With unheard-of reliability and retro-chic styling, the Royal Enfield Classic 500 is ready to cast its spell on a new generation of Bulleteers, writes Kartikeya Singhee

A 600km ride from Chennai to Ooty in a single day, in a group of nine Enfield Bullets is quite an ambitious task. Bullets require some form of looking after on journeys such as this. The number of time-consuming pit-stops, therefore, multiplies in proportion to the number of bikes. But Royal Enfield was calmly confident of its latest creation, the new Classic 500.

Though the Classic is almost entirely a new motorcycle, it can hardly be confused for anything other than a Royal Enfield. The big headlamp housing with its twin pilot still doubles up as the instrument console housing. The chrome-rimmed speedometer is where it always has been traditionally, but the ammeter has been replaced by an engine light and a fuel-level warning light. There's no fuel gauge — the new Classic is enhanced by fuel-injection technology. On a more keeping-up-to-the-time note, the Classic sports a pass-light flasher and an engine-kill switch. The flat, forward-inclined handlebar holds the chromed mirrors, which offer a decent view of what's behind. But once the vibrations kick in, vision of what follows you can get very blurry. The bulbous tank remains unchanged and is embellished with quality rubber knee-pads.

The chassis is a hybrid solution, using the front portion of the 500 chassis, while the rear portion has been designed ground up. Touches such as the slim chassis pipes that wrap around the utility boxes give the Classic a clean, naked feel while improving on the stiffness.

Eye-catching styling

Flourishes from a bygone era such as the headlamp shade, the covered front-fort tubes, the sprung rider's seat, the blisters on the crankcase, which are inspired by World War II fighter planes, the finned collar on the exhaust side of the block and the massive, arched fenders add more of the old-world charm to an already historical bike. The optional up-swept exhaust is a must-have too for its look and for the mandatory Bullet thump. But be warned — you lose the warranty if you go for the Rs. 3,000 option before the bike's second service. Till then, you'll have to manage with the thump-killing, long silencer. The rear-seat option seems like a misfit here, but that can be fitted or removed in a jiffy depending on whether you want to ride solo or with a pillion. In the special, mint-green colour, the Classic 500 is undeniably eye-catching.

Thumb the starter and the Classic 500 rumbles to life with ease. The new 499cc engine, which retains the 84mm bore and 90mm stroke of the 500LB, now deploys twin-spark technology to meet BS III emission norms and has moved on to a unit construction design.

The resulting reduction in parts has improved efficiency and reduced blow-by. A more powerful trochoidal oil pump, a re-designed piston and rings, and hydraulic tappets have taken overall reliability to a new level. The Indian Classic doesn't get the closed-loop fuel-injection system that's on the export models, which means it isn't as accurate or efficient as can be. Still, the engine makes a healthy 27.2bhp at 5250 rpm.

Five-speed gearbox

Impressive is the peak torque of 4.2kgm which kicked in at 4000rpm, though most of it is available from around 3000rpm all the way up and over 5000rpm, allowing the Classic 500 to pull like a truck. To handle that and more, the Classic 500 comes with a seven-plate clutch. The five-speed gearbox is also easier to use with shifts needing only an occasional firm push or some extra attention, though a certain level of notchiness still remains.

Even at open throttle (at 110kph), you can feel some pull as the speedo needle swings to an indicated 120kph. But for highway cruising, the Classic is better off in the 80-90kph range; a taller fifth gear would improve cruising ability further. The handlebar weights minimise the buzz when cruising, but there fair amounts of vibes at the flat handlebar and footpegs at higher rpms prevail. The vibes even proved enough to loosen the rearview mirror and a pinch nut on the exhaust. Amazingly, that was all. There were no characteristic Bullet traits, such as mechanical failures or oil-leaks.

The run to Ooty was interspersed with pitstops only because we were sore from the shapely but numbing saddle. The ride quality was more on the firm side as the 130mm-stroke front fork and the 80mm-stroke of the gas-charged twin shock absorbers also had to keep the 187kg motorcycle in check over the worst kind of conditions. On less-than-perfect State highways, the Classic ironed out a lot of the road imperfections with a heavy hand. The 90/90 x 18-inch front tyre and the 110/90 rear tyre from MRF proved to be quite capable even on the climb up the Nilgiris. Sadly, the brake pedal kept grounding on right-handers, which left you only the front 280mm-dia disc brake to contend with. This, in emergency application, creates a tug on the handlebar. The Classic, like other Bullets, isn't a sharp corner-carver, but it is sure-footed and planted. Combined with the new-found reliability of the 499cc motor, it will give many a rider a great tool to set out on their wayward journeys.