Bikes: Royal Enfield Bullet 500

What happens when you combine classic motorcycle wiring and feminine intuition? Emm lights the blue touch paper and we should all stand well back…

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Royal Enfield motorcycles bear the slogan ‘Made like a Gun’.

Olive, as an example of a Royal Enfield 500 Bullet, is not so much a motorbike ‘made like a battle-ready, empire building armament’. She’s more of a spud-gun. If you get too close when you start her up, she can surprise you with quite a p-toomph, and I’ve had the bruises from recoil on my lower shins to prove it. With a rider on-board her trajectory is fairly low, her range is distinctly poor and her emission levels are more like those from an Octoberfest Baked Potato Gala than a smouldering cannon.

However, undaunted by her lack of military supremacy, she has recently begun to develop sympathy pains with her forbears and heritage. She has become… Olive, the Royal Enfield, ‘Made like a Smokin’ Gun.’

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Yes, you guessed it, I fried her wiring.

It wasn’t difficult. I mean, a girl can be forgiven for connecting things up wrong if she doesn’t have a wossaname – a proper wiring diagram — to follow, can’t she? And it’s not as if all those bits of flex and cable behind the headlight are colour-coded in any way. Is it? Aren’t they? Hmm. It takes very little these days to make me feel like an incompetent moose.

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‘He who makes things work’ had agreed to let me replace the ignition switch All By Myself. After all, there was very little that could go wrong with such a simple bit of fettling. All I had to do was unscrew what little remained of the old switch housing, drop it through the headlight nacelle, unplug the connector wires and replace the now defunct item with a shiny new example of fine, Indian engineering. Pop the headlight back on, do up a couple of retainer screws and, hey presto, she’d be off again. No more need for nasty black insulation tape holding the hexagonal key slot in place. No more need for ‘He who makes things work’ to wheedle his toolbag and mumble something unprintable under his beard at me every time we went out.

A simple piece of maintenance – as easy as pie. But ‘He who makes things work’ had resigned himself to it being A Long Afternoon when I mentioned the amazing similarities between basic motorbike mechanics and cooking. After all, following a recipe is simple – you can start out with precisely the right ingredients measured out, but (as he later pointed out) if you put them together in the wrong order or don’t pay enough attention to the way you mix your batter… you end up with soggy blobs of goo in the bottom of your deep fat fryer, rather than sugary round doughnuts.

‘Cooking with Emm’ started out very sensibly. I made sure that there was a reasonable amount of room to work around Olive, and the new ignition switch had been carefully laid out on the seat, along with a couple of useful looking screwdrivers, the work shop manual and a small spanner. Ever noticed how even appalling cooks start out with the best ingredients and have a great kitchen to work in?

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I undid all three screws that appeared to be holding the headlight lens and housing in place… and then we both spent five minutes hunting on the floor for the Houdini-like retainer bracket and washer which are nefariously hidden underneath the uppermost of those three screws. Hah! They don’t mention in which order you should undo such an innocent-looking trio of fixing devices, in any of the small print, anywhere in the workshop manual.

(I will come back to that Heinous Tome… shortly).

Perhaps it’s me? Perhaps it’s one of those initiation rituals for Apprentice Fettlers that has to be undergone, before receiving divine intervention and Understanding of All Things Electrical. ‘Thou shalt look like a prat with your rear in the air for a period of time grossly disproportionate to the significance of the screw fitting or connector you have lost…’

Note multi-colured wires... Oh dear...

We found the bracket and washer – eventually. ‘He who makes things work’ then suggested politely that, rather than let the headlight dangle precariously over the mudguard, supporting all its own weight on just four small pieces of flex, I might like to remove it completely and put it safely somewhere out of the way. This seemed like a good idea. As was ‘why don’t you put the key in the new ignition switch to help wheedle it into place, dear, rather than just shoving it hard up through the wiring?’

I dutifully put the key in, and then found that I still needed to shove the ignition switch up through the headlight through a complete tangle of spaghetti wiring where it still needed shoving into place. Undaunted, I shoved, and shoved, and shoved until the switch was solidly in place – where it was ceremoniously tightened just enough before starting to chew the moulded plastic thread. On inspection, it seems that the old ignition housing had vibrated through the inadequately engineered plastic screw threads – a shame, as this means that the prognosis for the replacement part could well be a short life span, too.

Next job: reconnect wiring. This wire in there, that wire in here, that connector block fits this one… piece of cake. Absolute child’s play.

Flash and Bang omitted for health and safety reasons.Turn key to start bike.




Well, not exactly nothing. The air was tinged with an almost trivial, acidic smell – which took very little in the way of thought processes to deduce that the old girl had blown her fuse. Yup – no lights at all.

I was about to launch into ‘hunt the fuse box’ when ‘imself pointed out that it was safer to first disconnect whatever I had connected, otherwise I’d run the risk of blowing the replacement fuse without finding the cause of the problem. He was really quite insistent about this – which made me wonder if he’d experienced this phenomenon himself…?

We found the itty bitty fuse box in a sidepanel cunningly disguised as a home for tools and emission controls. The fuse had definitely blown. Boo-hoo. The fuse box had a spare. Hoo-ray! The spare dropped out of its natty little plastic holder, bounced like a Barnes Wallis’ bomb on the floor and shattered its filament. Boo-hoo. We scrambled through a dozen margarine tubs marked ‘washers’, ‘nuts’ and ‘widgits’… and found a spare that looked remarkably like the size we needed. Hoo-ray!

We weren’t absolutely sure ‘cos it was fairly old and although we could see the ‘0’ etched into one end we weren’t sure about the other markings on the endcaps, but on the basis that it fitted, it was the same colour and size as the one that had blown and, hell, things couldn’t get worse – we decided to give it a go. Uh-huh. I have my suspicions that we could have run three pylons direct from the National Grid through that fuse, to be honest, without so much as a dull hum – but it seemed like an adequate stop gap, so, with the fuse replaced it was time to reconnect the wiring in the headlight.

It was about this time that I made the stunning discovery that all those pretty wires in the spaghetti mess – ARE COLOURED FOR A REASON. No, I’m not a complete idiot, I had just worked with the female logic that two connectors fitting together would make a pair.

Looks pretty clear to me...I had not accounted for the idiocy of the MAN who designed a wiring assembly with redundant connector blocks in it. This kind of thing is common, apparently, and any WOMAN would have not allowed this essential design flaw. What can I say. The Heinous Tome that is the workshop manual (written by a MAN) says nothing about ignoring spare, dangling connector blocks. Heck – the UK wiring diagram has an interpretation of colours that only a MAN could cope with. After all, you have to be colour blind to understand that the words Black/Green actually refer to the Red/White wire that runs from the ammeter.

All right. I admit it. I’d connected the wiring up wrongly, which blew a fuse. Big deal. Lesson learned; don’t assume anything, look at what you’re doing and ask questions about simple things. It’s the simple things that catch you out.

‘He who makes things work’ instructed me in the error of my ways and supervised the elementary connection of Red to Red, White to White, Green to Green. He refused to be drawn on the whole redundant connector block issue – apparently it’s ‘not important.’

We turned the key …


No fuses blowing, no lights, no ‘krrr, krrr, krr…’ of ignition.


Scratching of heads. We tried again. Nothing. We checked the wiring, checked the fuses, checked the wiring again, went to the lengths of swapping out the new ignition block for the old one, checked the connector blocks, double checked the fuses…. Nothing. More scratching of heads. And then…

We peered dolefully into the gloom that was Olive’s headlight housing. A smell was emanating from the headlight nacelle and it was not the heart-warming smell of deep frying doughnuts, or warm baked bread, or suet pud and custard, but the smell of melting plastic, hot copper and metallic tinnyness. Not a Good Sign. We turned the ignition off – and watched a silvery trail of smoke wisp it’s way over the handlebars. Not a Good Sign at all.

Just to prove a point, ‘imself switched the key to the ‘on’ position again – and we watched the smoke trails wind up through the wiring and start to float out from under the headlight. We switched the key to the off position again.

Smoke on… Smoke off… Smoke on… Smoke off.

The key was instrumental in something happening on cue – just not quite the something we were hoping for. I tinkered with the wiring, checking the connectors and making sure that nothing was touching anything it shouldn’t have been. Nope. This went on for some ten minutes or so, until we agreed that Olive wasn’t likely to win the audition for stage smoke effects, although she was probably up for first prize in the ‘impressions of melting plastic’ competition.

Is that bit meant to look so... melted?At this point, ‘He who makes things work’ folded his arms and decided that discretion is the better part of a wiring loom that is globbing on the Shed floor and smoking with the renewed vigour of a Frenchman with shares in Gitanes. So, we loaded her onto the trailer (precariously; along with big brother Wilbur for company) and rang the dealer.

Haywards in Cambridge are getting used to me turning up to poke at things incoherently. They are long suffering and tolerant – and make a nice cup of tea too – so it was no surprise that Olive was duly invited to return for inspection and Emergency Surgery; a short trip up the A438. I would like to point out that this is the one and only time that Olive will be seen travelling at a hundred miles an hour, as ‘imself has said that he promises not to travel hell bent, forgetting he has the trailer behind him, ever again. (Or at least, not until the next time I try to repair something.)

And, when we collected her, she didn’t appear to have suffered too much from the journey – or the Surgery. Stan informed us quite happily that while I had been shoving the new ignition switch up through the nacelle, I’d managed to nick a wire somehow – which had shorted out and blown the ammeter. This, in turn, accounted for the globbing red and yellow plastic and melting copper wire.

‘Very easy thing to do, shouldn’t worry too much – I’ll have her fixed in no time.’

Nice man, that Stan. He put Olive’s wiring back into place, and fitted her with a new ammeter. ‘He who makes things work’ then brought Olive home at a more leisurely pace on the trailer and I was relieved to see her back in Our Shed, where she belongs, with a new key to add to my keyring. I can’t throw away the old one, as it turns out that the new key doesn’t fit the locking sidepanels. Apparently the word ‘generic’ doesn’t translate on the subcontinent.

And there she sits. Gleaming – proudly displaying a new ignition switch. A new side light too – as I’d apparently blown the last one up when I wreaked havoc on the ammeter. Which is new, and doesn’t bounce about wildly like the last one did, for some unknown reason. When you turn the key, all the lights come on, in the right order, and there are no nasty smells or unwanted flashes or bangs from the fuse box. No dripping plastic, no incense trails of Eau de Plastique wafting around the Shed and not a centimetre of charred wiring to be seen anywhere. Marvellous. La piéce de resistance.

So why wouldn’t the dopey old tart start tonight?

Probably not a good idea to leave those two bikes parked there on bin-day...

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