Royal Enfield Classic 500 review
Royal Enfield is enjoying a renaissance. The company recently announced its highest ever income, proving its successful formula of bringing beautiful retro motorcycles to the riders of the new millennium. Dominic Castle test rode the Classic 500...
Royal Enfield Classic 500 review
Engine: Single-cylinder 4-stroke, 499cc
Max power: 27.2bhp at 5,250rpm
Max torque: 41.3 Nm at 4,000rpm
Clutch: wet multiplate
Gearbox: 5-speed constant mesh
Kerb weight: 194kg
The long-stroke pushrod (really) motor takes time to build up the revs and when it reaches a certain point - probably around 5,000rpm but as there's no rev counter who knows? - protests about the exertion by shaking itself and everything attached to it with almost comical force. It is curable, though. Just back off the throttle and find the sweet spot, then sit in that and enjoy the 27bhp and suitably fruity noise from that long chrome pipe. I was expecting a workout from the clutch lever, but it is nice and light, with a great, positive gearbox.
Build quality and reliability
There really isn't a lot to go wrong with the RE and, apart from one occasion when I forgot to take it off the stand, it started up and ran fine.If it did go wrong you could probably fix it with a spanner, hammer and some wire. The beautiful paint job looked nicely finished, but the chrome might not enjoy a British winter.
Value and running cost
Nearly five grand for a post-war design might seem a bit salty, but it should run for years, especially if it is kept for high days and holidays only. Insurance isn't likely to be a crippler and servicing and parts are reasonable. It won't be shredding those Avon Speedmaster tyres either.
Ride quality and brakes
At sensible (sub 60mph) speeds it is all fine and dandy. The forks are reasonably pliant, the rear suspension a touch firm; the extra springs on the single seat don't bring much to the party, except ultra-retro looks. The front disc is adequate, as long as you're not expecting to be doing stoppies, but the rear drum seems to be for decoration only.
It is a fairly light machine, around 172kg, and carries what mass it has lower than a snake's belly. Stability from a longish wheelbase is good and those narrow tyres mean that, with a nudge on the wide bars and a bit of knee pressure on the tank pads, you can changes direction sweetly. It is no scratcher, though, and doesn't pretend to be.
Huge. Especially if you pick one of the army drab green or desert camo colours and pretend you're a dispatch rider delivering vital messages under fire.
How much of the good thing about this bike is that it’s not a perfect, modern ride?
In a world of very good, fast, well-equipped bikes with adjustable traction control, hi-tech suspension, led lighting and tyres fatter than John Prescott's head, the RE is an anachromism. But we need anachronsims like this. Sometimes you just need to knock it all back a bit in this hyper-fast world and the Enfield is the tool for the job. Everyone should have one in their garage, as a second bike anyway.
Does it feel like an old bike?
The RE motor is a seriously ancient design - still not as Jurassic as a Harley V-twin, but pretty elderly. The 500 has evolved (slowly) since the 50s when production and ownership of the RE business transferred to India, where thousands of the beasts plod around the sub-continent's dusty roads. I visited Delhi last year and you couldn't move for the things, from the pimped out to the shagged out. Fantastic.
How does it compare to what you currently ride?
On pretty much every empirical test the RE loses out to my own Honda CB500X; the aging one-pot plodder is slower, less comfortable, less well equipped, doesn't stop as well, is less well finished… I could go on. But that is missing the point somewhat - comparing the Enfield to anything built since about 1975 will always have it at a disadvantage on paper. But the joy of the RE is the experience of riding the thing. On a decent A or B road, on a dry day, riding the RE brings deep joy, an appreciation that life can be taken a little more slowly and that you'll get there in the end, albeit a long time after your mates. And then there's the reaction of other people. I don't think I've ever been given a second glance when I've been on my Honda - on an Enfield people's heads turn when you pass, and some are actually interested in talking to you about the bike.
Have you ever ridden a Royal Enfield, BSA, Ariel or other bike from a similar era?
This was the first old-school bike I'd ever ridden. I've never been drawn to the idea of owning a real classic as I couldn't live with the permanent fear of catastrophic failure at any moment on a ride. I'm sure that the BSA Bantam Owners' Club will be spitting feathers at that, but for me old isn't always gold. Or even Gold Star.
What drew you to test the Classic 500?
I have a favourite quote from poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: "In character, in manners, in style, in all things, the supreme excellence is simplicity." The Classic is all about the simplicity, which is why I was interested to give it a spin. And, because it really is an old design, rather than a new bike wearing its dad's clothes, it looks pukka.
The vibes. More shaken than stirred.
The looks. Cock-on.