The neutral selector made its debut on the 350cc Model G and 500cc Model J. Operated by a quick stab of the rider’s right heel, the neutral lever allowed neutral to be located effortlessly from either second, third or fourth gears, a huge bonus when riding in stop-start traffic. An innovation that was utilised right up to the final Cast Iron 350 Bullets in 2010.
One much loved and talked about Royal Enfield feature is the neutral finder. Exclusive to Royal Enfield, it’s been a topic of conversation for 75 years and to this day continues to intrigue and fascinate everyone who encounters it for the first time.
Operated by a quick stab of the rider’s right heel, the neutral lever allowed neutral to be located effortlessly from either second, third or fourth gears whether the motorcycle was stationary or moving.
The neutral selector made its debut on the 1946 350cc Model G and 500cc Model J. Mounted outside the gear indicator on the end of the gear selector shaft, it was an overriding pedal that operated the gears directly. An adjustable eccentric stop on the gearbox casing ensured its movement was halted at the precise point needed to find neutral.
1940s neutral finder illustration.
On 4 August 1914, Germany invaded Belgium in a move to outflank the French Army. Britain, in response, declared war. At the beginning of September, the Belgian government placed the first of four orders for 3hp Model 140 V-twin Royal Enfields, the machines quickly being dispatched to the front line. On 17 August, Russia invaded German East Prussia and the Russian government hurriedly bought 150 Royal Enfield 6hp V-twins. They arrived in Moscow in October and were soon in action.
The neutral finder’s origins hark back to the early days of motorcycling. In the 1920s and 1930s, nearly all motorcycle gearboxes were operated by a hand change lever that was attached to the side of the petrol tank. This meant that the rider had to take his hand off the throttle and away from the brake lever every time he wanted to change gear – a huge disadvantage.
Royal Enfield outsourced its gearbox design and manufacture to Albion, a Birmingham-based engineering firm that met the gearbox needs of many British and European motorcycle manufacturers. Albion positive-stop footchange gearboxes were first fitted to Royal Enfields in 1932 and were a major drawcard for the new, top-of-the-range Bullet models.
However, their design was an adaptation of their existing hand change gearboxes and although Albion gearboxes were well engineered and hard wearing, they were also quite clunky. When stationary, the foot-operated unit could be tricky to operate and it was often hard to find neutral, especially at the beginning and end of its serviceable life.
The neutral selector overcame this issue, simply and cleverly, and was especially convenient for riders who rode frequently in stop-start town or city traffic.
When Royal Enfield assembly began in India, Albion gearboxes and their associated neutral finders came as part of the CKD kits shipped from England. Over the following years, gearbox manufacturing was gradually indigenised but the design remained unchanged and the neutral finder continued to be an invaluable tool for Bullet riders.
Over the following years, gearbox manufacturing was gradually indigenised but the design remained unchanged and the neutral finder continued to be an invaluable tool for Bullet riders.
The 5-speed gearbox fitted to some Cast Iron engines from 2002 onwards and the one incorporated within the UCE engine were modern, super slick designs that required little effort to efficiently click from fifth gear down to neutral. The much-lauded neutral finder was no longer needed and the last one left Royal Enfield’s Thiruvottiyur factory in 2010 on the final Cast Iron 350 Bullets.
But for those enthusiasts who still keep their older Enfields running, whether Indian or British, the neutral finder, with its unique way of finding neutral, remains a huge asset – and is always a quirky talking point.