Posted in Motorcycle Reviews
Royal Enfield Classic 500: the stuff dreams are made of
It’s very difficult to stay unemotional about a machine that from conception to reincarnation is about the strongest emotion known in a biker’s world: freedom. And that is the emotion I felt over and over again ever since I own a RE classic 500 cc.
So here is my experience both in terms of the explicable and the inexplicable joys and sorrows (!!) of owning a RE and being owned by it in return.
I made a rather impulsive purchase (I still call it an upgrade from my new Xylo, which again was an impulsive purchase!!) while traveling to Siliguri. I stay at Gangtok, a hill station which is also the capital of Sikkim and one of the most beautiful and touring friendly states in India. Sikkim offers beautiful sights and difficult terrains for a mature rider and happy cruising for the beginner and yes, awesome opportunities to use the camera. So ever since I moved here I have been reminiscing about my old college days when I used to ride an Electra a pulsar or a Yamaha RX 100 whatever I got hold of! But even then it was the thump that used to resonate in my biker’s heart.
On September 26th I test rode the Thunderbird and Classic 350 first and then the next day September 27, 2010 went for a cruise astride a classic 500. Cruise? Hardly so.
Even a new unset engine gave me the kind of pick up that I have seen only on a Pulsar or recently the Apache RTR. I was taken aback when I felt the C5 literally leap from under my legs into the air as if it was raring to take off like a plane. The engine is way beyond classic 350 (27.2 BHP of C 5 compared to 19.8 of C 350). There is a feel to the bike that’s a league apart in itself.
Many people feel that LB500 is faster and top speeds are higher than Classic. Riding the two bikes overall verdict takes the side of classic in my opinion. The handling is better for the C5 with 18 inches tires, sprung seats and fuel injection insuring uniform sustained high power delivery over a wide range of speeds, climatic conditions and terrains.
I made the purchase instantaneously after paying a handsome amount off the record to the showroom guys for taking the bike out of turn (they informed me there is a waiting period of 8 months on the classic and I informed them I had emptied my bank account so please name your price).
As I rode out to take on the 104 km long journey into the hills to my home I realized it was no ordinary bike under me. It throbbed with power responding to the slightest turn of the throttle. At the recommended speed of 45 the bike seemed totally unbothered as if I had put it for idling. The stability was good even on hills and wet clay and dirt roads. The uphill rides were as effortless as plain riding. People turning to look at you is something you have to get used to when you are astride a bullet even more so when you are on a single seater monster with the numbers 500 visible to all.
Yes it did get to my head right on day 1!
My first impression of the bike was of awesome raw power good stability on wet rough terrains and effortless riding uphill.
Very soon I finished the required 500 kms and got my bike serviced. My impressions during the set in period of the engine were:
- No problem whatsoever with the self start: the bike always wakes up at a nudge
- Power unhindered by terrain or slope and very linear power delivery even when the speedo hovers around 100
- Stability very satisfactory
- No leaks anywhere: the kick shaft seal is airtight, hats off to RE guys. (None of my five friends each with a classic have ever complained of a leak).
- Battery is “no maintenance” not “low maintenance”; there is a hell of a difference in the two and I’m really happy with the battery this bike sports. No upgrade required or recommended there. No maintenance hassles either.
- Missing the thump: it’s muffled; audible to the rider but definitely not to anyone more than two vehicles away. Even the rider has to strain to hear the thump if he has a good close face helmet on. The short silencer gets you closer but detonations in the silencer are part of this bargain.
- Other sounds from the engine get amplified by an empty tank. Keeping the tank filled beyond half mutes the background noise.
- Gear shifting is noisy particularly from first to second and vice versa.
Difficult to find neutral once you have parked the bike, easier done from 1st gear to neutral than from second. Need to be very gentle to shift into neutral.
- Long waiting period of a minute and half for the engine to be capable of self start in case of a fall thanks to those sensors.
- Very average paint finish for a bike that’s so steeply priced; it may be a good idea to start using 3M products right from 3 months onwards to keep the shine.
- Tappet noise: very common, all the classics I know have it at same level; I have accepted it as part of RE lineage.
- Fuel indicator is unreliable: so keeping track of your kilometers is better. Fuel indicator blinks and lights up on turnings, slopes and staring and stopping the bike. Calculating the economy is therefore difficult especially as RE people advice not to run the bike till dry.
- The first servicing went like a cake walk no major issues with the machine and with just engine oil change and routine care the bike matured into a deeper thump though ride quality was the same before and after the first service. There was some play of the throttle fixed within half a minute and some mal-position with the rear brake lever which was too low and brought within optimal position for my foot.
- The problems started after the first servicing: engine misfiring especially at second gear at lower RPMs and when revving uphill. Stressing and comic because the RE guys came up with weird and high sounding diagnoses from spark plug issues to wiring connections everything could be at fault and I should have my bike seen by their engineers. Well I changed the spark plug (it’s a twin spark engine I changed the bigger plug and the misfiring completely stopped for 48 hours and came back though at lower levels. I changed the fuel and the misfiring completely went off. Now it does occasionally come back but the bike has never given up and so I don’t bother about it. What seriously bothered me was the life of the next spark plugs and I have seriously been considering iridium spark plugs now. This reminds me spares availability is a major, major issue. Be prepared to wait for long, long time if you don’t stay in Bombay or Bangalore or Delhi…as I know even Hyderabad and Kolkata have availability issues.
- Now having ridden the C5 for 1500 kilometers my spark plugs fry every 600 kms and these are RE recommended plugs. The RE engineers have been on e mails with me and they are “coming up with a solution”!!
- The second major issue and potentially dangerous too is that the rear tire (MRF 110/90-18”-61P) seems to have the juice taken out of it. It has deteriorated faster than you can say Royal Enfield, which makes cornering, banking and braking a major set back. The front tire MRF Zapper (90/90-18”-51P) on the other hand is spot on with firm grounded tire in any situation while the rear one keeps slipping like a drunken tongue. I’m now seriously looking for a tire upgrade and looking at Pirelli though I don’t know if they manufacture the specs of Classic 500 rear tire. The sooner you change the rear tire the better for one simple reason. The kind of power this brute packs simply does not go with this kind of uncertain road grip. Imagine the engine raring to go and the tire resigning at the last moment. You can feel your heart in your mouth on these occasions.
Now the first service long gone with some major trips taken and city riding done daily on this machine I think I can reliably pass a few comments on the bike:
So here goes my opinion and experience:
Stats of my ride:
Royal Enfield Classic 500 cc Black
Ownership duration: 2 months
Kilometers clocked: 1654
Fuel economy: consistent 28 to 30 even in cold conditions on xtra premium petrol and stock condition no modifications done on bike).
Riding style: 30 to 40 kilometers riding (city) daily in hill station town with weekends approximately 100 kilometers day trips solo riding always.
Trips on C5: mountain locations in Sikkim: North Sikkim, Tsomgo, Nathula and Yuksom Ravangla Stretch
Top speed: 110 Kilometers/ hour on Sevok Road National Highway 31 A moderate to good road conditions. (Bike always vibrates above 90 and vibrations affect the handlebars and spring seat).
Looks and aesthetics:
This machine is nothing short of love at first sight. I’m yet to see a person who has made his marbles on the Indian biking scene disagreeing with this thought. Awesome balance of bulk and beauty reminding you of the original world war RE the 1950’s J2 and making you feel a part of its legacy immediately. The bike looks apart from any other bike and people giving you and your machine long wishful looks is something you gotta get used to. The green color is especially a signature though I liked the beauty and personality of black and till now have no regrets at all on choosing black over the other two colors.
The Thigh pads and single saddle seat with springs look even better giving it the unique retro touch though with the double seat there is hardly a punch.
The RE logo is bold and eye catching and even from behind the letters BULLET come into focus of anyone riding behind you and the Deep-drawn fenders of the rear tire underline the retro look.
The massive tank with post war graphics the brute engine beneath it with the crankcase RE logo the retro looking Classic style round head-lamp, 18″ Spoke Wheels Body colored frame and analog dials and Traditional looking front number plate fit the bill to a T. Personally I feel it’s the best looking bullet yet made and the best looking bike up for grabs in the Indian bike market yet. Yes the paint job is not upto the mark for the price tag but a good TLC from you will keep it shining for years. One point about the paint its easily scratched while attaching and removing the second seat and it’s a good idea to spread a towel on the rear tire cover before you start hammering the second seat on in case you ride pillion. Even better will be to commit early if you are a single rider or will have a pillion behind you most of the times.
Power, ride quality and performance:
The bike feels solidly built and packs the power of EFI system Keihin a superb DENSO self start which has not yet failed me (my mornings are often 4 * Celsius. Turn on the key hit the self and listen to the 4 Stroke, air cooled, single cylinder, OHV SI engine priming for about 4 seconds (and warm it up for a count of ten on cold mornings) put on the first gear and turn the throttle. Your heart will give a jolt when all the 27 horses jumping to life. Slightly turn the throttle more and you will get the feel that will have you committed to 500 for life. You shalt not sit astride another once you have a ride on C5. 27.2 bhp @ 5250 rpm make it the most powerful Indian bike and it shows. I ride either uphill or down and the engine has not broken sweat till yet. It’s an engine that wants to be whipped flogged and abused. The higher you go the higher it will want to take you. After a while you realize it’s best ridden at speeds above 60 (the owner manual recommends speeds around 80 for riding!!)
Royal Enfield has dumped the traditional carburetor for a modern electronic fuel injection system on the new bike so as to facilitate better air-fuel mixture optimization, smoother operation, better power delivery over a wide range of altitudes, and cleaner emissions (Bullet Classic 500 EFI conforms to most stringent emission norms Euro III and Bharat IV). Having ridden the beast for two thousand plus kms now I can vouch for every single promise made to customers as far as the performance of the engine is concerned. It’s an engine that will never let you down and surpass all your expectations.
Royal Enfield claims that the UCE construction gives the Classic less moving parts, less transmission loss and less maintenance issues. 1600 kms into it I have to agree with that. Except for the tappet noise of differing levels in different bikes and occasional misfiring (cold climate? bad fuel?), I have no grudges against the engine. EFI engine no carburetor, fuel injection and five speed gear box with electric start front disc brakes rear internal expanding drum brakes overall a package that’s hard to not appreciate and ogle after.
The ride quality is superb proportionate to the powerful engine and would have been astonishing if it was not for the poor quality rear tire- MRF ZAPPER Q 110/90 – 18. The front tire 90/90 – 18 MRF Zapper FS and powerful front hydraulic brakes (Disc dia 280mm) make sure you come to dead stop within a foot or two even if you are riding at 50. Make that more than sixty and in a straight line using both brakes the braking distance single rider on flat road is still about a meter. Make that on a turn or slippery ground or down-slope the rear tire goes kaput and the bike slips merrily. The Rear tire needs, demands, cries out for an upgrade. Hopefully the RE guys will oblige. Relying on the rear brake( foot operated 153 mm Single Lead Internal Expanding) is a disaster that will see your bike banging into whatever stopped your ride. I use the front brakes for speeds lesser than twenty in straight line and both brakes simultaneously when on curves at any speed downhill any speed and straight line speeds more than 20kmph. A rear disc brake is what goes with this bulky and powerful brute. Perhaps in the future?
The front and rear suspensions are fantastic to begin with and absorb bad terrain potholes with ease but even with no pillion rider if you are into off-roading and long trips do not expect them to maintain their quality beyond two or three good trips. After the initial oomph they come down to an acceptable level of comfort which is not fabulous but hardly bothersome too.
60 W / 55 W, HALOGEN headlamp is brighter than you expect and good for night riding at speeds around 40-50 on unknown territory and equally powerful in high or low beam. The horn is a bit of dampener barely audible over the thump and especially so in the mad cacophony of traffic if you are a city rider. But what do you get from a mediocre Minda horn. An upgrade is recommended.
Speedometer and Fuel warning indicator for the EFI system are integrated into the die-cast headlight casing. The speedometer features classic English font.
The bike comes with the conventional long silencer and the shorter silencer though meant for offroading is available ( 2700/-) for city use and adds to the thump and completes the retro look. The chrome work on the silencer rusts easily and requires care form day one. Anti rust or kerosene for weekly cleaning is highly recommended.
There is an issue of early blackening of spark plugs and RE is already planning to do something about it. They claim in the meantime that even though black they perform fine and probably they are right. This issue is mostly form people riding in hills, cold climates and there is the question of fuel quality too. I use extra premium always and yet my spark plug turned black by 600 kms and again at 1200 odd kilometers the replaced one though black is working great till 1650 kms. Some people have reported black smoke but I have not yet seen a classic 500 emitting black smoke and emissions are remarkably pollution controlled as claimed by the company.
While riding there is a background of lot of noises from different parts of the bike and even on confirming no lose spots yet they are there audible behind the thump and on rough terrain. Vibrations felt in your hands are especially painful and gloves are mandatory for touring. The saddle seat is much more comfortable than a thunderbird especially if you sit back so that you find your individual place to balance your butt on (for me its farther behind than in front). On long trips I have no issues for first 200 after which the butt is painful and that’s a rule of trips not a fault of the bike! I wonder if extra cushioning might help!
One point of interest amongst all the different sensors is the tilt sensor which in case of a fall needs a waiting period of over 1 minute after killing the ignition before you can go again which is a bit irritating but probably nothing that can be helped.
Understanding the electrical is tricky with no mention (except a complex flow chart) made in the manual or the bike surfaces and I am still searching for reliable info on the electrical, fuses and sensors. However the ECU does self diagnose at starting the bike but elementary knowledge of the engine electricals is mandatory for any touring rider.
I have not noticed any problem with the air filters though some people have reported mixing with dust thus implying leaky walls and recommending sealing with tape. Not so in my experience, the air filter is solidly sealed and works fine. I would not recommend an upgrade or sealing. My air filter box seems clean even after long rides and off roading. I clean it with a dry cloth every 200 kilometers and the filter on recommended servicing only.
Service and maintenance:
Surprisingly easy to maintain if you had the luck to get a good piece off the showroom (yes I still believe that with RE you need to own a good machine right from day 1) and there is the importance of not only looking at the bike hard but insisting on a long test ride too. Start the engine, see the response feel the ride and listen to the noises form the engine. Tappet noise can be loud enough to bother you badly and disturb your ride, scratches are common even in showroom bikes and battery can be dead on day 1. I had the luck to have a trouble free machine and till now it has given me impeccable service. Except for the mandatory engine oil change there is little to be done to maintain the bike beyond cleaning it the routine way every week. Never park it in sun or rain you will lose the paint shine fast and water mixed with fuel or entering the wiring etc are issues. Use quality fuel and do not mod your bike unless sure and your machine is uncannily free of maintenance issues. Even with the best fuel good riding etiquette and proper cleaning and maintenance do not expect a fuel economy more than 28-30. But I checked the economy just to write the review, I wonder if any of the classic owners would bother about that unless it’s alarmingly low like 20 or something.
Should you come to face a trouble be sure that RE guys will be the last people able to help you if you or your routine mechanic can’t help it. My personal experience: there are only a handful of good RE classic engineers the rest is a waste of phone calls e mails and showroom visits. Some noise some misfiring should be ignored. My motto with the classic is “don’t trouble trouble unless trouble troubles you”. And really speaking the bike never dies on you never fails to deliver and performs best on high speeds and long trips. Probably not the best city bike but you have Ladakh on your mind? Hop on and take off. Honest. It will get you there and back without a sweat.
The only thing that spoils as the bike gets older is the paint job which easily cracks specially at junctions and nothing can be done beyond the usual wash and polish after three months of purchase. And I have already mentioned for people riding in the hills be prepared to change your plugs especially the bigger one every 600 kilometers. Is iridium the answer? I don’t know.
- The most powerful engine on 2 wheels on Indian roads. Period.
- Reliable over a wide range of speeds terrains and temperatures. Have driven it through rain, slopes, snow, slush and rivers. No problems till yet.
- Always starts at first attempt. And that’s so comforting. Self is the most reliable part of the bike. The Indian option comes with a kick start but I have not needed it yet.
- Solid stability till three figures. Slightly rocky ride at low RPMs. So probably riding at speeds above 60 is best. That’s why I feel you will be more satisfied touring than city riding though I do both and wouldn’t have it otherwise. A UCE engine is better ridden at high RPMs and therefore at low speeds the ride quality subjectively feels a notch inferior. Open roads are what will turn your steed on and in city riding where low speed riding is usual you might not get very satisfied.
- Poor rear tire grip: upgrade recommended. I’m looking at Pirelli manufactured tires though availability is an issue.
- Poor rear brake: both in quality and in position. Needs reducing free play or it hits the ground on steep banking and cornering especially off-roading when other objects like a rock on the ground may hit the brake pedal but reducing the free play may cause it to hit your silencer when releasing. Answer: unknown.
- Spark plug blackening: more of a stress than an actual problem. More problematic is the early expiry for plugs in cold weather on hills. Blackened spark plugs are functioning well enough for 600 kilometers in hills and my friends form plains have not reported any problems till 4000 kilometers so the difference is quite significant. So people riding in plains and not so cold areas can relax while hill riders always keep a set of plugs standby!
- Poor service center satisfaction: people at RE centers are as confused as you when you take your bike for troubleshooting to them, spares are just unavailable and waiting period is equal to waiting period for the bike.
- Poor paint job: at the price you get the bike this is simply unacceptable. I started cleaning and waxing my ride by second month.
- Unreliable fuel level indicator: blinks at turns, downslopes and unpredictable.
The gear shift is noisy but does settle down after the first 500 kms service. Neutral difficult to find on traffic lights and with the engine off and also lots of false neutrals between all gears. Best way to shift gears is crisp and with a jerk. No easing into gears except when finding neutral.
Final verdict on the RE classic 500
Overall an irresistible package which has achieved what’s of importance: a balanced machine with killer looks, awesome power packed performance, reliability and low maintenance, a head turner equal fun while riding in cities and off roading on long trips. A massive ego boost for a rider who yearns for a class product. It sets you free even at that price. RE classic 500 is the surest way to get young again. Its such an awesome looking machine that you will stop to look at your own bike a moment longer every time you park it at the end of the day. The looks are matched by the power and ride and you might feel like taking it out for a ride just like that. The cons are nuisances rather than real trouble and in my opinion it’s the best bike on Indian roads as of now though for cold climates the spark plugs are a real pain in the backside. Needless to say I have never ever ever even for a moment regretted buying this bike and our love story continues. The logic is simple to explain to the curious simpleton who asks me: “boss single seat so heavy fuel economy is only 30 price bhi itna jyada hai. Aapne liya hi kyun?”
I just have one answer: bro have you ever fallen in love?!!
This review of Royal Enfield Classic 500 was written by Dr. Gaurav J Kumar. In case you too are interested in getting your review featured on Indiaon2wheels.com, then please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.