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Royal Enfield Electra 500
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In 2005, Rowena Hoseason rode nearly 3000 miles in ten days aboard a Royal Enfield Electra. Since then people haven't stopped asking her questions about it - if you're thinking of buying one then here's what you probably want to know...

What's a Royal Enfield like to ride: is it like an old bike or a new one?

It's not exactly like either! It is very hard to compare a modern Bullet to any other motorcycle, precisely because it is an extremely unusual hybrid of old and new. If you ride a modern Hinckley Bonneville then you're in no doubt that you are riding a 'tribute' bike: an entirely modern motorcycle which has been styled to look like a traditional one. The Royal Enfield range aren't like that: they are a fusion on old and new - probably more like a Moto Guzzi or BMW Boxer in terms of feel.

A steep hill, a Royal Enfield Electra, a satisfied smirk...

How is the Electra different to older Enfields?

It has an all-alloy lean-burn engine, electric start, 5-speed gearbox, left-foot shift, and a disc front brake. The engine proved very reliable on our 3000 mile test ride and needed no attention whatsoever. The 280mm, single-caliper disc brake suits the bike's performance and allows you to ride with more gusto than if you were relying on a drum, but it's not so powerful that you're in danger of nipping up the front end in the wet. The earlier drum brake needed setting up quite carefully, so the disc is especially useful if you don't want to spend more time fettling your bike than riding it.

The engine does feel quite different to the traditional Bullet motor, and its looks don't please everyone. It also takes quite a while to run in: our bike had done a thousand miles before the long ride and was noticeably more flexible and nicer to ride some 2800 miles later.

What's the Electra's best cruising speed?

Our bikes were fitted with the Highway Kit, which is useful if you ride long distances, or regularly carry a pillion, or if you're used to riding a machine of substantially greater capacity (a 500cc single can't be expected to pull like a 1200cc V-twin). The Highway Kit boosts the Electra's mid-range and gives it a spot of oomph for over-taking which came in very handy.

The bikes were very comfortable between 55 and 65mph, and they'd cheerfully run at 75mph for long sections of dual-carriageway or motorway when required, with scope to scoot over 80 if needed to pass traffic or pull up a long hill. You're more likely to feel fatigued from being wind-blown that find the engine running out of puff at those speeds. We found it far more enjoyable to stick to A-roads and the 50-to-70mph speed bracket where the Electra is at its most rewarding to ride.

Rowena hits Preston while on the Round Britain Ride
Bullet stuff on

So is it worth paying the £300 for the Highway Kit?

Yup. Well, I would. It does not affect the warranty but it certainly does affect your enjoyment!

I hear you can buy them direct from India and save lots of cash. Is this true?

You can buy some versions of Bullets (but not the 500 lean-burn Electra) from bucket shops, and it's much the same as buying dodgy DVDs from a man at a market stall. The UK importer, Watsonian Squire, have put a lot of effort into developing the Electra and improving the overall build quality of Bullets. If you bypass the official importer then you benefit from none of this work, you have none of the warranties, and there is an argument that you jeopardise the future development of the marque.

If you really want to buy a cheap Bullet, then there are plenty of secondhand ones available which are extremely good value.

Is the lean-burn engine particularly fuel efficient?

We scoffed at the claims when we first heard that it could average 80-plus miles to the gallon, but in practice we achieved better figures than that on our run and we were using the bikes fitted with the Highway Kit which is less frugal than standard. Without trying hard we broke the 85mpg figure and, after a while, we got so blasé about filling up that we travelled over 450 miles before remembering we'd forgotten to refuel! If you hammer along at motorway speeds then you won't get these results, but A-road cruising proved very economic.

Does a modern Enfield hold its value like an classic one?

No. The current range of Royal Enfields are new bikes and they depreciate like any other new bike. However, their values tend to hold up better than most mainstream Japanese machines and are on a par with most European bikes like Ducatis, Triumphs and so on.

So is a secondhand Enfield a good buy?

Yes, especially if you find one which has been cosseted by its previous owner because then you'll get plenty of accessories for very little extra cost. Our classified ads always have several for sale and you could pay from £750 to £1500 for a recent 350 Bullet, to around £2700 for a used Electra 500.

What sort of person does the Electra suit?

All sorts, but particularly anyone who is used to old Britbikes and wants something similar to ride which is less hassle and easier to handle. The Electra is low and narrow and light so it's ideal if you can face the idea of hauling a big twin around any more. The electric start is a boon for anyone whose knee joints can't cope with a kickstart, too.

If you're coming from the opposite end of the spectrum and are starting to get interested in classic-type bikes, then the Electra makes a really excellent stepping-stone between current machines and 30 year old classics. You can experience a lot of the good stuff without getting bogged down by the demands of an old bike, and the brakes on the Electra are massively better than on old classics, which is what normally deters modern riders the most.

The one thing the Electra can't do is prove you with litre-class sports-bike performance. It's a 500cc single and, although it is very willing, you won't be able to keep up with your mates on their 1100 Guzzi twins or 1200 Boxers…

The new Electra XS. Fancy...

So what didn't you like about the Electra?

Nothing which would stop me buying one. However, there were a few things that prospective owners should consider. The sidestand cut-out meant we couldn't let the bikes warm up while on their sidestands, and it's a nuisance. You need to be careful with shifting down a gear, because it's possible to go clean past a gear when down-changing and find yourself in limbo. You also need to be careful when topping up the oil, and follow the instructions to check the level correctly, because over-filling will pressurise the system and spit oil out of a breather (or worse, a joint!). Some of the nuts 'n' bolts 'n' fittings were looking pretty corroded after 5000 miles of British weather and I'd replace them if the bike was mine.

You also need to look for an enthusiast dealer if you're buying new. Some of the dealers in the RE network don't have much experience with classic-type bikes and they can be quite brusque. The dealers who advertise in the classic press tend to know their old bikes and are generally happy to help you fettle an Enfield until it suits you just right. I was surprised to find on our long ride around the dealers that some of them didn't even know how to check and top up the oil level correctly! So look for a dealer who offers proper back up for Enfield sales, and doesn't concentrate on modern superbikes.

The styling of the first model did absolutely nothing for me, but in its more recent trial format I'd be happy to own one. The new XS Roadster is a also little more dashing than the first Electra, with flat handlebars and twin chrome speedo and rev counter which replace the old-fashioned nacelle. The XS also has chrome mudguards and the upswept sport silencer which boosts power output by 10% compared to the standard model. Mind you, the XS retails at nearly £4500 - if you are only attracted to it for its styling then you should look at buying a two-year old bike and changing its cosmetics yourself.


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