QLD | 7,865Kms
2012 Royal Enfield C5 'Desert Storm' SPOTLIGHT
JUST Bikes 03/08/2012
In the modern motorcycle market, Royal Enfield is something of an anachronism. A “British” bike that isn’t actually made in Britain, and a classic motorcycle that carries a number of modern features.
While the Bullet can trace its lineage as far back as 1938, the version that has been the mainstay of India’s continuation of the Royal Enfield marque was based on a 1955 Bullet 350 single. In the 50+ years that have followed, the Bullet has evolved and improved, but on first appearances, you wouldn’t pick it. The retro look that may be seen as a weakness in other brands has arguably become Royal Enfield’s strength. Recognising this, Royal Enfield has, in recent years, added to this appeal by releasing a number of classically-inspired models.
When exports started in the late 1970s, the Indian-built Bullet 350 was almost identical to the 1955 British version. In the years that followed, exports only accounted for around 10 percent of production, but the potential was there, and as such, the Bullet was slowly upgraded to meet those potentially lucrative markets. The 500 version of the Bullet that is the mainstay of the modern lineup was developed in 1984, primarily on demand from overseas markets that had largely abandoned the 350cc capacity.
Based on the 350 single, the 500 featured a bore increase from 70mm to 84mm. Overhead valves and air-cooling remain, as per the original Bullet, but with the modern benefits of electronic fuel injection and digital electronic ignition. Given the big 499cc single, electric start was a welcome addition, but the kick start has been retained. Modern Bullets also run a 5-speed transmission, with a left side shifter that most of today’s riders are familiar with, while a disc front brake is another relatively recent addition to the Bullet’s specification.
Despite all these upgrades, the styling was still the main appeal of the Bullet, as least to Western markets. Thus, in 2008, Royal Enfield developed the Bullet “Classic”, also known as the “C5” (Classic 500). Mechanically the same as a regular Bullet, what set the Classic apart was its consciously retro styling. This took the form of a solo saddle (although the pillion footpegs were retained), new rear mudguard and revised front mudguard design, and rounded air filter cover. The fuel tank featured rubber knee pads and an old-style two-tone paint scheme, with the paint choice (Royal Maroon, Classic Green or black) extended to the frame, sidecovers, front forks and mudguards.
Take away the Classic’s disc front brake and you’d think you were looking at a machine from the 1950s. That was the intention, and the international market loved it. While Bullets were selling in reasonably healthy numbers around the globe up to this point, the success of the Classic has inspired several variants on the theme. First of these was the “Military”, which as the name suggests, took the Classic design and replaced the original colour options with army-style olive drab, or as Royal Enfield called it, “Battle Green”. While you may think the Military takes its inspiration from the Royal Enfield “Flying Flea” motorcycles that served with British parachute regiments during World War II, the more direct link comes from the Bullet’s decades of service with the Indian Army.
The market success of the Classic Military made an expansion of that idea inevitable, and this has manifested itself in the form of the Classic “Desert Storm”, which was announced in November, 2011, along with another variant, the “Classic Chrome”. Conjuring up visions of the ‘Desert Rats’ from WWII’s North African campaign against Rommel’s Afrika Korps, or to younger minds, the machines serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Desert Storm trades “green” for “sand”. Like the Military’s Battle Green, the Classic Desert Storm’s sand paint job is in a matte finish, and is applied across the frame, tank, air filter cover, battery cover, side covers, mudguards, front forks and headlight shell. The normally colourful Royal Enfield tank badge is replaced with a dour plain white rendering of the logo, with the same treatment for the ‘Classic 500’ script on the side/toolbox cover.
It’s not all drab sand paint, though. The rims, rear shock absorber caps, indicator shells, fuel cap, headlight trim ring and exhaust are all chromed or polished. The exhaust is the same as the stock Bullet, with an ‘upswept’ type available as an option. The Desert Storm’s instrumentation is pretty basic, with the (halogen) headlight ‘casquette’ containing a central 160kph speedometer, with the two smaller discs below it housing the ignition key on the left, and combined low fuel and malfunction warning lights on the right. (Note: on the original Bullet, these two smaller openings housed the headlight switch and ammeter respectively). While this is “old” technology, the handlebar switchgear is much more contemporary, with the start button, choke, hi-lo beam, horn and indicator switches all in the modern and familiar places.
Being so new, riding impressions of the Desert Storm are hard to come by, but those that have ridden it say the desert-themed model is, unsurprisingly, on a par with the other Classic models. That means it’s comfortable and reasonably quick for a bike of its size and not inconsiderable weight. Low down torque has been praised, but vibrations (a trait of most big singles) make the mirrors virtually redundant at higher speeds. Top speed of around 130kph means highway speeds are possible, but it’s at the Desert Storm’s limit. With the aforementioned vibrations, it’s probably best enjoyed on roads below the 100kph limit anyway.
Suspension on the Desert Storm has been set up to handle rough Indian roads, so it will be able to handle anything that local tarmac and gravel tracks can throw up. Front suspension has been modified on the Indian-market models, which will no doubt flow through to the export versions in short order. On the Desert Storm, you also get ‘double’ the suspension, thanks to the sprung solo seat. Steering and braking are both good, but not up to the standard of smaller and lighter Japanese sportsbikes and commuters.
With original Royal Enfields hard to come by, the modern Indian-built versions are becoming more prodigious here. While it’s still not a “modern” bike compared to what’s coming out of Japan, the latest Royal Enfield does carry enough contemporary technology to make it a viable daily rider. With each iteration, build quality is improving, too. Of course, the main appeal of these Royal Enfields is appearance, which as has often been pointed out, offers all the appeal of a classic British motorcycle without the time and expense involved in restoring a genuine Brit classic. With its modern running gear, it also requires less frequent maintenance, which is no doubt a drawcard for those returning to motorcycling who don’t want to fiddle around adjusting valve clearances, contact breaker points, carb floats, drive chain tension and the like.
As a ‘ready made’ classic, the Royal Enfield C5s really have no equal in the current motorcycle market. The Desert Storm finish has extra appeal that isn’t just limited to military history buffs. With the first deliveries of Australia’s limited allocation here, you better act fast if you want to put a Desert Storm in your garage!
SPECIFICATIONS – 2012 Royal Enfield C5 ‘Desert Storm’
Engine: 499cc OHV 4-stroke single-cylinder
Bore/Stroke: 84 x 90mm
Power/Torque: 20.3kW (27.2hp) @ 5250rpm / 41.3Nm @ 4000rpm
Fuel System: Keihin electronic fuel injection
Cooling System: Air
Electrical System: 12 volt
Transmission/Drive: 5 speed foot change manual/chain drive
Front Suspension: Telescopic forks w/130mm travel
Rear Suspension: Swingarm with coilover twin shock absorbers
Front Brake: 280mm disc w/2-piston caliper
Rear Brake: 152mm drum
Front Tyre: 90 x 90 18-inch
Rear Tyre: 110 x 80 18-inch
Seat Height: 770mm - approx
Fuel Capacity: 14.5 ltr
Top Speed: 130 kph - approx
While the sand paint scheme of the Desert Storm has connotations of the North African campaign in World War II, it has a more pertinent association for Indians. In 1954, the Indian Army ordered a batch of 800 Bullet 350s from Royal Enfield’s English factory, all of which were to be painted in the sand colour. At the time, India was engaged in a border war with Pakistan, and the colour scheme was considered the most effective camouflage for the region. In addition to the special order paint, the engines on the Indian Army Bullets were also extensively tested, moreso than civilian models, to ensure they were well run-in and reliable upon delivery.
A distinctive feature of the Desert Storm, and indeed all modern Royal Enfields, is the headlight ‘casquette’. While the practise of combining the main instruments and switchgear into the headlight shell was common to many British motorcycle manufacturers after World War II, what made Royal Enfield’s take on the trend unique was its incorporation of two small pilot lights, positioned above the headlight. First seen on English-built 1954 Royal Enfields, this largely redundant feature is still a part of the Indian-built Royal Enfield design today.