Aiming to bring back the authentic feel of bikes from the 1950s and 1960s, many manufacturers have put modern technology and classic design together, giving birth to modern retro bikes like the Triumph Boneville and the Kawasaki W800.
As much as these bikes look like classics, they are not the real deal.
These bikes are merely a revival of the classic bike design, whereas the Royal Enfield Bullet 500 which we reviewed is a true survivor, remaining the same in terms of character and feel since the day it made its debut back in 1948.
The Bullet, which is currently being imported from India, is still hand-built today. Even the lines on the tank are hand-painted. While its rivals have quite a number of plastic components, the Bullet’s parts are mostly made of metal.
Used by the Indian army in the 1960s, the Bullet quickly gained popularity in India and remains an icon till today due to its ability to handle rugged road conditions with ease.
As modern emission laws were making it difficult for the Bullet's old engine to remain legal, Royal Enfield introduced the all new Japanese-made Keihin electronic fuel injection (EFI) engine in 2007; the one that is powering all Bullets at the moment.
Besides the new engine, electric ignition was also added, along with new electrics, switchgear, gearbox parts and more rigid components like the new front forks.
The version which we reviewed was the classic chrome black, which features a generous dose of chrome on it. Besides the chrome, the new front fork and the after market exhaust pipe, it looks exactly like how it was 50 years ago.
After receiving the keys to the bike, we couldn't help but wonder how much like the old, original Bullet can the new one be, with the modern emissions compliant engine and other touches.
Upon pressing the electric starter, the Bullet came to life, sounding exactly the same as the old one. Thanks to the motor’s long-stroke cylinder and heavy flywheel, the Bullet’s distinctive thumping sound was still there.
Riding the Bullet was easy. The clutch was not as soft as Japanese bikes, but it was still easy on our hands. Despite its size, it is light and very agile. In fact, it took us less than 10 minutes to get used to it.
Although the 41Nm of maximum torque was only supposed to kick in at 4,000rpm, there was still a lot of torque available at lower rpm. The slightest twist of the throttle sent the Bullet pouncing into motion, staying true to its tagline, which says “built like a gun, moves like a bullet”. Even when we were on fourth gear, more than enough torque was available, making short bursts and overtaking a fun experience.
Although the sitting position is ideal for highway cruising, the Bullet is also a good city bike, as it is quick, agile, comfortable and fuel efficient. On highways, it could be ridden at around 110km/h for hours.
Gear shift was smooth, making it a perfect long distance cruiser. It was clunky, yet precise. The only setback was that the engine heat could be felt the moment we stopped. It is not that bad if the rider wears jeans or riding pants, but it is not going to be a pleasant experience if the rider is in his Bermudas.
Besides that, the Bullet is a very fun bike to ride. It does not only ooze with presence, but also has a lot of character. Despite being new, it is as close as one can get to a 1950s bike.
Specifications of the Royal Enfield Bullet 500
Engine: Single cylinder, four stroke, Twinspark
Maximum power: 27bhp @ 5,250rpm
Maximum torque: 41Nm @ 4,000rpm
Transmission: Five-speed constant mesh
Engine oil: 15W 50 API
Fuel capacity: 14.5 litres