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23rd April 2004

Enfields At The Ace

Do the words 'Emm's Enfield' and 'polished perfection' sound like they belong together? They certainly should. Emm rode the Bullet and wrote the words, Toast took the pics and provided breakdown recovery services...

Polishing engine cases is not my favourite pastime. It makes my fingers hurt, it wastes useful time that could be spent riding and, more recently, it seems to account for the whereabouts of an inordinate amount of some of my better tee shirts and tooth brushes.

But these vital implements had found their way into Our Shed over the last few days, in preparation for the Royal Enfield day at the Ace Café, London. Olive, Royal Enfield Bullet 500, had to be extra specially shiny for her 'big day out'; after all, Enfield Day happens just once a year on the North Circular and to be honest, I've been neglecting her recently.

The Ace Cafe, and lots of - judging by the yellow plates - Recent REs.

So, a copious amount of polish was rubbed on, rubbed off, rubbed on again… until all the winter salt and splats had completely disappeared. She was beautiful. Her exhaust had none of the usual greasy smears on it and all the dried raindrops had been buffed away. OK - so I drew the line at dealing with those nasty gunkified bits on her head case, but with the help of a large amount of elbow grease from He Who Fixes Things, she looked just the way she had done when I'd picked her up from the showroom last year. Marvellous. Every nut gleamed, every spoke shone and the hand painted lines on her tank glinted like burnished gold in the early morning April sunshine.

Weather reports the night before were good: no sign of rain, despite an overcast sky, and the Shed door opened early in preparation for a brisk morning's ride out. Olive started at the touch of a button - 'cos I'm a wimp, and couldn't face kick starting her - and we trundled off down the drive in search of fellow Real Classicists for the 40-mile ride into the suburbs.

Have you ever been in a position fortunate enough to think; 'gosh - this feels different to my other bike?' Anyone who visits the message board regularly will know that I've been poppin' all over the country on one of those Japanese Distractions recently - a Divvie 600. Smooth handling, reasonably reliable brakes and something called, 'per-form-ance'.

Absolute rubbish. The first ten minutes of the ride this morning were spent kicking myself for not having been out on the old girl more often over the winter; scooting around roundabouts with a much lower center of gravity than the Yamaha, and making that fabulous thump-thump-thump noise that the modern multi has no hope of ever emulating. The Bullet is never going to win standing start speed records, but she certainly knows how to make a girl smile.

From Luton to London there are a number of back routes which can be taken to reach the Ace; yours truly was responsible for today's navigation along the Harpenden to St Albans to Radlett road. Actually, what this means is that the three chaps we picked up by Junction 10 of the M1 were kind enough to let the numpty female sit at the front and set the pace. Good on 'em. Two Pauls and a Craig - two Enfields and a Morini, not necessarily in that order.

Mild altercations with what little traffic we encountered was neatly avoided by intervention from He Who Fixes Things; he parked his lump of Far Eastern machinery on top of each mini-roundabout and sat, bravely glaring at traffic coming from the right until we'd all gone through. (I must not be rude about his bike, I must not be rude about his bike - you'll understand why shortly).

Now this in an old one. A Continental?

The Ace is well populated at the weekends, and makes a half decent ride out for anyone living within fifty miles of the North Circular. There's a reasonably priced meal (reliably nutritious and edible by caff standards these days), a decent coffee and always someone to talk to. The car park was half full when we arrived, late morning, and continued to fill up with Royal Enfields during the day. And surprisingly, almost three quarters of them were new. That is to say, there was a distinct lack of Continental GTs, Interceptors, Constellations… where were the real bikes? Where were the old timers? Sixty-5s by the dozen, and a whole ammo-belt of Bullets younger than five years old - but not that many bikes from days gone by.

Is this a sign that the resurgent interest in the breed has surpassed the enthusiasm for 'bringing out the old girls'? Probably not - it was raining on and off, and had it been brighter and warmer I'm sure that there would have been more 'old boys' taking their bones out for a blast. As it was, the east wind was bitterly cold.

But a number of hardened enthusiasts had turned up from near and far, and one of the 'proper' Enfields on the forecourt turned out to have trogged up all the way from Gloucestershire. A man who recognized the writing on my chest (!) pounced on me; Bob Taylor had ridden for two hours to bring his WD/CO/B up from Cheltenham. There's nothing unusual in that distance - the Fenland posse from Haywards Garage, Royal Enfield dealers in Cambridge, had put in a similar number of miles, arriving en masse with a number of variations on an Enfield theme.

But I think this is a new one; indicators, but a right-foot change...

But Bobs WD/CO was slightly different to any other example of the breed; the 'B' means that it's one of only a handful of Royal Enfields still around which doesn't have a good old British Albion gearbox fitted to it. On trial for the War Department, the Burman gearbox was fitted to around half a dozen machines, in the factory at Redditch, for testing and approval. There's no readily available documentation as to the reason why the Burman gearbox wasn't adopted on a more permanent basis; Burman still make components and gear housings for a number of vehicle manufacturers and vehicles today - the Ford Transit being one of 'em. Bob's machine came to him six years ago; he's been tracking sister-machines with similar gearboxes and found another 'original' in Poland, although there are a number of WD/CO Enfields that have since undergone retro-fit adaptations.


So many Royal Enfields parked together in one place and yet remarkably few jokes about oilfields. Time pressed on and dark clouds loomed. After a couple of hours milling around in the freezing cold, the swarthy herd (all five of us) gathered its gubbins, nonchalantly backed out of the double stacked bike park, and headed back onto the North Circular. So far, so good. Up past Brent Cross and onto the A41, yes, still trundling along together like a well-organised team of synchronised swimmers. Me at the front, and everyone else strung out over about 200 yards - just far enough apart for stopping distances, but orderly and dignified.

Then - disaster struck. Brace yourselves - no longer a dignified breaststroke in unison, but more like a team of attack trained minnows headed up by a large amphibian flailing around in the shallow end. A41/A1 junction in Hendon… and Olive decided to play up with great style. Not just splutter and cough either, she stalled and refused to start again without so much as a by your leave. OK - perhaps I was a little hasty with the clutch lever…? Foot down, twick the gear lever, clutch in, push starter button, grin at chaps looming over right shoulder - and lurch.

A proper old one. The bike, of course. Sorry. I'll get my coat.

Nope - still not having it. Must have got her still in gear. Twack neutral finder with hefty right boot - push starter button… kkkkkkrrrrrrrrr… kkkkkkrrrrrrrrr … you know the sound she was making. The chaps patiently fended off the three lanes of traffic that had started to flow around us like a boulder in mid-stream… and Olive started again, lurching forward towards the next set of traffic lights.

No need to change gear up or down, the lights were only a short hop away... pull the clutch in - and she stalled again. Twick the gear lever, push the button and lurch. Twick the gear lever, push the button, swear loudly and lurch.

It's not easy to look sheepish with a helmet on.

Apparently though, my bleating was loud enough for He Who Fixes Things to work out that it wasn't just me being an idiot - there was definitely Something Wrong. So he bounced off his Far Eastern heap, (sorry, Magnificent Machine In Times of Need) and thumped Olive into gear.

A vee-twin. An old one. Err... Nice coat!

I disappeared on his bike at this point: making good use of a clutch, gearbox and engine that worked in harmony. It's not that I'm completely illiterate when it comes to things mechanical - but I do recognize that point at which I Am Absolutely No Use and Am Better Off Keeping A Safe Distance.

Paul, on his Morini, shouted across at me over the next roundabout 'It's the clutch - it's knackered, so he's going to limp her home for you.' Uh-huh. He Who Fixes Things has a strange interpretation of 'limp'. It's more akin to a crazed gallop, knocking Mondeos and Fiestas out of the way with a large left boot and whooping around the inside of any and everything that teeters on the edge of a junction.

To be fair, after wandering along the A41 for a couple of miles, the chaps agreed that flat out up the M1 was the only way to go. Half an hour later and Luton loomed - a strangely welcoming sight after sitting behind poor old Olive; reduced to one gear for thirty miles.

Coffees were handed out all round and much muttering and indignant diagnosis of Olive's cantankerous tendencies ensued. Did clutch screws need tightening? Has the clutch adjustor come loose? Is it clutch drag? Is there a problem with the selectors in the gearbox? Will anyone understand when I repeat this at the dealers later in the week? Can I extend that magical thing called a 'warranty' for another ten years? Please?!

I don't know. I DO know that, despite being least likely to win the 'Reliable Royal Enfield' award this year, Olive was the shiniest, brightest, most polished sex-machine of a motorbike on the North Circular today…

… and I can't wait to park up my Japanese winter warmer for a few months and get her back on the road where she belongs.

Proud Owner: 'There have been eighteen types of gear change pedal used over the years...' Emm: 'Zzzzzzz'


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