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Delivery and Deliverance

A tale of two parties to a deal and one steadfast old iron engine

Text and photos by Ujjwal Dey with illustrations from Wayfarer

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"For King and Countryside" illustration by Wayfarer
"For King and Countryside" illustration by Wayfarer

So, if you have been reading stuff on since 2006 or from past few years, you might know I ride an Enfield. I also owned an all-terrain dirt bike after selling my second Enfield. A Hero XPulse (yes, from Hero MotoCorp, the partner and exclusive distributor for Harley-Davidson motorcycles sales & service in India).

However, I recently purchased a used vehicle. An out-of-production cast-iron engine Enfield Bullet 350cc with right-hand-side gear shift, which is the closest thing available to the 1955 Enfield Bullet 350 including chassis and engine design by the Britishers among other things such as dashboard, tank, hand-painted pinstripe, etc. These come with Green Tax for the alleged pollution they may or might be making. I got a fitness test certificate from the Road Transport office, where the ownership change is registered.

There are draconian laws in the Indian nation against customization and you can be cited with a ticket (called ‘challan’) even for painting your vehicle in a different color than what is mentioned in the registration papers. Supposedly, this discourages vehicle theft and maybe even terrorism (parked scooter explosions are real and no, not the EV fires). That’s like banning guns because guns kill people? How bank robbers or terrorists manage to get their arms & ammunition is a cosmic mystery.

However, in a nation as diverse and overactive as India, maybe its best people have less access to mischief and mayhem!

My purchase wasn’t planned. Hell, I didn’t even want to ever own another Enfield after having willingly sold my second one, a Bullet 500cc. My first one was lovely, a cast-iron engine like the present one and it lasted 10 years, prompting plenty of travelogues and fiction for

My frustration was with the quality of materials and work on newer mass production Enfields. Recently, Siddhartha Lal, MD, Eicher Motors which owns Royal Enfield stated or rather boasted, "our three plants crank out a motorcycle every 38 seconds". Hey, maybe that's the problem; not really a positive aspect of your brand?

Anyways, friggin’ social media was showing me Enfields, then came free advert listings of people selling their Enfields, then I came across movies featuring Enfields in a popular video-posting website. Was it the universally destined choice of vehicle for me or friggin’ nerds crunching ‘Big Data’ with their machine learning programs, pitching things I don’t need anymore?

Well, as luck would have it, I was on a street where an old acquaintance has a shop for buying and selling used motorcycles. Out of curiosity (which killed my bank account....later) I asked him how much do Enfield old cast-iron engines go for anyways? He showed me how he has a wonderful one which starts with just one smooth kick—took me by the arms and led me to his parking lot to prove the worthiness of the rusting black Bullet 350 from year 2004. Demonstrating the minor differences between this model and my former 2007 Enfield Bullet 350, he gladly asked me when I was planning to buy it.

My mind swirled between happy memories of my Enfield and sad realities about older vehicle related laws in the city and nation. Then the EV future loomed large, and maybe a ban on ICE engines purchases or ownership if that’s the route USA decides to go---and the world follows, including India!

"King George V rides around Bombay" illustration by Wayfarer
"King George V rides around Bombay" illustration by Wayfarer

Last time, when I first purchased an Enfield, i.e. a Bullet 350 with cast-iron engine in 2007, I had expedited my decision because, hey, they were gonna stop manufacturing cast-iron engines and the factory had already pulled the plug on 500cc cast-iron engines!

Again, fear and doom ruled! Will they ban ICE sales this year, next year, by the time I save enough, by the time there is a better choice of cast-iron Bullet for sale….and I bought the bait, and chewed on this purchase for four agonizing months.

Well, the motorcycle was definitely nice and the deal was cool, at a more than reasonable rate. Yet, I should have been wary when the seller offered to restore some of the eye-sores on the old horse for an extra wad of cash.

That was the pain in the purchase. The four months of purgatory where both me and my Enfield Bullet suffered separation and neglect. Life was happening. My mother was in and out of hospitals. Work suffered, so was my health running about doing errands and familial obligations, paying bills, maintaining accounts, keeping up appearances, etc. I had already paid for the insurance, the ownership transfer, the repairs this dude was gonna do.

Then September and beginning of what is a grand series of festivals in India arrived. Till New Year’s eve, this festive season is when every salesman worth its (are they human or reptilian? “its” it is) salt doesn’t have to make any effort to hard-sell as the brands / companies offer glorious schemes and benefits for maximizing profits through economies of scale. Plus there are banks, non-banking finance firms, fintech startups, etc enabling the temptations. If you sell a million units instead of a thousand, then you can manufacture and sell the unit for a lot less – that’s the economics of a nation of billion humans. Hey, more people here have a mobile phone and/or smart phone than a television or jobs for that matter (okay, that’s just speculation, but probably true!?!)

Automotive business is booming in India and so is luxury brands. Even Electric Vehicles now have a representation in the monthly-quarterly industry sales pie-charts.

"Sultan don't smoke Camels no more" illustration by Wayfarer
"Sultan don't smoke Camels no more" illustration by Wayfarer

Thus, in September, I pulled up myself by the bootstraps, looked in the mirror and decidedly saw I wore pants and I pulled 'em down to make sure I am still a man! I went over to the bloke, the shop-owner procrastinating and making excuses for not handing over my motorcycle because this and that work is still pending.

I said, “Is it running?”

He answered, “Yes! Of course!”

“I’ll take it,” and off I went out of this world of misadventure.

It took me a while to figure out I had been had. Not that I am a simpleton but I give the benefit of doubt to the same person more frequently than I should. I wanted to believe he was a man of his word and would not feel I cheated him out of anything because I didn’t bargain. Back in May 2023, he had quoted a price for this used Enfield Bullet 350 and I said ‘okay.' That was that. I didn’t haggle and he shouldn’t act like a greedy fisherwoman after the sale was done.

He had promised to help with some of the aspects of repair for the motorcycle that would make me happier taking delivery of the Bullet as it would look and run a lot better.

Ultimately, it was more than four months of anxiety and worn-out shoes strolling to his shop and a hundred plus phone calls to him before I rode away with my new prized possession. The Enfield Bullet itself runs smooth enough. It had 26,373 kms on it when I got hold of it (not like he was offering delivery gladly) – and I am sure that douchebag rode a few hundred kilometres on my motorcycle in the months between purchase and ‘possession.'

I just let go of that shopkeeper physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually, because there is no point crying over how he milked me. I went to a garage that only does repair and does not sell anything at all.

The thing with people going to a repair shop or authorized service centre instead of working on their vehicle themselves is again simple logic and math. Instead of spending time and money and (precious) space for DIY repairs, you can get your motorcycle or car fixed for less than one tenth the costs (million customers per square kilometre of cities). Finding an honorable mechanic is the key to the kilometres of fun.

The garage I went to had an old-timer and his name translated to English literally means ‘King.' He told me what spares I will need. I went to a spare parts shop and bought them. Then he fixed the immediate necessities – a horn, a turn signal bulb, the petrol pipe connecting the tank to the carburetor, the tank lid lock which was throwing out petrol because it was missing a rubber washer. He greased the spring on the central stand since it wouldn’t sprung when the stand was off the ground for riding (yes, even latest Enfield motorcycles have a centre-stand along with the Western choice of side-stand).

For all of this, his labour, his fee was Rs. 100 only. (US 1 dollar and 20 cents)

The shop from where I had purchased this Enfield had sold it to me for Rs. 68,000 + 21,000 for repairs & restoration. (USD 830 + USD 256).

I guess, some doors close and new garage doors open with a welcome change.

So far, I have done well over 100 KMs on the Bullet in two days. The petrol consumption is 20 to 23 km per litre. If I go above 60 kmph, then the petrol consumption is fast and frivolous and the old engine & chassis vibrates like the poltergeist in Exorcist and a creatively named Spielberg movie (Trivia? Spielberg was only the writer for 1982's Poltergeist).

That’s that and now the adventure on the road begins. I hope to ride this heap of metal to November’s Rider Mania event, held annually by Royal Enfield company at Vagator beach, Goa (India).

I will write more about riding experience with this 2004 machinery on typical Indian roads and upcoming repairs if any. Hopefully, Bandit and will see more travelogues rather than tech. Keep in mind, petrol is imported and thus expensive commodity here. 86% of crude oil is imported by India, losing precious foreign exchange with each drop of fuel. No wonder they imagine EV is their enlightenment. That is a separate dialogue and debate for another article or editorial.

Let’s hope ICE engines don’t suffer rapture and we all continue to have God-given freewill as civilized humans to choose what we want to ride on Earth forever. Is customer king? Well, we are all conditioned since decades if not centuries. So, data mining and targeted advertising is just another spoke in the wheel of capitalist industry.

Live and let riding make us feel alive. Meanwhile, here is a painting of Enfield in India.

"Dispatch Rider from the King" illustration by Wayfarer
"Dispatch Rider from the King" illustration by Wayfarer

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