Royal Enfield Bullet 500 EFI
Authentic Styling From A Long-Ago Eraby TJ Hinton, on
Royal Enfield brings old-school, British charm to the American market like no other builder in the world, and the Bullet 500 EFI is no exception. A genuinely dated design, not just another retro/tribute machine, it packs a 27-horsepower thumper in with all that antique appeal. The 87 mph top speed means it is capable of keeping up with any and all legal traffic, but not without a few issues (more on that later). Classic charm and a 499 cc fuel-injected engine make the Bullet a modern blast-from-the-past in the best possible way.
Continue reading for my review of the Royal Enfield Bullet 500 EFI.
The “Royal Enfield” marque started out in 1890 as a British manufacturer, and through time started assembling units in India before going defunct in 1970 back home in Mother England. Since then, the factory in India began to actually manufacture the parts to build the machines inherited from the Brits, and it has recently designed its first in-house engine and bike with its “Himalayan” model, but that’s a subject for another day.
While the Bullet name has been in play since 1931, the overall looks of the current model seems to channel the ’50s or ’60s with its overall panache. This starts bright and early with a strut front fender over a good, old-fashioned laced rim. Really, it’s only the hydraulic brake disc that gives it away as a modern machine in this area. Rwu front forks come with monochrome fork covers that cover the inner-fork tube in its entirety from the fork cap down past the top of the sliders. A monochrome headlight can sits nestled in the tripletree with a chrome bezel and visor to dress it up, and that bit of bling ties in nicely with the bullet turn-signal housings.
Moving aft, we come to the very dated-looking, 3.83-gallon fuel tank complete with badging and pinstripes. A two-up seat gives the Bullet a more modern look than it would have with the sprung solo seat used on other models, and it comes with a blackout oh-shit handle so the passenger has something to hang on to other than the pilot, or maybe as a hardpoint to which you can strap a jacket or some other light cargo.
Matching chrome-bullet housings contain the rear turn signals with a huge, decidedly uncool-looking blackout tail light housing to finish out the lights on the rear fender. Yeah, not a fan of that detail, but it’s definitely not a deal breaker by any means. Like the fuel tank, the triangular side covers come badged and striped for more classic appeal and some continuity of design to tie everything together. Naturally, the engine just finishes the look with a final dose of British-ness to close the deal.
Steel tubing makes up the single-downtube frame, and the assembly relies on the engine as a stressed member to complete the assembly while lightening things up to make the 412-pound curb weight. The factory doesn’t mess around with any kind of cutesy setup at the swingarm, but instead runs a twin-side, tubular yoke to articulate the rear wheel with a pair of coil-over shocks to support the rear of the bike and dampen the motion. Beyond the adjustable preload in back, the suspension components are pure vanilla, and ride quality is about what you would expect; sufficient at best. Suspension travel clocks in at 5.11-inches up front with 3.14 inches of travel at the axle in back.
A 280 mm front disc and twin-pot caliper slows the front wheel, but the rear wheel comes with a quaint little 153 mm drum for middling stopping power. The saddle rides at 32.5 inches off the ground — tiptoe country for shorter riders — and a set of 19-inch hoops finish off the rolling chassis. Overall, the bones give us a compact, 54-inch wheelbase with five inches of ground clearance.
Even more charming than the looks of the rest of the bike is the little gem of an engine. It carries that British charm in spades, and reminds me very much of the mid-century plants we saw from other Brit manufacturers. The air-cooled thumper comes laid out in a longstroke configuration with an 84 mm bore and 90 mm stroke that gives it its 499 cc displacement. Compression is dead low at only 8.5-to-1, so you can probably get away with the cheap pump gas without suffering any pre-ignition/detonation/dieseling, which is a rare thing on modern street bikes.
As dated as the engine itself may be, it isn’t all stone-age stuff, not quite anyway. The mill utilizes a Keihin electronic fuel injection system to meter the induction, no doubt an effort to help it meet ever-increasing emissions standards and bring performance up a bit. Indeed, it does seem to make the engine behave a bit better than the old carbureted models with slightly faster acceleration, but it still takes a leisurely 12-seconds or so to spool up to 60 mph from a standing start.
And yeah, it’s a thumper, so vibration is definitely outside most people’s comfort zone at highway speeds, but it is tolerable nearer the bottom-end of the spectrum. Grunt output maxes out at four grand with 30 pounds of grunt and 27 ponies that come on fully at 5,250 rpm, but that doesn’t tell the whole story; the mill is so torquey, it has something to give if you roll on at any point in the bottom end, no need to wind it up till your teeth rattle. “A tractor” you say? Maybe, but some of us like riding tractors, after all.
A standard wet clutch couples engine power to the five-speed transmission that comes with a kick-starter to backup the electric one if you need an emergency start, or to just look cool whilst kicking the old girl into life.
The Bullet 500 EFI will set you back a cool $4,999 MSRP, and it can be had in black or Forest Green.
This was a tough one to find a match for. Sure, there are plenty of retro-tributes out there with much larger engines in them. And, there are a few rides that, like the Bullet, are in a state of arrested development as far as their visage is concerned, but again we run into too great of a displacement offset. With that in mind, I found myself looking at the V7 II “Stone” from Moto Guzzi. The Stone doesn’t necessarily channel any specific era or model, but instead just has a general air that merely suggests at the last century. It comes with blackout treatment for a bit of a custom vibe with fork gaiters that enforce the dated appeal, but it can’t hold a candle to the antiquity that the Bullet fairly exudes.
MG, thankfully, decided to use modern brakes, retro-style be damned. A 320 mm disc and four-pot caliper slows the front wheel, and ’Guzzi leaves the rear drum to the history books with a 260 mm hydraulic disc in back. ABS comes as part of the standard equipment package, but that’s not necessarily a selling point for true retro-bike lovers. Suspension is fairly vanilla across the board, so there’s no advantage to be had there by either marque.
The Stone does enjoy a bit of a displacement advantage with a total of 744 cc in a V-twin configuration versus the 499 cc, one-lung mill in the Bullet, and of course, it comes with a much more modern pedigree from an engineering standpoint. Slightly oversquare with an 80 mm bore and 74 mm stroke, the ’Guzzi cranks out 46.9-ponies to the Enfield’s 27 (ouch), with 43 pound-feet of torque versus the 30-pounds o’ grunt from the Bullet. Plus, it is infinitely more comfortable at speed as far as vibration is concerned.
It should come as no surprise that the Bullet blows the Stone away at the checkout counter. An $8,999 sticker puts the Stone at almost twice as much as the Bullet, but to be honest, you have to really want a genuine new-old bike to even consider the Bullet. That said, if riding something out of the history books ain’t your cup o’ tea, then the price difference isn’t likely to draw you into Enfield country anyway.
“What a fun little bike! Though the ride is about as vintage as the looks, as a former ironhead rider, I’ll say that the raw quality of the ride adds an element of charm all its own. Just go ahead and disabuse yourself of the notion that you will be making any epic trips on the thing, and you’ll be fine.”
My wife and fellow motorcycle writer, Allyn Hinton, says, "To be fair, the Bullet is a child from a long-ago era before superhighways and break-neck speed limits so it fits right in with the India bike culture. It wasn’t meant to go long periods at highways speeds, so vibration wasn’t a problem for its intended use. I think nowadays, it would make a dandy commuter or solid transportation to take you anywhere but for distances on the highway. It’s lovely and charming and as my husband pointed out, it is not a tribute bike, it is the bike. The styling doesn’t get more authentic than this."
|Type:||Single Cylinder, 4 stroke|
|Bore x stroke:||84mm x 90mm|
|Compression Ratio:||8.5 : 1|
|Maximum Power:||27.2 bhp @ 5250 rpm|
|Maximum Torque:||41.3 Nm @ 4000 rpm|
|Ignition System:||Digital Electronic Ignition|
|Gearbox:||5 Speed Constant Mesh|
|Engine Oil:||15 W 50 API, SL Grade JASO MA|
|Fuel Supply:||Keihin Electronic Fuel Injection|
|Air Cleaner:||Paper Element|
|Chassis & Suspension:|
|Type:||Single downtube, using engine as stressed member|
|Front suspension:||Telescopic, 35mm forks, 130mm travel|
|Rear suspension:||Twin gas charged shock absorbers with 5-step adjustable preload, 80mm travel|
|Max Torque:||30 ft lbs|
|Ground Clearance:||5 in|
|Seat Height:||32.5 in|
|Curb Weight:||412 lbs|
|Fuel Capacity:||3.83 Gal|
|Brakes & Tyres:|
|Tyres Fr.:||3.25 x 19|
|Tyres Rr.:||3.50 x 19|
|Brakes Front:||280mm Disc, 2-Piston caliper|
|Brakes Rear:||153mm Drum, Single Lead Internal Expanding|
|Tail Lamp:||21 W / 5 W|
|Turn Signal Lamp:||-|
|Electrical System:||12 volt - DC|
|Battery:||12 volt, 14 Ah|
|Head Lamp:||60 W / 55 W, HALOGEN|
|Color:||Black, Forest Green|