It seems these days that many things from the past are starting to make a comeback. We see this trend in a number of retro-inspired cars on the market, and this has also been the case with motorcycles, especially Royal Enfield. Those thoughts were going through my mind as I picked up the Royal Enfield Classic 500 from the Western Cape dealer in Somerset West. Not just this teal green painted model, but especially the green army-coloured one just seems as the perfect motorcycle to take you back in time to just after (and during) the Second World War.
If you think this motorcycle in the pictures is a restored example, you will be surprised to know that it is brand-new. For a couple of decades Royal Enfields have been built in India, and since modern technology has been implemented upon this particular model’s engine – it now features fuel injection – it has spark ednew interest in the brand.
Many of the characteristics and features of this motorcycle are actually the same as those found on the original Enfield back in the 1950s, but a couple of modernisations have been made. These bikes now feature twin-spark technology and instead of the original drum brake up front, there is now a hydraulic 280 mm disc brake set-up.
You can even specify whether you want to kick-start the bike – something to get used to – or make use of the easier electric starter. I am happy to report that none of these changes distract the rider from experiencing the motorcycle in basically the same way one could have all those years ago.
Initially, once you have started the engine you quickly want to use the throttle to give it some gas as it sounds as if it is highly likely to stall, but then it doesn’t. It quickly settles into a typical single-cylinder idle. In fact, it revs so low that it sounds as though you could almost count the revolutions of the crankshaft.
Jump on, and the upright seating position is comfortable, although at highway speeds one would have appreciate it if the rear part of the seat had a lip just to keep you better in position. The rather low seat height makes manoeuvring and parking the bike easy though, while the soft setup of the springs – both underneath your seat and on the suspension – gives it a relaxed ride. If you are used to a multi-cylinder motorcycle engine, the vibrations from the single-cylinder engine might surprise you a little, but it forms such an integral part of the riding experience and as your speed increases, to a certain extent, the vibrations smooth out.
But highway speeds aren’t what the Enfield is built for. Well, what it was built for is actually a whole different story, but in today’s environment it is ideal for the weekend rider. Once you leave the highway that is when the Enfield starts to make sense. It has enough torque to effortlessly pick up speed and overtake slow-moving traffic and the handling makes it easy to live with in most circumstances.
Driving towards the countryside you can’t help but start to smile. With most bikes you tend to ride faster than you need to, but the Enfield it forces you to enjoy the trip and the environment around you, rather than your final destination.
From riding test motorcycles for over five years now, I have never experienced a bike that draws so much attention from not only fellow bikers/motorcyclists, but also from the general public. You never get a thumb up riding an off-road bike or a superbike, but with the Royal Enfield I got just such a reaction from bystanders on numerous occasions. Sometimes we even encountered a small crowd upon our return once it has been parked, with several bystanders first asking questions before we could depart.
An alteration that we would make though to this particular bike, is the addition of the optional shorter silencer. Not only does it look the part, but it adds to the aural drama when riding the bike.
Overall the design, the sound, the way it rides, the way it makes you feel, all contribute to the classic experience of the mid-20th century.
“Great retro looks aside, what surprised me was the good comfort levels.
Expecting lots of thumping vibrations, I found instead quite a smooth ride
while maintaining the character of a big single” – Peter Palm, road test engineer
“If you ever yearned for classic bike ownership but cannot stand oil
puddles in the garage or are mechanically challenged then the Royal
Enfield is the bike for you!” – Nicol Louw, technical editor
Engine type: Single cylinder, 4 stroke, air-cooled, fuel injection, twin spark
Displacement: 499 cc
Power: 20 kW @ 5 250 r/min
Torque: 41 N.m @ 4 000 r/min
Transmission: constant mesh 5-speed
Suspension front: telescopic, hydraulic damping, stroke 130 mmm
Suspension rear: swing arm with gas absorbers, stroke 80 mm
Brake front: hydraulic 280 mm disc
Brake rear: foot operated 153 mm single lead internal expanding
Ignition: electronic ignition
Fuel tank capacity: 13,5 litres
Weight: 187 kg (wet)
Price: R42 950
Warranty: 1-year/unlimited km
Service intervals: 500 km, 1 500 km and then every 3 000 km