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

Real Classic - - Enfield Bullets - Pho­tos by Stuart Urquhart

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…

BLAZ­ING AWAY

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

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