The latest Voetspore chapter is happening in India, travelling with our trusted Toyota Land Cruisers. But we also added another iconic brand – the Royal Enfield. This is the first time Voetspore has combined 4×4s and motorbikes. It was going to be different…
In Mumbai we started with two 500cc classic motorcycles. These bikes took us all the way to the southernmost tip of mainland India at Kanyakumari. From there, we travelled to Chennai. The first leg, going past Goa, Hampi, Madurai and Puducherry, was a total of 2 500 km. It was a most enjoyable ride, especially as we had the backup of the two Cruisers. Accommodation was a mixture of guest houses and camping on the beach or somewhere in the open. Most important was that the Cruisers were equipped with four fridges, and ice cold water – essential in temperatures above 400C – was always at hand. In Chennai, we swapped them for two Thunderbirds for the long haul to Sikkim, Varanasi and Delhi. Later, when we go to the Himalayas, we’ll fit the latest product from this company that has been in operation for more than a century.
The Enfield Cycle Company started in the 19th century, making motorcycles, bicycles, lawnmowers and stationary engines under the name Royal Enfield out of its works based at Redditch in Worcestershire, Britain. The legacy of weapons manufacture of the Enfield brand is reflected in the logo comprising the cannon and the motto ‘Made like a gun’. Use of the brand name Royal Enfield was licensed by the Crown in 1890. Enfield established itself as a major player during the First and Second World Wars, supplying the Allied Forces with motorcycles. Some of the models were equipped with sidecars, fitted with machine guns that could be used in anti-aircraft combat. One of the most well-known Enfields was the Royal Enfield WD/RE, known as the Flying Flea. This was a lightweight 125cc motorcycle designed to be dropped by parachute with airborne troops. After the war, the factory continued manufacturing many of these models. The legendary J2 model was developed and went on to be the ancestor of the well-known Bullet. This motorcycle has the longest production run in the world.
Royal Enfield motorcycles were introduced in India in 1949. In 1955, the Indian government started looking for a suitable motorcycle for its police forces and the army for patrolling duties on the country’s borders. The Bullet 350 was chosen as the most suitable bike for the job. The Indian government ordered 800 of these 350cc motorcycles, an enormous order for that time. Thus in 1955, the Redditch Company partnered with Madras Motors in India to form what was called Enfield India to assemble these 350cc Bullet motorcycle under licence in Madras (now called Chennai). In 1957, tooling equipment was also sold to Enfield India so that it could manufacture components and start full-fledged production. The Enfield Bullet dominated the Indian highways and, with each passing year, its popularity rose. Royal Enfield UK ceased production in 1970 and the company was dissolved in 1971. Remaining tooling and equipment of the Redditch works was auctioned off. Meanwhile, the Bullet 350 continued to be manufactured in India and by the 1980s, the motorcycles were even exported to Europe out of India. In 1990, Enfield India entered into a strategic alliance with the Eicher Group and, in 1994, merged with it. It was during this merger that the name Enfield India changed to Royal Enfield. The Eicher Group is one of India’s leading automotive groups with diversified interests in the manufacture of tractors, commercial vehicles, automotive gears, exports, garments, management consultancy and motorcycles.
Royal Enfield, with its 350 and 500cc single cylinder thumper engine has to compete with the highly developed Japanese brands like Honda, Yamaha and Kawasaki. From other eastern countries, there is similar competition. In India itself, the Hero brand is doing very well. But there is just something different about a Royal Enfield. This we experienced on our long journey through India. To manufacture quality bikes that are well known worldwide for their reliability and toughness, state-of-the-art infrastructure is required. That is what Royal Enfield has done at its Chennai manufacturing facility. We visited the plant and were hugely impressed with the production process during which 2 000 bikes roll off the production line daily during three eight-hour shifts. There is a dedication and pride with the workers who tune our motorcycles around the clock. The success of the Enfield lies in the iconic status of the motorcycle. There is a certain retro feeling and old-world charm about the bike. Yet, unlike brands such as Harley- Davidson, this bike is affordable. In India the bike retails for between R35 000 and R45 000. Royal Enfield has set up a wide network of 11 brand stores. There are 250 dealers in all major cities and towns and over 200 authorised service centres in India. The company also exports motorcycles to the USA, Japan, UAE, Korea, Bahrain, UK, France, Germany, Argentina and many other countries through 40 importers and over 300 dealers across the globe. This is a huge marketing exercise.
Yet the success of Royal Enfield is not only an excellent marketing campaign. Once you’ve been on a Classic, Thunderbird, Bullet, Continental GT or Himalayan, you’ll know, there is only one motorbike for you, and it is made like a gun. Currently, Enfields are exported to South Africa as private deals. An official export deal, a brand store and service centres may be on the cards. Soon even more South Africans could have access to this iconic brand.