Recently I came across an old article by Yogesh Sarkar, where he discussed why he would NEVER go for a Bullet in his life. In my 60,000 kms of riding, I have mounted a Royal Enfield on very few occasions. I have ridden all of their creations, except the Continental GT, although my combined distance on the 500, 350 and Thunderbird would be nothing more than 50 kms.
I was born and brought up in the unofficial capital of Royal Enfields – Punjab. People here know only 2 kinds of bikes, the Bullets, and everything else. I have seen them, lived among them, and hated them since I can remember. So when I read that article by Yogesh, it brought back all of those memories. Here’s my take on why I would never go for a Royal Enfield, even if they were the last 2 wheeler manufacturer in the universe. In this article when I say Bullet, I mean all of them – 350, 500, Classic, Electra, Thunderbird 350 and 500 and whatever else there is.
1. Bullets are fucking slow
Never thought you heard “Bullet” and “slow” in the same sentence? Welcome to India. I have heard quite a few Royal Enfield riders, and RE officials explain this:
Bullets are not about speed, they are about the feel of riding.
Bullshit! What the hell does that even mean? They might as well have said this:
Bullets are not about speed, or agility, or braking, or acceleration, or leaning, or comfort, or stability, or fun, or safety, they are about the feel of riding.
Let me give you an example. During the India Bike Week, Goa – 2014, I was riding from Mumbai and had reached about 50 kms off Vagator beach. I had ridden alone the past 400 kms, and was a bit bored. Looking for some company, I found 2 guys on Bullets. I had always wanted to feel what it’s like to ride like a Bullet-eer does, so I started following them.
The worst hour of my life! These guys never went above 65 kmph, a speed where I am barely able to shift into 6th. The road in front of them was wide open, no traffic, nothing to stop them, but their top speed for the entire section was 69 kmph. How can someone ride like this? Why would someone ride like this?
Some people might argue that these guys were good riders and were following the speed limit. I beg to differ. In my experience, it is much safer to ride a bike above speed limit in India than it is below it. It’s like they say, when in Rome do as the Romans do. No one in India rides on the speed limit, so if you are below it, you are likely to get something jammed up from your behind. Yes, we must do what we expect others to and all of that shit, but I am talking real world practical stuff here, not imaginary goodwill and random quotations.
I also strongly believe that speed limit should be a matter of good judgement, not some bureaucratic rule. If you can see the road is wide open, nothing should stop you from riding at a comfortable speed, above the specified limit.
2. Royal Enfields are unreliable
This is something everyone knows, but the fanatic bull riders chose to make it heroic. Ever met one of those Royal Enfield riders who brag about how their 200 kg piece of metal got stuck somewhere away from civilization and how they got their hands dirty and used jugaad to limp it back valiantly to a mechanic?
Royal Enfields belong to a museum. They might be fun to drive if the highways are happy and luck is on your side, but on a rainy day they can throw up quite a tantrum. Using old technology and hand-crafted parts on a machine that is expected to take you safely to the end of the world, just in the name of tradition and charm, doesn’t work well with me.
When I was coming back from Khardungla in Ladakh, I met a couple from France who were going up on their Bullet 350. They were stranded on the side of the road, their chain had come off the rear sprocket and was stuck between the rim and the swing arm. A taxi driver had stopped to help, but with his tools he wasn’t able to reach the rear axle nut.
With nothing more than human power, we 3 guys wrenched the chain out from there and put it on the sprocket, but it was too loose. Since we weren’t able to loosen the axle nut we couldn’t tighten the chain up. It was 2 in the afternoon, so I advised them to go back and get the bike repaired, because going to the world’s highest motorable road on that bike was just plain stupid.
It is possible that the rental bike these French people had taken was badly maintained, and I have seen the chain acting up like this on Pulsars and Unicorns. The problem was that the bike’s design didn’t allow this simple problem to be rectified easily.
3. Bullets are noisy – and the bad kind of noisy
I am not talking about the stock exhaust note of any Royal Enfield bike, I like them all. The problem is, very rare people let their Bullets have that sweet burbling sound. If you are in Punjab, REs will have that explosive, crackling noise due to exhaust modification. In Maharashtra, Bullets have that irritating high pitched noise due to some stupid rubber attachment.
Add to that the crazy amount of vibrations at the handlebars and foot pegs, and you might feel like you are on a tractor. The instrument console vibrated so much I was afraid it was going to fall off. My hands are feet were completely numb after riding a Thunderbird for about 20 minutes, I have no idea how these Bull riders continue going for hours.
Thumpers have a characteristic bassey sound that you can feel on your heart, but people want to make their presence well known, even if you would rather not. A high capacity engine like the Bullet is bound to make a hell lot of noise even if the least bit of tinkering is done with the stock setup. It’s exactly like the Harley riders in US, they think with their big V twins and loud exhausts that they are king of the highways. In reality, they are loathed and considered attention whores. If you have a Royal Enfield, do me the favor to keep it the way it was born.
4. Bullets have really bad brakes
Things have improved since Royal Enfield started putting disc brakes, but they haven’t improved as much as I would like them to. The disc brake improvement has come way too late also, at a time when ABS is starting to become standard. The older versions that I drove simply refused to stop when told to. With their huge bulk and shitty tires, the bad brakes are the last nail in the rolling coffin.
It’s a good thing that Bullets are so fucking slow, otherwise you would have found a Bull kissing the pavement every second day. For something that is supposed to be a mile muncher, Bullets sure do manage NOT to tick all the right boxes.
5. Bullets give shitty mileage
When was the last time you ever spoke to a Bull rider who was getting more than 35 kilometers to the liter? I never have. Even the most well maintained RE will not cross 40. And they don’t have extraordinarily big fuel tanks either, so what you end up with is a small range on full tank.
I ride a Duke 390 that gives barely 230 kms on full tank, so I know how much pain small range can be. But you know what? The Duke gives you massive amount of fun with whatever fuel you give it. Again, all I am trying to say here is that for a bike whose purpose is supposed to be tripping 365 days a year, the engineers didn’t care much about how far you could go with how less fuel. There appears to be no aim to the bike, just old-style charm bullshit.
6.Bullets are unnecessarily heavy
Bull riders very proudly proclaim that all of their bike is made of metal, no plastic like the Duke or the Pulsar. I personally feel that if you are more concerned about what your bike is made of as opposed to where and how it will take you, you need to seriously reconsider your biking ideology.
Bullet riders have an explanation for this as well:
The heavy weight of the bike keeps it stable on highways.
Excellent! If that is your logic, why not tie 25 kg dumbbells all over the bike until there is no space left? I bet even Zeus will not be able to throw you off balance then. Jokes aside, this explanation breaks up even further in when you consider it for Indian circumstances – what highways? How many highways did you ride on during your Ladakh ride? What about central India? East India? India has roads with no roads, random off-roading spots and overall unimaginably horrible road infrastructure. A heavy bike is nothing more than a pain in the ass, especially when you have a break down.
Sometimes when I look at a Royal Enfield, all I can see is a big blob of metal shaped into the approximate form of a bike. Tomorrow if they invent a bike made of cheese and spaghetti that goes smoother and corners better than my Duke, I wouldn’t waste 2 seconds to get on its saddle. What would a Bull rider do? He would probably grate the cheese on the spaghetti, eat it in a metal bowl and keep praising how awesome REs are.
So there you have it, my reasons for never buying a Bullet, ever. It is possible that you might not agree with what I have said here, but that’s OK. This is my perception, yours might be completely different. I am happy on my Duke as of now, and looking for something bigger in the future. Until then, ride safe and have fun!
UPDATE: In the 1 month this article has been live, it has become the most read post on my blog. Some people agree with it, some people don’t, and some people just hate what I have said! All I can say is, I respect your opinion, even if you don’t respect mine.
In the discussions, I found one more reason why not to go for an RE. So here’s a bonus 7th reason why I would never buy a Royal Enfield.
7. Bullets have spoked wheels
Say what again? Why do Bullets have spoked wheels? Spokes are generally considered good for hardcore off-roading activities, because even if they do bend a bit, they can be repaired with ease. I don’t think you can do a dime worth of off-roading with an RE, at least not comfortably, so why then have they not got alloy wheels and tubeless tires?
Because alloys are an update on spokes, and Royal Enfield doesn’t believe in going for newer things. Anything piece of tech or engineering that isn’t at least a decade old, doesn’t fit the criteria to be used in a Bullet. Some people say spokes ride better and softer than alloys, but I have never felt that difference. Many Bull riders update to alloys, but that’s not what the company thinks is best for them.
The biggest nightmare with spokes is that you can’t use tubeless tires on them. In a world where almost everybody is moving away from tube tires, RE is still giving them the thumbs up. It is so hard to fix a tube puncture! You gotta remove the rear wheel, deflate the tyre, take the tyre off, find the damned nail, find the damage to the tube, rub it with sandpaper, apply that gluey thing, press it, put it back in, put back the tire, inflate it, and put the wheel back in its place.
All of this become so much more difficult because of the added bulk of an RE. For a tubeless tire, all you need to do is remove the nail, push in the sealant strip and voila! End of story. You can even go for Slime, that immediately plugs any holes and keeps your tires puncture free. But that is too easy for the hard-core bikers that ride Royal Enfields. Oh, and tubeless tires can be ridden even with a puncture, all you need to do is keep pushing some air in over small distances. Because tubeless tires lose air very slowly, you can go a long way before any damage will happen.
Tube tires just blast away like a party balloon, sometimes putting you off-balance. Imagine you are riding to Ladakh, next to a 1000 foot drop, and your front tire suddenly goes bam! Your steering veers to the left, right towards a long and painful death, and there’s nothing you can do to stop it. For a normal guy, this would be strict no-no. For a Bull rider, this seems like another part of their so-called adventure.
UPDATE 2: How could I have missed this? I have no idea why this isn’t the number 1 reason not to go for a Bullet, but here it is at number 8
8: Bullets have a fucking long waiting period
Why do Bullets have such a long waiting period? Oh yes, I remember, they are “hand-made”. Awesome, cool. All Bullets are hand made, and all of them look the same. What’s the point of a hand-made machine if it is not unique? Again a bunch of that tradition bullshit. Why don’t you go for a 1970’s color TV? Or a Pentium 4 computer? Why not just become an Amish and stop the debate once and for all?
My roommate had to wait 4 months for a Thunderbird 350. The waiting period for some specific colors goes over a year. 6 months is a generally agreed time frame required to own a Royal Enfield these days. Why the hell? In today’s motorcycle market, people are getting new, better, cheaper options every other day. How can someone wait for 6 months to own a giant piece of metal?
I don’t understand the point of this, do RE people think this makes their bikes kind of exclusive? Like only the people stupid enough to wait for so long should get to buy one? Have they not heard of a production line? Machines? Automation? I bet you a 1000 dead fetuses, if RE bikes are made quicker and with less manual intervention, their reliability will increase. But no! That’s not cool with the Bull riders.
But I guess it’s OK. People who care to wait for such a long time to own an inferior machine deserve it all. Royal Enfield is a company that survives on mass idiocy today, I mean no guy with half a brain will even consider going for an RE in the present scenario. Yes, 20 yrs ago Bullets were the best, but time goes on! A Bullet is kind of at an awkward stage right now, not old enough to be an antique, and not young enough to be useful. It’s kind of like a living fossil, an obsolete craze, a useless necessity.
UPDATE 3: Recently I’ve had a few deep conversation with loyal Royal Enfield owners about why they continue to support such a brand that produces sub-standard motorcycles. Apart from that, I’ve noticed a lot of Bullet owners facing problems with their bikes and getting the middle finger from RE. This brings me to the 9th reason why I would never buy a Royal Enfield, and perhaps the most important one!
9. Royal Enfield doesn’t give a shit about its customers:
We hate the company, but we love the bikes.
This is the gist of every talk I had with most of these Enfield owners, something that I have to admit I don’t really understand. If you have reasonably good enough number of biking friends on Facebook, it’s a daily routine to find some RE owner hopelessly bitching about his bike, swearing against the company, begging for help.
Somebody destroyed the chassis, someone else lost all their authorized service points, some dude went to the service center to get 1 problem fixed and came back with 11 more. If you are in warranty, you are in luck, if not, you are fucked. I’ve seen so many complaints falling on deaf ears, and it’s really easy to understand why.
Royal Enfield’s revenue model is different from most other manufacturers, it appears skewed heavily towards service and spares. Think of it like this, when you buy a Honda, it’s like converting to Buddhism. You get something, and then you are left alone to find your way with it. When you buy an RE, it’s like converting to Christianity. You get something, and then you pay to stay with it, pay to keep it happy, pay to find some use for it. Also like Christianity, the real fun begins with death.
Another thing that can give you an idea of the arrogance of this company is the Rider Mania. Royal Enfield hosts something of its own at Goa, while the groups do something of their own with the BOBMC RM. The biggest defining feature of the Royal Enfield “brotherhood” in India is the maddening number of riding groups that can be found in every nook and crannie all over the country. If that fact that riders prefer to host an event on their own rather than associating with the manufacturer doesn’t tell you how much Bullet owners hate RE, I don’t know what will.