Driven by passion for the Royal Enfield bike and a cause, Gordon May undertook an ambitious ride from Manchester to Chennai

As it cost him quite a bit in terms of time and money to restore his 1953 Bullet, it is invaluable to Gordon May. A few months ago, the Briton had to ‘devalue’ the bike to get himself a carnet, which would enable him to take it to different countries without paying duty.

Gordon needed the document for his journey overland from Manchester to Chennai. His exact destination was the Royal Enfield factory in Thiruvottriyur. The adventurous ride came to a successful end last week with Gordon spending two days at the factory.

Gordon’s ride was intended to raise awareness about two non-government organisations involved with charities in India (Wateraid, which provides the poor safe drinking water and JBF, which runs a school for street children in Delhi), but it was first and foremost a tribute to the Bullet. Gordon could not have got a better bike for the mission. The 1953 Bullet, which he picked up during his stay in New Zealand, probably belongs to the earliest batch of 500cc Bullets to come from the Redditch factory.

Bought in 1995, the Bullet stayed with him for twelve years as nothing more than an object of curiosity. Only last year did he begin to restore the bike in earnest.

He fitted parts and accessories sourced from companies known for making products for Royal Enfield. Gordon had access to some of the best Royal Enfield technicians. They came on the highest recommendation. Gordon has been in partnership with Royal Enfield for a long time. Hooked on its bikes after an India-Nepal tour on one, he woke up to the fact that not much had been written about the company. He made up for it by writing four books (“The Legend Rides On”, “By Miles The Best”, “Made In India” and “Made In Redditch”) with the Bullet as the main topic of discussion.

Given this fact, it is not surprising that Andy Berry, who has carved a niche for himself as a Royal Enfield tuner, agreed to make Gordon’s 1953 bike suitable for the long adventure. Gordon bought the parts that could make the engine ‘robust’ and Andy demonstrated his genius. As the old engine did not act up during its 13,500 km long odyssey, Gordon knows the money spent on the 500cc performance crankshaft and piston from Hitchcocks and a special belt drive kit has been well spent.

Aware that Gordon would often have to make do with spurious fuel, Andy provided the right protection for the exhaust valve – a fuel cat. Andy even attended to matters other tuners are likely to dismiss as minor. This includes the hose to the oil pressure gauge.

Gordon installed sturdy crash bars that are a feature of Bullets made for the Indian Army. These crash bars saved his life twice. Once, riding through a desert in Pakistan, Gordon misjudged the depth of the sand that the wind had carried on to the road. But for these bars, the fall could have proved more serious. On the road to Damoh (Himachal Pradesh), he was accosted by bandits. Not wanting to take a clanking knock from the crash bars, they jumped out of the way when Gordon gave the throttle a quick twist.

He faced other hardships in the subcontinent. In Pakistan, his stomach was rumbling from a gastronomic misadventure. In India, the roads gave him a hard time. If he covered 500 km in ten hours riding through Iran, he covered only half the distance in India for the same amount of time. Gordon has discussed the journey in detail in his blog at overlandtoindia.co.uk. The account is complete, except for the last leg of the journey. At many places, he got to bed down for the night at the houses of Bullet enthusiasts. He covered the home stretch from Tada to Thiruvottriyur accompanied by about 20 riders from Madras Bulls, the Bullet club from Chennai. His interaction with this bikers’ group and with the people running the two NGOs are likely to be part of a film about this adventure. The DVDs of the film are expected to be available by the end of this year. Gordon also plans to include experiences from this journey in his next book. Going by his track record, the Bullet is likely to be the central theme once again.

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