Sun, 25 Nov 2001

Legendary British motorcycle arrives in Indonesia

Des Price, Contributor, Jakarta

Indonesia is the world's third largest market for motorcycles so it is little wonder that manufacturers in China and Korea are trying to get in on sales which have long been dominated by Japanese names like Honda, Yamaha, Kawasaki and Suzuki.

New machines from China and Korea have found their way into the cities and kampungs of Indonesia and offer affordable transportation with price tags often considerably lower than their Japanese counterparts.

While the Japanese, Chinese and Koreans battle it out for the small commuter bike market, mid-size machines with a long established pedigree are now being imported to capture the interest of commuters and enthusiasts alike.

The name Royal Enfield has its roots firmly in British motorcycle history with the first bike produced in 1901.

Twenty years before production ceased in Britain, the company formed a subsidiary in India in 1956 where to this day the best selling model, the Bullet, is still made with only a few modifications after almost half a decade of supplying Indians with reliable though somewhat agricultural-looking transportation.

Paul Carberry, an engineer from Queensland, Australia, was brought up with British bikes and was dismayed at their demise in Britain with the advent of more appealing Japanese motorcycles in the 60's and 70's.

Paul has nurtured his passion for motorcycles from his early years when as a teenager, he experimented with building his own motorcycle by bolting a lawn mower into a bicycle frame using car parts to secure it in place.

After this he bought production motorcycles -- names such as Triumph, BSA, AJS and Ariel. So fond of British motorcycles was he that, now living in Indonesia and finding himself with time on his hands, he decided to have a go at importing Royal Enfield motorcycles from India to Indonesia.

His experience of importing a Harley Davidson motorcycle into Indonesia together with his engineering background meant that he was a good contender for the business and eventually opened his showroom on Jl. Warung Buncit in South Jakarta which now sports two old and one new model of the legendary machines.

The three models graciously displayed in the showroom are the Bullet, which is a 500cc version of the original 1955 350cc Bullet, the Lightning and a more recent addition -- the Machismo -- a 535cc stylish bike with a "peanut" tank, and more chrome that is aimed at the American market and definitely a toy for the boys which is undoubtedly what the company had in mind when they gave it such a name.

The Machismo is a wonder of modern engineering. Though only put into production a few years' ago, the engine was recently redesigned by a company in Austria whose brief was to increase fuel efficiency due to the high cost of petrol in India.

The result was a machine capable of returning up to 50 kilometers per liter -- a reliable and energy efficient machine that fits nicely into a well-designed cycle frame with classic lines.

But what about reliability, performance and the infamous oil leaks that almost all British bikes suffered?

Paul sees oil leaks as only a minor problem on Royal Enfield's range: "British bike engine casings are aluminum-based whereas Japanese engines are constructed with magnesium. Aluminum moves. British bikes got a bad press for this. Remember that these bikes are around decades after Japanese bikes go to scrap. Be kind to an old man!"

While seeing the short-term benefits of owning a Japanese bike, Paul is less than flattering in his general critique of them: "Reliability? Let's define reliability: Compare it with your Honda. You can go out to your Honda after it has been left out in the rain and just jump on it. It'll last some years but it won't be worth rebuilding. It'll deteriorate and that decreases the value of the bike.

"Now, with a Royal Enfield you might get water in the wrong place while you're washing it and it won't start. You'll need to tighten bolts up here and there and adjust the contact points etc., but it'll just keep on going. You have to tinker with them a bit. Enthusiasts like that. You can rebuild them over and over again and they're easy to work on. Many Indians I met had done the big trip around the country and reported very few problems.

"There's nothing in the world like an Enfield. You can't ride an Enfield like a Honda. You can wring the neck on your Honda but with the Royal Enfield you can't. Apart from that they'll just keep going and going. Japanese bikes seem like good value but after a few years everything's stuffed inside them. You can't get the parts and if you can they're expensive."

Royal Enfield, as mid-size single cylinder motorcycles fill a niche in the market between the Asian bikes of up to 250cc and the big Harley's which are often too expensive for many bike enthusiasts.

Many of the big British bike manufacturers produced mid-sized single cylinder bikes in the 50's in Britain, and the buyer would have been spoilt for choice.

Now with only Royal Enfield surviving, Paul sees a bright and prosperous future for the import of his pride and joy -- which he admits is a toy.

"People interested in buying one of my bikes are usually those with money to spend on a toy -- an interesting and nice toy to play with on a Sunday afternoon. Both expatriates and Indonesian classic bike owners are interested in my bikes. Many classic bike owners have bikes that they can't use because they can't get spare parts for them.

"Also, not many of the big bikes are legal on the road. The bike can be used for commuting as it is in India but I don't think people will buy it just for that. People who'll buy this bike for commuting are those who love this kind of bike and will want to go out with their mates at a classic bike club on the weekend as well as using it to commute."

As far as environmental factors are concerned the manufacturer has paid particular attention to reducing fuel consumption and polluting emissions.

Two of the models -- the Lightning and the Bullet -- have catalytic converters fitted and although they don't quite match the Machismo's extremely low fuel consumption, both models return between 34-38 miles per kilometer of unleaded fuel.

These motorcycles are among the least environmentally destructive motor vehicles on the road today.

In Britain, Royal Enfield motorcycles gained a reputation for being sturdy, well-built motorcycles. The company, which also makes rifles, used the slogan "made like a gun".