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Bike Review - Posted 29th July 2013
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Royal Enfield Electra-XS

Stephen Herbert bought the last of the carb-equipped 500 Enfields five years ago, and since then has been gently upgrading its performance. Wot'll it do, Mister?...

I bought my Electra-X new from a local dealer in 2007. Actually it's an Electra-XS, which is the posh one with twin clocks, lots of chrome and a separate headlight (no RE casquette). It's the only bike I'd ever bought new, which was great as no-one had ever rounded off a nut or burred a screw…!

Riding it home new was 'interesting'. The dealer had fitted the foot-pegs on the wrong side (so one leg was sticking out in space and the other one was too close to the engine). Also, the drive-chain was too tight, so because of the suspension geometry, when I rode over a bump the back brake came on!

A standard Royal Enfield Electra XS, yesterday...

After solving these teething problems, I ran it in really carefully, to the book, which was really frustrating as it involved quite low speeds and low revs in all gears. I also resisted the temptation of any mods or 'tuning' during the first year to preserve the guarantee.

So all in all, for the first year it was slow, slow, slow-slow, slow. I was reasonably happy with the bike: it was utterly reliable, got me (slowly) from A to B, but not in a spectacular or exciting way. Having said all that, it was a huge improvement on the humble 350 Bullet I'd traded in for it. More urge (even taking things gently) more refined (didn't splutter or stop), yet preserved the RE pedigree and style that I liked from the old bike.

Those droopy bars make it look sad :o( ...
Various Electras on

I couldn't resist doing some 'sensible', non-performance mods though…

The gear change (even though on the 'wrong' side), was great, but the brake mechanism was severely compromised by the swap to the right. There were essentially two problems:

1. The Indian crossover mechanism was too weak and bendy to transmit the foot pressure properly across the bike to the other side.

2. Having got to the other side, the brake rod, being bent to avoid the pillion footrest, was equally bendy and weak, thus compounding the problem.

To solve these, I fitted the Watsonian-Squire brake crossover kit (better engineered and stronger) and straightened the rod, modifying the nearside pillion footrest to suit. Whilst I was at it, I refitted the brake actuating lever on the hub round a couple of splines so it was perpendicular to the rod and better able to actuate the shoes.

The results of this were startling; I could now lock the back brake, which was never even remotely possible without these changes!

At last, the first 12 months had passed, I'd had my dealer service and I was able to start tweaking (we all love a good tweak now, don't we?). I researched the possibilities for performance improvement and discovered I had two options:

1. Hitchcocks' Amal Concentric-based kit

2. Watsonian-Squire's Highway kit (Dell'Orto based)

The Electra-X was the last RE to be fitted with a carburettor. The latest EFi models have fuel injection which restricts your ability to tune and fiddle. Hitchcocks now do a carburettor kit for these, but that seems a bit of a strange thing to do…

After a long discussion with myself over a pint or two, I opted for the former because firstly I knew more about Concentrics than I did about Dell'Ortos and their accelerator pumps; and secondly, it was cheaper. I know, I know…

So one sunny afternoon, I set about the Electra with the spanners. The kit consists of a Concentric, a CNC manifold (a bit fiddly with the offset studs, but works OK), and a blanking plug for the emissions hole on the exhaust port. You need to remove all the superfluous plumbing for the emissions thingy and chuck it away (actually, I may still have it in The Shed in case it's needed one day…)

Hitchcocks also sell an exhaust pipe and higher-geared gearbox sprocket as add-ons to the basic kit. I didn't fit these at this stage as I'm tight and wanted to see what the basic kit would deliver.

85mph, yesterday...

After a bit of tweaking of the Concentric knobs and screws I went for a test run. WOW! 85mph indicated. The speedo suddenly had a fit and had to wind itself up for the first time in its life. The kit is well worth fitting, folks!

Sometime later I investigated the exhaust setup on the bike. According to the literature, this engine was designed to be a 'lean burner' to keep within emission limits. This was achieved partially by carburation (hence the nasty CV OEM instrument) partially by the aforementioned emissions plumbing gubbins, and partly by a silly exhaust pipe.

I'd got rid of the first two problems already, so it was time to investigate the zorst. If you have one of these bikes with the standard zorst-pipe and you fancy a laugh, take it off and have a look - go on, try it. I was amazed. Firstly by the sheer weight of the thing, and secondly by the weedy, tiddly pipe they fitted (God knows how) inside the smart external pipe. It's only about an inch in diameter and seriously restricts gas-flow. I replaced mine with Hitchcocks' free-flow pipe and whilst I was at it, I bored out the steel collar at the head end and fitted a heat sink on the outside to restrict the inevitable blueing likely from unleashing all those extra horses. If you feel like it, fit a less restrictive silencer too but be prepared to up-jet the carb to suit. I was lucky in this respect as the Electra-XS already had a dinky little silencer that was already less restrictive.

To be honest, the extra power from the exhaust mod seemed small in comparison with the Concentric kit, so if you're on a budget, I probably wouldn't bother. Also, I suspect that my riding style prevents me from getting the ultimate out of the mods (my knuckles go a funny shade of white above 65mph). If you're after performance, do it though - seriously!

In the end, even though I considered upping the gearbox sprocket by a tooth, I didn't do it. I don't ride on motorways, where the lower revs would be a distinct advantage, so it seemed pointless.

At the seaside, yesterday...

The next stage in the tuning saga was to fit Hitchcock's replacement TCI module (whatever that means - I can do spanners and volts, but electronictrickery is beyond my comprehension). The general idea is that this box does two things that the OEM one doesn't: it has a more appropriate and smoother advance curve for this engine; and it withholds the initial spark when firing up on the button, to allow the motor to gain inertia and to minimise 'kick-back' which can be VERY BAD for the sprag clutch on the electric start system (and not great for your right leg either, if you prefer the old-fashioned way of doing things!)

Readers of RealClassic magazine (see RC110) will have already read my experiences with this mod, so I won't repeat myself. Suffice to say that now it's fitted and set up with a non-faulty HT coil, the improvement is considerable. It turned a good bike into an even better, well-mannered one!

Another point worth making concerns the battery and electric start. From new, I vowed to only use the button when necessary (eg, the odd, inadvertent stall in traffic). This was partly due to vanity (I am butch enough to kick-start a 500cc single), partly to preserve the life of the starter and sprag clutch; and partly because it didn't seem that capable. What I mean by the last comment is that although the motor would spin on the button, it didn't seem that enthusiastic or powerful.

When sorting out the problems associated with the replacement TCI unit and dodgy coil, I replaced the battery. This instantly transformed spinning and whizzing on the button. Someone told me at this stage that the Indian OE batteries were barely capable of turning the engine over when new, so my (by then) five year old battery had no chance. The moral of this part of the story is to invest in a good European battery - and make proper use of the (now) capable electric right boot!

Next time - riding the Electra-X in the Isle of Man…

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