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Royal Enfield 500 Classic Test Ride Review

By Ren Withnell

Royal Enfield eh. Synonymous with classic British Motorcycles yet still in production in India. Yeah, great, marvellous and all that but I'm not into "classic" motorcycles or nostalgia. What I am into though is simplicity. Compared to other modern motorcycles the current batch of Royal Enfields are simple, some would say positively basic.

side view of the royal enfield classic desert storm
This, according to the Enfield website, is the "Desert Storm" Classic.

Why do I like simple? Because simple bikes can be repaired and maintained by simple people like myself. Simple bikes require simple and readily available tools. Simple bikes don't have complicated and complex bits that can go wrong and cost a fortune to fix. There is a downside to simple though, simple bikes are typically unrefined and and somewhat basic. Personally I'm not into 160mph or getting my knee down so maybe simple and unrefined may be OK for my style.

Looking around the bike is a refreshingly mechanical experience. Everything is accessible and held together with nuts and bolts. There's no annoying fairings and trim panels with flimsy clips that break and never fit as well as they first did. I can't find any "don't touch" Torx bolts. I like it a lot, the idea that it can be taken apart. The build quality isn't really up to the best Japanese standards but then the big four are building some models in India, China and Korea. The Enfield is a match for the non Japanese made Jap bikes . I'd say it's acceptable. The proof is always how well the bike ages, how it may look after 40,000 miles of British rain.

rear end with suspension and subframe on the enfield 500
Nuts and bolts, bits of metal and tubes. It's simple to follow and understand.

There are some extra touches. Simple fork shrouds protect the stanchions from the elements. Keys open what I figure are electric and air filter pods on either side. Full length mudguards stop the muck collecting on the motor or up your back. These things seem trivial but if you're going to ride often and in all weathers these things make a difference.

Sitting on the bike I realise it's actually quite small. No dangling leg syndrome here, it feels more like a heavy 125 than a big brutal 500 single. The footrests are a little further forward than I'm used to and the seating position makes me feel very much like I'm sat on top of the bike, not within it. This model has a single seat in the saddle style, complete with springs for that extra comfort. Bouncy!

There is indeed a kickstart if you ever feel the need to break your ankle but times have moved on even for Enfield. With a dab of the starter button the fully electronic fuel injection squirts just the right amount of gas into the motor and it starts perfectly. Thump thump thump thump. I've owned a 650 single before hand but this is much more visceral. I can feel the piston casually make it's way up and down the long stroke bore with a twitch each time the fuel explodes. I wobble my way out of the car park.

the engine along with the kick start and starter motor in bright chrome and allow
Kickstart and electric start, your choice. 

I'm expecting everything to feel somewhat agricultural. Parts of the experience are. The clutch lever feels like a lever, I can tell I'm pulling wire through a tube which pulls plates apart. The motor pulses. The steering steers. It's hard to describe but modern machines are so much more clinical and remote. Modern riders expect to be cosseted from such things as having to think about steering or the engine beneath them. This bike requires to be ridden, it does not ride itself.

It's not hard work though. The clutch works fine, the gears are remarkably positive, the brakes are effective both front and rear and the handling, although different from modern machines is quite good. I do feel much more involved though. I am riding this bike. I have to give it instructions that it follows. I am not being wafted along on a magic carpet, I'm riding a bike.

The motor is strangely awesome. It is not fast, a mere 27bhp. What it is is unstoppable. Whether or not you're climbing a steep hill it will maintain your speed without complaint or extra throttle. It's all just a big fat juicy lump of heavy torque. And it will run smoothly at such low revs. I can only assume it has the mother of all flywheels to turn each of the massive thumps into a gentle rotary motion. It is a pleasurable sensation to thump thump thump through the town, the exhaust is in fact quite loud compared to Japanese bikes.

There is for me however one downside to this. Vibration. Around town it is noticeable but not uncomfortable. Apart from rendering the flimsy mirrors completely useless it's part of the experience, part of the sensation that makes you appreciate you're riding and not floating. It's when the speeds rise in the countryside it changes from pulses through the bars to a teeth rattling, foot itching and finger tingling distraction. I took to the motorway for a 3 mile stretch, I was glad to get off. I'm sorry to say I could barely feel my fingers.

That, for me, was unacceptable. I personally am looking for a bike that I can tour on, mostly at a leisurely pace. I would however need to use motorways to get somewhere nice and the vibes are too much. So who would this bike suit? 

Obviously it will appeal to people into classic bikes. This has thoroughly modern injection and ignition but otherwise it is mostly old technology in a new machine. If you can't get a classic or you're tired of oil leaks and adjusting points then this could be a reliable friendly workhorse while you restore your Wustlethorpe Nargsville 350. 

It makes a lot of sense too for commuters who can maintain their own bike (if you don't use a motorway). Fuel economy is estimated to be 80mpg which is excellent. Servicing should be a doddle to do yourself or cheap at your local bike shop. The motor will pull you through town without biting you in a moment of tiredness. 

It will also suit someone who's looking for something different. Someone who wants to really ride a bike in the truest sense of the word. To feel everything as it is and not be protected from it. To be involved and not just a pilot. 

A final word about the vibration. According to the salesman at Orrel Motorcycle Centre the latest models are supposed to be better due to altering the front forks. I can't comment if this is true or not as they've no demonstrators with the updated forks. I'm also curious if the vibration lessens when the motor is fully run in, the demo bike only had around 300 miles on the clock. I'd welcome anyone's feedback as I do truly like the character of the bike, just not the excess vibration!

the old style front forks on the enfield 500 classic
Are these forks the issue? Seems odd but possibly they're enhancing the vibes. LET ME KNOW!

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Reader's Comments

Carrie said :-
Just to let you know that I do read your articles - don't always acknowledge them - they are very goood but maybe I am biased!!!
UTC
Ron said :-
I too have test ridden an RE Classic at my local dealer and agree generally with your description of it. The rider pegs are a little too far forward for me being reminiscent of a Harley Sportster rather than a 1951 Matchless 350 single (my personal "Wustlethorpe").

However, I found the bike a big, positive surprise on a fast dual carriageway, being comfy and capable of rolling on at 60mph plus without significant vibration, I thought. Given my choice of bikes for comparison you may suggest I am used to vibes but no, I don't like excessive motor shakes to intrude on my comfort or worry me as to the potential life span of the engine internals. Oh, and if you want to experience vibes, try a Meriden era Bonneville - vicious by comparison.

Perhaps I was lucky, but a Classic is on my list of bikes to buy one day. For the moment though I too am enjoying a "little" CBF250 - a breath of fresh air in world of pretentious machines I think.

Enjoying your blog!
UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
Hi Ron.

It's really good to see that some people actually read my blog. It warms the cockles, thank you.

It's the vibes on this bike that spoiled my ride. I am fully open to the idea I had a bad experience and not all Enfields will be like the one I rode. I really would welcome the chance to ride another, preferably well run in and used.

Other than that it's full of character and the motor could pull a caravan.
UTC
shijin david said :-
I love classic 500 desert storm
UTC
Doug said :-
I've loved singles, having started on a CB100N, through a CB250RS then a pile of IL4s, before going back to a '63 AJS M18, '92 Enfield Bullet 350cc, '04 Bullet 500ES and my current ride, a '94 Suzuki LS650P.

With the last two I've done a fair bit of motorway commuting, and the "find a lorry, sit behind it" served well on the 500 Bullet. The throttle pretty much is just a volume/vibration control once you're over 60mph on the cast head engines but it was happy to sit there for the 30 mile stretch, twice a day for a couple of years. I would have thought the newer offerings would have been less vibey, so I really need to try one for myself. Can't say the fuel injection floats my boat though, and the prices aren't the bargains the carbed models were. Ah well.

Loving the site, slowly working my way through all of the articles - keep it up :-)
UTC
Sunil said :-
so very nice
UTC
Syed Hasib said :-
I use to own a 2002 Royal Enfield Bullet 500 ES (Machismo) with carbies and a separate gear box and clutch (pre-unit construction engine). Needed 3 different types of oils and had a compression release lever to kick start. New ones don’t have this mechanism anymore and are made like Jap bikes (unit construction engine) although they look real retro.
As the article writer said... they are old school and fun to ride. Also they look honest and beautiful. In my one, top speed was round 110km/h (70 MPH)... but would slow down on inclines or hilly roads. Where I leave (Australia)... it’s simply not powerful enough with its 22hp engine (2002 model was 22hp) to keep up with freeway speeds. Also, in long term their reliability not even close to jap bikes. The starter motor gear-cogs failed after only 5500 km (3400 miles) and costed me AU$1200 to fix. Sold mine with 6600km on odo and bought a 2003 Yamaha FZ1 (1000cc – 4 cylinders 130+ HP) the same day... :) Pure Japanese muscle... ultra reliable and far more exciting to ride.
So, will I buy RE in future? Maybe when I have more extra cash to play around with – but not now, not as my primary bike. For now, I am sticking to more powerful and reliable ‘Jap craps’… they are bloody good actually.

Regards,
Syed Hasib

Adelaide, Australia

E- samihasib@yahoo.com
UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
Hello Syed. I can only imagine what your 2002 Enfield Bullet was like to ride. No matter how old the modern Enfields look they are much more up to date. The FZ1 though must have been a huge change for you, they're not lacking in power that's for sure!
UTC
Jumbo said :-
Good write up. Thanks.
UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
Cheers Jumbo. We try our best.
UTC
jasvir choudhary said :-
Mm so hevy bike
UTC
Jez W said :-
Just rode 200 kilometres on an Enfield Classic (military green) around the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa. It took me 2 hours to really gel with the bike, the clunky gears, seating position and vibration etc. However, once I really got into the groove with the machine, I can honestly say the experience was epic. One of the rides of my life and certainly the highlight of my trip to SA.

Sure, the scenery and weather helped, but what a fun machine. It's motorcycling at its purest and an utter joy to ride. I already own a classic Montessa 350 single cylinder trail, which is a beast of an engine, and the Enfield is a lamb by comparison - far more refined. Engine vibrations were OK, for me at least, and at a steady 50mph not that bad at all. Wing mirrors useless though!

The only downside I can see is that it really did take me a few hours to get a good handle on the Enfield and a demonstration outing of ten miles or so won't give riders enough time to really 'feel' the essence of this machine. Put it this way, for the first few hours I thought I wouldn't go near this machine again but by the end of the day I was on my iPad looking for my nearest dealer. It's my next bike.

One thing: price is a third cheaper in SA which I find disappointing. They've obviously hiked it, big time, for the UK. Still cheap though....


01/01/2016 09:37:41 UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
Cheers Jez W. You're so right, a half hour bimble on a bike is not nearly enough to find out such things as comfort. I agree too that while I can hop on any bike and ride it, it takes quite some time to adjust to its character to get the most from it.

Regrettably I can't find anyone willing to let me take an Enfield on a tour of Scotland for a week! Dammit. Sound's like you had a fabulous time in South Africa.
01/01/2016 16:15:40 UTC
Jeremy Poole said :-
Nice blog, is there any real alternative to the Classic 500? At the price, I think not.
What is it like two up, with the optional pillion pad?
I'm married and she'd want a ride.
16/02/2016 22:14:59 UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
Cheers Jeremy. I can't comment about the 2-up ability as I only had it out on test ride solo. I would expect the motor which - although not powerful - has enough torque to pull a caravan and will be a delight.

Beware of the vibration though, I found it most intrusive at speed and its possible the pillion would too. I suggest you ask around and see if you can find a dealer willing to let you both out at the same time.
16/02/2016 22:28:41 UTC
Tom said :-
Bought the 2014 C5 2 years ago .Changed the muffler and put K&N high flow air filter .I would say that seems to give it a few more Hp . As far as vibration these motors take a long time to break in .As they get more miles the vibration gets less .Mine has around 9OOO miles now and the vibrations never total go away but I can cruise at 110-115 with no bad vibs. At that speed there is just a light tingle in the bars nothing that would bother you .These bikes do tend to break the head stay bracket(that is the bracket that is at the top back of the engine and bolts there and to the bottom back tank bolt ) and if that happens you would get a lot of Vibs .On Mine I added a extra head stay bracket so it now has 2 one on each side and I have not had a problem with breakage yet .These engines were built to be able to run highway speeds at 70 mph once broken in . So don't let the test bikes fool you they need to have mileage on before the vibs get less.When I first had mine it had bad vibs starting around 60 mph ,now hardly nothing .I have been riding about 48 years now and all in all I like this bike .I call it my go any were bike cause it will depending on your level of riding skills . It is not a race bike or a trail bike it's just a simple old school motorcycle .Bottom line it's a fun bike that I love the sound and feel of the torque as I run threw the gears .
10/07/2016 10:30:28 UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
Thanks Tom! The vibes on the one I rode were terrible so I am much relieved to hear that my particular machine was the issue not the whole range. Interesting that the ride improves as it settles in, making the idea of having a brand new bike for test rides seem somewhat misleading for the brand.

The Enfield does strike me as being a real rider's motorcycle. It's not about massive speeds or huge power it's about the sheer pleasure of riding. Also the sheer pleasure of ownership too. Modern bikes require a degree in 3 dimensional spacial analysis to simply remove the panels before you even start on getting through all the electronic wizardry before you can do something as simple as checking the tappets. I bet the Enfield could be done at the roadside with the included tool kit.

If you have any more sage advise or opinions regarding the 500 I'd love to hear them.
11/07/2016 07:48:32 UTC
said :-

07/08/2016 14:18:13 UTC
Tom said :-
No need to set the tappets on these bikes there not solid lifters .I agree the dealers should have a well worn in one that they let out for the test rides .People would get a truer sense of the bike .I have not had any big problems with mine so far .I do like the fact they are a simple design easy to get to most things . It is important the keep the wheels lined up right or you can get stability problems at high speeds .Also proper tire pressure as that can effect stability if over inflated .All I can say is I enjoy the RE and if you are worried about the vibs a lot of that goes away once the mileage is higher . It will never all go away cause they are a big single but it does get a lot less or at least it did on mine .Other owners I talk to say the same thing .Maybe I also should say I live in Manila the Philippines so I have been over all kinds of roads riding around the Philippines the RE always got me there and back .Some people worry about them over heating in heavy traffic it does not happen with the RE .They just keep thumping along no matter what the traffic or weather conditions .Hope this helps.
13/09/2016 09:59:47 UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
Hi Tom. What do you mean by "they're not solid lifters"? I thought the small rectangular panel on the side of the barrel was for adjusting the pushrods and therefore adjusting the tappets?

I was hoping you'd let me have a ride of your Enfield so I could experience the lesser vibrations of a run-in example. I suspect a trip to Manilla is probably not on the cards right now though! Imagine that, someone from The Philippines reading my blog. Got to love the internet's world wide reach.

Great additional information from an experienced owner and good to hear from you. Many thanks.
13/09/2016 13:43:43 UTC
Tom said :-
Hi Ren. What I mean is they are hydraulic lifters so you don't need to be setting the valves . One less thing to worry about as I said I have over 9 thousand miles and have never had to open that cover .Some one asked about power when carrying a passenger.Well my wife is only about 115 pounds but it is like the bike does not even know she is there .It pulls just the same .What you do have to watch is the passenger sits behind the rear axil (these bikes have a short wheel base )so if you take off to fast you can find the front wheel lifting on you .Just some thing to be aware of.Another fun fact some of us have discovered .If you are 5th gear running about 65 mph and open the gas right up by rolling the gas quickly back off and on a couple of times the bike seems to pick up speed much faster.Some of the guys think its cause that sucks oil up into the engine and lubs it better .Some think its cause doing that forces more air threw the filter .All I know is it works .Glad you enjoyed my comments and hope you can find some one in your area that has one with higher miles on it to try . Take care .
14/09/2016 12:16:43 UTC
Doug said :-
If a big single picks up when you come off WOT, it's usually because it's running lean and needs a bigger main jet, so for these fuel injected bikes a remap would be needed.
15/09/2016 06:01:12 UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
Hydraulic lifters! Wow I guess times really have moved on at Enfield. I can't think of many cutting edge Jap bikes that have hydraulic lifters.

The one thing I noted about the motor was the torque. There's not much power but the torque is unstoppable. The engine barely notices if you're riding up a steep hill so pulling a pillion (and probably a caravan) won't stop it either.

Doug - if you're right about the motor running lean I'm guessing that would be due to emissions and keeping the motor as efficient as possible. If I recall the injection system on the Enfields is Bosch and I'm sure there'll be some wizard out there who knows how to remap them!
15/09/2016 09:59:27 UTC
John Mills said :-
I ran a B5 for a couple of years and regret parting with it. Running in is critical on these bikes. Do it right and reliability is good and vibration low. However running in is a pain - no more than 50 for the first 500 miles and 60 for the next 500 from what I remember. Be patient and the motor improves with every mile.
17/11/2016 20:19:16 UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
I would like to ride a "good" Enfield that has been cosseted by its owner rather than thrashed as a demonstrator. They have so much character.
18/11/2016 07:03:51 UTC
Tony said :-
These bikes do get very much smoother as the mileage increases. My B5 improved no end as 2000 miles came up. Now, with just over 3000, it's smoother still. I can't claim it's turbine smooth, but cruising in the 60's is no problem. I bought my bike from Watsonian Squire after being impressed by their smooth running demonstrator which had about 2500 on the clock. If I'd tried a low mileage bike, the vibration would have put me off too. As a bonus, torque seems to get even better as the miles mount up too.

Back in pre-motorway days, the British industry evolved the 500cc single as the best type for twisting, undulating single carriageway roads. In that environment, it still has a lot going for it. I'd say the efi models have all the good points of a classic British big single, with none of the snags. Apart from one, that is; the first gear engagement of the day will be noisy unless you take the trouble to free the clutch before starting the engine.

12/06/2017 19:30:01 UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
I'm glad to hear all this Tony. The Enfield is one of just a few bikes that offers a real alternative to the homogeneous soup of today's offerings. It's not chasing power or max speed or pretending to be anything but a motorcycle.

3,000 miles ain't so far and it's all smoothed out for you Tony. I'm wondering if there's any owners out there with 10, 20, 30 thousand miles who can comment on longevity and running costs?
13/06/2017 09:28:34 UTC
allen said :-
I just learned how to ride a motorcycle on one of these in the himalayas in India a few months ago. It reminds me of my old 3.8 v6 mustang I had in highschool it's loud, heavy and slow but just puts a smile on your face. I never got it over 60 mph though because of the horrid road conditions. I also experienced something odd with the 350cc at high altitude around 4000-5500 meters the motorcycle just lost power and began sputtering a lot. I think it might be because the 350 has a carburetor and isn't fuel injected and air was just too thin. But anyway i'm hooked on motorcycles now thanks to the enfield.
25/09/2017 19:51:14 UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
Cheers Allen. Riding an Enfield in the Himalayas sounds like a challenge and an adventure, it's a hell of a way to learn. Yeah, without any alterations I reckon most vehicles will start to struggle at those kind of altitudes.
26/09/2017 09:46:40 UTC
Wi said :-
This is my RE. I like it, pretty new, has run 1.500km right now, not fast, no problems til yet and fun to ride with this kind of an archaic motorbike, slightly modernized but very much out of the past.

Wissedrum


29/01/2018 21:38:10 UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
Cheers Wi. That looks very smart with the chrome and saddle bags. Which country are you in and how much does the Enfield cost there?
30/01/2018 10:36:24 UTC
Rod said :-
The sign in the window is German (Big Sale) so may be Austria or Germany?
31/01/2018 08:51:07 UTC
Gerard said :-
I recently spent a month in India, RE's are very common there of course, and it was great to see and hear them everywhere. On my return to NZ I visited the local RE motorbike shop and took a demo Classic 500 for a testride. It had only done 90kms and at 100kph the vibration was terrible, especially thru the bars. The bikeshop wasn't negotiable on price and I was worried that after a few rides I may be selling the bike due to the vibration problem. So decided to buy a used one, so I wouldn't lose so much money if I didn't like it and had to sell it. After 2 months of looking have just purchased a 2014 Classic 500cc with 8000kms. It is worlds apart from the demo, the vibration at 100kph is not nearly as bad, there is still some minor vibration thru the bars but it is very tolerable and I'm not really aware of it. The bike is a delight to ride. My other bike is a late model Harley Davidson 1584cc, despite what the detractors say it's an awesum bike to ride and very powerful, but the RE is just as much fun. Next thing to do is join the local RE club, I'm hooked.

My 2014 Classic 500
07/02/2018 10:33:32 UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
Hi Gerard. I'm glad it wasn't just me that found the test ride to be very vibey. I'm equally glad that for most people it seems that once the bike has settled in the vibes reduce to an acceptable level.

Great information and enjoy the Enfield!
07/02/2018 11:14:00 UTC
Stuart said :-
I ride a Honda Fireblade a 95 model, I will soon receive a small windfall from an investment and am seriously considering a 500 classic (my wife keeps looking at me in a strange way) thanks for the write up and all the additional information, I was concerned a out the vibration, thankyou all for putting my mind at rest, I'm really looking forward to the end of March when I hope to become an RE owner.
07/02/2018 20:05:15 UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
I think you'll find the Enfield experience quite different to the fireblade experience Stuart! Not in a bad way, I expect you'll find it refreshingly different and relaxing.

I'd love to hear how you get on.
07/02/2018 21:40:53 UTC
Ian Soady said :-
Different certainly!
08/02/2018 10:12:25 UTC
mick lewis said :-
hi i have just got a 2010 500 classic and i am very happy with it up till now total change from my 800 vfr but i am old school anyway having grown up with bikes in the 1960 s only thing i dont like on the enfield is the back brake which is not very good many thanks mick
19/02/2018 09:59:11 UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
You were spoilt with the VFR brake. Maybe it needs a dose of looking at?
19/02/2018 22:58:38 UTC
Brian said :-
Hi, I have a 2016 classic 500, Ive found that once i traveled over 3000km on good Australian roads, the bike has a noticeable lack of vibration, and really enjoys sitting between 95 and 100 km per hour, and no vibration to speak of, the mirrors no longer shake, and no more tingly fingers. Iam 69 years old and have had around 25 motor cycles, but would say this bike gives me more joy than any other bike I have ridden. I ran the machine in using a full mineral oil, at 2500km changed to penrite full synthetic oil.. and the bike thrives on it,, stay upright and ride safe, Brian
19/03/2018 09:00:59 UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
That's fabulous Brian! While I sit here in cold Britain the idea of riding your 500 Enfield across Australia sounds most appealing. It seems owners agree that the vibrations ease off with a few miles leaving them with a velocipede that brings a big smile.

Big thanks.
19/03/2018 12:22:47 UTC
 

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