Bikes we love The Journey

What I want: Royal Enfield Bullet Electra

Many moons ago –– before I started this blog –- I created for myself a little ladder of motorcycle engine displacement that I intended to climb during my riding lifetime. The ladder went like this:
– Royal Enfield Bullet Electra
– Triumph America
Or, in other words: 125cc, 250cc, 500cc, 900cc, and 1800cc. I knew that I didn’t want to just jump on some monstrosity of a bike and hurl myself at death, and reckoned that the safe way to get to that ultimate goal of being a Victory rider (1) was to do so very slowly. But, of course, now actually having had an opportunity to ride bikes (specifically a Honda CBF600), my attitude has shifted.
For one thing, I sometimes wonder whether I’ll ever really need a massive 1800cc engine. Also, I find I am not at all averse to modern technologies such as ABS, traction control or even automatic transmission –– which is not something seen in my original cruiser-laden ladder. But most importantly, training on a 600cc bike effectively eliminated anything smaller from my wish list.

But lately I’ve found myself again pondering the allure of the Royal Enfield Bullet Electra, thinking: “Actually, perhaps I really would want one of these. I mean, a secondhand version might make the most awesome first bike ever.”

I’ll get to my reasons for thinking that in a second, but first let’s just acknowledge the drawbacks, namely: even if you buy a brand-new Royal Enfield you are still effectively buying a motorcycle that is 50 years old. Drum brakes, a kick starter and just 27bhp.

I don’t really understand engines or the terminology associated with them, but I have managed to work out that the number followed by “bhp” seems to have direct correlation to how fast the bike can go, even more so than the number followed by “cc.” Both the Royal Enfield Bullet and the Honda CB500F are 500cc bikes, but the Honda somehow gets 47bhp –– some 20bhp more than the Royal Enfield Bullet.

Which, in simple Chris terms, means: “Bullet no go very fast.” Indeed, in bhp terms it is far closer to the Honda CBR250R, which gets 26bhp.

(Feel free to try to explain to me how cc doesn’t seem to have as great effect on bhp, and thereby top speed, as I would have thought)

But we’re comparing apples to orange juice in pitting a Royal Enfield against a Honda. It’s like asking whether Stone Cold Steve Austin is better than Nolan Ryan. Sure, both are Texans but there’s no legitimate way to compare them. Equally, there’s not really a fair way to compare a Royal Enfield motorcycle with almost any other motorcycle being built today (except, perhaps, a Ural). There are intangible qualities that can’t be judged via numbers or side-by-side comparison. To me, the Royal Enfield Bullet Electra is a gorgeous machine, with a certain mystique and timelessness that supersedes its ability to get me stopped for speeding on the motorway. And as I say, lately I’ve been thinking a secondhand version might be an ideal first bike.

This thinking started after a conversation I had with Jenn (aka The Voice of Reason) in which she pointed out that, yes, I may be able to get a POS motorcycle at a low price but I need to realistically consider the costs thereafter: insurance, petrol, etc. That 23-year-old rat bike cruiser that only costs £500 might turn out to be impossible to insure, tax, and MOT. Let alone the cost of maintenance.

Maybe, I started to realise, it would be better to wait just a bit longer to get something a little newer and –– unfortunately –– a little less powerful. Smaller engine = smaller insurance payments.

So, I began re-evaluating what I want and need in the Right Now. Sure I may want a bike with which one could traverse the Cairngorms, but, realistically, I’m probably not going to do such a thing straightaway. As a new rider, I am far more likely to stick to roads where I will rarely, if ever, go above 60 mph. What’s important is that I be on a bike.

A Honda Varadero (2) can meet those requirements easily, and its 125cc engine keeps insurance premiums low. This, I decided, should be the bike to aim for: a sturdy, simple 125 that allows me to ride in both an actual and financial sense. It’s not my ideal situation but, hey, it’s better to be on a bike than walking and dreaming of a bike.

But then I happened to spot something, thanks to the MCN reviews page: a Bullet Electra is in the same insurance category as a Varadero!

My mind went boom.

Then I noticed that the cost of a secondhand Bullet Electra is roughly the same as the cost of a secondhand Varadero.

My mind went boom again.

If we accept the theory that a Varadero is somehow an attainable bike for me, then so, too, is a Bullet Electra. Of the two, the Bullet Electra is somewhat faster, with a larger engine more capable of carrying a passenger, i.e., Jenn. And it is infinitely cooler, with a look and aura far more likely to make Jenn want to be a passenger. Additionally, the Bullet Electra’s old technology is, according to at least one person who rides and loves the bike, something of an advantage because it is easier to tinker with.

I mean, hey, I already know how to fix drum brakes: my pickup truck had them!

So, this is my new daydream, the thing I think about all the time. I see myself putt-putting through narrow hedgerow lanes of the Vale of Glamorgan, or through the streets of Canton, Pontcanna, Roath and Cathays with Jenn holding on to me. Perhaps I’ll occasionally even use the full of those 27bhp to get the bike onto the motorway for the short trip over to Bristol. And won’t I look cool doing it?

(1) Keeping in mind I’ve never actually seen a Victory in person, let alone ridden one. So, my opinion of the bike is subject to change.

(2) Anyone else noticed that Honda seems to have become my measuring stick for all things motorcycle?