Royal Enfield Ceases Production of an Iconic Motorcycle
Royal Enfield has announced the cessation of an iconic motorcycle in their model lineup- the legendary Bullet 500. Claiming the distinction as the world’s oldest motorcycle in continuous production, the ending of the legendary model came as a surprise to many. As of October 2020, the Bullet 500 will no longer be in production. The company claims the bike fell victim to India’s increasingly constricting emissions regulations, and the rise in popularity of their newest flagship model, the Interceptor 650, which we had the pleasure to ride and write about ourselves.
The 500cc single has long been the epitome of old British motorcycles, and the Bullet has been the flag bearer for generations. It’s design, lines, form and function have been virtually unchanged in over 60 years. First appearing as a 350cc single back in 1931 (or 1932, depending on who you read), Royal Enfield quickly offered a bumped up displacement 500cc, and both became wildly popular in the motorcycling world. With the onset of the Second World War, Royal Enfield suspended any development for several years. Then in 1948, the company returned with a roar, amassing a series of trials race victories with their 350 Bullet in the Scottish Six Days, the British Experts, the Victory and Scott Trials, and the International Six Days Trials in 1953 with their 500 Twin, among others.
When India was looking for a new military and police bike for their forces up in their northern mountainous regions, the Royal Enfield 350 was the go-to motorcycle. The bikes were shipped unassembled from the company’s Redditch, England plant to Chennai, India for reassembly and placed into service. Eventually, Royal Enfield India Ltd. was formed to meet the exploding demand in that market, becoming licensed and equipped to produce the bikes in-country with Indian manufacturing.
When the 1970s saw the “Strange Death of the British Motorcycle Industry“(great book, by the way), Royal Enfield India continued to grow and thrive. And they continued to build and sell the venerable Bullet, mostly unchanged, for the next several decades. The rugged, simple, durable bike was popular not only with their military and law enforcement, but with the civilian population as well.
To be truthful, the Bullet 500 is not the bike that has been in continuous production the longest in the moto world. That badge actually belongs to the 350 version. We learned that for about 30 years, Royal Enfield didn’t produce the 500cc model, only reintroducing it back into their lineup in 1985. The company was bought by Eicher Motors, and with the help of AVL, an engineering company in Austria, the Bullet began to get much needed upgrades.
With the growth of Royal Enfield here in the States, the Bullet got another improvement with the UCE (unit-construction engine), a twin-spark head, and Keihin EFI back in 2009. Yet despite all the bike’s improvements, back in India the 350 still remains the most popular iteration and abroad, the Interceptor 650 is fast becoming the most popular bike in the RE global market.
And so we come to another end of an era. For so many of us, the Bullet 500 has epitomized the Royal Enfield motorcycle brand. As I recall interactions with the company over the years here in the U.S., the Bullet has always been the bike that pops into my vision first and foremost. At least until recently. The time we spent with the Interceptor set a new paradigm for me when I think of Royal Enfield. Still, if I had the chance to purchase one of the last Bullets, I’d be quite tempted to do so.
By the way, you really should see the treatment they’re giving these final Bullets- They will be offering worldwide on October 2, 2020, a chance to snag one of their “Classic Tribute Black” editions, which look absolutely amazing. Click on the YouTube link below to see what I’m talking about. I might have to find a way…. Royal Enfield Tribute Black
Check them all out at Royal Enfield
*photos and video by Royal Enfield
*information sourced from Royal Enfield and Revzilla