The Royal Enfield motorcycle has long occupied the imagination of millions of Indian motorcyclists, and the company has earned a cult-like following around the world. The motorcycles earn their popularity because of their old school designs, the thumping engine, and a real hand built feel. But more than anything, it’s the bike’s ability to be customised that makes us love it so much. It has served as the chassis to build dream motorbikes for thousands of custom bike builders just like me. So here’s my story.
The modern retro market is booming and where once it was a niche for a few manufacturers, it is now a profitable sector across the board. There are an endless number of machines to choose from. And while they retain much of their classic styling to appease the retro loving eye, there is nothing old school about their functionality. A Royal Enfield is really the only modern machine that gives that true vintage bike feel; chunky gearbox clicks and a bike that you ride and doesn’t ride you. Santiago García of Corb Motorcycles in the beautiful Catalonia region of Spain craved just such a machine. So he created a 2003 Royal Enfield Bullet known as “The Raven 500” – a fitting doff of the cap to classic British engineering.
When you receive an email talking about a man from a small village in Southern France who used old fashion forging techniques, a crucible and sand moulds your mind starts to wander. Is this a 19th century inventor who burned his home down trying to create some delusionary dream? Perhaps a 16th century sword maker working for one of the 4000-odd aristocrats who died in duels during the reign of Henry IV? But no. It is in fact the work of Nicolas Baux, a CAD Designer by trade, who in 2016 revived some of the oldest metal working techniques to produce a staggering one hundred individually handcrafted parts for his custom motorcycle. The result is a modern machine with historic roots, a Royal Enfield Black Bullet from his new company, Motocyclette Certifiée Non Conforme.
Go on, admit it. You’ve fantasised about your specific choice of bike for a zombie apocalypse. Naturally you can have anything you want, as you’ll be throwing a brick through the front window of the local deal once the social chaos really takes hold. So what’ll it be? A BMW R1200GS? You’d be able to carry a house on the back, but its weight and size would make avoiding the undead (and keeping it upright) tricky. Then maybe a KTM Enduro bike? You’d be much more nimble and need less fuel, but what about a seat for the loved ones? Who knew a completely hypothetical situation could be so stressful? But don’t fear, as we have the perfect candidate. Meet Royal Enfield’s very own Continental GT survivalist masterstroke. They call it the ‘Dirty Duck’. We call it ‘escape plan A’.
The creator one of the most iconic cars of the Twentieth Century once said “a camel is a horse designed by committee.” Sir Alec Issigonis, the man who designed the Mini Cooper, just might have had a point. But while the saying would have me pretty pissed if I was a camel, I’d be even more angry if I was part of a committee that actually had a clue. A committee made up of, say, motorcycling enthusiasts. Because that’s exactly where this particular bike was designed. And then it was built by Sean from Virginia’s MotoRelic.
Some brands transcend their own industry and become part of a culture so linked that one simply goes hand in hand with the other. If you mention motorcycles and India everyone’s mind is instantly drawn to the name Royal Enfield and their classic designs that have been around for generations. Enfield’s have been the transport of choice for the motorcyclist in India doing it in style, from the Brit’s who stayed behind after Independence, to the Indian Army and Police, Guy Martin on his epic adventure and our own Scott Hopkin’s high into the Himalayas. For Charlie Hallam and the Mid Life Cycles team from Melbourne, Australia, the RE Classic just made perfect sense as the platform for their latest custom and a chance to build a bike that not only looked incredible but could be easily replicated in a cost-effective manner for a limited production run. The result is this brilliant Royal Enfield Classic 350 wearing just enough of India’s most famous alloy to earn the name ‘Brass Rajah.’
In just a few weeks, I will be crossing off an item on my bucket list I’ve been wanting do for a long time – riding Royal Enfields through the Himalayas. Fittingly, the ride starts in New Delhi, India, where the builders of today’s Enfield café racer are based. Bull City Customs have been building bikes in one of the most populous cities in the world for around three years now. Obviously the locals love their Royal Enfields – they’re pretty much a national treasure there and a company they are very proud of. So when a customer approached them to build a café racer with a touch of brat using an Enfield engine they couldn’t wait to get started. As luck would have it, the guys at Bull City had a ‘Brat Café’ design that had been floating around in their heads for quite a while. “It was like a divine intervention” says Reginald from Bull City.
As a professional bike builder you have all sorts of people walk through your door, from the serious customer, to the young lad that wants a custom Ducati for no more than five grand. For Krish Rajan of KR Customs there was a different client to please, his “Lady Love” Loopy who had seen the bikes he’d created and while impressed with the quality wanted something, with “beauty and elegance”. Oh and Krish not one of those “adrenaline filled, tough, macho machines!” you usually build. Many a mere mortal would be losing their hair at the thought of such a demand but with a Masters in Applied Math, an IT expert by day and the owner of Chennai’s premier custom bike shop in his spare time, Krish is a man who gets it done and keeping his partner happy is always a challenge he is willing to accept. This Royal Enfield Continental GT Cafe Racer might have been the star of the main stage at India’s 2016 Bike Week, but the real prize was winning Loopy’s heart.
When you live in the United States your choice of bike builder is almost endless, but when Greg from Tampa Florida, serving in the US Military, emailed off his idea for a build one morning it landed in the inbox of New Delhi’s Bull City Customs. This it turned out was a brilliant idea, Greg wanted a Royal Enfield and where else but India would you go and it just so happened that he’d seen the Enfields Bull City had been turning out and wanted one of his own. Based on a Royal Enfield AVL 350, head man Reginald Hilt was desperate not to let his new client down and together they come up with a concept for a Royal based Scrambler that would become known as “8”.
‘Maxwell Hazan’ is a name that needs no introduction. As s two-time winner of Pipeburn’s Bike Of The Year award, he’s one of the few builders globally that could lay claim to the title of ‘world’s best’. So what does a guy with so much raw talent, fabrication ability and vision do next? Whatever he damn well pleases – that’s what. And what Max pleases in 2015 is to take two Royal Enfield 500cc engines, enlist the help of a certain Mr Aniket Vardhan to magic them into a single 1000cc V-twin, and then construct a bike around it that just might be the best-looking custom bike we’ve ever seen. Excited? We sure as hell are. Here’s Hazan Motorwork’s latest, ‘The Musket’ Royal Enfield V-twin.