DUELLING & SINGLES
Indian-built Bullets offer owners an exceptional opportunity to convert and customise without wrecking an iconic classic. Ian and Stuart, Bullet owners both, have adopted very different styles for each of their big singles. In a fair fight, which one woul
Attempting to turn an unremarkable Enfield Electra into a ‘poor man’s Gold Star’ is an ambitious project by anyone’s standards. The chrome-tanked machine we see before us represents one man’s ambition to achieve exactly that. Far be it from me to criticise anyone’s desire to build a PMGS, but when my friend Ian announced his intentions I was a bit sceptical.
In retrospect, I had difficulty grappling with the fact that his donor bike is no classic by any stretch of one’s imagination. Unlike a proper Goldie, the humble Electra did not evolve in the competitive arena of clubman’s racing. But perhaps I was taking his idea too literally. Much like Enfield India’s carefree use of the ‘classic’ genus, Ian was free to label his personal project in any way he chose. So who was I to pour cold water on another man’s dreams?
Fortunately, Ian oozes good taste from every pore and he’s above reproach when airing his personal views of what a great motorcycle should or shouldn’t be. His determination to improve and sensationalise the riding experience (at any cost) will make sense to many. Ian also rides a classic MSS Velocette and only recently did his long term Velo Clubman change hands – so it is safe to assume that singles of repute are his passion. Over just one short winter Ian’s Electra sow’s ear was tastefully morphed into a PMGS, the results of which are plastered across these pages.
I think Ian has carried off his Gold Star pastiche rather well, provided we keep in focus his defining idiom: poor man’s. I concede that in some circles his creation will lack the pedigree to be an acceptable if cheap alternative to the Real Thing. I think it verges on Enfield porn when compared to the plain-Jane standard Electra model. This in part is due to its ‘De-Luxe’ level of trim, but the transformation from ugly bug to beautiful butterfly owes rather more to intelligent shopping at aftermarket Enfield specialists Hitchcocks.
Take a backward step to admire Ian’s leanburn Goldie-lookalike and you’re immediately transfixed by its glittering aura. Copious bright chrome however has been tempered by traditional paintwork and lacquered gold transfers. It’s just a pity that the same moderation was remiss when chrome was splashed across the sausage-shaped toolboxes (a chrome sow’s ear, perhaps?). I would remove or paint them black in the interest of inconspicuous sausages. The repugnant primary casing that hides the chronic and much maligned electric starter looks much like an afterthought and is the only other flaw in an otherwise well-conceived motorcycle.
Absurdity aside, Ian’s PMGS manages to look clean, well balanced and dare I say, raunchy. OK, perhaps that’s a slight exaggeration. Its beauty may be one-sided which is perhaps why it’s so attractive to our Velo man? Other appealing add-ons are the slim chrome guards and that sumptuous dualseat – a luxurious item to comfort His Nibs when he’s touring the far reaches of Scotland.
It’s a given that Ian and I regularly swap bikes and I’ve enjoyed lots of opportunities to get up close and personal with his latest femme fatale. Compared to my own Enfield the controls are ultra-refined, but I suppose this is to be expected on a relatively low mileage 2008 machine. But because it’s broke (they all do that, mate!) you can forget the electric leg. If a bruised ankle is to be avoided, one kick starting is all about ammeter fluctuation, decompression and teasing the engine over TDC – all familiar territory for Enfielders. I should add that the original Indian Mikcarb is best binned in favour of a shiny new Amal Concentric, obligatory for easy starting and a faultless tickover.
Ian has thoughtfully obliged and starting is usually a one kick affair. Austrian engine wizards AVI have made celebrated improvements with their lean-burn engine, not only by maximising its power output and delivering outrageous fuel economy (85mpg or more), but also with its silky smooth running and eagerness to rev at any speed. The competition style cylinder head and barrel castings are other salivating details.
But the lean-burn has another trick up
its sleeve in the form of Enfield’s five-speed box. Riders will be delighted with its silent and fluid gear changes, and false neutrals are banished, try as you might to find them they’ve packed their bags and left for good. Ian’s fitted a 19T gearbox sprocket for lazy bangs and an improved top end gait – another crafty mod to help it on its way to the magic ton. I imagine it could plummet towards this mythical speed, but only if we could find a high enough precipice to throw it over – none came to mind, fortunately.
The performance of the front brake on the PMGS is very similar to that of my own Trailblazer’s and I would find it tough to choose between the ‘modern’ single disc and the ‘traditional’ 2ls drum as both are excellent. My own machine benefits from an extended rear brake lever (almost half its length again) and this is a worthwhile upgrade to achieving tyre-screeching stoppies. I’d recommend that Ian fits one and gives his chrome PMGS’ rear end some much needed bite.
Both of these Grinfields rip around ninetydegree bends and uphill and down dale all day long without so much as a heart flutter. They are supremely confident roadburners, but when required they can tiptoe unobtrusively through the urban sprawl. Riding positions are quite different: the rider is perched on top of the PMGS but sits ‘inside’ the Trailblazer; yet both are comfortable, mile-eating machines. This raises the question of reliability, which I would describe as infallible for both bikes. Pack a toothbrush and you can confidently take to the hills, any hills, anywhere, anytime, for as long as your heart desires.
Worth a mention is that my black ’Blazer loses five vociferous horses to Ian’s 27bhp dyno-tested Electra. According to Ian, his modified PMGS‘will reach eighty in its stride... and then some!’ My less than confident boast is made on the assumption that you can actually see the speedometer needle on my Trailblazer, which unfortunately gyrates and hums like a conductor’s baton at the BBC proms.
PISTOLS AT DAWN STUART STARTS:
We’d agreed to meet at Loch Earn with its ideal mix of wide straits and narrow bends for a showdown with both bikes. Initially we planned to swap bikes for the first run and then swap again for our return blast. However one run turned out to be adequate for this experiment, as we both knew in our hearts and minds which bike would cross the finish line first...
Waiting for the road to clear, we ignited thunder before gingerly thudding through the 30mph zone. Then we let fly as we passed
the ‘fast as you like boys’ sign that marks the open road. The din was incredible, the loch rippled with fright.
Ian was hovering off my right side on the Trailblazer and remained so for some 400 yards, by which time I had hammered his PMGS through the gears at full throttle. I was inching ahead and my poor old Trailblazer began to fall back. On board the PMGS, I had a hidden advantage in that my Trailblazer’s ‘Classic’ engine would soon begin to vibrate furiously and poor old Ian would become uncomfortable at screwing every ounce of thrust from my P&J.
I on the other hand kept the throttle ruthlessly nailed on his smooth and thrumming lean-burn, tearing along at license-threatening velocity without a care in the world. The red mist was down, my manic grin was set and I knew my diminishing Trailblazer would be huffing and puffing at my merciless and disloyal behaviour. But as far as I was concerned the lean-burn PMGS was already the winner, even before I’d tickled its carburettor back at the start line.
Dependable, with a smooth engine, composed ride, and an impressive top end, the lean-burn begs for a good thrash and a chaotic bounce along any scenic road on which you care to point it. The infectious booming from its silencer encourages spirited riding through Alpine-like scenery in the search for steep gradients with which to pound out the higher and lower octaves of the lean-burn’s brilliant and uplifting soundtrack. AVI should be applauded for injecting new life into an old motor and Ian will undoubtedly earn a slap on the back from every fortunate rider who dismounts from his lean-burn PMGS.
In truth I’d favoured his lean-burn as the outright winner from the off. I just didn’t let on, preferring to participate in a thrilling race. But did Ian hold back on my Trailblazer? He takes up the tale…
IAN WRITES: As Stuart surged away from my left shoulder aboard my PMGS, I knew from painful previous experience that there would only be one winner of this point-to-point. We had swapped bikes before for a blast when I tried his Norton Commando, and Stuart had taken my heavy, iron-barrelled four-speed Bullet 500. That bike sings along at 53mph, burbling away to itself quite happily, and has loyally ferried me over many thousands of miles. That day, the Bullet was given a hard lesson in fast cornering and told in no uncertain terms to grow up and stop being middle-aged.
While my Electra is clearly technically faster, had I been riding it there is still every likelihood that Stuart would have taken me at the first corner on his Trailblazer! The words ‘point and squirt’ were invented for someone like me.
Back to Stuart’s Trailblazer. As you approach the bike, the overwhelming impression is ‘ That bike is small.’ It was easy for a wee chap like me to swing my leg over and perch my taut buttocks on the single saddle, which was low and comfy. The instruments were clear, the levers easily accessible.
Get the starting ritual right and the bike fires, and ticks over at around 800rpm, like a Venom. Stuart has the carburation spoton and perfectly matched to the lovely exhaust. I have watched some of Stuart’s friends struggle to start the bike. They sweat, grimace, swear, then ask for help, which is of course happily given…
Moving off, you are low down, feet slightly forwards, spine curved to meet the standard bars. If you can get the first two gears out of the way and into third, just open the throttle, enjoy the crack of that exhaust and the urge from the willing engine and the bike will quickly take you to that perfectly formed, torque-fuelled final gear, the Bullet fourth. If Mozart had penned the Trailblazer overture, it would have been a bit crotchety and uncertain at first, swiftly rising in crescendo into a cacophony of noise and speed that would send us into a musical frenzy and pleading for an encore.
The other stand-out feature about this generation of Bullets is the size and depth of the toolboxes. They must extend to four inches deep, and hold important technical things like the coil, fuses, tools, inner tubes and a tiny espresso machine. Aesthetically they should go, but that would cause complications with important components and eliminate useful storage.
The speedometer is a thing of merriment, swinging wildly from left to right, like a Mexican wave. I would buy a replica Smiths 80mph speedo. The ammeter on Stuart’s bike also leans far too much to the left for my liking. I am sure that a centrist, or better still, a rightleaning ammeter can be picked up for a song.
These are minor issues for, as you will have gathered, he is adept at making a machine run properly to deliver the optimum combination of performance and grin factor. You could ride Stuart’s bike all day, and be confident that you could give it a good thrashing to boot, which is how it should be.
FROM ELECTRA TO PMGS
The problem with being bored is that it is too easy to glance at undesirable websites. Being a sucker for bling, I fell for a shiny piece of seductive Royal Enfield imagery when I was in an Alpine resort. I can’t ski, so was doing some work and, err… cruising the web. I blame Stuart Urquhart for having opined one day that ‘the lean-burn Royal Enfield engine makes the bike looks like a grass-tracker.’
And so, after an acrimonious deal with some unmentionable low-life who excelled in the non-disclosure of information, a nearly new 2008 chrome-engulfed Enfield lean-burn Electra X was delivered by a charming Pole whose van had just been shunted, with the offending driver disappearing into the fog of the M74.
The shunt gave me an uncomfortable feeling. I have had some great deals, some good deals, and some disasters. The disasters always seemed to be linked to the fortunes of the delivery drivers. My first Enfield, a lightened, rapid roadgoing ‘ Trials’, was delivered by two Poles who slept in supermarket car parks to save cash. A couple of bikes in their van had fallen over… so it was no great surprise that the Electra arrived with concrete forks.
With its chrome and flowing lines, the Electra Deluxe was telling me that it needed to be liberated from its strangled state into a fast, road-burning single in the tradition of the best British sporting singles. Some of you,
most of you, in fact all of you will probably be questioning the wisdom of this plan. How can you turn a cheap, Indian-made Enfield into a Gold Star? Well, you can’t, but there are no pockets in shrouds, so why not take a sow’s ear and make a feeble attempt at creating a passable purse, while saving at least £12k in the process? And if it all goes horribly wrong, then you have only blown some cash and will be laughed at forever…
The great thing about an Enfield is that Hitchcocks offer kits for all sorts of looks: trials, 1950s, café racer, hardtail – no problem, click, pay, collect. Within days, the Amal carb upgrade kit, dualseat, bars, cables, battery, toolbox conversion, bigger sprocket, chain, 1950s exhaust system, and more had arrived. Out came the horrible Mikcarb, airbox, exhaust and all the bits that add bulk and weight.
Start day arrived and we tickled the carb, primed the barrel by pulling in the decompressor, found compression and kicked, again and again. Nothing, just a vicious kick back and fart from the shiny expensive new bellmouth. Compression was so high you could stand on the kickstart and launch into a rant about politicians without moving. The electric start was useless. Finally, the bike caught, and throbbed, then died, then caught, and throbbed. After a few short runs we had a pseudo Gold Star for not a lot of money, I knew there was madness in the method.
A week later, I took a run to take in glorious May weather and enjoy a mug of tea while admiring the cheapo ‘Goldie’ glinting in the sun. But as I relaxed, I noticed a mist vaporising from the engine – oh no, it was a hairline tank fracture, with fuel wicking onto the crankcase. We limped home and an EFI tank converted for carb use was pressed into service.
Back on the road, the bike did not like starting and was kicking back, producing a crunching noise when the kickstart returned to stationary. The electric start was useless unless the engine was hot, and the plug was sooting heavily, indicating carburation problems.
Shortly afterwards, it would not start, at all, despite leaping up to a great height and hurling my 11 stone down on the kickstart, which is what they used to do in cartoons for Gold Stars. Willie at Dynotech Ecosse diagnosed a faulty cheap and nasty original HT cap – the resistance was so high the spark was pitiful. A new NGK cap fixed that, but it was swiftly followed by a failed gearbox oil seal, and, finally, the awful cannibalism of the electric start sprag which ate itself into oblivion. ‘I have never seen this before,’ said Willie. I was now reduced to manual starting of a high compression, belligerent Indian Enfield that was refusing to be morphed into my cheapo Goldie.
We decided to put it on the dyno. It started easily enough and we fiddled with bellmouths on, bellmouths off, short bellmouths, no bellmouths, baffle in, baffle out. A glorious 27bhp was recorded at the rear wheel. We went for a second run, all good, then nothing: the bike died, dead, deceased, niet, nil points. The pushrods had jumped, leaving the exhaust valve open. The rods were very loose, and clearly had never been checked.
Finally, with the bike back together, it now goes as its architect intended. Thanks to a bigger 19 tooth front sprocket, it is nicely long-legged, with the classic urge of a sporting British single, happy at 60 in fourth gear, easily cruising at 70 in fifth and good for 80mph or possibly more if required. The exhaust delivers a mellow thud with an occasional crackle on the overrun, vibration is modest, and 80mpg or more is normal.
Is it a Gold Star replica? No. But did it deliver an enjoyable project which brought me into contact with odd people who understand the pointless madness of it all? Definitely! With a few modifications an Electra X can provide a decent facsimile of the traditional British sporting single at a modest cost.
Ian and his customised big single. Better than a basic Bullet? He says so!
Two Bullets, neither exactly as they left the factory. Which is the whole point…
The lean burn engine in all its tall glory. Trad RE bottom end, mated to a decently modern top half. The most instantly recognisable departure from stock is the Amal carb
Stuart’s Bullet is propelled by an earlier version of the engine: a trad RE top end to match its bottom
Several riders have suggested that the addition of the drive to the electric hoof at the front of the engine was not an aesthetic masterstroke. Stuart is among them
Observe the single-bolt fitting for the primary chaincase outer, along with the left-foot brake and unique housing for the ignition system
The drive side of the PMGS. To be fair, it does look rather like a Bullet, but it goes better than most, we’re assured
Left: A great device. Later Bullets come equipped with a 5-speed gearbox, which transforms the way they work out on the road
Right: An electric starter. These are great when they work, we’re told
A study in stoppers. The later machine boasts a single disc up front, while its earlier stablemate is hauled down from Top Speed by a 2ls drum. Both can work well
Stuart’s own Bullet, a little more trad RE than Ian’s
Both bikes rely on an sls drum to control the wild performance of the rear wheel. The later bike features modern-ish remote reservoir shocks, while the earlier looks more traditional in the bounce dept
Two takes on a single theme. Great machines, and so very ready to ride
Rider’s eye-view. Handsome choke lever, we felt