When it comes to authentic retro riding you can't get much closer than the Royal Enfield. To all intents and purposes, this is the same motorcycle that was churned out in Britain until 1970 when the factory shut its doors. But while British production halted, a satellite Indian factory, build to supply Royal Enfield Bullets to the Indian army, has continued making the motorcycle to this day.
Despite the recent revolutionary changes of adding a left-hand gear change and electric starter, the basic design of the Royal Enfield has been left manifestly unchanged.
Fire up the Cafe Racer and it sounds like a British bike should: loud and proud. Unfortunately the Royal Enfield also rides like an old British bike.
Where other cafe racer styled motorcycles look old but feel modern, the Royal Enfield looks and rides like a bike from another era. The skinny tyres, wobbly suspension, poor brakes and, in the case of the Cafe Racer, tucked-in riding position make riding the bike an interesting experience. It will chug away at a fairly happy 100km/h but I wouldn't recommend attacking your favorite bends with any gusto. Also Enfield riders should come with bulletproof ego to spare, because while concentrated on the speed dial and making myself aerodynamic as humanly possible, I was past by a grandmother on a scooter going home from the market with groceries in the front basket. But again we must ask: who is the bike is aimed at?
Over Christman I was talking to the local village head from the village where my folks live. With a bottle of Mekong and enough mixers he was telling me about the Enfield he'd had for a few years, a modern Indian Enfield. He loved it because it looked like an old bike, but came with modern electrics and more than fair chance of starting every morning.
So folk like this, then, are the kind of riders who appreciate the Enfield for what it is, a real retro bike with enough of a modern makeover to keep its character while making it more reliable. Okay, it's not perfect. The electronics are still dodgy, and reliability is a big word for an Enfield. But then, I reckon that Enfield owners are secretly waiting for their bikes to not run quite right so they can approach them with the toolbox.