Royal Enfield’s Long History in Brief

Ace Café in London
Royal Enfield used the legendary Ace Café in London to kick off its international press launch of the all-new Continental GT café racer. The café closed in 1969, was re-opened in 1997 and currently hosts a multitude of reunions and events for both motorbike and car owners.

The first Royal Enfield was manufactured in Redditch, England, in 1901, making it the oldest, continually produced motorcycle in the world. Though the brand has passed through a number of hands over the years, it has never been out of production. Currently it’s owned by Eicher Motors, a $1.3-billion company based in India. From the start, Royal Enfield was innovative. In a world of belt-driven bikes, its first motorcycle had a primary countershaft with chain drive to the rear, and oil was housed in a separate container within the engine–a feature that it used in many of its later bikes.


When all other motorcycles were still using total loss, hand-pumped lubrication systems, Enfield added a system with a geared oil pump. Over time, it introduced the first cush drive, the neutral indicator, modular design and other technical innovations.


Royal Enfield Flying Flea
Best known of Royal Enfield’s military machines was the little 137-pound 125cc WD/RE, fondly called the “Flying Flea,” which was supplied for airborne forces use. It was enclosed in a tubular steel frame, taken aloft and then parachuted to the ground, where a soldier could unpack it from its encasement and be on the move within minutes.

Between World War I and World War II, the Redditch factory turned out a variety of models, two-stroke and four-stroke, V-twins and singles, with displacements ranging from 249cc to 1,140cc. When the depression struck in 1929, Enfield was largely unaffected. The company was well run, lean, and produced a variety of other products and sub-assemblies for the likes of BSA and other motorcycle companies. Its products, while not as glamorous as some of its competitors, were solid, reliable, priced competitively and continued to sell. During World War II, Royal Enfield, like H-D, Triumph and BSA, supplied bikes for the military.


Following the war, the British government was desperate for foreign currency, and as a result most new motorcycles were sold overseas. Royal Enfield, like many others, bought back the machines previously sold to the government, refurbished them and sold them domestically. Finally, in 1946 it began production of a new line of machines, including new 350 and 500 singles dubbed “G” models.

1922 Royal Enfield 976cc V-twin
Royal Enfield historian Gordon May, who hosted the press trip to Britain’s famed National Motorcycle Museum, stands behind one of its treasures, the 1922 Royal Enfield 976cc V-twin. Vickers built the V-twin side-valve engine, and the transmission was all chain drive via 2-speed selective clutches.


The all-new Bullet was introduced with displacements of 350cc and 500cc, and although it resembled the “G” models of ’46, it was an almost entirely new design. It featured Royal Enfield’s own telescopic fork, a swingarm rear end and its newly-patented neutral finder.


1965 250cc Royal Enfield GP5
Despite little prior roadracing experience, in the mid-’60s Royal Enfield forged headfirst into Britain’s 250cc racing class with this little 210-pound gem—the ’65 250cc Royal Enfield GP5. It featured a very custom frame and body design that kept the fuel load low, and the two-stroke engine’s cylinder design was very innovative for the time, with four transfer ports instead of the usual two. Sadly, the GP5’s obvious potential was never fully realized.

An order for 800 Bullet 350s was received from the Indian government. Not only was the order a tall one for Enfield, India was at war with Pakistan and needed the motorcycles to be combat ready when delivered, putting additional strains on the manufacturer to insure the bikes would only need gas and oil upon delivery.


Shortly afterwards, the Indian government mandated that certain products, including motorcycles, be made by Indian companies, so in 1956 Royal Enfield partnered with the Madras Motorcycle company to begin manufacturing in India. As the Madras company came on line, Royal Enfield initially sent “knockdown” models, while Madras quickly began to produce frames and other cycle parts. In 1957, the British tooling was sold to Madras Motors and it became Enfield of India.


1959 Crusader Sports
One of Royal Enfield’s biggest selling 250s during the 1950s & ’60s was the Royal Enfield Crusader—and the hottest of all was this ’59 Crusader Sports model that featured downswept bars with rearset pegs, a souped-up engine with hotter cams, plus a bigger inlet valve in an aluminum cylinder head, and higher compression.

Eicher Motors purchased Enfield India, and the Bullet, which was basically the same as the 1955 model, was given new electrics, brakes, fuel injection and a general upgrade. Five years later, Royal Enfield began exporting its bikes to the US.


Classic Motorworks purchased the U.S. distribution rights, and today it imports six versions of the 500cc Bullet and will begin importing the Continental GT 500 before the end of the year. There’s a rumor that a 700-750cc twin is being developed, but no indication of whether it will be of modern design or classic style.

Bullet C5 Classic Chrome
Bullet C5 Classic Chrome


  1. Thank you for the brief history of Royal Enfield. But why in the world did you fail to mention the mid sixties Intercepter 750?. A beautiful model that according to Cycle World was the fastest bike in the world with a 13.8 sec. Et, the quickest bike since the early fifties Vincent Black Lightning which did 12.5. The 750 was called King Kong. It had 52 hp. Like many others, we hope some day Royal Enfield will once again turn out a motorcycle that competes with Triumph, Norton, a reborn BSA…How about a 1200 with 120 hp . IN America with miles of wide open roads, a modern version to compete with Thruxtons and Commandos would be Very welcome!!!!If you want to compete here we need more than the anemic 47 hp..


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