When I was greeted by the Royal Enfield Classic at the start line of our LAMS multi-bike adventure ride, I knew some of my companions had already prejudged the air-cooled, 499cc single-seater, possibly even taking pity on me. I knew otherwise, and so it proved.
Painted in Battle Green and looking every inch an extra from The Great Escape, it instantly brought a smile to my face which didn’t abate throughout the entire trip. A bit of brake adjustment was required (you gotta love rear drum brakes), and the gearshift lever was in the wrong spot for my big hoofers. But with only five cogs in the box and 41.3Nm peaking at just 4000rpm, changing gear was something of which I didn’t do a great deal. Adding to the styling of my Classic was a set of Royal Enfield waxed canvas saddlebags which easily accommodated all of my gear and kept it completely dry.
The route we followed was a mixture of tar and unsealed roads, and the constant rain meant everything was slippery. Thankfully, the boys from Urban Moto Imports had fitted what’s known in the trade as the preferred Classic 500 adventure tyre – Avon’s Trailrider dual-purpose hoops. If you are thinking of taking your Classic off the beaten track, or if you just want it to have that scrambler look, these are the tyres for you.
I had high expectations for the little-bike-that-could, but even I was surprised at how easy it is to ride. Through the undulating and twisting flora-littered roads of the Reefton Spur and beyond, the Classic was stupidly easy to push around at an enthusiastic speed, thanks to its surprise-free handling – the front end provided plenty of feedback in all conditions. I found the rear a little vague, possibly due to the sprung seat and grabby brakes that were still bedding in. The four-piston brake caliper and 280mm disc up front proved adequate for the style of riding most LAMS riders will do, but I found they struggled when the pace was picked up. While the initial bite remained impressive, under heavy braking, the lever turned rock-hard with limited feel, making it difficult to work out when the front was going to lock up. It’s possible a change of pads would fix this.
Even then, I was forced to slow down on a number of occasions so others could catch up. There were a few red faces on what you would call the more modern bikes.
On the brown and wet skate rink masquerading as a dirt and clay road the Classic was a dream. Having a seat height of just 810mm meant the slightest slip mid-corner was easily caught with either a shift in weight or a planting of the foot. The rear drum brake was a bonus on muddy roads as I trail-braked just about everywhere. With just 20kW, wheelspin is something you need to encourage rather than having it take you by surprise. The wide handlebars added to the light and easy-to-manage feel, and together with the old-school relaxed riding position the Classic proved to be riding enjoyment at its best – fun.
The elephant in the room, where Indian engineering is concerned, is always quality control. But I bashed and crashed the Classic through just about every pothole I could find (some intentionally) and not only did the reasonably basic suspension eat it up and ask for more, not a single item fell off, broke or even rattled loose. Spanners were seen on this trip, but none were used on the little Enfield.
Why do this?
When youngy asked us to write about what we learnt on this ride, it seemed quite simple at first, but then I began to think about it. What our adventure ride taught me was something about the culture of motorcycling, not a riding skill. Despite the three teams being on different styles of bikes, when we all met at the the Kevington, following a long day in the saddle, everyone laid claim to having the best trip.
We all swapped stories and laughed well into the evening and unlike the football match on television, there were no sides, no us and them. Despite the wide and varied routes and machinery we had taken to reach our destination, the road guys didn’t sit in the corner looking over at the dirt guys and whispering behind their hands. Once the engines were shut down we were all motorcyclists – one big happy group.
Why this bike?
SEARCH FOR HIMALAYAN Odyssey on YouTube and you’ll see the extreme two-wheeled trek through the planet’s highest peaks is mostly undertaken on Royal Enfield motorcycles. Anyone who knows the brand will be aware that prior to 2016 Enfield had never produced an ‘adventure’ bike – but that hasn’t stopped it being adventurous.
For decades the slog up and over some of the most inhospitable terrain on earth has been undertaken mostly on the venerable Royal Enfield Classic 500 and its 350cc sibling. Not a great deal has changed on these bikes since the 1950s, so Royal Enfield has had half a century to perfect the design. Anything that can be kept running day after day under such extreme conditions, using little more than bush mechanic expertise and fence wire, is perfect for a LAMS rider. Many newbies to two wheels want maintenance and hassle-free motorcycling that will run on the smell of a pizza-stained student allowance. This is it.
For $7790 (+ ORC) you get a perfect LAMS bike that may become something you never part with. It’s a 10/10 on the miles for smiles chart.