The Two-Wheeled Royal Enfield

KOLKATA, India — Among the vehicles that would make a Western visitor think they had time-traveled to a golden age of motorized transport are the Hindustan Ambassador, the Tata buses and the Royal Enfield motorbikes.

First, I should clarify that the photo above is not the iconic Royal Enfield steed, but rather the Rajdoot 350 — an Indian-produced Yamaha motorcycle powered by a two-stroke engine. But the driver — whose name I’ve unfortunately forgotten — was so happy to have his photo taken that I couldn’t resist featuring it. (Plus, his motorcycle reminded me of my own 1965 Honda CB-160, a motorbike for a simpler time.)

In Kolkata, nearly everywhere there was traffic, at least a few Royal Enfield motorbikes could be found. They caught me eye because they’re what a classic ride looks like. The Royal Enfield — the shape and the sound — was the image that comes to mind when one thinks “motorcycle.” (Just look at it.)

A single round headlamp, chrome accents precisely where they should be, and a bulbous, teardrop-shaped fuel tank completed a classic aesthetic. Marlon Brando would be at home astride a Royal Enfield Classic 500 in “The Wild One.” It might not be the best model for shuttling a family of five across the city, though.

During a 2015 trip to New Delhi during Republic Day, U.S. President Barack Obama observed motorcycle daredevils perform acrobatic feats on Royal Enfield bikes and lamented that he couldn’t take one for a spin.

“The Secret Service doesn’t let me ride motorcycles, especially not on my head,” he said.

Established in 1893 as a British manufacturer, Royal Enfield licensed its Bullet 350 for domestic production in Chennai during the mid-1950s.

While the original company shut its U.K. operations in 1971, its Indian brethren, now owned by Eicher Motors, has continued to produce motorbikes full-throttle, even establishing a dealerships in Britain and the United States, even as Triumph and Harley-Davidson have arrived on the subcontinent.

At the beginning of 2015, Royal Enfield surpassed Harley-Davidson in global sales — and there’s little reason to think they’ll slow down anytime soon.

The Royal Enfield Machismo boasts a solid, classic, straightforward ride. (Photos by Bruno J. Navarro)
Motorcycle cops appear to have their own cruiser version of the Royal Enfield, here, in red. See the blue Tata bus in the background?

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