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Old 01-14-2007, 03:36 PM   #1
DHackney OP
Joined: Jul 2004
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What you can do with a Bullet

A couple of years ago my wife and I went to India, West Bengal and Bhutan. We had some logistical challenges getting our motorcycle into and out of India within the time window we had available so we rented a bike there. Our rental was an immaculately prepared Royal Enfield Bullet 500cc single, custom modified to mount our pannier boxes, tank bag and GPS.

Near Trongsa, Bhutan

The Bullet is based on a 1930s British design that was brought to India during the English colonial period for local manufacture. It has remained basically unchanged in the intervening years. We were told the only difference between a Bullet of that era and our rental bike was the change of one material used to braze one oil line.

At sea level, in perfect conditions, a factory fresh Bullet makes 22 HP. When we were at the top of the Himalayas crossing 11,000+ ft. passes, fully loaded, I have no idea exactly what it was making – but I guarantee you it was a lot less.

With right side shift, one up – three down, and left side rear braking, it was an ongoing mind-body coordination challenge riding the Bullet, especially when meeting Tata trucks on high Himalayan mountain roads.

Typical Himalayan Tata meet & greet

And I use the term braking here in the most liberal sense of the word – braking on a Bullet is more of an idea, a concept, a theme discussed in low tones over chai, than a real concrete, physical reality. Braking on a Bullet is something akin to communication prior to the telephone. You mail in a braking request and wait patiently for the response to land in your mailbox, the timing determined by mysterious forces beyond your influence and control.

The Bullet encompassed everything that is charming about vintage motorcycle travel. A generous 2” of rear suspension travel, weeping gaskets and regular mechanical upkeep. Regular as in every few hours.

Leatherman vs. Lucas electrics

And that is where Alam comes into the picture.

Alam was our Indian mechanic who accompanied us on our tour. He rode in a chase truck with his driver/assistant and supply of spare Bullet parts (top end, bottom end, forks, wheel assemblies, etc.) Alam worked on our bike, and that of our guide, Patrick Moffat, every morning and every night and a lot in between. His cheerful demeanor never wavered no matter what the circumstance and he consistently demonstrated the dominant trait of Indian mechanics everywhere: they could repair and launch the space shuttle with a screwdriver, pliers and some baling wire. Their innovation, inventiveness and ability to repair anything with only a few well worn hand tools is truly incredible.

To give you an idea of the mindset and abilities of the typical Indian mechanic, Alam had a small scooter & motorcycle repair shop that he opened with zero tools. He couldn’t afford any. To perform repair work he used whatever tools were still existent in the customer’s bike’s toolkit, which in India typically ranged from none to not much. Eventually he scrounged a few worn out open end wrenches from other, older, mechanics in town who had scrounged newer, less worn, version of the same. When we met I had more tools in the bottom of my pannier box and my small enduro tool kit than he had in his entire, now prospering, repair shop.

Alam and I, as motorcyclists do everywhere, were soon swapping bike and riding stories. He told me of his adventures building a bike and his podium finish in an enduro (rally) race high in the mountains of NW India. All that with no riding boots, gear, gloves, etc. on the bike he’d cobbled together from cast-off, worn-out parts, all built with his collection of less than a dozen tools. He told me of his dream to build an American type chopper from a Bullet, just to show that it could be done. He told me of his dreams to build a motorcycle repair, sales, rental, and closed course race and riding area business – the first of its kind in India.

I thought Alam was a great guy, and reflective of the inventive spirit, entrepreneurial energy and youthful vigor that is building a new and vibrant India.

Alam in 2004, Bhutan

When we got back home I shipped him a bunch of business books, Hindi to English and back dictionaries and a few cool tools. I thought it was the least I could do to encourage and support his entrepreneurial efforts.

I recently received the following bike photos from him.

"I wouldn't ride Doug's bike on a bet." - Malcolm Smith
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Old 01-14-2007, 04:33 PM   #2
Woolf Barnato
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Wow. India is an amazing place.
'Gonna get me a six pack...push people off the highway!'

"they live off the carrion of our mutual distrust and bribe us with symbols that equate hatred with manhood."

"I mean at the end of the day, I was addicted to Starting Fluid for Christ's sake!"

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Old 01-14-2007, 05:04 PM   #3
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Nice bike pictures.
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Old 01-14-2007, 07:07 PM   #4
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can't wait to go there someday.

*edit for addition*

great thread. good man to send him some tools.
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Old 01-14-2007, 08:40 PM   #5
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Your friend Alam is typical of the energy and inventiveness I witnessed from similar lads in Nepal.

The final 15kms of the Nepalese portion of highway that joins Kathmandu with Lhasa is a narrow, rutted, muddy mess through a narrow gorge. It was on the side of this "road" that I watched in awe as a young mechanic (he couldn't have been more than 14 or 15) overhauled the rear axle and differential of one of those TATA trucks. He'd removed the ring and pinion gears and was changing the outer bearing of the axle housing when I saw him. The only tools I saw were a hammer, drift (piece of scrap re-rod) and a kind of pipe wrench/channel lock type device. He wasn't ham fisted about it, either. Deft and careful taps to unseat and seat bearings with masterful care. I was amazed by his cheerful display of ingenuity and tenacity. Humbled, too.

Met an Israeli kid in Kathmandu who wanted to sell his Indian registered 350 Enfield before he flew back to Tel Aviv. The price was right and I was going to be there a while, so I took it for a test ride. Yowzah. There wasn't a single bearing left in the chassis that still bore anything! Talk about your thrill ride.

I rented Rajoots and Suzuki 125's when I needed a bike.
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Old 01-15-2007, 06:21 AM   #6
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Actually, the tooling that Royal Enfield sent to India in 1957 was obsolete. The UK factory in Redditch had introduced a new design across the range in 1955, so they formed an Indian subsidiary and shipped the old tooling to Madras (Chennai) to manufacture for the Indian market. The Chennai-built Enfields are quite a bit different than the old UK models (metric fasteners, 12V, etc.). For a time, UK and NA importers of Chennai-built machines replaced almost every bearing in the bikes before selling them as the damn things wouldn't last. I believe that problem was resolved when the Eicher Co. took over the operation several years ago. They have sunk a lot of money into improvements and new designs, so today the new Enfield is to the old Enfield like Quebecois French is to Continental French. Same origins, but vastly different animals.

Great thing about the Enfield designs in India is they were a rugged bike to begin with, but very simple and easy to fix. Plus, in India is there's a repair shop on every corner. You can buy them in the US now for about $3500. Personally, I prefer the Redditch-built stuff.
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Old 01-15-2007, 07:15 AM   #7
Mista Vern
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Very cool write up and pics - thanks!
"My sister is a slut." Charlotte Bronte
"My sister is a cheap whore." Emily Bronte
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Old 01-17-2007, 05:58 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by datchew
great thread. good man to send him some tools.

Loose nut holding the handlebars
He’s one of those who knows that life is just a leap of faith. Spread your arms and hold your breath, always trust your cape. Guy Clark "The Cape"
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Old 01-18-2007, 04:56 AM   #9
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Enfields to cry about

From the german importer of enfields. But if that does not work, try this an look under umbauten
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If your destination is clear - bad roads will not keep you away

But that dodgy earth might
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Old 01-18-2007, 05:26 AM   #10
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That's a talented kid over there. Good on ya for sending the tools and stuff to him. And for posting this excellent report.
Mark J
Merritt Island, FL

When a person asks you for advice, they don't want advice. They want corroboration.
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