Travels on an Indian India Enfield in India

Going nowhere in Delhi

We landed in Delhi, found a cheap hotel and within three hours were in the Enfield Bullet showroom. After much negotiating, (about half of which was in Hindi through our Indian friend), we ended up parting with about a thousand pounds each for two 35Occ "special" Bullets. "Special" because they had been made to order for someone else, but we had more money and didn't want to wait 10 days for a normal one. The final sum also included money for the B.A. or Baksheesh Account, and money for getting the bikes registered quickly and to foreigners, I've still got the receipt with the B.A. entry on it. Also included was lifetime road tax, 6 months third party insurance, twin leading shoe front brakes, chrome tank, rear carrier, 12V electrics and a huge pair of leg shields / dog deflectors. When we asked about the dubious quality of the rack the salesman said it was like Japanese things, not made to last forever. Well that was it, we'd paid for two brand new bikes, to be collected the next day, within seven hours of arriving in India. Not bad.

Ess Aar motors

When we arrived at the shop the next day, one bike was there, the other arrived 10 minutes later with the paint still wet on the number plates. Eventually mine started. They agreed to weld the stand back on and fix the indicators and sidelights. OK we were off.

Now I'm fairly used to British bikes, but spare a thought for my friend. She's got a 200cc Honda Benly, electric start, and is used to the traffic round Reading. Now she's on a 350 ancient thumper, gear change on the "wrong" side, and upside down (1 up 3 down, plus lots of neutrals at random positions, except between 1st and 2nd). Its hot, the bikes are overheating and it's rush hour in Delhi. We got lost. The bikes would stop without warning. There were cars, bikes, taxis, rickshaws, people, cows, dogs, goats, fruit-stalls, hawkers, beggars, lorries and scooters four lanes deep. Some were on the road, others on the pavement. Some were on the right side of the road, others thought it quicker to try the other side. Everyone thought they could improve traffic flow by using their horns. We never worked out the right of way at roundabouts. Everywhere was chaos and the bikes would just cut out in the middle of it all. To start a Honda Benly you press a button. To start a Bullet you get the piston to just before TDC on the compression stroke, use the decompression lever to get it over the top, then "apply a swinging powerful stroke to the kick-starter" - a quote from the handbook. Then try again and hope it doesn't kick back and break your ankle, if you are lucky it starts. Anyhow, being far removed from the afore-mentioned Benly, we had to keep swapping bikes. It would be another three days before Ali had perfected the art of starting the thing. I'd put my bike on its stand, usually in the second or third lane, dodge the cars, bikes and animals, ignore the horns, shouts and beggars, and jump on the other bike. Hopefully, by this time Ali would have got to my bike before it stopped. I'd then apply the "swinging powerful stroke" to the other bike, and hope it didn't kick back. We continued like this for about two hours getting hotter and dirtier. My clutch was playing up, the bikes were hot, we were hot. It was noisy and we were beginning to despair, then suddenly we were out of Delhi. One minute we were going nowhere, the next it was up to the dizzy heights of 30 mph. (running-in speed). The only thing we hit was a bull, and it didn't seem to mind too much. The bikes cooled down and we were away. This is what we came to India for.

Rules of the road

It didn't take long before we worked out the right of way laws:

1. Cows
2. Buses and lorries
3. Cars
4. Big bikes (us)
5. Scooters
6. Bicycles
7. People
8. Dogs

A few bikes had lorry horns fitted but we felt this was cheating. We saw a dead dog about every 50 miles, and a dead truck about every 100 miles. If you drive a lorry you can overtake, pull out or do a U-turn whenever you feel like it. Looking is optional, and if it's only a motorbike that's coming, then that's OK, you've got right of way. Unfortunately once every 100 miles another truck overtakes at the same time and they would crash. Cows have supreme right of way because they are big enough to cause grief if hit by a bus, and so stupid they won't get out of the way, even with twin 100 dB air horns 6 inches behind their rear, they also have the supreme advantage of being sacred. We never worked out why cows chose the middle of the road to sleep in.

Watch that cow up ahead ...

We got very good at reading the road ahead. If there were two trucks coming towards us we knew the second would pull out to overtake as we came along. Well, why not? They have got the right of way by default, big horns, and a 2 mph faster lorry shouldn't hold up the rest of the traffic. Our trials riding improved as we kept being forced off the road. Our horn technique changed subtly from the reserved English polite "pip, I'm here, please don't get offended because I'm using my horn but can I have a bit of room please?" to "BEEEEP, BEEEEP, BEEEEP, BIP, BIP, BIP, BEEEEE .... EEEP, OUT THE WAY, BEEP, BEEEP BEEEE .... EEP". Two 12V horns used in unison did actually have some effect when pressed for about 5 minutes. This horn technique worked on scooters, bikes and people, had a limited effect on cars and lorries, and none what so ever on the sacred cows. We also started off by waiting for trains at level crossings, it's in the highway code I'm sure - "stop at a lowered barrier and wait for the train to pass" - or something to that effect. We hadn't got a copy of the Indian highway code, in fact I doubt there is such a thing, but it would read "jump the queue, inside or outside the waiting traffic, it's not important. Use both sides of the road, nothing will be coming the other way because the barriers are down. Go on, use the pavement as well, crowd as near to the barrier as you can, it will help every one get across quickly when the barrier comes up. Use your horn too, it may make the train come quicker. If there's the slightest, most remote possibility that you may just be able to get your vehicle (or livestock) either under or round the barrier then have a go, everyone else will be and you don't want to be left behind. If someone with a cap and uniform blows a whistle while you are crossing it means hurry up, the train is in sight, it does not mean stop and wait for the train to pass. If your truck develops a flat tyre while crowding round the barrier stop, leave it there and jack it up on the smallest, oldest, weakest, rustiest jack you can find - the tarmac will be hot and it will sink in but that's OK. Take the wheel off and leave the vehicle unattended to sink to a dangerous angle while you find a replacement. This will cause a long tail back but you will be at the front of the queue once you find a replacement in a few days time. We joined in. 380 Ibs of Bullet at 45 degrees, enough to get the wing mirrors under the barrier, is quite heavy actually, but we got fed-up of being told by locals to jump the barriers, so it soon became second nature. We could even pip the horn at the same time after a bit of practice.

Finding our way

"Hotel" in Hindi is "Hotel" which is quite lucky. One evening we found ourselves near a small town as it got dark. As usual the lights didn't work. My headlight had filled with water after some rain and then the bulb blew of course. The other bike's lights either came on or went off when you turned the handlebars, the resulting sparks doing little to light the road ahead. We were getting in need of a place to stay so in our best Hindi we shouted "Hotel" at any likely looking people. We were directed into narrower and narrower streets. They became more and more crowded. The bikes kept stopping. Ali, who by now had mastered the "swinging powerful stroke", would attract quite an audience, all eager to advise and help by pulling levers and switches when it failed to start first kick. How could a white girl know how to start a motorbike? Better give her some help. We were hot and needed a hotel, there was a small child who didn't seem to be doing much so I balanced him on my tank, the back seat being full of luggage. Following his directions we took him further and further from his parents. He did us proud and we found the town's only hotel. We would have liked to thank him but lost him under the crowd which had gathered to see 'Whites on Bikes'. Our bikes were unloaded and, with our luggage, lifted up the 2 ft step into the hotel foyer by our devoted Indian fans. We retired to a welcome bed and the crowd dispersed.

Signs to major towns are written in English - good. Signs to other places are often written in squiggle (Hindi), Oh. People were always helpful and friendly. This is how we would find our way. Approaching a junction, not sure of the way to Agra for example. "Agra, Agra, Agra?", this to a promising looking chap. "Agra, Agra?". Blank look. Again "Agra?". Then a bloke beside him, or behind him, or from a shop next door would say "Ah, Agra" exactly the same way we had said it! There would then be some discussion, explaining to other locals where we were going. An arm would then wave in a vague, vague direction of the road we wanted. We were apprehensive but they were always right. We also used a compass quite a lot, not so useful in the Home Counties, but when there are only a couple of roads to choose from it's quite useful.


We arrived in Udaipur a quite few years after the James Bond film crew, and found a nice hotel. The only slight problem was that it was up a long steep narrow alley, then round a few 90 degree bends before you entered the courtyard above. The alley was too steep to push the bikes up, too narrow to walk them up with the engine running, and there was a sacred cow tethered half way along. Half of the ramp had steps cut into it. Good hotels are hard to find so it was time to test the stunt capabilities of these not-so-nimble machines. They were unloaded to make them narrower and lighter. I had just started to get the first bike lined up for the run when people started to realise what was going to happen. "Yes, yes, no problem, no problem". More people gathered. Tourists got the cameras out. The traffic was stopped. I roared across the road, up the ramp, clipping the mirror on the side of a house (for effect), dodged the sacred cow, a child who was coming to see what the noise was about, and made it round the sharp bend at the end. The exhaust note bounced from wall to wall just to let the town know we had arrived. We then had to repeat the episode with the other bike. Coming down the next morning was no mean feat either.

What we hit

The first thing I hit was the bull in Delhi, in fact the only things we hit were animals. Ali ran over a cow's hoof, almost hit a monkey and gave a dog a headache with her front wheel. I was overtaking an elephant and was whipped by its tail, not the sort of thing that happens in Southsea. The most damage was done to the bikes when we took them on a train journey. We were ripped off on the fare for a start. When they arrived at the other end it was minus a front brake lever, wing mirror, broken leg shield and a ripped seat. It was 2 am, we'd been on a train for over 24 hours, 2nd class, and had just had to wait 2 hours for the door of the guards van to be opened. Even in this mood I lost the argument over compensation. I knew I would - if it goes forward it can't be broken. New parts at the Enfield agent set us back almost 3 pounds.

A familiar sight

About the bikes

The Bullet is still the bike to have in India. "Ah, Enfield, very good motorcycle". We never had the heart to say that actually they weren't. I presume the exported models are better quality than the Indian ones. The design isn't too bad, it has lasted over 40 years almost unchanged. The worst thing about the bikes is the build quality, especially the electrics. I called my bike "Bubonic" because it's black and plagued with problems. The bikes are actually guaranteed for 6 months, however, this doesn't cover vibration or oil leaks. Our first free service cost about 20 quid. I would actually pay to keep an Indian mechanic off my bike so that was the last time it saw a dealer. About half the things that went wrong could be traced to the mechanic at the shop we bought them from, the other half to being badly put together in the factory. Nothing actually broke, it just needed adjusting, bolting or welding on again, or hitting with a hammer.

We had had our bikes converted to 12V. Sorry, we had most of the bike converted to 12V. Less important things like indicators and sidelights were 6V and blew straight away. It became a mission to keep all the lights working. One chap tapped the illuminated speedo, one evening and said, "I've never seen that before, very good". Apart from the bulbs blowing daily, (12V ones included), most of the connectors hadn't been pushed together properly. This caused the lights to flicker, sparks to come from the headlight shell, and the bike to cut out when you went round a corner. Our regulators were fine but we met some Israelis who were on their 6th. The ignition switch fell apart on one bike, the other wouldn't stop when you took the key out. The timing took ages to get right but once we hit on the right settings was OK. The same went for the carb. Nothing had been set up at the factory. It is very difficult to explain that your bike is faulty because it misses a bit, or is difficult to start. If it goes forward it works. A plug would last about 2 days, then had to be cleaned or replaced - could we find a wire brush? Everything seemed to be sold form little boxes on street corners, except wire brushes.

We also had problems finding the right oil. Oil is oil, looks the same, must be the same, truck or bike - no problem. When we did find 5 litres of the right stuff so we could change the oil we couldn't find the recycling point anywhere. We got up early one morning and drove along a quiet dirt track ... Sadam would have been proud of us. The chains stretched loads to start with, and then settled down. The tappets needed adjusting a few times on one bike, and the front wheel bearings came loose. A huge clunk was a loose engine-mounting bolt. A few spokes came undone. The jets got blocked on one carb. The clutches had to be adjusted once or twice and didn't like sitting in traffic. My bike would get through about 1/2 a litre of oil on a hot day, the other was almost oil tight. We would ride for about 12 hours a day, cover about 400 miles then spent about an hour tinkering. They got better as we sorted things and as the engines loosened up, nothing major went wrong during our 2000 miles, and they are dead easy to fix, dead cheap too. Every spare we could think of was purchased - pistons, rings, valves, springs, pushrods, clutch, gaskets, spokes, cables and it all came to under 30 quid.

Why did we buy these spares? Because after the month's tour of India we turned the wheels west and crossed the Pakistan border to head back home to Britain. Despite the truck drivers, touring round India for a month on the Bullets was splendid. The bikes are just right for the type of riding, they are comfortable and rode the potholes well. The low revving motor is relaxed, full of character, and sounds nice. The bikes are fast enough to overtake most things on the road and would go for 12 hours on one tank of petrol. We got to many places we would never have found by public transport, and met lots of really great people. The low life of every country is found in the main tourist traps, get out of them and you see a different side of the country.

One of the Bullets outside a village in Pakistan.


Both bikes (and riders) have since covered the 11,250 miles back to Britain via Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Cyprus (yes a bit of a detour here), Bulgaria, Rumania, Hungary, Slovakia, Poland, the Czech republic, Germany, Luxemburg and France with no major accidents, breakdowns, kidnaps, robberies or shootings. We still had fun though.

We did the trip in 1996 / 97, both Bullets are still running well, mine being used daily and being kept outside for a few years is just about due a re-build. I enjoyed breaking down so much I went out and bought a 40 year old Ural in Poland a few years later ...
The Ural trip