Emm collects her new classic bike. Emm loves her new classic bike. The new classic bike wasn’t yet available for comment…
Visitors to this site will know that I have eagerly awaited the opportunity to collect a new motorbike recently and, with thanks to those of you that have whet my appetite over the last few weeks, I can now declare myself to be the ludicrously over-excited owner of a new Royal Enfield 500cc Bullet. For any one that could possibly need an introduction, this bike is somewhat of an anachronism in the world of (Real) Classics as, although it is still manufactured, the blueprints were rumoured to have been first seen in a Neanderthal cave drawing.
‘Be more specific!’, I hear you cry, ‘Give us a description! What about the technical details?!’ Well, it’s shiny, black, has lots of engine and sports a neat gold line on the petrol tank too. You will have gathered that I am not a technical expert. Did I mention that I make up for this with enthusiasm?
Well, having collected the aforementioned beastie I thought that perhaps you would let me share a few thoughts about my ride home. Mr CBR600F in our Shed showed no enthusiasm or excitement when I arrived, and I’m thinking about swapping him for a dishwasher.
Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin. (RealMart can add a few stock shots – I’ll grab a camera soon!)
The story begins at Haywards in Cambridge; Royal Enfield dealer extraordinaire and makers of a pretty decent cuppa on the quiet too. They were a bit glum today, as some nerks had broken into part of the showroom and helped themselves to a few flying jackets, full face helmets and goggles from a display cabinet. Five brand new Royal Enfield Sixty-5s were still there when I arrived, but you can interpret that one of several ways.
The handover of the Bullet was brief. Brief, because there isn’t a lot you can tell a woman with a glazed expression on her face and an ignition key that’s shaking with excitement. I was safely inducted into ‘kicking it over’, and shown how to decompress something over there, push something else down here until something in there gets sticky and then ‘Wang yer boot down and don’t fer-git ter foller threw’. Marvellous. Simply Marvellous.
Determined to make that little Indian chappie fitting electric starts redundant and eternally the optimist, I have every intention of starting her properly each time I ride. (Unless it’s wet. Then it doesn’t count). By the way, he muttered something in passing about ‘occasional kick-back…?’, ‘keep the handlebars turned….?’ and ‘had I got medical cover….?’, but I’m sure that’s nothing to worry about.
After a while talking about sprucketts, munions and adjustable groobs though, the sad truth dawned that the rest of the technical handover was pretty wasted on me. It was obvious that I had tuned out of technical and was at one with the machine, thud-thud-thudding away on its centrestand: you can almost beat time as the glorious single lump turns over. With that said, I have sweet talked the dealership into spending some time showing me what munions do and how to adjust the groob, so that I can get myself out of minor technical trouble on the side of the road. It’s a When. Not an If.
‘You won’t need the sidestand. If you put it on the sidestand, it’ll leak.’ Cue demonstration of tilting bike, precipitously held over at an angle. Lucky really that I’m a hefty wench and able to heave the well balanced bike on and off its stand without causing too much distress to the hernia. With the handover done, the Cambridgeshire lanes beckoned. A ‘break me in gently’ session was booked with a local instructor, who grinned at my glazed expression and threw his eyes to the back of his head when I mentioned some previous entanglement with slow speed right turns. ‘Clutch control.’ He said. ‘Sounds easy.’ I said. And it was.
This bike has the patience of Job. It will pull away in the wrong gear (I’m coming to that) and cheerfully chug its way up to speed with no effort whatsoever. When you slip the clutch, the front end pulls you through a turn like a hand-pulled pint of bitter foaming into a tall glass — magical. The lever itself has plenty of travel, though, and I did find that having it pulled in properly includes the last five millimetres of play – or else she didn’t like it very much. I am assured that that’s adjustable.
Something else showed that it needs adjusting. Within 50 yards of the dealership, I found myself wondering whether all those other Bullets in the car park really had just one mirror. I leaned forward slightly, and nearly gave myself a mastectomy with the damn thing. It had wriggled loose. Wobble to kerb and blasphemous rant as Vaselined nut refuses to tighten. Glove off, spit, rub round nut, tighten. Excellent. We’re off again, up – or down – through the gears and out into the country lanes at a respectable running in speed of 40mph.
Now then. The Bullet is still produced with gears on the right side of the bike although its younger brother, the Sixty-5, has made the transition to ‘leftism’. First is up and somewhere after first gear in this gear box, on the way back down, there is neutral. Somewhere after neutral, on my bike, there is fog. And eventually, somewhere after that fog, there is fourth gear. No second, no third, just fourth gear. Let me explain.
To get her into first gear, from neutral, you need the front right leg of an Indian Elephant to heave the lever up until you feel a ‘snick’ – and you’re there. Pulling the clutch all the way in, you push the gear lever down until you feel the ‘snick’ of neutral and then go further, into the ‘clunk’ of second. You release the clutch. The bike revs madly and the piston flails wildly with no real idea why it’s being thrashed to within an inch of its life. You’re still in neutral. You resort to Elephant tactics and do the ‘Right Boot Stomp’. The bike drops neatly into gear. Fourth gear. Ch-ug, ch-ug, ch-ug, ch-ug. Graceful recovery (big grin) with thunderous amounts of torque heave you steadily out of all sorts of embarrassing trouble.
From fourth, the trail back down – or up – the gears, is no less entertaining. You ‘snick’ it out of fourth and it plops straight into something that resembles…. neutral. Incidentally, when you need to find neutral at a Give Way sign – not a hope in hell. Even though they put that handy little lever there to help you, chances are that at that point you’ve gone straight into first. Sneaky.
Then, although there was a long stretch of road where I thought that I’d got to grips with the ever changing co-ordinates of second and third gear, I managed to lose track completely of where I was in the gear box and, on doing the Elephant Heave at a left turn, I found an amazing new noise. It goes ‘cluurrrrrrkkkkk’. And if you try again to put the bike in first gear – it does it again! So assuming you’re already there, you let out the clutch and chug, chug, chug – off you go.
Marvellous. Won’t hear a bad word said against it. Nothing that a little running-in can’t sort out. The gearbox should be better after a few hundred miles too. And while we’re on the technical side of the ride home – ‘what about the brakes?’ I hear you cry. Piece of cake. Psyche yourself into stopping about three minutes before you need to and you’ll be fine. Perhaps that’s a little unkind, as these are new drum brakes, and I have to say that the back brake is so sweet that I thought my U-turns were done on icing sugar. I could feel the back of the bike tightening up gently and, as there’s not much play in the brake lever, the hint of a boot on the pedal meant that village bends were tighter and almost seductive in their beckoning curves.
Out of the villages and onto the A505, dark rain swept across briefly. I ride with lights on anyway, but it did occur to me that the full beam was pretty impressive through the rain. Dipped headlights resembled a coal-miner’s headlamp however, and I think I’ll have to wiggle something electrical to sort that out. Never mind. Oh, and the blue tell-tale headlight lamp under the speedo is a bit sad, but that’s all right – because you can squint at the odometer and see the illuminated light casing through the front mounting.
The rest of my journey home was reasonably uneventful. You know when you’re running a bike in; bunny rabbits at the side of the road don’t move as you ride past. And although you could be forgiven for thinking that all I’ve done is whinge about my Bullet, you’d be wrong. I love this bike. It vibrates. It chugs. It makes a great noise. It has a gearbox with an inferiority complex and an engine that is reputedly reliable to the point of necessitating Graduate Courses in Mechanics. But I will Learn to Fix It When it Goes Wrong. I will study Pitman’s Motorcycle Handbook (Fifth Edition) until I can strip that spruckett back to its basic munion. I will ride it, and ride it, and ride it again. And it will be forgiving. It will understand that I need to learn how to ride it. Bear with me people, if I rant on incessantly.
James Dean eat your heart out – I couldn’t have been sexier than Bette Davis on a Francis Barnett on the way home.