Adhish Alawani takes the Royal Enfield Classic 500 on a 900km ride to the Nilgiris and comes back with mixed impressions
Photography: Adhish Alawani & Sanjay Raikar
I have never been a Royal Enfield guy and have always struggled to digest the fact that people can actually be hardcore fans of the Bullet. I have often wondered why some people have always preferred Bullets as compared to the more advanced machines of the era. However, the Royal Enfield Classic shown at the Intermot show in Germany last year, had such an impact on me that I longed to ride it ever since.
The reason for this was simple – the design and styling of the Classic. True to its name, this bike has a classic, mid-twentieth century character to it. The designers at the Royal Enfield house worked hard on the Classic to give it post-WWII looks. The round headlamp, the small tail lamp mounted on the flat plate at the rear, the big fenders, the typical retro fuel tank, the company’s characteristic triangular airbox, the traditional instrumentation console with classic English font for the readout, the green colour and the minimal graphics on it gives this motorcycle the feel of those immortal ‘50s bikes. The company has, in fact, painted the complete frame of the Classic in the body colour. Royal Enfield, in particular, has tried to replicate their own J2 model that had grabbed the fancy of many in its days. The most evident similarity between the J2 and the Classic, noticed at first glance, has to be the single saddle with springs. The company is providing the pillion seat separately with this bike and those who need it can attach it to the motorcycle easily by themselves. The long, straight pipe exhaust comes as a stock fitment with the bike. A more stylish and louder silencer is available as an option at a premium. Royal Enfield has shifted to 18-inch wheels, which in the case of the Classic, comes in the form of spoke wheels further adding a retro feel to the motorcycle. Look at the new Royal Enfield Classic 500 from any angle and it definitely reminds you of the 1950s machines.
But it was not just the styling and looks of the new Classic 500 that made me yearn for a ride on it. The company claims to have taken a huge leap forward with regard to the technology used in their latest machine; the most important of the lot being UCE (Unit Construction Engine) and EFI (Electronic Fuel Injection). Basically, in the UCE, the clutch and the gearbox are integrated in the crankcase itself making it a compact engine. Use of the UCE has also helped in reducing the weight of the engine by 4kg. However to retain the characteristics of the Classic, they have maintained the bike’s overall weight by compensating for the saved kilos elsewhere – for example, the huge fenders. The EFI optimizes the air-fuel mixture and makes sure that the bike is in a perfect state to operate over a wide range of altitudes and temperatures. UCE and EFI are being used by other manufacturers for years now and finally Royal Enfield has adopted these technologies to make their products better.
My wish to ride the Royal Enfield Classic 500 was fulfilled when the company offered the bike to a few journalists, including me, for a ride from Chennai to Bangaluru via Coonoor – a distance of over 900km in two days. The route was chalked out in such a manner that it covered the smooth and straight national highways, the twisty state highways and almost a 100km of uphill/downhill ghat sections in the Nilgiri mountain ranges. The first leg of the ride from Chennai to Krishnagiri took me on the long straights of the NH46. The first few kilometers before getting out of the city were enough to indicate the humongous amount of torque offered by the 500cc single cylinder engine powering the Classic. A gentle nudge at the throttle made sure that the bike surged ahead most willingly. The 41.3Nm of peak torque starts acting up right at 4000rpm, giving the bike a very strong low and midrange kick. As for the top end, I could manage a speedometer indicated 125km/h on the highway. The motorcycle feels amazingly smooth at 80km/h. In fact, the sweet spot to ride at on the highway would be around 90-95km/h when the vibrations from the engine are yet to creep into the handlebar and the footpegs and you are doing a sufficiently high speed to munch miles at a stretch. However, it is not the easiest bike to ride beyond 100km/h. Being retro styled, you cannot expect it to have any kind of aerodynamics and that is where it suffers. A hint of wind is enough for the Classic to get into weaves at three-digit speeds. A point to be noted about the top speed here is that I was riding the bike with the stock exhaust. Later, I got an opportunity to ride the one with the optional exhaust and to my surprise, I could hit the 140km/h mark on the speedometer. A huge difference, isn’t it? Performance runs on the bike with the optional exhaust revealed that it sprints from standstill to 60km/h in a mere 4.57 seconds and does a top whack of 131 km/h (true). Also, the thump and the looks of the optional exhaust are a lot more alluring than that of the stock one.
After almost 500km, we finally hit the mountain ranges. By now, there were a few things crystal clear to me. Firstly, the Classic 500 has a torquey and powerful engine that will let you cruise comfortably at slightly under 100km/h. Secondly, you can go beyond that speed but it is not recommended. Thirdly, the seat is not comfortable at all. I was trying to find the most relaxed spot on the seat to sit on for almost all the while with no success. At the same time, I would like to mention that the handlebar-seat-footpeg geometry has been perfectly optimized thus making sure that you don’t get exhausted even after hundreds of kilometers on the tarmac. Coming back to the mountain twisties that we hit in the last 70-80km of the ride, I wasn’t expecting a lot from the heavyweight, retro architecture motorcycle around the corners. Boy, was I wrong! The Classic is quite planted and stable around the bends. Partial credit for this goes to the MRF Zappers doing their duty on the Classic which do not give even a hint of low grip when leaned over.
I also noticed the weird positioning of the odometer between the needle and scale of speedometer. Minor thing, but when you are traveling at speeds between 60km/h to 100km/h, you cannot read all the digits of the odometer. So either you have to raise the speed or reduce it in order to read all the digits of the odometer. How irritating! Secondly, the brake pedal most often scrapes the ground in the tight right handers when leaned over giving you the jitters and disturbing your concentration. The vibrations in a Royal Enfield are its trademark characteristic. And even if the rider is okay with that, there are practical issues. For example, it is hard for you to make out what is in your rear view mirror because of the vibrations. Though a Royal Enfield is mostly used for touring there is no option of luggage carriers on it yet. However, I believe that the boffins at the factory are working on it. Apart from these few minor issues that can be addressed in the future, the Classic 500 will prove to be a success for the company. Royal Enfield has moved ahead in terms of technology, fit-finish and styling. The last but a very important point about the engine is that it did not leak even a drop of oil from anywhere during the 900+ km trip – worth applauding.