Royal Enfield is a company that went from being on the verge of bankruptcy in 2000 to sparking a revolution that kept its 100 year old legacy alive and subsequently made it one of the biggest players in the Global Motorcycle Industry.
The Hard Times
As you may know, Royal Enfield is the motorcycle division of the Eicher Motor group. In 2000, the Board of Directors at Eicher had to make a decision to either shut down or sell the loss-making Royal Enfield division. The sales numbers were down to 2000 while the manufacturing plant had an installed capacity of 6000. Siddhartha Lal appeared then as a savior, convincing the board to give him a chance to revive this historic company.
The main problem faced by Royal Enfield was the outdated technology used in their bikes. They were still using cast iron engines, the gear lever was placed on the right instead of the conventional left side, and kick-starting the bike was a daunting task for most. Unfortunately, the die-hard followers of the brand were fans of the bikes for the fact that all these idiosyncrasies were a testament to Royal Enfield’s illustrious history.
Therein lied Siddhartha Lal’s biggest challenge: to make bikes that were reliable enough to attract new customers, without compromising on their uniqueness which would mean losing the existing customers.
Royal Enfield achieved this remarkable feat by retaining the bikes’ rugged looks, including the solid build, the design of the head lamp and the petrol tank. The main issue they faced was the new aluminum engine which just didn’t produce the signature thump that was synonymous with a Bullet. This problem was tackled by retaining many of the characteristics of the old engine – the long stroke, the single cylinder, and the high capacity with push rod mechanism. After extensive sound mapping and re-design of the silencer, they were able to recreate the vibrations and beat at 70 percent of the amplitude of the original, a truly impressive achievement.
The Royal Enfield Classic, which was inspired by the 1950 model Bullet and is perhaps the most popular model in India today, was launched with the new 500cc and 350cc engines in 2009 and became an instant hit.
Following the success of the Classic, Royal Enfield then upgraded the engine of the Thunderbird models and soon the bike that had become bigger than the brand itself: the Bullet.
Royal Enfield’s sales soon surged by an unprecedented amount, with the demand by far exceeding the production capacity which led to the opening of another production plant. In 2014, Royal Enfield announced itself as the foremost cruiser bike manufacturer in the world by selling over 3 lakh units, overtaking Harley Davidson which had managed 2.68 lakh sales.
The latest model introduced by Royal Enfield is the Continental GT, a café racer that draws its inspiration from the 1965 Continental GT that was famous among British motorcyclists in the 1960s.
Popularity of Royal Enfield in India
The bike that was once the official vehicle of choice for the Indian army is now one the most revered motorcycles in India. It has a cult following that is unparalleled by vehicle manufacturer and has thousands joining its ranks each day.
The Bullet was introduced in India to serve the army personnel who had to patrol the harsh terrains of the northern Indian borders. Soon it was also the bike of choice for policemen as well as government officials.
In the 1980s, India saw an influx of Israelis who used the RE Bullets to venture on long journeys to places like Ladakh and Manali which had terrains that could only be traversed on a bike as rugged and hardy as the Bullet. This influenced other foreigners to make their way to India and the popularity of the Bullet just increased. Many of them decided to stay back and became Enfield tour operators and an entire international tourist industry evolved around the Bullet.
Soon, Indians began to get influenced by these foreigners and started to use Royal Enfields for touring. Various RE rider groups, whose mission was to explore their beautiful country on their beloved Bullet, soon popped up and the craze that was ignited decades ago continues to this day with RE riders’ meets like the Rider Mania being held annually to celebrate this fraternity of Bulleteers.
Due to their immense popularity, the waiting period for RE bikes has become quite long. So if you feel like you ever need to desperately ride one, log on to www.wheelstreet.com and rent the Enfield of your choice to go on that road trip and become a part of the Royal Enfield legacy.
Royal Enfield Bullet – The Legend Rides On.
This article is brought to you by Wheelstreet – India’s first bike rental platform.