The sands of time

The Classic Chrome and Desert Storm offer everything a Royal Enfield does, and more
Ever since the Classic series was launched in November 2009, Royal Enfield has had to face a bevy of orders. The series translated to superb demand that, very often, far outstripped the supply. Not one to bow down to pressure, the Indian Marquee has now launched two limited edition bikes in the Classic series – the Desert Storm and Classic Chrome. The Chennai-based manufacturer has increased capacity substantially, but patrons of the veteran motorcycle maker are still bearing with long waiting periods.

Royal Enfield has just rolled out its latest and we grabbed the opportunity to get astride the heavy metal thumpers on desolate Jaisalmer highways. The gleaming spokes, chrome-rimmed wheels and flowing, steel mudguards are in line with the retro aura that's been the big draw and highlight to Royal Enfield motorcycles. The Desert Storm's matte sand colour does well to embellish this and the bike looks all the better for it. The Classic Chrome, in comparison, uses dual-tone shades of chrome with maroon, or black, smart and broad stripes running along the length of its mudguards.

Metal-encased telescopic forks lead to a bright, hooded headlight, sticking out from a Royal Enfield trademark steering head. Instruments are familiar bits: the basic analogue Royal Enfield fare with a speedometer reading up to 160kph. A fuel gauge is missing but you do get a reserve warning icon. Circular, chrome mirrors look the part but vibrate a fair bit when riding and hamper rearview vision. We've always recommended buffed alloy levers and the new models also have rider-friendly soft and comfortable palm grips.

The switchgear, which packs all the essentials, works positively and both Enfields come equipped with strident twin horns, a well-deserved bonus for these highway friendly motorcycles. The latest Classics use teardrop fuel tanks with the Royal Enfield logo emblazoned in an aptly regal font. An old-fashioned chrome tank cap and knee-pads — on the Desert Storm — lend a period touch to the bikes as do the tool and air boxes on the flanks. Hogging the limelight of course is the large, naked engine which displays good attention to detail, with crankcase blisters inspired by the Spitfire fighter aircraft of World War II.

The spring-mounted riding saddle that was part of the original Classic has been improved with revised, stiffer springs that kept us better connected to the motorcycle. Both the Desert Storm and Classic Chrome get uncluttered rear sections, their smoothly flowing mudguards leading to the tail-light. While overall quality and finish do seem slightly improved, they still lag behind the tall standard of modern Indian motorcycles.

This new Classic duo come with an improved, 499cc, air-cooled, four-stroke and single-cylinder new-generation Royal Enfield engine. Twin spark-plugs and Keihin fuel injection are carry-forwards from the original Classics, as are twin valves and long-stroke engine architecture that fit this character-rich motorcycle perfectly. The piston assembly is superior, and mapping has been revised while much else remains constant including hydraulic tappets, a drive-chain tensioning system and the peak power figure of 27.2bhp at 5250rpm. 4.2kgm of max torque is delivered at 4000rpm.

The big single starts at the push of a button, with its charging circuit now beefed up. As expected, the Limited Edition Classics drum out a lazy, healthy and loud beat Indians have long admired and appreciated. Pushing hard in the quest for brisk performance is pointless on these motorcycles, with unhurried riding pleasure the way to go while cautiously short-shifting through the one-down, four-up pattern, mechanical-feeling gearbox. Holding cruising speeds of up to 110kph is effortless, beyond which the Classics can still be pushed but riding pleasure severely deteriorates. The power spread is wide, with an ample low and mid-range yours for the asking. The heavy Classics provide decent throttle response and a lazy, rhythmic feel that Royal Enfields are renowned for. Performance is much the same as earlier, the Desert Storm and Classic Chrome zipping past 60kph in around four seconds, while mustering a true top speed of 130kph.

The Classic Chrome and Desert Storm weigh 187kg, their single-downtube, heavy tubular steel frames reaching from a bulky steering clamp to the engine, while an archaic, tubular, bush-mounted swingarm attaches to the rear wheel and twin adjustable gas-filled shock absorbers. There's been much change in the front, where 130mm travel-telescopic front forks now run in the same line as the front wheel axle. Trail is increased to 101mm, and the front wheel is now 19 inches, even as the rear remains 18 inches shod by a larger 120/80 section tyre.

The Classics have a comfortable and commanding upright riding posture, and the newly sprung seat is certainly a big improvement. Royal Enfield bikes are known for not sacrificing much handling despite a full payload, and this duo maintains that reputation. Straightline stability is always rock-solid, and these Classics go around corners with a planted feel. Steering feel is heavier than ideal but neutral and precise, with good ride quality keeping the rider comfortable over most road surfaces. Brake feel is more reassuring now, thanks to the new front suspension with a 280mm disc in the front and a 153mm drum unit at rear.

While it is true that these two new models represent the best of what Royal Enfield has to offer, a swiftly evolving two-wheeler market is proving to be a stringent test to veteran motorcycle makers. Undeniably, the Classic series has come a long way from the models released two years ago, but RE must step up the pace of improvement, whilst retaining its old world charm and charisma. It won't be long before this very capable Indian manufacturer faces stiff competition from able cruiser rivals — most notably, Harley Davidson — who prepare to launch their wares in India.

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Posted On:   Wednesday, 16 Nov 2011Source:   The Hindu