Royal Enfield Bullet Classic | First Ride

New Old Stock

By Roland Brown, Photography by James Adam Bolton

The Royal Enfield Bullet Classic takes you back a few decades. At least until a fully faired sportbike streaks by and returns you to 2010. Still, the Enfield feels right at home in the here and now. It slows obediently and accelerates away again enthusiastically. Previous Bullets never felt like this.

The first complete redesign since the original Bullet was rolled out more than 50 years ago, the Classic is as important to Royal Enfield as the 1984 Evolution V-twin was to Harley-Davidson. The 499cc, overhead cam, air-cooled single uses a unit-construction (one-piece engine/gearbox) design for the first time, along with other modern touches like fuel injection, hydraulic tappets, wet-sump lubrication and an exhaust catalyst to meet global emissions standards. The more compact result uses fewer castings and makes about 10 percent more power, thanks in part to tighter internal tolerances. It's also quicker and cheaper to build.

A familiar, rounded fuel tank and the heavily finned engine dominate the look. The Keihin EFI hardware is untidy. Otherwise, the Classic is a simple, stylish, period piece.

The big single fires instantly at the press of the button-no more kick starter-and idles reliably. Throttle and clutch action are light, and acceleration is noticeably brisker. An occasional sputter mars low-end power delivery, but the softly tuned motor is flexible enough for easy top-gear acceleration from below 40 mph, accompanied by a restrained but melodious exhaust note.

With a claimed 28 peak horsepower on tap at 5250 rpm, the 411-pound Bullet is a leisurely performer-fast enough to keep up with city traffic but lacking on the freeway. Even so, it's reasonably smooth by single-cylinder standards, cruising contentedly at 50 mph. Noticeably more vibration comes through the handlebar and rubber-covered footpegs at 60 mph. The low seat and generous steering lock make the bike very maneuverable around town, and a cooperative five-speed gearbox enhances that rider-friendly nature. Top speed is about 75 mph, though most owners will be more interested in chasing the factory's optimistic 85-mpg fuel-consumption figure. In any case, the 3.8-gallon fuel tank delivers generous range.

Light, neutral steering, adequate cornering clearance and dependable grip from the Avon Roadrider tires make for good fun on twisty roads, and the ride is comfortable enough. And although the 280mm front disc and twin-piston caliper feel a bit soft at the lever, they're worlds ahead of the feeble drum on previous-generation Bullets.

All the polishing helps: Modest performance is well ahead of earlier efforts, and build quality is significantly improved. Although its price has inevitably increased, the Bullet is still reasonably inexpensive and cheap to run. While it remains out of its depth compared to modern bikes, this Classic brings Royal Enfield into the 21st century at last.

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