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Royal Enfield Bullet – Old Empire Motorcycles


Posted on May 28th, by Andrew in Bobber, Classic. 29 comments

Here’s a little piece of motorcycling trivia for you. Do you know why riders in the ’40s and ’50s ended up wearing flying jackets and aviator goggles? Give up? It’s because many of the English and American guys who’d flown planes in WWII took up motorcycling as something to do after the war was over. It not only put a little thrill into their comparatively dull civilian lives, but forming clubs that met and rode regularly was a good way to stay in touch with airforce buddies. So in many ways, the biking culture that we all enjoy today was a product of bored flyboys. And what better way to acknowledge this than to build a bike that’s a lot more khaki canteen than it is café. Here’s the ‘Fox’, Old Empire Motorcycles’ latest build.

Alec from Old Empire Motorcycles walked us through the build. “The classic bullet 500 design has changed little through the many decades past from its conception. And for good reason, such a simple design that looks great, sounds great and is the perfect platform to create something special.”

“The bike’s nacelle houses all the unsightlys perfectly and is completed by our custom ‘Sturney Bars’ which are designed to mimic the shape of the housing exactly. Leather adorns the bike from the little leather knee pads to the handmade battery satchel and fuse box, all carefully thought about to keep the balance of the build.”

The boys chose the name ‘Fox’ for this, the first of five builds based around what they’ve learnt from their Origin and Progeny builds. It’s closest relative is the rather amazing ‘Pup’ build, which we featured here previously. The bike’s stance is achieved by a healthy amount of front end chop and a new set of short, Hagon shocks out back.

In a patriotic cap doff to another Great British institution, the bike proudly wears both a Brooks saddle and leather-wrapped grips. These are kept company by some more leather accessories including the knee-pads, battery leather satchel, and leathered-covered electrical box. But unlike their Brooks counterparts, these ones were made by the OEM guys themselves.

The tank was sourced from a Harley Sportster before being subjected to much pounding and welding at the hands of OEM’s metal masters. Our eyes tell us that nothing so sleek could have possibly come from a Milwaukee mule, but that would be underestimating the obvious skills Alec and the boys possess.

Other beautiful details of note include the elegantly hidden indicators, brass filler caps, hand-made distributor cover and a blue tinted and capped headlight to allow the bike to be ridden at night without attracting too much attention from those damn Gerry bombers overhead.

All up, I’m sure you’ll agree that OEMs skill in manufacture of understated classics from a bygone era of motorcycling are second to none. And for those who like what they see, Alec has telegraphed us confirming that there’s plenty more bikes in the hangar. Watch this space.





  • cwright856

    What a great little build. Man, I love those leather knee pads. Stance is great. Looks like a hardtail.

    • cwright856

      I also really like all the little videos they have on their website. Great stuff.

  • Carlos André Pinto

    I’d have one as a daily drive to work.

  • rennie61

    Very cool and lean. Makes me want to grow a handle-bar ‘tache

  • itsmefool

    Yeah, I like it…although this one’s a totally different take on the RE being featured over on Bikeexif, I actually prefer this bike. Nice job, OEM.

    • Lewn

      Yeah but careful if you put any opinion on Bikeexif that isn’t fawningly praiseworthy you’ll get banned.

      • coldsunshine

        You got that right. I was Tony Stark/Iron Man over there and got banned because I didn’t think every bit of bolt on parts was amazing. Now I just “window shop” if I happen to look over their direction.

  • coldsunshine

    Cool. Hot rodding was started by WW2 vets as well. And I think (at least in the US) the air force was still part of the army (i.e. army air corp.)

  • http://geokan.tumblr.com/ GeoKan

    Very cool and refined build with neat details like the headlight. The only thing that’s missing from the last photo is an Avirex leather cap, the one that bombers and gunners used to wear in WW2.

  • Eve_360cc

    This is my favorite build on pipeburn yet.

  • Lewn

    Is that a Brooks saddle? I think it might be better to have a motorcycle seat. Bicycles only have small uncomfortable saddles for weight saving.

    • http://www.pipeburn.com Andrew@Pipeburn

      Pretty sure that the Brooks saddles are more comfortable than you’d expect. At least, that’s what I’ve heard.

      • Miob

        They are. We had one on the custom Virago featured on Pipeburn s few months back.

        Fantastic built, this Enfield! Very elegant.

        • Lewn

          Of course Brooks saddles are very comfortable for a bicycle saddle. Just that with a bicycle you only have 500W human power max, but with a motorcycle you have many times the power in fact often a hundred times more, that means you can waste a few kilos on a even more comfy motorcycle seat.

    • http://www.mulemotorcycles.net/ Mule

      Brooks saddles are NOT comfortable. They take about 3 years of riding every day to break in (on a bicycle) and then you give up. You’ve had enough and you buy a good bicycle seat. But they look cool when they’re all worn in. However, not quite the same as comfortable. Also, on a bicycle you aren’t putting all your dead weight on your ass/crotch. You’re moving about all the time. Motorcyclists equate lots of cushion with comfort because it’s apples and oranges.

    • Davidabl2

      Famously, they take a long time to get comfortable.And shape themselves to the rider’s individual butts.Bicyclists take broken-in Brooks off bicycles when they sell them and put on brand new ones.

      There are tricks to get them to break in in less than 3 years i believe.
      OTOH, I personally have spent much more time on Lycette seats than Brooks.
      And can testify than Lycette’s have about zero break-in time :-)

  • Tron

    Beautiful little scoot.. The first bike I have seen that can pull off the ol’ springs on springs, thanks to the gorgeous brooks saddle.

    I can dig.

    • Davidabl2

      On an unsprung brand new Brooks seat on motorcycle you might wind up “singing alto.” Or standing up on the pegs a lot.

  • 1967 R50/2

    Very Nice Indeed.
    The only fault I can see here is the exahust. It looks like they gave up. No siliencer. Short straight pipe. Personally I think it would look great with some type of modified Velocette Fishtail.

    • Troy

      Yes and judging by the extreme blueing of that header pipe it won’t be long before a hole in the piston cripples an otherwise nice looking bike.

  • ✯ BADASS CYCLES ✯

    Brilliantly Stellar

  • emeglasson

    LOVE OEM’s bikes! Delicate proportions on a classy, classic looking bike. Nice job on this soft tail version of the Enfield.

  • barney fife

    Beautiful bike. Wish Royal Enfield would hurry up and produce the new 900cc parallel twin air cooled Interceptor for the North American market.
    If the Empire Cycle boys do a run of those nacelles with the integrated signal lights to fit the Hinckley Bonnevilles/Thruxtons they’ll sell like hotcakes. HINT HINT.

    • Davidabl2

      FWIW The nacelle appears to be the stock part. The upper fork shrouds, triple tree and headlight bucket are a single casting on Enfield Bullets. Those little lights are called “pub lights” and are said to date from a long bygone era in Britain when it wasn’t legal to run a headlight during certain hours when the pubs were open. Seriously. Interceptors and Constellations didn’t have the same cast nacelle and evidently date from an era after the era of “pub light laws.” Any remaining curiosity re all this stuff can easily be satisfied by a perusal of the original Enfield sales brochures:

      http://www.hitchcocksmotorcycles.com/photo-gallery-original-sales-brochure

      • barney fife

        Great info. I believe the “Pub lights” must have come shortly after the law requiring a footman to walk just ahead of your bike holding up a lantern. hee hee.
        Will you bite on the “new Interceptor” story?

        ps. one would think the govt. would want you running your headlight during pup hours so the drunks could see you coming better?…don’t get it?

        • Davidabl2

          Sir, An entertaining search could be made of the Enfield forums on the origins of the pub lights. I would look first at the one at http://www.hitchcocksmotorcycles.com/message-board for the entertainment value of it’s general Brit/ NZ/Oz quirkiness.

          A new Interceptor is unlikely from the Indian company that’s only made singles since it’s origins in the late 40’s and early 50’s. I have ridden an Interceptor and watched a backyard rebuild or two on it so I’d LOVE to see one. I can say that the one WE”D want is the same beast which was basically a doubled-up 350 Bullet..a cantankerous fire-breathing critter
          a whole lot like a Harley Ironhead sportster of the era.But I hate to break the bad news.Any twin that Enfield India is ever gonna build is not gonna be that bike–marketing, environmental concerns (India has signed on to Kyoto) safety regs preclude it.. A The third-party V-Twin Enfields, are another story.Based as they are on the old Iron-barrel 350 and 500. Another fire-breathing option is to go to Ace Performance http://autos.groups.yahoo.com/group/AcePerformanceBullets/messages?o=1 or the above mentioned Hitchcocksmotorcycles and convert your Craigslist/EBay Enfield to a BSA Goldstar approximate equivalent. I personally own
          a seldom-ridden Indian Enfie and have Walter Mitty-type daydreams about making a firesnortin’ bike out of it…

  • Royale

    Hi! Very nice bike!! is that tale fork stretched and what is length of suspension? is it front fork normal or shorter? do you glued these leather knee pads on tank? i love these small details like yellow turn lights and paintings!