28 March, 2012

Pt 2

Clare's pics

25 March, 2012

Short Track practice

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13 March, 2012

Bullet in the head

I couldn't help notice the changes on the roads in India. The amount of people using them and the vehicles they chose.

Because of the high import taxes on vehicles for years India had a small cast of  immediately recognisable vehicles like the Padmini, Amdassdor, Chetak and Bullet. There was a comforting reassurance in their ubiquity. The fact that they were all models that had already had a full life in the West before the factory tools made their way to India to give them another shot. An *ahem* Indian Summer if you like, that meant they were always charming and retro to a visitor from Europe.

Deregulation, liberalisation and green policy is quickly changing the demography of India's roads. Delhi can still choke you with fumes but the auto-rickshaws seem to be entirely running on CNG (compressed natural gas) and it sure does make a difference. It's necessary for their survival, they used to pump out ferocious plumes of two-stroke smoke and the city appears to be serious about cutting emissions. The diesel Harley Davidson trikes (yes really) that used to ply their trade in the capital have disappeared, they were insanely polluting both with smoke and noise and presumably it was impossible to do anything realistic about it but it's always a shame to lose a characterful vehicle.

That is the crux of the looming problem that Royal Enfield is facing. Right now the Enfield is a great vehicle to use in India. It can cruise at a decent speed all day long, but it's no longer the fastest thing on the road. It's not just the new Mercs, Beemers and Jags that are starting to appear on India's roads that are quicker than a 500 Bullet. The much larger number of Maruti Suzuki (and similar) compacts can easily cruise faster than the bike that used to reign supreme. Right now it's okay, just remember to keep checking those mirrors on the highway for the small number of people going faster than you...

...but as the numbers increase it will become harder. The Bullet isn't really fast enough to ride in Europe any more. It's a great urban bike but the faster stuff leaves it breathless with the rider feeling bullied by traffic, lacking the motorcycle's usual trump card in extremis - a burst of acceleration to get you out of trouble. We put up with it because we are enthusiasts and as such are blind to the faults of our chosen marque or at least infinitely forgiving. But we could not recommend a Bullet to a colleague or in-law.

As India's roads become more crowded with nippy little cars this will increasingly become the case for the Bullet in India too. We might be indulgent enthusiasts in Europe who enjoy Enfields in spite of their shortcomings but it only exists because it is a decent ownership proposition and a reasonable value deal for the Indian rider. When that is no longer the case then the end of the Bullet won't be far away.

That's why I think Royal Enfield need to act now. They've proved in the past that they can update the Bullet to keep up with the times. The addition of electric start and fuel-injection may have appalled the traditionalists but was vital for survival, however the performance issue is even harder to solve.

I think they should be bold. Don't fuss around at the edges trying to squeeze a shade more performance from the Bullet lump, no. Make a twin! Gifted enthusiasts like Carberry (amongst others) have already proved the concept and using two existing 500 barrels they maximise the amount of shared parts with the 500 single. This wouldn't create a superbike, but it would certainly create a bike capable of holding it's own again in Indian traffic now and for the foreseeable future. Enfield would have a halo product and enthusiasts the world over would be interested I'm sure in a brand new 'vintage' 1000cc 'British twin'. What's not to love? Enfield shouldn't just make this motorbike... I don't think they can afford not to.

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08 March, 2012

Highway notes

20 years ago we used to see the odd domestic (Indian) tourist in Goa - they'd drive in from a neighbouring state in a Hindustani Ambassador with the whole family and mother-in-law to visit the beach, paddle, and gawp at the licentious hippies they'd heard so much about. Dad would drink a bottle of Kingfisher and be rolling drunk. Mother-in-law furious. Good times.

Today there are large groups of domestic tourists at every attraction. That stuff you've been hearing about booming middle classes and the BRIC economies is patently obvious on the ground. Sure there's still a MASSIVE amount of poverty everywhere but it's clearly boom times for a lot of folk.

And they all want vehicles... SO many cars on the road. Little white Maruti Suzukis everywhere driven with brio, zeal and zero mechanical sympathy. And for every car on the road there's a shit ton of two-wheelers as anyone who's spent time in Asia knows. 

The new Bajaj Pulsar looks like a proper small bike - anybody who tells you they'd need something bigger for commuting is lying, sure you may WANT something bigger, go ahead knock yourself out... but NEED? I know where there's a few hundred million experts who'd disagree.

It's a new 2012 model and the magazines estimate it'll be INR90-95,000 thats £1134 - 1197 in English. Holy fucking Cow! as I believe they say in India.

Mahindra's new Duro for 2012 is a 125cc twist 'n' go scoot - one of the most popular and numerous bikes in India. Remember the old cliche about the Cub paying for your Fireblade? Sure it definitely looks built down to a price...

...but that price is £636 OTR!

You can buy a GSXR thou in India today, it'll run you £19.5k - India has historically had incredibly high import taxes to protect domestic industry. meanwhile the local domestic partnerships (KTM, Yamaha, Honda etc etc) are making bigger 'proper looking' bikes for the aspiring riders coming through with a wee bit of money that cost a fraction of the imports. And there are MILLIONS of these aspiring bike buyers. HUNDREDS of millions.

You don't need to be a Harvard MBA to see where this is going do you?

Just one more observation.

You know how everybody points and laughs when a manufacturer styles their scoot with some of the styling cues of the top of the range superbike? Ha ha... what a joke etc. 

That wasn't meant for you Mr European who already owns a superbike. It's called brand building and it works1. It's for the folk who aspire to the superbike and want a little piece of the magic for themselves. If you can engender brand loyalty in India you can wallpaper your outhouse in hundred dollar bills. 

The days when the opinions of European riders had a large influence on the bikes global manufacturers made may be on the wane...

1 what else could possibly explain the existence of the BMW X3?

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07 March, 2012

on the road

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