The Royal Enfield Bullet has undergone scarcely any alteration over its impressive 91-year existence.
Companies may persist through the ages, but their products are typically transient. Apple, although the world’s most valuable corporation, sees its foundational creations, the Apple II computer and the original Mac, residing primarily in museums, if at all. Samsung, Apple’s smartphone rival, embarked on its journey by peddling noodles. Ford’s contemporary F-150 Lightning electric pickup truck shares little in common with the Model T, save for four wheels. The adage “If it ain’t malfunctioning, abstain from modifying it” carries limited weight in a realm characterized by advancing technologies, evolving business paradigms, and ever-shifting consumer preferences.
However, one exception prevails: Royal Enfield. In 1932, the motorcycle manufacturer, then headquartered in the United Kingdom, introduced the Bullet. Today, 91 years later, the enterprise, under Indian ownership since 1994, has unveiled the latest iteration of this iconic two-wheeler. It bears an uncanny resemblance to its inaugural counterpart.
According to the company, adjustments have been made to the engine, now boasting a mere two-thirds of the original’s horsepower, as well as to the chassis and seat. Nevertheless, these alterations remain virtually imperceptible. Noteworthy features commonplace in 21st-century motorcycles, such as tachometers, temperature gauges, or computer-assisted riding modes tailored to diverse conditions, are conspicuously absent. The riding experience and, as one YouTube commentator aptly noted, “the melodious resonance of the exhaust,” likely resemble those of the 1930s.
This positions the Bullet as a formidable contender for the title of the most unchanging vehicle in continuous production, and among the most immutable products ever manufactured (a distinction shared only with the AK-47 rifle, with its comparatively brief 75-year existence). Moreover, in India, it assumes the status of both a commercial sensation and a cultural icon. Surpassing the sales figures of most of Royal Enfield’s contemporary designs, the earlier version alone witnessed over 8,000 units sold in June. While the precise number of Bullets traversing Indian roads remains elusive, it undoubtedly reaches into the millions. Few objects command the same degree of fondness, not solely among the nation’s motorcycle aficionados.
India hosts a dedicated network of at least 1,200 riding clubs. Weathered specimens adorned with a rusty patina can be spotted traversing Punjab’s fields, conquering treacherous mountain slopes in Ladakh, and gracefully navigating the bustling city streets, adeptly avoiding encounters with bovine creatures and automobiles. It serves as an indispensable accouterment for both heroes and villains in Bollywood productions. The Indian armed forces, who ignited the Indian Bullet craze with an initial order of 500 two-wheelers in 1949 to patrol the nation’s northern border, maintain a stunt team exclusively utilizing Bullets. In 2017, the squad, known as the Tornadoes, executed the extraordinary feat of accommodating 58 individuals on a single motorcycle.
All of this, combined with the perception that these machines possess an agelessness, and can be repaired by virtually anyone, anywhere, contributes to the Bullet’s enduring popularity. For countless Indians who can scarcely envision property ownership or even automobile possession, the Bullet simultaneously embodies aspiration and affordability, with a price tag of approximately $2,400 per unit. Given such steadfast allure, who requires change?