British bikes, this shiny Single-powered cruiser enjoys the modern conventions of electronic fuel injection and push button starting. Gone also is the old workhorse cast-iron Royal Enfield powerplant, an updated Unit Construction Engine (UCE) the new vanguard whereby the casting for the engine, clutch, and gearbox have been combined into one.
During our week-long tenure with Royal Enfield’s 2012 499cc Bullet, we can’t count how many times we fielded the question “What year is that?” Indeed, the bike has ageless styling. But how would it fare on the open road? To answer this question, we took a road trip over to the coast of Maine on Royal Enfield’s Classic Chrome version under the guise of searching for the best lobster shack, giving us an opportunity to put in a couple hundred miles in one day.
Our journey began on the curvy roads of New Hampshire where we found the slim, light Classic Chrome to be a very nimble bike. With a fairly low center of gravity, compact rider’s triangle and a claimed curb weight of a paltry 412 pounds, it doesn’t take much to toss the Royal Enfield around. Transitioning is quick and effort is minimal. Turn-in on the Classic Chrome is predictable and while it doesn’t necessarily carve turns, its can hold a line without much input at the bars.
(L) We set out for the Maine coastline from Laconia, New Hampshire, to test the road worthiness of the 2012 Classic Chrome. (M) Post WWII graphics on the Royal Enfield’s highly polished tank attracted plenty of attention at the 2012 Laconia Motorcycle Rally. (R) The classic styling of the 2012 Royal Enfield Classic Chrome had everyone thinking it was a restoration. Luckily, this Royal Enfield has modern conveniences like EFI, a Unit Construction Engine and electric starting.
A light clutch pull and a smooth shifting five-speed transmission make it a very rider-friendly bike. One reason Royal Enfield switched to a UCE was to reduce friction between the gearbox and clutch, lowering transmission losses as a result. It only takes a dab on the shift lever to kick it into gear and engagement was reliable. Our minor grievance was that we couldn’t get the toe of our boots under the stock shifter without dipping our boot down. Gearing is surprisingly wide and we frequently wound out second gear for everything it’s worth. Cruising the highway, we were pleased to find a bit of top end in 5th gear at 70 mph. Now if only some of the vibes that set into the bars and foot pegs at that speed could be remedied…
Rolling through quaint touristy towns like Kennebunkport, Maine, the suspension provides a firm ride, the back side in particular thanks to dual shocks on the swingarm and dual springs under the seat. We wouldn’t mind a bit more
The Unit Construction Engine of the 2012 Royal Enfield Classic Chrome puts out a claimed 27.2 bhp @ 5200 rpm 41.3 Nm @ 4000 rpm.
damping on the front fork which took hits hard at times even with 5.1 inches of travel. When it came time to stop, we relied on the solid, grippy two-piston caliper of the 280mm disc of the front brakes because the rear drum is mush and you really have to push down hard on the pedal to get it to bite. And while you can achieve decent lean angles on the bike, the arm of the rear brake pedal runs below the foot peg and grinds on sharp right hand turns.
The little Single of the 2012 Classic Chrome has just enough snap to put a smile on your face. This is facilitated by throttle response from the electronic fuel injection that is crisp, the EFI adept at controlling air-fuel ratios at vacillating speeds more so than its Mikuni carbureted predecessor. Granted, its engine was a bit noisy at first because it only had 30 miles on it when we picked it up from National Powersports Distriubutors and its internals had barely had enough time to be bathed in oil. The engine noise subsided the more we rode it as the crankshaft and gears got broken in. Heat coming off the little Single was nominal thanks to improved oiling and cooling of the alloy cylinder brought about by its conversion to a UCE. The change from the prior cast-iron version also included the addition of a stronger crankshaft and connecting rod.
For the most part, the fit and finish of the 2012 Royal Enfield Classic Chrome is exemplary when you try to think of other bikes that sell for less than $7K and come with hand-painted pinstripes and accents. The factory-installed chrome toolbox tucked neatly away on the bike’s right side is a bonus in our book. Spoked wheels, a stalwart Single rising vertically in the single downtubed frame, and a sprung solo seat keep the styling of the Classic Chrome clean and tidy. A kick pedal, which turned the bike over on the first try, adds to the sense of nostalgia. It also comes with a two-year,
unlimited mileage manufacturer warranty. But we did find a few design choices that were a little suspect, like the horn mounted haphazardly outside of the protection of the downtube. There’s no fuel gauge and the only indication that it’s time to top off the tank is a small “low fuel” light that begins to flash. All the indicator lights (neutral, turn signals, hi-beams) are located in the speedo and difficult to see. We also frequently fell victim to the lack of self-cancelling turn signals.
On a positive note, the 499cc Bullet’s efficiency will make you smile because during our time in the saddle of the Classic Chrome, the bike was good for a 61.5 mpg average despite our heavy throttle hand. “Fun” is a proper adjective to describe the overall riding experience on the Classic Chrome. It is a no frills ride that’s easy to toss around and once you learn the powerband provides just enough punch to sate the need for speed. Best of all, when riders climb aboard, the Royal Enfield will sweep you up in a sense of nostalgia as the sound of the throaty Single takes you back to simpler times, evoking memories like your first ride on a motorcycle, and every time we stepped off the virtual time machine we found ourselves grinning.