1 Apr
The oldest bike manufacturer in the world begins US invasion

Along with many of the competitors of its day — such as Matchless, BSA, Norton, Triumph, etc — Royal Enfield converted its plants from making an array of powered goods (including motorcycles) to producing firearms during WWII. After the war, it was among that breed of British motorcycles above that defined an era. With the emergence of Japanese bikes, which were cheaper, smaller, and in many cases more reliable, Royal Enfield declined rapidly, selling to Norton/Triumph in 1968 and eventually dissolving entirely in 1971. Or did it? As it turns out, India decided to invest a big chunk of dough to buy a large fleet of motorcycles to protect its borders in 1955, and after a long search settled upon the very reliable Royal Enfield Bullet. So to fill out this huge order at the time (800 bikes), Royal Enfield licensed the technology to an Indian company and Royal Enfield India was born… and ended up surviving its predecessor. Which makes Royal Enfield, in a way, the oldest surviving motorcycle manufacturer in the world… via blood transfusion, if you will.

So to this day, Royal Enfield has been building bikes (over 50,000 last year) — and are about to introduce some new models into the US. The first is the B5 Bullet Classic, based on that very same bike that kept Royal Enfield’s bloodlines alive in India. It is essentially the same bike that’s been made in India since 1955, and has not changed visually at all since — frame, tank, sheet metal, etc. All the running gear, however, has been modernized with a new fuel-injected engine, new transmission and disc brakes in the front. Word on the street is the container holding the B5s just arrived today, and should be hitting dealerships this month for a very reasonable cost of $5,495 ($5,695 in California). The second bike is the G5 Electra Classic, which dates back to the late 60s, with all the new running gear as its B5 brethren for the cost of $5,995 ($6,295 in California). Both bikes have 19″ wheels.

Interestingly, the most retro looking of all the bikes — the Bullet C5 Classic 500 (above) — has the most modern frame introduced in 2009. But its sheet metal dates back to the late 30s, as do its 18″ wheels, making it a gorgeous option for only $6,395 ($6,695 California). As with both of the above bikes, the C5 has the same Royal Enfield-built fuel-injected single-cylinder 500cc — an overhead valve push rod engine with hydraulic valve lifters and self-adjusting primary chain, making it a very low maintenance powerplant (as is needed in India). Best of all, the engine boasts 70 mpg fuel economy.

It’s important to note that these Royal Enfields don’t just look vintage, they are vintage. All 3 are essentially handmade, with parts machined as they have been for over half a century making them the oldest production motorbikes in the world. And since the bikes were commissioned to function in India, they were also mapped by Keihin (esteemed carburetor manufacturers) to pass the highest roads in the world, and can function on 18,250 feet high Himalayan passes (above the altitude jet liners need oxygen and instrument flight plans). There are a few special editions with more chrome, or the very spartan Military Edition (below), providing some beautiful vintage rides all for well under $7,000. Mighty worth digging into if you’re looking for a reliable weekend ride…

The Military edition C5 , plus special California Edition C5 and G5 Deluxes in gallery below…

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