Featured: A Royal Enfield Motorcycle Is The Perfect Himalayan Transporter

A Royal Enfield Motorcycle Is The Perfect Himalayan Transporter

By Federico Bajetti
September 11, 2017

Photography by Federico Bajetti

Have you ever wondered the about the best way to travel in the northwest sector of the Indian Himalayans near the Tibetan border? Likely not lately, but if so, what’s come to mind? Does it involve sherpas? An old Land Cruiser? An ‘80s Rolls Royce perhaps?

Those are all stereotypically sound choices, but there is one that’s decidedly better, and decidedly more Indian: a Royal Enfield motorcycle. For those less versed in the two-wheeled world, this is a company that’s very much a piece of the country’s history with Britain, and it begins just after the 19th century gave way to the 20th. in 1901, the British-born Enfield Autocar Company Limited started to diversify into the production of motorcycles alongside their automobiles. This is where we first see Royal Enfield’s motorcycle brand, Enfield Cycle Company, appear. But we must jump ahead to 1955 to relate it to the images you see here.

For it was in 1955 that the Indian government purchased several Bullet 350 motorcycles for use by their border police in the mountainous regions in the north of the country. Soon afterwards, the Enfield Cycle Company partnered with the Indian manufacturer Madras Motors to form another brand: Enfield of India. They began assembling the 350cc Royal Enfield Bullet, and beginning in 1957, Madras had acquired all of the necessary machinery and tooling to build a significant amount of the parts in India. Five years later, and every piece of the production of the Bullet bikes was taking place in the country.

Now, every year brings with it a new wave of travelers coming from around the world to explore the Himalayans, and to explore the “roads” in northeast India they so often choose to rent these motorcycles. I counted myself among these people recently, and I don’t think I would have found the same enjoyment as I did in this magnificent slice of earth if I hadn’t had an Enfield underneath me. Our group’s Classic 350 and Bullet 500 were markedly comfortable, capable, and certainly the most fun way to get around the terrain, and were equally at home kicking up dust on long open patches of our trip as they were climbing through the most narrow and harrowing portions of the journey in higher elevations. They brought us to every expansive vista we could have hoped for, and they offered a vantage point unmatchable by anything automotive. For instance, exploring the Buddhist temples in the Valley of Leh would simply not have been as awe-inspiring had I not been able to twist around on my seat and make use of the unencumbered freedom of vision afforded by a bike.

Aside from the views and the maneuverability, the mumbling single-cylinder below me was a perfect soundtrack for the exploration of these sites, and that lazy choral companion soon formed a Pavlovian link in my mind to the awe-inspiring areas that it ferried me to and from.

Today, Royal Enfield India manufactures and sells a great deal of bikes in India, but it also exports many to Europe, as well as to South Africa and Australia. And a few years back, in 2015, the parent company Royal Enfield Motors announced plans to establish a headquarters in North America to offer its three popular bikes to a new part of the globe: the Bullet 500, the Classic 500, and the Continental GT Cafè Racer. The brand’s storied history is still being added to then, and I was happy to contribute my fond memories to that heap!

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4 years ago

Drove an 80’s Bullit 350 thru India and into Nepal for 4 months back in 1996, tremendous torque down low, you can drive one 3mph in 2nd gear with your foot on the brake without a stumble. they are very dependable as long as you stick to the right engine oil and do the valve adjustment in time. They even came out as Diesels.

4 years ago

I like Bullet a lot, it’s a nice little runabout. But I have a slight issue with this type of bike in general, that the whole appeal of it is purely retro, and it justifies a complete lack of progress in technology. Bullet still has wobbly frame, underdamped suspension, a drum brake, etc. I know that’s the charm of it, but if I want a retro feeling, I’d just buy old bikes (which I tend to do anyway), but every time I ride a new Bullet, I just can’t help but think that it should have been way better.

4 years ago
Reply to  JB21

the new RE Thunderbirds have disc brakes now (as I’ve heard somewhere – progress is better than perfection) 🙂

4 years ago

” The perfect Himalayan transporter ”

Only if breaking down constantly spending ‘ seven years ‘ in the Himalaya’s before being able to get out is your intended goal

Mayank Gupta
Mayank Gupta(@mayank-gupta0809)
4 years ago
Reply to  GuitarSlinger

I don’t think so GS. The Bullet is pretty much THE motorcycle to get in India, kinda like our Harley, with it’s own stereotypical driver.
Though I don’t own one, I can vouch for the fact that no unreliable vehicle will ever be popular in India. Ever.

4 years ago
Reply to  GuitarSlinger

I bet you’ve never ridden one.

3 years ago
Reply to  GuitarSlinger

You are a moron and pathetically a total downer.
You take the best of what’s on Petrolicious and piss on it at every chance. I truly wish that you would just go away so the other 99.99999999999999999% of people who enjoy this site and what they post could enjoy the content and not hear your sniveling.
I own an Enfield, I love it. It’s been incredibly reliable, if you look after it.
I also own and have owned numerous British cars,they too are great machines to enjoy.
So please, as they say,if you don’t have something good to say, keep it to yourself.
Let us real, normal, happy vintage car/bike guys enjoy Petrolicious in peace.

3 years ago
Reply to  GuitarSlinger

Dear Vic … the only moron on deck is yourself by making ludicrous and infantile insults pretending to be a comment or a reply … some four months after that fact and long after I’d ceased posting on this asinine website for the terminally inane such as yourself .

And ahhhh RedGrey … you’d lose that bet … as for you Gupta .. the only reason Enfields as you say are THE motorcycle to get is because they’re the only damn decently sized cc wise motorcycles anyone in India can afford due to the country’s outrageous import taxes on M/C’s over 350 cc’s

Sincerely .. GTRSLNGR aka .. Guitar Slinger … aka TJ Martin .