Anyone who compares a Yamaha FZ6 to a Royal Enfield is insane, surely? A state-of-the-art middleweight Japanese sportsbike versus a 60-year-old engine in a prehistoric chassis? No contest, right? Japan wins.
Well, sorry to be contrary, but no. I've just spent a most agreeable day ambling around Kanchanaburi green and pleasant on Enfield's Electra Clubman, having ridden a Yamaha FZ6 140km to get there. And while the Yamaha is very, very good at going very, very fast, the Enfield is even better at going slow.
The Royal Enfield story is short: historic pre-WWI Brit bike maker fails to compete with the Japanese in the Sixties and falls into decay, ceasing UK production in 1970. Meanwhile a factory in India continues to build bikes under license for the Indian market and in 1989 demand is deemed sufficient to introduce them to the European market.The Enfield Electra Clubman is a Fifties cafe racer variation on the basic Enfield theme with sport seat, ally tank, rear-sets, ace bars and 'sporty' exhaust. It behaves like a normal motorcycle; five gears engage cleanly with a long tug on the clutch, the front disc brake works, the Avon Super Venoms grip, and the engine is sprightly enough to coax the rudimentary suspension info life. This 60-year-old 25 horsepower single engine in an antiquated chassis is going to give me so much fun.
Acceleration, about the same rate as the Yamaha T-Max 250cc scooter I tested a well back, is accompanied by a surprisingly loud exhaust doffing up to 130km/h. You can't help hunkering down over the tank, imagining yourself as some dim and distant TT rider savoring a hot metal and oil experience so alien in today's perfumed perfection.
And, of course, the Enfield's limitations are abundantly obvious. There's no ground clearance. There's not much suspension. Braking is not the strongest side. And there's not a huge amount of rider comfort. But there's a mountain of feeling.... of raw, simple, un-fussed biking. Riding a Enfield Clubman is how it used to be, when the world was simpler and moved at a slower pace.
And because of that it's something a modern motorcycle will never be: a bike that's only as good as you are.