The Royal Enfield Bullet was originally a British overhead valve single
cylinder 4-stroke motorcycle made by Royal Enfield in Redditch, West Midlands
of England, but now produced by Royal Enfield Motors (the successor to
the British company) at Chennai (Madras), Tamil Nadu of India.
The Royal Enfield Bullet has the longest production run of any motorcycle
having remained continuously in production since 1948. The Bullet marque
is even older, and has passed 75 years of continuous production. The Royal
Enfield and Bullet names derive from the company's links with the Royal
Small Arms Factory in Enfield.
1931- 1939. Introduced in 1931 as a four-stroke single cylinder motorcycle,
this model was the first to feature the Bullet name. It differed in a number
of ways from its successors: it had an inclined engine with exposed valve
gear featuring four valves per cylinder with 350 cc and 500 cc options.
In 1933, a 250 cc option was also added to the range. Its frame was also
considerably different, having centre-spring girder front forks, being
among a new range of models from Royal Enfield that featured them, along
with a saddle-type fuel tank. Common to motorcycles of this period, it
had a rigid rear-end, necessitating a 'sprung' seat for the rider, which
resulted in the iconic look of the motorcycle that is much replicated today,
even though the sprung seat is unnecessary in modern models.
WWII. After competition success the 350 cc Royal Enfield Bullet was bought
by the British Army for dispatch riders and 3,000 were also supplied to
the RAF during the Second World War.
1939- 1949. This model refreshed Royal Enfield's model line-up for 1939.
It differed in cosmetic details, as well as in having two rocker boxes,
which resulted in higher volumetric efficiency for the engine. The basic
design with front gaiter forks was retained.
1949- 1956. This was the most radical redesign yet. A slew of changes were
implemented in order to bring the bike up-to-date. This model featured
a vertical engine with alloy head and higher compression. The frame was
also changed to a fully sprung design using a swing-arm with non-adjustable
hydraulic shockers at the rear, while the front used a brand-new telescopic
fork of Royal Enfield's own design. This enabled the introduction of a
bench seat made of simple foam (no large springs). Power transmission was
via the same four-speed Albion gearbox as the previous model, with a unique
'neutral-finder' lever the rider could press from any gear other than first
to shift to neutral. The crankshaft continued to have a fully-floating
big-end bearing. The headlight assembly was enclosed with the speedometer
and ammeter into a nacelle, which also served as the attachment of the
front suspension as well as the handlebars.
1953 An otherwise similar model, but with engine displacement of 499 cc,
made its debut in 1953.
The prototype had done well in a performance trial and went on to win the
trophy at the 1948 International Six Days Trial and two Bullet riders won
gold medals. In 1952 Johhny Brittain won the Scottish Six Days Trial on
a Royal Enfield Bullet and in 1953 he also won the International Six Days
Trial without losing a single point.
In 1949 the Indian Army ordered Royal Enfield Bullets for border patrol
use and the company decided to open a factory in Madras, India.
In 1955 the 350 cc Bullets were sent from the Redditch factory in kit form
for assembly in India, but Enfield India Ltd. soon developed the factory
and produced complete motorcycles independently under licence. The 1955
model remained almost unchanged for years and Madras produced over 20,000
1956- 1964. Engine 346 cc & 499 cc single cylinder OHV. In 1955, Royal
Enfield carried out some retooling and redesign at their Redditch plant,
in the UK, to modernise the Bullet, and in 1959 some changes were made
to the gear ratios. These changes, however, were not incorporated by the
Indian arm due to its commitment to supply the Indian Army. Thus the British
and Indian lines diverged, never to meet again.
Between 1956 and 1960, the British Bullet was released in several models,
including a 350 cc Trials "works replica" version, a 350 cc "Clipper" model
and in 1958 the Airflow version. This model had full weather protection
from a large fibreglass fairing and included panniers for touring. The
design was developed in partnership with British Plastics and featured
as a series in The Motor Cycle magazine. The engines were the same and
the only differences were in exhaust, seating, instrumentation, handlebars
and fuel tank.
Numerous technical improvements were also made, including moving to alternator
charging (1956) and coil ignition (1960). The 350 cc model continued in
production, but the 500 cc model was discontinued in 1961.
In 1962 the UK company was sold, the Bullet was discontinued and in 1967 the Redditch factory closed.
Finally in 1970 Royal Enfield closed down completely.
The Enfield India Ltd. factory did well and continued production of the
1955 Bullet design almost unchanged, re-introducing it to the British market
in 1984 under the name 'Enfield'. This was a period of stagnation for
the Bullet as the Indian owners did not make improvements to the motorcycle, and the quality of parts deteriorated.