Riding the Royal Enfield Bullet

BY RAV DEKA

Every year, several hundred wheel-crazed travellers arrive in India with plans to explore the subcontinent on a motorcycle – riding over the frozen Himalayas or through the sweltering heat of the Rajasthan desert to the humid greenery of the south. Some sign up for an all-inclusive guided motorcycle safari, others just rent or purchase a machine and find their own directions. But all come here with the intent of riding; few find themselves on a saddle by a fluke.

Though by no means a rider’s paradise with pockmarked roads, chaotic traffic, and the ever-present wandering holy cows, motorcycling in India has limitations, a distinctive appeal as well. The majority of which belongs to the thrill of riding a Royal Enfield Bullet.

The sole remnant of the once glorious British Motorcycling Industry, Enfields are still manufactured in India and are available in 350cc and 500cc models, differing little from the 1958 UK models (Enfields re-badged as Indians were also sold in the U.S. during the Fifties).

Terribly outdated, but of robust construction with easy availability of spares, the 4 stroke singles are the clear favourite among the motorcycling travellers in the country (although an occasional tourist might be spied puttering along on a Vespa or a Japanese bike).

The roads might not be silky nor the machines without glitches, yet motorcycling in India gives very powerful insights into life in this vast and diverse country.

More importantly, travelling by motorbike provides adventurous travellers with the opportunity to learn how we face the various extremities thrown at us.

It gives us the chance to see ourselves when one maniacal truck driver almost pushes you off the road while another offers shelter during a flash blizzard atop the Baralacha La.

Similarly, whether trying to connect with a bunch of villagers praying at Lake Pushkar or celebrating Bob Dylan’s birthday in Shillong, the motorcycle is only one part of what is involved while touring India.

A mode of transportation, yes, but a potent tool of self-development as well.

Many motorcycle travellers in India rent bikes for short trips, or purchase and resell them for longer ones.

Nana’s Garage on Connaught Place in New Delhi is the most famous as well as the most expensive place to buy, rent and repair Enfields. Inder Motors of Karol Bagh follows close behind. Bargaining is highly recommended. The average cost of renting a bike for two weeks will set you back by Rs.12,000-15,000 ($300-$400 approx.)

There are numerous other used motorcycle dealers in the Karol Bagh area. But with all, an eye for oil leaks, not shiny chrome, and ears for engine clanks, not sales talk is the way to go when choosing a bike. The average prices start around $600 for a used 350cc model and $1000 for the 500cc model. New ones start at $1300 and $1600 respectively.

In Chennai (Madras) in south India, used motorcycles are marginally cheaper. Try the many dealers on Harris Road. Workmanship much better than in north India, but bargaining is indispensable. In neighbouring Pondicherry, bikes are even lower priced.

Despite the allure of riding a literal classic, it best to avoid bikes over 10 years old.

For extended tours, it makes more sense to buy a new or used machine and sell it at the end of the trip. Try finding another motorcycling experience hungry traveller, as the dealers hardly pay more than two-thirds of the purchase price, irrespective of the condition of the vehicle and their earlier commitments. Goa is a good place to unload bikes, while South India is the worst.