This company has been around for over 130 years and is known for creating high-quality motorcycles. But did you know it started with the purchase of a needle-making factory?
The Beginnings of Royal Enfield
The company originated in 1891 when entrepreneurs Albert Eadie and Bob Walker Smith bought a needle manufacturing company that had just entered the bicycle-making market. In 1893, they won a contract with the Royal Small Arms Factory in Enfield supplying precision parts. They celebrated this order by changing the company name to Enfield Manufacturing Company.
Fun Fact: Their first bicycle was called the Enfield.
Five years later, Smith designed a motorized vehicle, the first for the company, comprised of two bicycle frames and an engine. Its name changed to The Enfield Cycle Co. The company shifted focus to motorsports in 1900 after one of its quadricycles entered the first-ever 1000 Mile Trial.
Fun Fact: The 1000 Mile Trial, from London to Edinburgh and back, convinced the English of the importance and functionality of motorized forms of transport.
1901: The Inaugural Motorcycle
Smith and Jules Cobiet designed and produced Enfield’s first motorcycle, which more closely resembled a motorized bicycle than a motorcycle as we know them today.
Motorcycle Production Ramps Up
The first V-twin, which premiered at the Stanley Cycle Show in 1909, saw many competition successes. In 1914, Enfield produced their first two-stroke motorcycle. However, with the onset of World War I, the company shifted its production focus to the 770cc 6 hp V-twin. These bikes were supplied to the U.S., Belgian, British, French, and Imperial Russian armies.
By 1924, Enfield had eight models available, including the Sports Model 351. This model was the first four-stroke with a foot-operated gear change. Enfield also sported a two-stroke ‘Ladies Model.’ In 1928, Enfield replaced outdated flat tanks with saddle tanks.
Enfield produced an impressive 11 models, including both two-stroke and V-twin models.
In 1932, Enfield introduced the legendary Bullet motorcycle. Three versions were available (250cc, 350cc, and 500cc), all with sloper engines, high compression pistons, and foot-operated gear changes.
Just one year later, the Model Z goes up for sale, one of the first bikes aimed at commuters. It boasted leg shields, which protected the rider from the elements.
Enfield gives the Bullet a major facelift in 1936 with the release of the Model JF. It had a four-valve cylinder head and an upright engine, plus a bronze sports version for special order.
Thanks to World War II, Enfield produced a large number of motorcycles designed for military use, along with generators and bicycles. The Flying Flea, one of the most iconic models of the time, could be loaded into parachute cradles and dropped behind enemy lines with the paratroopers.
After the war, Enfield returned its focus to the Bullet, debuting a 350cc model in 1948.
Fun Fact: Two Bullet models were part of the British Trophy team of 1948, bringing both riders a gold medal.
A second Bullet model, this one a 500-twin model, came onto the market in the UK. At the same time, Madras Motors is launched with the intent of importing British motorcycles into India.
Madras Motors gets an order for 500 Bullets from the Indian Army. These bikes were wildly successful because they were easy to maintain and long-lasting.
In 1955, Madras partnered with Redditch to create Enfield India. Its new factory opened in 1956 and started building Bullets, initially from kits imported from Britain.
The famous Continental GT café racer launched to much acclaim, thanks to a team of journalists who rode from John O’Groats to Lands End in less than 24 hours, an impressive feat. This model was one of their most classic designs to date, featuring a fiberglass tank and swept-back exhaust.
Enfield hit some trouble in 1967. Only two models were still in production, so the Redditch facility closed. The Interceptor model continued to be produced in a secondary facility, but this facility closed in 1970.
In a turn of events, Enfield India began exporting the Bullet to Europe and the UK in 1977. This bike quickly took off and saw high sales from motorcycle enthusiasts.
For the first time in over a decade, a new model, the 500cc Bullet, was released in 1989. Three trims were available: Classic, Deluxe, and Superstar trim.
Enfield India had an impressive accomplishment with the production of the first mass-manufactured diesel motorcycle in 1993.
The Eicher Group, a tractor and commercial vehicle manufacturing company, acquired Enfield India in 1994 and renamed it Royal Enfield Motors Limited.
Royal Enfield makes name for itself in 1997 when 40 of its bikes climb the highest motorcycle pass in the world: Khardung La.
The Bullet is back thanks to the Daredevils. This display team, part of the Indian Army Corps of Signals, used 10 Bullets to create a 201-man pyramid. They rode over 200 meters to a new world record in 2001.
Royal Enfield launched the Thunderbird in 2002, which featured a five-speed gearbox (the first since the 1960s). In 2004, Royal Enfield introduced the Electra X, a 500cc Bullet model.
The Thunderbird Twinspark launched in India in 2008, the same year that the Classic was exported from India to various European markets.
A new classic hit the market in India in 2009, a retro-style 500cc Classic that quickly grew to fame and saw high sales.
The One Ride event launched in 2011, an annual event that takes place each year in April. One year later, Royal Enfield debuted its first highway cruiser: the Thunderbird 500.
In 2013, nearly 50 years after the production of its first café racer, Royal Enfield introduced the brand-new Continental GT. This model would frequently be used for custom builds.
Royal Enfield made its North American debut in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with a distribution subsidiary, the first outside of India.
Inspired by the 1997 ride, Royal Enfield produced the Himalayan in 2016, its first adventure motorcycle geared towards roadless rides.
Royal Enfield Today
The company is enjoying waves of success, with over 250 dealers and more than 200 service centers. Royal Enfield bikes are exported to more than 50 countries around the world, including Argentina, Japan, and the US.
This classic and long-lasting brand outsold competitor Harley-Davidson in 2014 with 300,000 units sold. Sales continue to grow, with over 800,000 motorcycles sold in 2019.
Royal Enfield has produced millions of motorcycles since its first bike in 1901 and shows no signs of stopping. With the recent trademark filing for the Flying Flea, fans of the brand believe a lightweight plug-in model may be in the works for 2023.