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Royal Enfield Bullet Sixty-5

Has a new 5-speed gearbox and an electric leg transformed the Big Bad Bullet? Frank Westworth enjoyed a quick spin in Wiltshire and found that all is not quite what it appears:

There's more power too, you know. Or maybe there's less weight? If I was professional, I'd look at the stats and tell you, but I've lost them. Somehow.

Fresh from the box, rather than a barn. Satisfyingly crisp, too

I've ridden … pause for recollection … probably a dozen Indian Bullets, and this brand new for this year Sixty-5 is easily the sweetest. It's free and easy to ride right from the Go, despite having hardly any miles on its clock.

At some point, the Bullet has changed from being a curiosity, an anachronism left behind by the passing of the old, traditional British industry, into a 'retro' modern bike. Gone are many of the foibles of the older Bullets; tedious notions like kick-starting and obligatory oil leaks. In their place, Royal Enfield have built in a singularly effective electric boot, which spins the motor and fires it up with more enthusiasm than feels proper on a cold February morning, a 5-speed gearbox with the footshift shifted to the left in the modern manner, and altogether neat styling. All the old virtues of simplicity, lightness and solid character have been left well alone, and riding the Bullet is still the unique experience it always has been. Life is just a little more convenient, is all.

Possibly the best bit of all is the claim on the promo leaflet which boosts the new model that 'The Bullet Sixty-5 is the latest in the Bullet series and takes the Big bloke on the brash new Bullet. He rode it! He's smiling!Royal Enfield forward into the 1960's…' Excellent! A little self-mockery never did anyone any harm. Indeed, if the olde Brit industry had been a little less navel-gazing and self-congratulatory then things may have turned out better for them. Possibly.

But enough of the philosophy! Steve Wilson will be producing a proper, bells and whistles test soon enough, but I thought I could add a few comments in the interim, as the Bullet is popular with Marters - at least it would appear so from the mail we get and the message board.

There is an ancient road tester's cliché that if it looks right then it probably is right, and the revised Bullet looks just fine. It sounds fine, and it goes fine too, which is probably just as well. RE have been careful to preserve the authentic retro style (does that make sense?) while bringing their bike into line with current legislation. So the induction plumbing is arcane in the extreme, drawing fresh air in through an unobtrusive plastic hose which dangles from the right-hand 'toolbox'. Which of course it isn't. That alleged toolbox in fact hides an air filter. Meanwhile, after being filtered and silenced, the fresh air passes through the 'air filter' which of course is no such thing! In fact, the 'air filter' appears to be a still air chamber, feeding calmed, quiet and clean fresh air to the carb. All very cunning, and refreshingly clever.

Once the mixture has been burned, things continue in their clever way, with another unobtrusive little pipe entering the exhaust header and presumably balancing up the exhaust gasses with a tad of atmosphere to keep the emissions under control. Nicely done, guys.

Nothing is quite as it seems. Toolbox? Air filter? Not exactly, Watson

Oddly, given the environmental conscious- ness we're all supposed to have in these enlightened days, another useful change concerns the silencer. Gone is the piece of chromed drainpipe the length of Pinocchio's nose after an evening out with his politician chums, instead there is a sensibly-dimensioned piece of pipe, and a healthy beat to match it. How did they do that? Guess we will never know!

Good comfy (less stupidly stepped) seat, mudguards smaller than Cheshire, and a really easy long-legged riding position. Sound good?

It is. It's less good when you do the stopping routine, but that does get better as the brake shoes bed in, or so we're told. I once got a gentle beating up from Dan Sager, most excellent and entertaining spokesperson for the RE importers, for reminding readers that I once borrowed a 500 Bullet fitted with a single disc front brake. He asked me to stop talking about it, as they're not fitted any more. Well … they should be!

Seriously, the brakes are OK, but they will feel weedy to anyone used to modern discs. And Royal EnfieldView from a bridge. Condensation optional are going after exactly that rider, as demonstrated by the left foot shift of the new 5-speed gearbox. If you look closely at the right-hand outer casing of the new box, it's plain that the original intention was for a right-foot shift lever (you can see the cast-in boss for it).

But on the road, which is where we should all be, the Bullet is really improved. Starting is instant, the engine fires up entirely cleanly, settling down to an improbably reliable tickover very quickly. Pull-away is steady, clutch action light, and the Bullet bangs up to 55mph with genuine enthusiasm. The gearshift and the new box are entirely unremarkable to anyone used to a left-foot lever.

But make no mistake, this is no modern motorcycle. Or rather, it's a more serious retro motorcycle than either Kawasaki or Triumph's new-millennium twins. Where they feel a tad flatulent and lacking the crispness of their ancestors (yes; Kawasaki have built some fine twins in their history, too), the Bullet still feels like a trad Brit motorcycle. The riding position, slight rawness in the power delivery, oddly firm suspension and quaint brakes all see to that.

So, is it good? I'll leave it to Steve for a proper verdict, but if we didn't already boast a Harris G80 Matchless in one of The Sheds, I think I'd be negotiating...

Retro or Replica? Tell us...

It may not be a fearsome engine, but it is a reasonably handsome one


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