Thursday, October 11, 2012

Old wheels

Once upon a time, there were the Matchless, Norton, or Triumph. With the British still looming large over India, these motorcycles were the objects of desire for young men in India. Somehow they died out and were replaced by bikes from Czechoslovakia - the Jawa and the Yezdi, which ruled the hearts of young men despite a bit of a knocking from the 'Bobby' bike - the Rajdoot getting a big leg up thanks to the 1973 movie. And then came the Japs, Suzuki, Honda, Yamaha and Kawasaki, in the 1980s. Of late, the newcomers have been from across the world - BMW, Harley Davidson, Triumph, Ducati, Hyosung - each of them carving out their niche in the market.

Through all of that, one company has been chugging along. First as the British company, then as an Indian company.  Enfield India practically took over the motorcycling heritage of Royal Enfield. Headquartered in Madras, Enfield had one brand - and what a brand it was! - the Bullet, which was all machismo. When the Japanese 100cc motorcycles landed in India, the 350cc Bullet scoffed: an ad from that time said, "Let the boys have their toys. It takes a man to ride the Bullet". Yet, in what appeared to be a flanking strategy, Enfield India also launched the 50cc Silver Plus and Explorer, keeping two other higher-end brands of the defunct German motorcycle maker Zundapp, Enterprise and Fury, in reserve. 

None of those brands or bikes survive today. Enfield India is now known as Royal Enfield and is a unit of Eicher, which also makes commercial vehicles and autoparts. But Enfield's bikes still look almost the same as they did 70 years ago - compare the new one, decked out for its puja, with the picture of a Bullet of the 1940s from this link!

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