Royal Enfield Classic 500cc Review & Test Drive

Me, Deepak and Ram, our editor, already did a review of Bullet Electra TwinSpark 350cc last month. But along with it we had tested another bike, and it was – almighty Royal Enfield Classic 500cc. We can’t just forget about this wonderful machine, it was a real pleasure riding this bike.

It is a “resurrected” classic model from 1953 – Royal Enfield 500 cc. And before the review, we would like to tell you about the original bike form 1950’s.

A Walk Down the Memory Lane

Royal Enfield Bullet with 500cc displacement was introduced in 1952, as a test machine. After a year it was finally launched for the market. According to the legend, 500cc Bullet would have been launched 1 year earlier, but renowned racer Jack Stocker didn’t bring the test model back – it sunk while it was on a ferry, floating back to Great Britain.

500cc Model included improved lubrication system, modified frame, larger rear brake drum, improved bottom end with four main bearings, as well as few other minor modifications. In 1954, angle of exhaust and also rear spring and shock were changed. Movement of the suspension has improved on whopping 50%!

In 1955 camshaft and front brake upgrade took place (twin brake installed). At that time 500cc Bullet was sold in America as well, but it was know as Indian “Woodsman” (in this case Indian is motorcycle company, not our country). However, it had some cosmetic modifications compared to the original Bullet from England.

In next 5-6 years a lot of upgrades were done for both 350cc and 500cc Bullet models.

Original Britain’s 500cc Bullet had power output of 27bhp.

And while that may seem really impressive, you should know what was done for US market.

For US, Bullet models were modified and tuned, and the 500cc Bullet had output of 40bhp. That is crazy! Unfortunately, Bullet line (350cc and 500cc) was discontinued in 1962, because Royal Enfield company was sold.

However, India continued to churn out same Bullets, just like the first models from 1955. Interesting fact that these models almost were not modified, for whole 30 years!

Now it’s almost impossible to find genuine Royal Enfield Bullet 500cc from 1950’s. And even if you think you found one in great condition, you will be surprised that it is combination of few other motorcycle models from that era.

But if you are a judge of vintage motorcycles there is no need to spend a lot of time and money finding one good original 500cc Bullet. Now India has several 500cc classic Bullets, and they look almost like originals from 1950’s. There are Classic, Deluxe and Military models now on the market. Also 500cc Classic C5, and Bullet Classic 500 EFI. And today we will speak about the last one I’ve mentioned – Royal Enfield Bullet Classic 500cc EFI.

So what is EFI? It stands for Electronic fuel injection. And while this motorcycle has retro-style looks it is modified with dozens modern technology features.

So here are our thoughts about this mighty machine.

Engine, Transmission & Performance

I need to say this bike is quite a powerhouse. While Bullet Electra Twinspark could use some additional power and torque, this monster has all you need! Massive single cylinder, 4 stroke, air cooled OHV 500cc engine produces 27.2 bhp of raw power at 5250rpm. Maximum torque is 41.3Nm @ 4000rpm. And that is a power to be reckoned with!

When I sat on this bike for a first time, I was really surprised – there is an electric start button on the handlebar, like on the newest Bullet Electra. I must say that I didn’t expect such feat from a classic bike like this one. But it is much more easy-to-use than old and usual kick-starter, and it doesn’t ruin the looks at all. Manufacturers claim that now it starts easily in cold or hot weather conditions or even in high altitudes. Maybe, but it sure is good.

When I started the bike I was amazed by the engine roar. It’s loud! A real treat to the ears. When I was ready to launch the bike forward, I twisted the throttle as I would normally would. Bike launched forward with all its power and I was taken aback!

I’m glad that I didn’t open the throttle fully, or it would end differently. That was really unexpected, and probably because new Electronic fuel injection (not available for 350cc models) added a reasonable performance improvement. The bike pulls strong throughout the whole powerband and the throttle response is amazing.

Also due to EFI system this bike is compliant with Euro 3 emission standards, and surprisingly maintenance costs are almost the same like for the Bullet Electra 350cc.

For transmission is used standard five-speed gearbox with left side gear shift. Gearbox uses universal pattern – 1-N-2-3-4-5, so it seems that all is being unchanged. However, it was easy to use and the clutch worked wonderfully. And due to really high torque this bike can provide you with great power in any gear. I really have no complains about the gearbox.

Performance is amazing. It is a very fun bike to ride. Maximum speed is almost 130km/h, according to official tests. Bullet Classic 500 EFI can easily cruise at speeds around 110km/h all day long, it’s designed that way. No overheating or excessive vibrations at that speeds.

Well, speaking about vibrations – when your speed is around 40-50km/h Bullet Classic 500cc becomes quite uncomfortable ride, because vibrations are really heavy. Though, that is understandable, it’s not a v-twin engine, but capacity of it is high. Piston is huge, and that is what causing all those vibrations. However, they all disappear, and bike becomes really smooth at around 60-70km/h.

Overall, engine is amazing – torque is very high, power is great and thump it creates is a pleasure to listen. Of course, some will say it could be even more powerful, but I think it’s damn good, in current specs. And I forgot to add – this bike is only a bit heavier then Electra – total weight is 184kg, which is quite surprising.

Rating: 4/5  

Design & Build Quality

On the first glance, Royal Enfield Classic 500cc looks like it is original Bullet from 1950’s, it’s that similar!

But when you come closer, you will see that it is a blend between vintage motorcycle and modern generation bike.

Many things remained the same like on the old classic – oversized mudguards, “teardrop” tank, single saddle seat and covered headlamp. And I really like the vintage looks of this bike, however I have one complaint.

I don’t really like the paint. It’s turquoise. Or sky-blue, how they call it. I’m not sure if it looks properly with it, because it is more like a modern color, I doubt that it was painted like that back in the days. Motorcycles were mostly painted in colors like red and black, also there were matte-green or yellow models, and sometimes even grey. I think black color would give this bike very classy and sharp looks, just like vintage legends. On the other hand, red color would give the feel of mighty American chopper. Current color isn’t bad, but it don’t blend with design so much as others.

However, paint quality is great. Surface of the bike is glance and smooth, no roughness or any other defects were found. Although few minor scratches were present, but it usually happens – we were not the first who test-driven it. Logos of “Royal Enfield” and “Classic 500” were done in old-style, post war design, and overall – motorcycle looked really classy. There was even a new logo of Royal Enfield on the top of the fuel tank – Cannon with words imprinted “Made like a gun”. I think it is first modern Royal Enfield motorcycle that wears this original emblem from 1890’s.

Some other details that I like, are naked vintage-looking springs used for suspension and seat. Just like from 1950’s, and this classic look is timeless. Especially I like the tail light; it looks so historical, really great touch.

Build quality is almost exceptional, but I would not be really pleased if it would be average – the price for this piece of history is damn high. But we will talk about that later. Chromed parts look impressive – shiny and polished, they can be found all over the place. And quality of all parts and details is very high. But I feel that creators could use some classic looking speedometer. Yes, standard Bullet speedo already looks classic, but instead, they should create something really different for this special motorcycle.

I would say this bike is really sturdy and well made. It was completely hand-built and all details are finely crafted. There isn’t anything bad in it this motorcycle. Well except, this particular color, I prefer red. But since there are 3 different colors for this model, I can’t take away some points for this.

Rating: 5/5  

Comfort & Handling

The new (or better say the old one?) bicycle-style seat with open strings provides the rider with ultimate comfort. Seat is comfy and relaxing, you can cruise on 100km/h with total pleasure. It is really effortless to cruise on this bike – you can look around and enjoy passing landscape and listen to beautiful exhaust notes. A real satisfaction!

Bike was designed for upright sitting posture and the handlebars are fitted just in the right distance for the rider.

On the side of the fuel tank there are rubber knee grips installed, and they felt really good. It’s such a great idea. In addition, it is easy to control the Classic 500cc, and it feels light despite the moderately heavy weight. Single seat may seem a limitation, but you can always equip it with additional seat, for a passenger. There are footpegs for the passengers installed from the factory.

Handling is improved as well. Low center of gravity combined with 18” tires (front 90X90 and rear 110X90) make it easy to navigate Classic 500cc at any speed. Well almost. On parking lots (speeds lower than 20km/h) bike feels lazy when turning, but when you start to ride a little bit faster this is no longer a problem. It is certainly well balanced and stabile machine, with wheelbase over 1370mm, and it seems that cornering is improved as well. Unbelievable!

Handling is improved as well. Low center of gravity combined with 18” tires (front 90X90 and rear 110X90) make it easy to navigate Classic 500cc at any speed. Well almost. On parking lots (speeds lower than 20km/h) bike feels lazy when turning, but when you start to ride a little bit faster this is no longer a problem. It is certainly well balanced and stabile machine, with wheelbase over 1370mm, and it seems that cornering is improved as well. Unbelievable!

This area improved drastically since the standard Bullet 350cc, and I feel that comfort of Classic 500cc could be a trademark for future bikes. Handling is almost delightful too. I would give high rating for comfort & handling.

Rating: 4.5/5  

Brakes & Suspension

Single 280mm disc with 2 piston calipers is used for a front brake. It provides motorcycle with incredible stopping power, and the brake lever is highly responsive. For the rear brakes there is 152mm drum brake (internal expansion type). And it is the thing that bothers me. Drum brake of the same diameter is installed on usual Bullet Electra’s and Machismo’s as well, why? I mean, they could use a disc brake for the rear wheel as well. Or make the drum bigger, at least. Not that current one is bad, but I feel for such price it should be better.

Altogether, stopping power is fine, despite the usual drum brake at the rear. Even with such power, motorcycle can be stopped easily, and quite effortlessly. Royal Enfield 500 cc is safe and the brakes are reliable – they will not fail when you need them the most.

In addition, suspension was improved. Front suspension use telescopic forks with hydraulic damping – stroke 130mm. Rear suspension is swingarm with shock absorbers, gas filled. While this may seem very familiar to you, I ensure that it suspension is significantly better than on Bullet Electra. They definitely have worked on it. You can ride pretty smooth over rough terrain like gravel, and bumps on the road are easily absorbed.

Overall suspension is wisely set up, and brakes can handle such savage power from huge 500cc engine. However, I would like to see a rear disk brake on next models.

Rating: 4/5  

Fuel consumption & Pricing

Royal Enfield Classic 500cc EFI returns about 28-29kmpl in city traffic, and on the highway you can expect something around 35kmpl. It is quite a good result for such engine, especially because 350cc Electra is not much better in terms of fuel economy. Fuel tank is exactly the same size – 13.5 liters. If imagine that you will mix high traffic areas with highways riding you can travel for ~450km with full tank. And that is reasonable travel distance for such machine.

And probably the worst part of the bike is the price.

Classic 500cc is almost 25% more expensive than Machismo 500cc, and that was damn pricey! With price tag of Rs. 1,46,000 (on road, Mumbai) it is most expensive Royal Enfield motorcycle ever.

Price tag of ~Rs. 1,24,000 is currently held in ex-showrooms across the country. However, it’s not very dramatic, after all foreign choppers or other similar models will cost you much more than that.

Rating: 3.5/5  

BikeAdvice Verdict

This bike is a blast to ride! Classic 500cc is powerful, comfortable and nicely built; it delivers incredible riding experience and all around performance. Even with few minor flaws, no doubt that it is a best bike from Royal Enfield I have tested!

It’s hard to believe how much it was improved since other Royal Enfield 500cc motorcycles were launched. I think they finally set up a worthy standard worth next generation of Royal Enfield bikes. Every serious motorcycle fan out there should test drive Royal Enfield Classic 500cc!

Rating: 4.5/5  

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Posted On:   Tuesday, 30 Nov 2010Source:   Bike Advice