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Five months and five thousand kilometers with the Royal Enfield Bullet

5th of February, 2023

Riding a motorcycle is velocity as poetry. The fine balance between elegant agility and fatal fall is a kind of truth, and like all truth, it carries a heartbeat with it into the sky. Eternal moments in the saddle escape the stuttering flow of time, and space, and purpose. Coursing on those wheels, on that river of air, in that flight of freed spirit there’s no attachment, no fear, no joy, no hatred, no love, and no malice: the nearest thing, for some violent men, for this violent man, to a state of grace.
— Gregory David Roberts, Shantaram

The odometer on my motorcycle ticks over to 1580 kilometers. I check my watch for the time, and the grey readout on the LCD reports that it is 6:32 am. Damn, has it really only been twenty minutes?

Ah, the steady rattle of a motorcycle between my legs, a full tank of gas, and the wide open road before me. This is life.

I've been afraid to write this post for a long time. I find that all motorcyclists arrive at the same conclusions about motorcycling, and it makes us all seem incredibly repetitive and clichéd when we state them. There's going to be some of that here, I think.

If you're looking for an objective review of the 2022 Royal Enfield Bullet, you won't find it here. This is equal parts love letter, review, and life story - if you find that sort of thing unbearable, click away now.

Getting it

After a bout of bartering that invoked an august assembly of deities from at least three religions, and incorporated spirited, carnal references to the sisters of our respective friends and acquantainces, a dealer agreed to hire out an Enfield Bullet motorcycle for a reasonable rental. I paid a bond and a week's rent in advance, kick-started the bike, and set off through the market's maul toward the beaches.
— Gregory David Roberts, Shantaram

Before January of 2022, the thought of getting a motorcycle hadn't really crossed my mind much at all. It seemed a faraway dream, to one day emulate my father and his Yamaha RX100, favourite bike of amateur '90s racers in India.

I love the way Royal Enfield motorcycles look. They seem to be the minimum required for a motorcycle to function, and that was always very appealing to me. The simple round headlight, a lack of any fairings or loud paint, the unabashed exposed engine - it all adds up to a motorcycle that is exactly the sum of its parts. I never thought I would ride one, though - all the wannabes riding around with their modified exhausts and obnoxious horns are honestly quite irritating and had turned me off to the idea.

A friend of mine got his hands on a Royal Enfield Meteor, and took me for a brief spin on it. I loved it. It is a wonderful motorcycle and probably my favourite in the Royal Enfield lineup (after the Bullet, of course). I could barely ride then - I'd prepared for my license on a 100 kg Hero Honda Dawn, and that test and the preceding practice left me woefully unprepared for Indian roads. To make things worse, the bike was a loaner and I didn't get much time with it, as I returned it right after I got my license. I didn't think much of it, but later when my friend and I did get to talking about bikes, I realised there was a love for bikes in me that needed sating.

I'd been freelancing with WeavrDAO since June of 2021, and I got paid a few times. It was quite a lot of money to me, more than I knew what to do with - so of course I decided that the logical decision would be to get a motorcycle. I started out looking for a cheap bike, and would probably have gotten something quite similar to the Honda Dawn I learnt on, but modern commuters all seem to have been polluted by "sporty" styling and stuffed full of plastics to minimize costs. My friend (the very same fellow from the previous paragraph) put the idea of a Royal Enfield in my head, and the hunt was on. I went on the RE website and saw the following picture:

Royal Enfield promotional image of the Bullet.
            Ever notice how all of these images have the mirrors missing?
            I can't unsee it anymore.

I took one look at it and knew it had to be mine. What a beautiful motorcycle. I began looking into it, and quickly realised that the Bullet, while a legendary motorcycle, kind of sucked at being a motorcycle in 2022.

Here's some stuff that put me off:

All of this led to me looking into other Royal Enfield models (I'd decided it had to be a Royal Enfield for no particular reason. Potentially because it's an Indian culture thing.)

I had things narrowed down to the Meteor and Himalayan. The Himalayan scared me because of the greater power and height (which I thought would be harder to ride because of the higher center of gravity, but I have ridden one since then, and honestly it's a really fun bike), so I ended up settling for the Meteor. Note how I say "settling for". While the Meteor had the Bullet beat on all fronts as a motorcycle, it lost in sentiment and aesthetics for me. I've come to realise the Bullet has become an integral part of Indian culture in the (almost 90!) years it's been in production and on sale, and it's an incredibly iconic motorcycle. No one really buys the Bullet because it's a good motorcycle–they buy it for the vibes. It's getting quite uncommon these days though, mostly bought either by die-hard enthusiasts or by people looking to get a cheap RE. It's sort of become the forgotten sibling, which is sad, but there's still a lot of love and fond memories for these bikes. In fact, I'm sure if I'd gotten a Classic or a Meteor I wouldn't get as many admiring looks from people as I do. And it's kind of funny, people here refer to all Enfield motorcycles as Bullets, to the point that people squint and ask what specific motorcyle I mean when I say I ride a Bullet. It's kind of sad, honestly - the Bullet is the ignored step-child of the RE family, when it's the bike that started it all, but the awe-inspiring part is that the Bullet has enough love for it that it doesn't really need marketing. There's always someone in love with the Bullet who's looking to get one. It's the motorcycle of choice for the Indian dad, and the Indian dad is a formidable force to deal with.

Anyway, for fun, here's a tabular comparison of the two bikes.

Features ↓ Meteor Bullet
Kerb weight 191 kg 191 kg
Brakes Front and rear discs with dual-channel ABS as standard Front disc brake with ABS, rear drum
Instrument cluster Split LCD-analog cluster with speed, odo, 2 trip meters, fuel gauge accurate to 3L, service reminder, battery warning light, clock, gear position indicator, neutral light, indicator indicators, Tripper nav console Analog cluster with speed, odo, fuel warning light (comes on when around 4 liters is left in the tank), neutral light, single blinker indicator
Hazard lights Yes No
USB power socket Yes, 10W No
Wheels/Tyres Tubeless alloys, 100/90 R19 front, 140/70 R17 rear Tubed spoked wheels, 3.25x19 - 54P front, 3.25x19 - 60P rear
Looks Weird Harley-clone looking thing Cool uncle motorcycle
Sentiment Fucking upstart little bike 90 years of lovesick movie heroes and stories from your father

So I ended up booking a Meteor. I was told the lead time on a bike would be two months... Fine, whatever, I'd be in college for that time anyway, and I'd get it at the start of the summer vacation. Perfect. I paid the twenty-thousand-rupee booking amount for a Fireball White Meteor (it's a custom color) and moved on with my life.

One month came and went, and I was getting impatient to hear about the bike, since their site didn't even show it as having moved to manufacturing. I was assured it would be ready in time.

Two months came and went. I moved home from the college dorms for the summer. No bike. Weekly phone calls to the dealership became daily phone calls to the dealership, and I was told that due to pandemic-related global shortages, I would be receiving a motorcycle without the Tripper navigation pod, but I could pay to have it added later when they became available. To add insult to injury, they said it would take ANOTHER two months to get the bike to me! I felt incredibly cheated, since when I booked the bike the Tripper came as standard, and honestly I think Royal Enfield could have handled the whole thing way better. I got irritated, called the dealership demanding to know what motorcycles they had in stock that I could pay for on the same day and immediately take home. I was told there were two Regal Red electric-start Bullets available. It's funny how these things work out - that promotional photo above is also a Regal Red variant, and it's what kicked the whole thing off. I decided to test-ride the Bullet, and went to the dealership to be given a Royal Blue Bullet ES to try out. The bike was in horrible (God, there are friends from the dealership who are probably going to read this, sorry guys!) shape, honestly, but I was assured mine wouldn't be that way.

I honestly wasn't sure if I really wanted a Bullet and I liked it, or if it was just desperation to get a motorcycle, to get on the open road, to feel the wind in my hair and hear the steady thump beating away, nothing to stop me (except the price of gas, of course). The bike is definitely a step down in terms of ease-of-use and refinement, and I realised I'd become heavily reliant on the gear position indicator on the Meteor in the time I'd been riding my friend's. It's an eccentric motorcycle for sure. But I said, screw it, and paid the ₹195k and change for the bike. It was ready for delivery 7 days later.

Motorcycle acquired.

I was relieved to find it didn't ride nearly as poorly as the test-drive unit, and it was a solid, fun bike. My mother, sister, and father came with me to pick it up, as did my friend who got me into the whole mess. My friend and I took our bikes out and cruised along the beach, before my family forced me to go to a temple and get the bike prayed for (no idea how to put it any better than that.) We had lunch and I went home.

The bike

The list I put above is frighteningly long, but the bike really isn't as bad as it seems on paper. I know it sounds criminally stupid to get an objectively worse bike, but specs are all made up numbers anyway - get the bike which makes you happy. The only number you should care about is the horsepower the miles of smiles.

By the way, I'll address all of those complaints in a bit, but I'll preface that explanation by saying that sometimes riding a Bullet will definitely leave you wishing for a bit more power. I've found myself trying to shift to a nonexistent sixth gear to get a little bit of extra oomph on the highway, so I can get up to 150 or so instead of the paltry 100 or 110 I usually get out of it. With great coaxing it might go a bit faster, but I suspect foul play here (rev limiter). More on that in the mods section.

The ride, though, is grand–it's an incredibly comfortable, well-built cruiser, with plenty of power for most situations (see above.) The suspension is plush and EATS your average Indian pothole, and contrary to popular belief, refinement is top-class. While the bike does certainly vibrate a bit at higher rpms, there seems to be a rev range it's most comfortable at in every gear, where vibrations disappear. For the first 5000kms or so, gearshifts felt somewhat metallic and clunky, but now they're smooth and satisfying. I found the stock handlebar a little too low for my liking, so I got a taller one (courtesy of my friend Jayant, who reappears in this article later), and that was that. You can comfortably spend 3-4 hours in the saddle before needing a break, and any vibrations that do make it to you are concentrated in the footrests, which beats them being in the handlebars and seat, as is the case with some REs I've ridden. I've been thinking the Bullet is the original Indian ADV, from before the concept of ADVs even existed, deployed by the Indian Army for border patrol use, and ridden to Ladakh by rough-and-tough motorcyclists since time immemorial. That spirit persists in today's bike, despite the changes that have happened since then (two new engines, electronic fuel injection, electronic spark and the addition of an ECU), and I can almost hear all those memoir-writing motorcyclists calling me a pussy when my feet go numb from continuously riding at 5k rpm.

A random shot of the bike. To borrow a phrase from the Himalayan's marketing, built for all roads, built for no roads.

As for the laundry list of complaints above, here's how my fears were allayed.

Other issues

This is... a temperamental motorcycle. But if you can put up with its little eccentricities... I'll let GDR take it from here:

The Enfield of India 350cc Bullet was a single-cylinder, four stroke motorcycle, constructed to the plans of the original 1950s' model of the British Royal Enfield. Renowned for its idiosyncratic handling as much as for its reliability and durability, the Bullet was a bike that demanded a relationship with its rider. That relationship involved tolerance, patience, and understanding on the part of the rider. In exchange, the Bullet provided the kind of soaring, celestial, wind-weaving pleasure that birds must know, punctuated by not infrequent near-death experiences.
— Gregory David Roberts, Shantaram

Mods (planned and current)

Most of these mods were to improve comfort, and not really to address some deficit with the bike. The bike in its current state looks this way:

Side view
Front view

Stuff I've added:

Stuff I plan to add:


I rode my bike around the city a lot, but I'd really bought it for the highway. My dealership organises rides regularly, and my friend talked me into going on one, even with my crippling anxiety surrounding meeting new people.

We went to Alamparai Fort, about 200kms from Chennai. I was terrified of highway driving, and kind of sucked at it, but everyone assured me I was doing great and to not get too dejected. (Jayant, if you're reading this, you're awesome. Thanks for everything.) I think I've gotten better since then.

Posing on the beach at Alamparai Fort, on my friend's INT650

There's really nothing quite like it. And there's almost nothing to it, that magic in group rides - it comes from the love of motorcycling, a bunch of people bonding, brought together by their love of the open road. Part of the reason I didn't get a Hero or a Honda motorcycle was this - the love and community surrounding these bikes in India is insane.

In no particular order, here are some of the rides I've been on, solo and group:

So far, that's about it. The rest of the 8000kms came from riding around the city and stuff, and these days I average about 30 kms a day riding around my college town.

I've had a great time throughout - I always have fun conversations with other RE owners and motorcycle enthusiasts in general, randomly in parking lots or at tea stalls. It's really a wonderful way of making some friends and really just having fun talking about bikes. It's also almost nice to be known as the motorcyclist in all my circles, since it's still kind of evolving in India even with all the motorcycling that goes on here, and people don't really realise it can be a kind of involved habit. I get checked out on my bike all the time, which is definitely a nice feeling, and they always have a question or two to ask about my (admittedly peculiar) setup.

Services, too, have been okay - they could have been better, but I have never left a service center wanting for something, either. The service staff here at the two Royal Enfield company-operated service centers in my city are polite and helpful, if severely overworked. I feel like these are just growing pains for the company, which is honestly expanding like nobody's business, as is evidenced by the lead times on the purchase of a new motorcycle (my roommate waited 5 months for his, and that seems to be typical). They really need to figure out their manufacturing and supply chain, along with after-sales service, or they will gain the kind of dangerous reputation they had in the '80s and '90s, which would be a damn shame — the bikes they're putting out these days are some of the finest ones they've ever made.

It's amongst the most freeing experiences, in my opinion, to own your own transportation, and I love the sense I get that I could go anywhere or do anything with my bike. And that, dear reader, is what I will leave you with - the longing for that sense of freedom, and I implore you to go find it, whether it's on a 125cc commuter, an 883cc Harley Sportster, or the humble Royal Enfield Bullet 350.

If you liked this article, or just like bikes in general, consider emailing me and we can have a chat!
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