Driven #5: Royal Enfield Classic 500

There are very few brands in India that are as aspirational, as iconic and as legendary as the Chennai-based motorcycle manufacturer Royal Enfield. Seriously, I am running out of words when I set out to describe this originally British brand that is now completely Indian. Beating the Indian fetish for Harley-Davidson and coming out on tops in a recently conducted brand survey speaks volumes about Royal Enfield and how it is being perceived by Indians. Hence, it’s no wonder that the die-hard fans and customers of the brand swear by their set of wheels.

When such a manufacturer comes out with a model that is even more vintage than the classic motorcycles that they are already famous for, it is destined for success. And succeed it did, with immediate post-launch orders swelling so high that there was a waiting list of more than 7 months to own one. If you are still guessing, I am talking about the one-of-a-kind ‘Classic’, that was launched in 350cc and 500cc versions. This particular model that I drove is owned by a close pal of mine, who got this bike delivered in Mar-2011 after a wait of 6 months.

Almost every model of Royal Enfield, with their retro styling and overdose of chrome always score high on the looks factor. But to be brutally honest, the Classic just crushes them all when it comes to looks. True to its name, the bike has really classic design touches all over it that screams ‘vintage’ bold and loud. Like me, even folks who normally prefer modern styling to retro looks would not be able to stop falling in love with it. There surely is some really invisible charm that surrounds this bike.

The circular themed lights all around, twin pilot lamps, the single circular instrument pod, the chrome mirrors, the uniquely shaped tool box and air-filter cover, the really long chrome exhaust pipe, the old-school spring-loaded single saddle and the smashing colors that the bike comes with, especially military green and red, literally turns heads wherever you go. Once astride, you need to get used to long wishful stares everywhere as you pass. That’s quite understandable because this is the stuff that most young men’s dreams are made of.

Beneath all those retro looks are thoroughly modern underpinnings by Royal Enfield standards. The traditional Royal Enfiled engine construction with an external clutch and gearbox has been replaced with something called "Unit Construction Engine" or UCE, where a single crankcase encloses all the above. Also, the company has ditched the carburetor for a modern electronic fuel injection system that aides both in optimized air fuel delivery and to meet the tougher emission standards.

Powered by a single-cylinder, 499cc, spark ignition, overhead cam engine with electronic fuel injection (EFI), the Classic 500 churns out a maximum power of 27.2 bhp, easily making it the most powerful Indian bike in the market. And it is one of the fastest too with superb acceleration from idle, the linear power delivery courtesy EFI helping matters here. In fact, turn the throttle and its quite an experience to feel all the 27 horses coming to life.

Given an open road, the Classic 500 can cruise all day long at 80 kph in 5th gear as the bike feels supremely comfortable in those conditions. The ride is good but not great enough. Uniquely, I found the ride quality to be significantly better from the driver’s seat than in the pillion’s seat. The handling too is confidence inspiring with big 18-inch wheels and disc brakes at front helping to keep the bike stable at all times. Having said that, its better to always remember that you are riding a heavy mass of metal and it takes its own sweet time to lean, turn or come to a halt.

One grudge that I had with the Classic was the horn that came fitted with was so feeble and would not look out of place in a 50cc moped. Also, the much celebrated 'thump' that all RE fans seem to love, lust for and relish is definitely muted compared to the roaring thumps from Bullets of the past. Barring the fact that its bulk makes it less agile inside the city, the Classic makes good sense for your everyday office commute and for your weekend getaways too.

* Engine Type: OHC, 4 Stroke
* No of Cylinders: 1
* Displacement: 499 cc
* Max Power: 27.2 bhp @ 5250 rpm
* Max Torque: 41.3 Nm @ 4000 rpm
* Transmission Type: 5 Speed, 1Down 4Up
* Tyres: 90/90 R18 (Front) / 110/90 R18 (Rear)
* Brakes: Hydraulic Disc (Front) / Internal Expanding Drum (Rear)

Overlooking the fact that Royal Enfield bikes are not the most reliable around, the Classic is a stunning style statement and a perfect blend of 1950's World War II looks with 2000's modern technology. At around 1.4 Lac Rupees, its terrific value for money too. Once you move over the looks, step on it, get yourself acquainted and start driving the Classic, you will get a feeling that you are the king of the road. Now what are you still waiting for? Go, get one for yourself and prove to the world that you have a good taste.

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