Kick starting this bike requires utmost respect and a little bit of patience as well. Yes, we are talking about the iconic Royal Enfield Bullet 350. The bike which has half the country’s biking junta salivating, while the rest scratching their heads in befuddlement. As in the advertisement for a popular chocolate on Indian television, you don’t just buy one, you earn it!
You cannot just throw your leg over the bike, thumb the starter and get going. You need to ensure the bike’s amp meter isn’t in the red and then give it one massive kick and hope the bike will roar to life. The rebound from the kick can be quite the risky thing; folk tales of the RE suggest that novices have injured their legs while trying to start the bike! The neutral finder in modern parlance can be called a quick shift way of finding neutral! The gear and brake levers are on the opposite side of the conventional, like all British brands. This takes an RE novice some time to get their head wrapped around! To add to this the bike has a shift pattern of 1 up and 3 down. But once the bike is running, the one thing that you will love for sure is the sound!
We rode a Cast Iron Bullet from 2009, with the typical thump which made the Bullet popular. The bike is not fast by any stretch of the imagination, instead, the rider is really relaxed on this motorcycle. You can feel the thump; you can feel the vibes actually resonate with the body. One of the reasons we believe that the Royal Enfields are so popular is that the vibrations feel so natural. The thump of the motorcycle seems to go hand in hand with that of the rider’s heart. A subliminal connect between man and machine.
The Cast Iron was phased out in 2011 in favour of the UCE (Unit Construction Engine). The biggest thing that the bike lost with this change was the thump for which the bike was known. Besides the thump, the bike has a certain charisma, which is not possible to decode. It can only be experienced. A lot of manufacturers have tried to replicate the cult-like following of the Bullet, but they have been unable to achieve the aura of this bike. The kind of popularity this bike enjoys is any marketers dream. A product which sells by itself. The only other manufacturers which have a similar following are Harley Davidson and Ducati and maybe to an extent BMW for their adventure touring series.
In 1955, Royal Enfield’s Chennai factory was built, from where bikes were rolled out to be sold to the Indian junta. Later the bikes were even exported around the world and still are.
This is the de facto motorcycle for foreigners coming to India. They will rent it for their trip to Ladakh! In North India, a typically used phrase for the Bullet is ‘Shaan ki sawaari’ loosely translated into ‘a ride for the royalty’. And you understand why this is so, when you sit upright on the Bullet, with the bike thumping away, you really couldn’t care less about what was happening around you. All that matters is the machine. Like Moses, the Bullet will part the sea of traffic! There is nothing like the Bullet on the road, and therein probably lies the success of the motorcycle.
Other manufacturers will spend millions of dollars to build up their brand but will fall well short of the Bullet. And that is why it is the king of Indian roads! The cult status of the ‘Bullet’ in India ensures that it has to be in the list of #100Motorcycles.