The classic styling of the Royal Enfield brings back the charm of the 1950s coupled with a handful of modern upgrades.
When I heard the Royal Enfield Bullet Classic C5 was in our garage and needed a review, I was the first to put my hand in the air. Introduced in 2009, this bike had already made the rounds of most major magazines and I was anxious to throw my leg over one to see for myself if this vintage remake was as fun as most writers touted.
A Bit Of History
It was the early 1950s when India started ordering Royal Enfield Bullets from England to use for police and army vehicles, as they worked fairly well for the English during WWII. The British Enfield Cycle Company was a division of the Royal Small Arms Factory, a weapons manufacturing company that branched out into manufacturing bicycles, stationary engines, lawnmowers and eventually motorcycles - thus the Royal Enfield company was born in 1890.
Madras Motors of India purchased the right in 1955 to use the Royal Enfield name to form Enfield of India. In 1957 the tooling was sold to Madras to start manufacturing components and by 1962 complete bikes were rolling off the India assembly lines. By 1971 Royal Enfield of England was defunct and the future of their motorcycle brand was now in the very capable hands of the Indian industrialists.
The original 1939 Bullets were single-cylinder 350s and one of the first bikes to implement a swingarm suspension. Sturdy and strong, the Bullet served as an excellent trials machine. It wasn’t long before the 500cc model was introduced and the British bikes were winning numerous races and receiving international recognition, especially from the Indian military.
Vintage-styled motorcycles are becoming a growing segment in the industry; very few manufacturers have a history as rich as Royal Enfield to tap in to.
For more than five decades the Indian-made Bullet evolved very little with upwards of 30,000 bikes sold each year. Today, the Bullet Classic 500 EFI still retains the stylish looks and rugged demeanor of its predecessor, including the legacy of the Royal Small Arms Company with the logo of a small cannon and slogan “Made Like A Gun” stamped on every motorcycle.
Observations From My Garage
Weighing in at a dime over 400 lbs, the low center of gravity and the 31.5-inch seat height makes managing the motorcycle extremely easy. Don’t bother looking down for the kick starter as that’s been replaced by an electric-start button. And in today’s market, thanks to more stringent emissions requirements, electronic fuel injection is the only way to go.
Overall, the package looks strikingly similar to the 1950s version, including the thigh pads on the teardrop-style tank, the extended mud guard fenders and the short silencer (which came on our version and is available as an option). The single saddle seat with dual springs underneath is surprisingly comfortable. The air filter and tool kit are also neatly integrated into the frame and do not restrict leg movement.
The simple classic gauges are easy to read. We only wish it had a proper fuel gauge rather than a simple reserve warning light.
Looking down at the controls, you will find the basic set-up. Throttle, run switch and start button are on the right, where you also notice the front brake reservoir sticking out above the bars. In the middle is the headlight casing which houses the speedometer, odometer, ignition key/switch, fuel gauge and, of course, the headlamp. Clutch, turn indicators, horn button and EFI Enrichment lever on the left. The EFI enrichment lever is there to help kick in the 02 sensor for those very cold mornings - similar to a choke on a standard carburetor. The fuel gauge indicator doesn’t display capacity at all times, it simply lets you know when you have reached reserve.
The side view reeks vintage motorcycle
- in a good way of course. Anytime you can look through a motorcycle and see exactly what’s going on behind it, you know it’s not a 21st-century machine. The unit construction design of the engine incorporates both the external clutch and gearbox - a marked visual difference from the 1950s version. In the rear, the gas canister on the shocks is most notable and in the front the 280mm brake disc is difficult to miss - but you’ll be glad it’s there once you start riding. The electronics and battery have been smartly concealed behind sidecases that blend into the frame.
For an old-school 500, the new RE Royal Classic is a very trim combination of classic looks and modern-day technology. A tight, clean, vintage-style package.
Let’s Go Ride It
The Bullet Classic C5 easily catches people's attention and moves pretty quickly with the EFI 499cc air cooled engine attached to a 5-speed transmission.
It doesn’t take much seat time to realize the Bullet Classic C5 is one of those bikes that draws a lot of attention... and is a lot of fun to ride.
A simple push on the e-button and the Bullet comes to life. The standard one down, four up shift pattern works effortlessly and the clutch lever pull is fairly easy. While shifting through the gears you’ll notice the Bullet has quite a bit of torque and pulls very strong in third and fourth, especially up a grade. The EFI responds very well throughout the entire range.
Fifth gear comfortably topped out at about 65 mph, urging me to continually search for the elusive sixth gear - which of course, isn’t there. It would be interesting to experiment with the rear sprocket - maybe drop it two teeth and see how that affects the overall performance and top speed. The goal would be to cruise at 70 mph without having the engine rev as high.
Despite how it looks, the suspension handles much like any modern street bike. It flows well through corners at just about any speed.
I found aggressive downshifting would occasionally locate a false neutral between fifth and fourth gear but that is easily eliminated with a bit of patience and not relying on the downshifting for braking until you’ve backed the speed down a fuzz.
Riding the Bullet reminded me a lot of riding one of those beach cruiser
bicycles - only with an engine. You easily flow through the turns both down and up hill. The low center of gravity makes it easy to balance and the Bullet turns exceptionally well at any speed. You instantly see why it was once a popular choice for a trials bike.
The brakes do a fine job of slowing - especially the front disc. The rear drum brake feels a bit mushy, as most drum brakes do compared to a disc. The rear brake pedal is fairly large - a bit funky looking just as they were in the ‘50s - so you don’t have any problem locating it with your foot. I adjusted the pedal down so it would not interfere with my foot while resting it on the peg.
When you have a 31.5-inch seat height, you can pretty much guess you’re not going to have a lot of movement in the suspenders. The front forks sport about four inches of travel and the rear shocks provide a bit less - but when you include the springs under the seat - they add up to a comfortable ride.
As I said earlier, this bike is a lot of fun to ride and sounds great. The short silencer pipe delivered the unmistakable “Bullet Thump.” The engine is potent enough, the bike handles well and the overall vintage package is very cool looking. As a cross-town commuter the Bullet is the perfect companion, especially if you enjoy strangers coming up and asking questions. I wouldn’t even hesitate shoeing up a pair of dual-sport tires and taking the Bullet Classic fireroading.
From other sources we spoke with it sounds as if this Bullet Classic is, well... fairly bullet-proof also. You never know how dependable a motorcycle is until you log a couple thousand miles. I’ll be able to report more on its reliability once mine arrives. Yes... I’ve ordered the teal color. I warned you, the Bullet Classic is a lot of fun to ride.