The company pushed these machines onto us hapless, wannabe Harley riders due to a total absence of anything else. It was only with the advent of other premium bikes being sold in the country that Royal Enfield decided to introduce newer engines and models in the country. Give me the reliability and smooth linear power delivery of a Jap anyday! I would rather concentrate on the riding than worry about breakages.....
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Old 18th August 2015, 21:07   #12
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Default Re: The Soul of a Royal Enfield...and other random thoughts

22 years with my Enfield and still happy to ride it. For those who want reliability it isn't for you. I remember reading a very old print advertisement which had the 100 cc two strokes and four strokes on one side and an Enfield on the other. The tag line read " toys are meant for boys, Enfield the bike for men ". The rest need not be explained. The image remained with me and so did the bike. The world has indeed changed but then critique and love aren't the best companions. Enfield is for those who love this imperfect machine.

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Old 19th August 2015, 11:34   #13
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Default Re: The Soul of a Royal Enfield...and other random thoughts

One cannot condescend on the newer bullets just because they don't make a person deaf after 8 hours of riding or they do not have a potential fracturing kick back or they cannot break your back if you attempt iron butt.

Nonetheless, a bulleter owns one because he is a believer and not a thinker. We all believe in the sheer pleasure of thumping across highways and not into offices, riding through the rain into uncharted territories and not into city roads trying to go subzi shopping in monsoons etc etc.

The decompresser makes us feel like 18 all over again and our mechanics grow old with us trying to convince how a new gear sprocket will reduce the play and engine noise.

Although its been almost 13 years that I have been riding my bull, it seems like a first date every time I sit on her and go for a ride.

Been to Leh, Goa, Bhutan, Siliguri & Nepal on it and yet it seems I need to travel more on it.
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Old 19th August 2015, 20:49   #14
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Default Re: The Soul of a Royal Enfield...and other random thoughts

Nice thought there mate. I believe, all the vehicles that we drive or ride has a soul. Some connects, others not. Its almost like being into a relationship.

For me, a bullet gives a lot of memories. From the day, I started riding till today, the ownership had been not trouble free. Sometimes, I brag that I learned to ride a 2 wheeler in the bullet. We still have that good old 1991 standard bullet with us and its still a pleasure riding it. The thump of that bullet would let us know that my father is coming and we ( myself and my brother) used to wait for this sound. I still remember my father doing a 500KM road trip in one stretch and I still have a fresh memory of how he used to say that this bullet is like his brother. Thus, it was respect that I had in my mind. We usually don't give respect to other bikes I believe.

Years passed, it was the time the new UCE's flooded the market and I had to wait for nearly 3 or 4 years to get a UCE thunderbird. Even, me and my father had several heated discussion about the reliability of the old CI bullets and usually he used to win and I had to postpone my new UCE decision. Even, my wife got frustrated watching these scenes and she used to think what has gone wrong with us. Most funny part is he didn't allow me to book a bullet or a classic. They did not appeal to him and thus our new blue bird entered our stable in October 2014.

It may look funny, but that day, I spoke to the bullet senior that here you have a younger brother and both should go along well. Why should my mind speak that, if they didn't have a soul.

In between, I had used 2 honda unicorns, the elder one had a connection and it was with me for 5 years and the younger one for 10 months. After that, a Yamaha FZ 16, whose build quality still surprises me and was with me for 3 years. But the respect and admiration for the bullet senior continued and none of the other bikes gave that pleasure of riding.

I agree, the bullet is not reliable, and many a mechanics have earned good money with it. It will mark its territory, the unsolvable oil leaks from unknown area, we the bullet owners learn to live with them. Are the new Enfield's trouble free? I fear not. I just now returned from my mechanic to get an issue solved and I'm not that sad that I have to visit mechanics quite often. We've learned to live that way. May be its the Enfield way of living.

Some times we pray to the bullet that, it should work the way it was designed for, and some times, we ask for a bit more power and magically, we can feel that. ( I know, I'm getting bit paranoid) . If there is no soul, what else responds that way?
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Old 20th August 2015, 07:14   #15
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Default Re: The Soul of a Royal Enfield...and other random thoughts

All this 'soulful' business may well die out after the 400cc and 750cc engines are launched. As is we all have very little personal time left, and spending a portion of that time pandering to whims of the machine, or some mechanic in oily garages is not a productive way of achieving work life balance. My grouse with RE is they need to get their product quality together. Rusting screws, decaying rubbers, damaged chrome and paint chipping doesn't cut it in today's time especially when you like charging premium for your 'old world charm'
I am very happy with the way RE is moving towards modern biking. However they must also retain the largish customer base who love their thump so to speak, and must not get rid of their USP, their retro modern machines.
This is my personal opinion and I mean no harm to anyone who loves the old world bullet charm.
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