2010 Royal Enfield Bullet C5 Military: details

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The 2010 Royal Enfield Bullet C5 Military is slow, air-cooled, mostly metal, handles likes a tractor and uses parts that really haven’t changed much in half a century. But look at it, it hasn’t changed in half a century! Where other bikes are retro, the Enfield is authentic. “Military” stands for matte green paint on what’s otherwise a Bullet C5 Classic, but the other big update here is fuel-injection. Could that be enough to turn an anachronism into a modern performer?

Photos: Grant Ray

THE GOOD

- It feels like 1955 every time you go for a ride. The basic design hasn’t changed much since Enfield was sold to India that year.

- A new/old English military bike made in India that’s still used as a third world workhorse by the masses? That’s about as real as a motorcycle can get.

- The Bullet C5 Military is still an archetypal, golden era 500cc air-cooled 4-stroke thumper.

- It’s not really vintage British, so it doesn’t leak oil like a sieve.

- You also don’t have to be a master mechanic to keep it running.

- Fuel injection and an electronic ignition means the 500 starts on the first button press every time.

- Royal Enfield is a Harley for hipsters. This could also be considered a mark against Bullet, but here’s the rub. The Bullet, like Harley-Davidson did on a larger scale with hundreds of thousands of Boomers, is putting an untapped demographic on bikes. These are young new riders that aren’t interested in space rockets. Yes, this type of rider starts out as a poser, but in the end, this means fresh blood for motorcycling. And anyone who says they didn’t start out as a poser on their first bike is a liar.

- Also like Harley, RE is selling to riders that gave up years ago and are looking to tip-toe back into biking. Again, more riders on the road is good.

- You know how those old guys on chromed-out vintage-style cruisers who wish everyone would look at them like they’re the coolest bikers ever, but the onlookers are really just laughing? On the Bullet C5 Military, no one is laughing. The Bullet gets crazy attention from everyone. Just remember it’s the bike, not you, that everyone is freaking out about.

- It has a front disc brake instead of a tiny drum brake. Yay for (sort of) stopping!

- Unlike the original British Enfields, the modern 12 volt wiring harness does not have “Lucas” stamped on it. Which means if you fail to reach your destination, it isn’t because all the lights suddenly blew out and you ran off the cliff or the wiring melted and burnt your bike to smolders while you watch from the highway shoulder, rubbing your sore parts from having to bail off it. Build quality of the harness is also up from older Indian Enfields.

- Nobody knows when you’re hooning because hooning a Royal Enfield outside of acceptable and legal bounds is almost impossible.

- The Bullet uses plastic for the switch housings, but not much else. The rest is almost entirely metal, rubber and leather. This knowledge of this kind of build quality and the resulting tactility is strangely yet immensely satisfying.

- Thanks to all that metal, the bike isn’t totaled when you drop it or your neighbor backs over it, instead your neighbor’s stupid Crossover needs a new rear axle.

- Scratches and dings are considered a desirable patina on military bikes.

- The chassis is surprisingly stable at speed, so the bike feels very planted on the road and sticks to a line.

- It’s diminutive scale makes it a perfect starter bike without looking like a lame starter bike.

- Available in all 50 States.

- Definitely cooler than a new Triumph Bonneville.

- With a fuel economy of roughly 85mpg, fueling it up won’t break the bank.

- Riding this bike fast requires skill and endurance, which makes you feel like a badass when you pull it off.

THE BAD

- It’s not really 1955, neither am I in India whizzing through the streets of Mumbai, much less hauling 80lbs of survival supplies while scouting enemy positions in the Himalayas.

- 65mph or faster is nearly impossible for more than the tiniest of bursts. Not because the bike won’t hit at least 85 mph, but because the vibration that comes up through the pegs will rattle your eyeballs out of their sockets.

- Commuting at legal speeds for normally acceptable distances on a regular basis on the Interstate or in high-speed suburban traffic is therefore impossible, which means the Enfield is strictly limited to bopping around all the nearby neighborhoods. Yes, you technically could take it on cross-country trips, just like you technically could repeatedly stab your ear with a pencil.

- The engine has all the characteristics of a single-cylinder powertrain from 1955 — those previously mentioned vibrations, weak power and it’s slow to make what little power it has. 27.5bhp in a motorcycle with a wet weight of 412lbs means the bike can barely get out of its own way when a distracted SUV driver nonchalantly tries to mow you down.

- By modern standards, the engine takes forever to warm up on colder days.

- Stalling when pulling up to a light or stop sign is not uncommon, especially in cold weather.

- Having to blip the throttle on a new bike with fuel-injection just to keep it running is just silly.

- It carries its weight low, so you never really feel like you’re pushing around 412lbs (wet), but that’s still an awful lot for a beginner bike.

- The kick-start somehow got tossed out when the carburetor was replaced with fuel injection. Authentic classic bike status downgraded.

- Indian taxi drivers will accidentally run you off the road out of frenzied excitement from seeing an Enfield for the first time since they came West. Seriously, watch out.

- While the transmission has been improved, it’s only gone from almost unusable to annoyingly clunky and mildly predictable when it’s going to miss a shift. Riders of the older, right-foot-change Enfields will scoff, saying the improvement is amazing and we’re being overly critical. However, the new tranny is still only good if this is 1966. Yes, that’s a decade jump ahead of 1955-good, but this isn’t 1966, it’s nearly 2011.

- Once you commit to a line for a sweeper, don’t expect to make any quick and subtle adjustments, because you’re not going to be able to.

- The rear brake is still a drum brake, which makes it pretty pointless at speed.

- The fuel light isn’t exactly trustworthy. It stayed lit even when the tank was filled to the point of overflowing.

- The only corners it’s good at turning are 90-degree ones in cities taken at a walking pace.

- It’s still a Harley for hipsters.

- $6395 is a bit rich for a bike with 27.5bhp. For a grand more, you could have a brand-new Triumph Bonneville that’d cruise on the highway all day in comfort or, for several grand less,  you could have any used retro bike of your choice.

  • Peter

    My buddy Aaron and I were headed to a rally one morning so he pulled up to my house on his shop’s demo Enfield. As we’re getting ready to head out and he’s warming up the bike, I noticed it was smoking.

    “Dude, there’s oil on your pipes!” I said.

    “What? It’s British-ish. It burns oil.”

    “Yeah, but it’s supposed to burn inside the pipes, not off of them…”

    So we shut down the bike. There’s oil dripping from the bottom of the air box. We’re a bit confused and decided to pull the cover off.

    Blorp.

    There’s now a big ass pool of oil in the middle of my driveway and all over the right side of the bike, coating the exhaust and most of the frame. Of course, I’m a bit concerned. Oil isn’t supposed to be in the air box. We called our friendly local (hungover) Enfield mechanic to get the scoop.

    Apparently EFI Enfields have a bad habit of puking oil through the intake and into their air box. It’s a common issue from what I gather. And the factory hasn’t been assed to fix it.

    At least the chain stays lubed that way.

  • Johndo

    Nice review. If I had money to have 10 bikes, I’d certainly buy one just for the kick of the experience. That said, 27HP on a 400lbs+ bike isnt too impressive. 85mpg is though.

  • markbvt

    There’s some crazy, masochistic part of me that really wants to get a Royal Enfield (better yet, the older carbed military model that came with military-style panniers) and go touring on it.

    But any time I have that thought, about two seconds later I remind myself that if I want to go minimalist touring on a fuel-efficient single-cylinder standard, I’d be much better off picking up a Suzuki TU250. Cheaper, and it’s actually reliable.

    But it just wouldn’t be as cool.

    • Peter

      There’s always the Ural military. The side car even has a machine gun mount!

  • robotribe

    I liked it for about a day and from a distance. Your last point is the same conclusion I came to. While it is arguably cooler than a Bonneville, the obvious cons are too high a tax to justify buying this over a used modern Bonneville.

  • http://www.thisblueheaven.com Mark D

    That price makes really drives it out of the “beginner” market; a TU250 is a more reliable, starter-friendly bike, and is about $3.5k; and as you rightly noted, a Bonneville is only $1k more, and far more versatile. Personally, if I had the money, I’d buy the TU250 and spend the different on Belstaff gear.

    Its a niche market, but I’m assuming they aren’t importing 20,000 of them! “And anyone who says they didn’t start out as a poser on their first bike is a liar.” – Wise words

  • equ

    Cool bike. Having just bought an 09 tu250x and an awesome 01 w650 this summer, my slots are full. On the rare occasion, without sufficient warm-up, the tu250 also stalls into a stop sign. So I guess FI is not a full solution to cold running. Otherwise the suzuki is perfectly competent around town. Haven’t really gone past 55mph on it and it’s great below that.

    The w is in another class. I love it and I never expect to sell it. Was shopping for bonnevilles originally, test rode an 09 then a W650 and I knew which one was for me.

  • Tony

    These are the top dogs on the highways in India, loping by trucks and Hero Hondas, usually ridden by a helmet-less guy with sunglasses on. Cool bikes.

  • http://greatjoballweek.blogspot.com/ Case

    No doubt these are one of the coolest bikes around, but I’m disappointed by no kickstart. If it were my money, I’d buy the ural.

  • Andy Keech

    from all accounts thus far it seems that just buying an old Matchless GS60 is a better route than getting a new-but-even-older bike.

  • Andy Keech

    oh Grant, just noticed: big ups on leaving the fuel spill all over the flat black tank. makes it look amazingly authentic.

    the non-studio, non-polished, and shit-beat look of everything you guys do is the best.

    • Istalir

      It’s… olive drab, but I see your point

  • seanslides

    It’s super cool, but this is 2010. I can have nearly 50 mpg, 120 hp, and tires & suspension that stick like glue for 400 pounds and not much more money. Old bikes are cool, but not cool enough for me to ignore 55 years of progress.

  • Ray

    FYI a while ago I discovered that Enfield also manufactures Cozy sidecars while link up to these little wheezy geezers, although I’ve never actually seen one, and that might factor into their desirability for some as well, and the hacks are pretty beautiful and authentic too. One could hook up the Cozy to a Bonnie, TU250, or a W650 too, though…they go for 3 grand and look pretty nice. Look it up.

  • http://www.urbanrider.co.uk UrbanRider

    Royal Enfield have just released the Fury in the UK, no pricing yet.

    Royal Enfield Fury

    Street Tracker, going for a younger market. I think it’s a clever move but their price increases have damaged sales in the UK.

  • Nigel

    local dealer up here in Canada has a 2010 with a sidecar for 10,000cdn, we also have the
    kickstart. http://www.savagecycles.ca

  • Brad

    I was thinking of buying one. But, instead, I’ll poke myself in the ear with a pencil…repeatedly.