From ‘The Complete Story’ range of books from automotive publishers, The Crowood Press features the ubiquitous Royal Enfield Bullet. As any classic enthusiast knows only too well, it is a bike that has managed to survive from the 20th into the 21st century, albeit having its production moved from Redditch in Worcestershire to Chennai (formerly Madras) in India. Ian Kerr MBE reviews Royal Enfield – The Complete Story.
As highly experienced motorcycle author Peter Henshaw explains in this 176-page hardback book, the Bullet is one of the most successful motorcycles of all time, with a combined factory figure of 4.3 million Bullets built between 1949 and 2020.
Many purists may dispute that the Indian-produced models are not the same as the British made ones. The fact remains that the Redditch firm licensed production in India to supply the Indian sub-continent after the Indian army purchased 800 units from the UK, thanks to their rugged reliability.
As you would expect, the first part of the book covers the British part of the story, with the Bullet moniker first appearing on a 250 machine in 1932. It then became more synonymous with the 350 and 500 swinging-arm versions so beloved of purchasers in the fifties.
Many original images and period advertising posters grace the well-laid-out pages, and overall there are 200 images in this book.
Most of this part of the story is, of course, well-known and can be found in many other existing publications. But, what makes this book stand out is that Henshaw takes the story on from the collapse of British manufacturing and through to the near-collapse for the Indian manufacturing of the model before the eventually the massive Indian-based manufacturer, Eicher Group, took over the brand and successfully brought it into the modern world.
The introduction of the 650 twin-cylinder Interceptor is now one of the best-selling bikes in the UK. There is now a very modern and sophisticated 32,000 sq.ft research and development arm in the UK, thanks to Eicher investing and modernising the brand while trading on its historical past.
Thankfully many of the people involved in bringing the Bullet and the brand back to public acceptance are still around. The author has sensibly interviewed them and included their views in this comprehensive look at the Bullet. It has to be said that people have been honest and not pulled their punches whilst explaining the evolution of a bike that initially had inferior quality issues when it started to make its comeback to these shores.
The extensive research has also uncovered the numerous variants and specials like the diesel, V-twin, Egli and big-bore Bullets, which are all profiled. It also majors on the development story behind the lean-burn, electric-start and five-speed updates and the UCE — the all-new Bullet from 2008.
As with other books in the range, there is advice on owning and running a Bullet and a look at how the firm is moving forward with the newer Himalayan single and the Interceptor twins. No book on the Bullet would be complete without mentioning how the rugged machine has been used to provide a simple solid machine for those who want to travel the world.
The rear of the book does have a series of appendices with some interesting additions that do not fit in with the main narrative but are important parts of the story. However, you will not find engine and frame numbers or a model list of year-by-year changes. Still, there is advice on buying and how to differentiate between Indian and British made machines, the latter commanding higher prices in the classic bike market.
With over 60 books to his credit, in addition to his various times editing motorcycle magazines, Peter Henshaw has got the balance of informing and entertaining without boring with minutia. This book is an excellent example of his superb penmanship.
Although aimed at those interested in the Bullet model, or those Royal Enfield enthusiasts, this is a book that should be read by those intrigued by modern motorcycling. Royal Enfield will undoubtedly be around for a long time as they have been and will not just be a headline brand allegedly rising from the ashes of a glorious past.
It is a definite ‘must-have’ book for any enthusiast bookshelf. For a very modest £25 for a quality product, it is available from all good bookshops or direct from the publishers Crowood at www.crowood.com
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