Riding the Himalayas and the Royal Enfield Bullet

The Royal Enfield Bullet is a source of considerable pride in India – as even the most casual conversation about them will soon tell you. Even with non-bikers, chests swell and that wonderful Indian idiosyncrasy the head wobble quickly lets you know you are on fertile and friendly ground.

But outside of India a Bullet causes few heads to turn and riding one is more likely to provoke sympathy than jealousy…

However in India they exude a similar charisma to that of a Harley in the USA and make their presence felt before you can actually see them with their distinctive exhaust note.

Royal Enfield Bullet on the Rohtang Pass

Royal Enfield Bullet on the Rohtang Pass

First introduced in 1949 when the Indian government bought 350cc Bullets for border patrol duty, and then in 1955 ordered 800 Bullets for use by the army and police and Royal Enfield opened a factory in Madras (now Chennai) to assemble the bikes and from 1957 to manufacture them. The design remained unchanged and production of the original Bullet continued long after Royal Enfield closed the doors of its UK factory at Redditch in 1971 – one of the earlier casualties of the decline on the British motorcycle industry…

The Royal Enfield Engine

The Royal Enfield UCE Engine

By the mid 1990’s the Bullet was looking distinctly dinosaur-like and declining quality along with poor sales took Enfield India to the brink of bankruptcy.

Tractor and bus company Eicher assumed control in 1995 and invested in turning the company around as Royal Enfield Motors.

Over the next 12 years the new management introduced numerous innovations to the Bullet, albeit with varying degrees of success…

Then in 2007 an all new aluminum unit construction engine (UCE) was released, effectively changing the game and making the Bullet reliable again, which brought a whole new lease of life to this Indian icon!

That said I have to admit that I had my doubts about the suitability of the venerable Bullet to our trip through the Himalayas, but they turned out to be ideally suited to the job in hand.

Simple, rugged but powerful enough to pull or push you through the challenging terrain we went through – so much so that the Himalayas and the Royal Enfield Bullet are now like two sides of the same coin…

The new Bullet, and its significantly improved reliability, has spawned a whole new cottage industry for bikers looking to explore the sub-continent on two wheels and there are now numerous ways to get to even the most remote corners of the country.

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