Royal Enfield was the name under which the Enfield Cycle Company made motorcycles, bicycles, lawnmowers and stationary engines. The legacy of weapons manufacture is reflected in the logo, a cannon, and their motto "Made like a gun, goes like a bullet". Use of the brand name Royal Enfield was licensed by The Crown in 1890.
Royal Enfield produced bicycles at its Redditch factory until it closed in early 1967. The company's last new bicycle was the 'Revelation' small wheeler, which was released in 1965. Production of motorcycles ceased in 1970 and the company was dissolved in 1971.
In 1956 Enfield of India started assembling Bullet motorcycles under licence from UK components, and by 1962 were manufacturing complete bikes. Enfield of India bought the rights to use the Royal Enfield name in 1995. Royal Enfield production, based in Tiruvottiyur, Chennai, continues and Royal Enfield is now the oldest motorcycle brand in the world still in production with the Bullet model enjoying the longest motorcycle production run of all time.
In 1893, the Enfield Manufacturing Company Ltd was registered to manufacture bicycles. By 1899, Enfield were producing quadricycles with De Dion engines and experimenting with a heavy bicycle frame fitted with a Minerva engine clamped to the front downtube. In 1912, the Royal Enfield Model 180 sidecar combination was introduced with a 770 cc V-twin JAP engine which was raced successfully in the Isle of Man TT and at Brooklands.
In 1911, prior to the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, Enfield added the word "Royal" to its name. They supplied large numbers of motorcycles to the British War Department and also won a motorcycle contract for the Imperial Russian Government. Enfield used its own 225 cc two-stroke single and 425 cc V-twin engines. They also produced an 8 hp motorcycle sidecar model fitted with a Vickers machine gun.
In 1921, Enfield developed a new 976 cc twin, and in 1924 launched the first Enfield four-stroke 350 cc single using a JAP engine. In 1928, Royal Enfield began using the bulbous 'saddle' tanks and centre-spring girder front forks, one of the first companies to do so.
During World War II, The Enfield Cycle Company was called upon by the British authorities to develop and manufacture military motorcycles. The models produced for the military were the WD/C 350 cc sidevalve, WD/CO 350 cc OHV, WD/D 250 cc SV, WD/G 350 cc OHV and WD/L 570 cc SV. One of the most well-known Enfields was the Royal Enfield WD/RE, known as the Flying Flea, a lightweight 125 cc motorcycle designed to be dropped by parachute with airborne troops.
Postwar, Royal Enfield resumed production of the single cylinder ohv 350cc model G and 500cc Model J, with rigid rear frame and telescopic front forks.
In 1948, a groundbreaking development in the form of rear suspension springing was developed, initially for competition model "trials" models (modern enduro type machines), but this was soon offered on the roadgoing Model Bullet 350cc, a single cylinder OHV. This was a very popular seller, offering a comfortable ride. A 500cc version appeared shortly after. A later 1950s version of the Bullet manufacturing rights and jigs, dies and tools was sold to India for manufacture there, and where developed versions continue to this day.
In 1949, Royal Enfields version of the now popular selling parallel twins appeared. This 500cc version was the forerunner of a range of Royal Enfield Meteors, 700cc Super Meteors and 700cc Constellations. Offering good performance at modest cost, these sold widely, if somewhat quietly in reputation. The 700cc Royal Enfield Constellation Twin has been described as the first Superbike.
The 250cc class was important in the UK as it was the largest engine which a 'learner' could ride without passing a test. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Royal Enfield produced a number of 250 cc machines, including a racer, the 'GP' and a Scrambler, the 'Moto-X'. The Clipper was a base-model tourer with the biggest-seller being the Crusader, a 248 cc pushrod OHV single producing 18 bhp (13 kW).
In 1965, a 21 bhp (16 kW) variant called the Continental GT, with red GRP tank, five-speed gearbox (which was also an option on the Crusader), clip-on handlebars, rearset footrests, swept pipe and hump-backed seat was launched. It sold well with its race-styling including a fly-screen resembling a race number plate which doubled as a front number plate mount.
The Avon 'Speedflow' full sports fairing was available as an extra in complimentary factory colours of red and white.
Other variants were the Olympic and 250 Super 5, notable for use of leading-link front suspension (all the other 250 road models had conventional telescopic forks) and the 250 'Turbo Twin', fitted with the Villiers 247 cc twin cylinder two-stroke engine.
During the onslaught of the better engineered Japanese motorcycle manufacturers in the late sixties and early seventies, the English factories made a final attempt with the 1962–;1968 series I and Series II. Made largely for the US market, it sported lots of chrome and strong performance, completing the quarter mile in less than 13 seconds at speeds well above 175 km/h (105 mph). It became very popular in the US, but the classic mistake of not being able to supply this demand added to the demise of this last English-made Royal Enfield.
The Redditch factory ceased production in 1967 and the Bradford-on-Avon factory closed in 1970, which meant the end of the British Royal Enfield. After the factory closed a little over two hundred Series II Interceptor engines were stranded at the dock in 1970. These engines had been on their way to Floyd Clymer in the US; but Clymer had just died and his export agents, Mitchell's of Birmingham, were left to dispose of the engines. They approached the Rickman brothers for a frame. The main problem of the Rickman brothers had always been engine supplies, so a limited run of Rickman Interceptors were promptly built.
As far as the motorcycle brand goes, though, it would appear that Royal Enfield is the only motorcycle brand to span three centuries, and still going, with continuous production. A few of the original Redditch factory buildings remain (2009) and are part of the Enfield Industrial Estate.