What Owning a Royal Enfield Bullet Really Means: Two Wheels and Broken Dreams


What Owning a Royal Enfield Bullet Really Means: Two Wheels and Broken Dreams

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

It’s hard to cross paths with an Indian motorcycling enthusiast who doesn’t want to own the iconic Royal Enfield. The engine’s signature thump is as recognisable as Amitabh Bachchan’s baritone, and just as timeless. Every time I see or hear one roaring past, I am tempted to rush to the nearest Enfield showroom and book one. Still, something always holds me back.

Perhaps it’s just me, as the Royal Enfield Classic Pegasus launched last week, and sold 250 units in under three minutes, proving the bike has climbed to the top of popularity charts like the proverbial Bullet.

Back in the ’90s, the Bullet had the reputation of being tamed only by those bikers who lived and breathed biking. You paid more attention to its upkeep than the paparazzi does to Ishaan and Jahnvi, and called your mechanic more often than bae. The Bullet became the black belt of Indian motorcycles, a symbol that advertised its rider had mastered the esoteric art of biking – and the commitment it demanded kept amateurs at bay.

That changed almost a decade ago, when Royal Enfield realised its stodgy, hard-to-maintain bikes needed an upgrade to appeal to the MacBook generation, used to convenience at their fingertips. Cue the switch to a more accessible and smooth ride, prompting a steady climb to the top of the pantheon, with its cult status mostly intact. Purists cried foul at the introduction of the self-start and other transgressions, but that didn’t seem to matter. Suddenly, everyone knew someone who owned a Bullet, aided by a very canny advertising and marketing campaign.

If you look at an ad for a Bullet, a Harley Davidson, or any cruiser for that matter, they all offer you an escape from the boundaries and restrictions that life’s rat race imposes on you. The bikes are not merely vehicles – they signify the open road, the wind in your hair, just a man one with his machine, one with nature. The bikes signify freedom, or at least the illusion of freedom.

I’ve often noticed how stressed out Bullet riders look compared to the guys on Honda Activas, riding along with no gears to change.

Some people buy costly running shoes with the illusion of running the next marathon. When they realise the only time they run is to catch a train, they begin to wear them daily, much like people who buy a Bullet. The buyers hope to traverse the length and breadth of the country, but end up using it to run errands and get to work. This is why everytime I feel the urge to straddle that 500 cc beast and ride off into the sunset, I ask myself a question that instantly deflates my tyres, “If I buy a Bullet, can I do justice to it? Will I take it on long rides on the highway, leaving the trials and tribulations of urban existence behind?”

After all, that’s what the bike is for. When it all gets too much, you can just hop on your Bullet and ride off without a care in the world. You can feel the wind kiss your face, stop by a ramshackle chai stall, and have the best chai you’ve ever tasted. You can sleep on a creaky yet comfortable charpai under the stars, after smoking a beedi with your new friend, the dhaba owner. You traverse unexplored roads and see our beautiful country with fresh eyes. You finally write that Wordsworthian resignation letter, quit your day job, and ride on happily ever after.

Unfortunately, real life doesn’t play out like an expensively shot Royal Enfield commercial. The reality is that you start up your Bullet with your pulse racing, only to see red, literally and figuratively, as your ride is constantly interrupted by traffic signals. I’ve often noticed how stressed out Bullet riders look compared to the guys on Honda Activas, riding along with no gears to change. Even pedestrians struggle with Indian roads, so what hopes do motorcycle enthusiasts have? Your best case scenario is hitting 40 km/hr before being cut off by an auto-rickshaw driven by Bihar’s answer to Kimi Räikkönen.

I’ve seen enough of my fellow Bullet admirers succumb to its siren song, only to become the person who always talks about going on that road trip, but never actually takes the plunge. In fact, Bullet riders and road trips are like Indian politicians and black money – all talk and no action. After using it to ride to and fro from their office all week, they make bold declarations that when the weekend comes, they will take their cherished steeds out for a spin on the highway and play Jack Kerouac, even if just for a few hours. Except by the time Saturday comes around, they’re nursing a hangover, and are in no capacity to be on the road.

Sunday arrives. The house needs cleaning. Groceries need to be bought. Those who bought a Bullet to find their new selves, realise that it’s also a perfectly serviceable vehicle to ride to the market. So while my dream of owning a Bullet is still alive and well, it only tugs at my heartstrings, and not my purse strings.

After all, I want a bike to carry me, my hopes, and my dreams into the Promised Land. But if I’m buying a vehicle just to carry home two overstuffed cloth bags from Sahakari Bhandar, a Honda Activa is good enough.