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Motorcycling Days

Motorcycling Days

By John Dunn
Reflections on motorcycling and places seen from the saddle.

Original writing read by the author.
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Soul-full Royal Enfield
The old saying that the journey is everything applies just as much to the top speed as it does to the destination, perhaps more so. The Royal Enfield's lazy revving single cylinder engine has the torque to grunt its way forward from standstill in any gear. The higher the gear you pull away in, the more patience you need, but thats all. It has not lost the motorcycle’s original relationship to the bicycle. It is still a bicycle with a 500cc single cylinder engine, complemented by huge mud guards, spoked wheels, skinny tyres, single exhaust pipe,  single seat and the trademark headlamp unit with a nacelle, or cover  housing, around it. The nacelle around the headlamp is unchanged from this bike’s antecedents of 60 years ago and more. When I last saw an old Royal Enfield in a  museum I was amazed to see just how the original nacelle design has been left unchanged, with the two pilot-lights (known as tiger’s eyes in  India) either side of the main headlamp, the speedometer, warning lights and ignition key all in the same position. Side-on you behold the idiosyncratic shape of the Royal Enfield engine with the large, bulbous air-cooled cylinder head, and the three different visual levels of the seat, the tank and the headlight, each higher than the other as if sculptured to please the eye. In today’s parlance, the machine is  extremely naked, with no design abstraction between you and the machine; there's no attempt to hide the truth of its simplicity. This first sight of unashamed nakedness is but a foretaste of the no filter  motorcycling experience to come. No filter that is apart from, say, one, which is the starter motor, which starts the engine easily with a few turns. Kick it into life if you will, the kick-starter is there, and the result is the same, as the  plant pot-sized piston lazily reciprocates up and down, shaking the  mirrors, numberplate, indicators and the rest of it as it emits the  trademark phump, phump, phump from the huge exhaust silencer. Hit a pothole don't worry; the Indian army choose this bike for a reason. This is a machine for the dirt roads of Rajasthan, Himalayan passes, floods and fords of Kerala and patrolling Kashmiri mountain terrorist  lairs. This is truly built like a gun. You will have to search hard to find plastic. The fact that this heavy and solid motorcycle was originally designed for the pre-motorway roads and country lanes of  England is testament to the Royal Enfield’s rugged versatility. This  is not a run-of-the-mill modern motorcycle. If you want acceleration and eye-watering top speed, forget it. The old saying that the journey  is everything applies just as much to the top speed, that is the latter  is not everything. My point is made by the impact of its appearance when parked up with other ‘normal’ motorcycles that have lost their original relationship to the  bicycle. The key aspect of the Royal Enfield stands out in all its  visible, audible and tangible solidity…  its soul. © John Dunn.
June 23, 2021
Scott water cooled two-stroke at Newnham
Also available as a YouTube video.  I’m on my Royal Enfield Classic 500 heading for Newnham village near Daventry, where there is a blue commemorative plaque outside what was once The New Inn. It celebrates an important day in motorcycling history, when in 1908 there was a timed motorcycle hillclimb. I’ll let the Reverend Basil H Davies a motorcycle journalist who wrote under the pen name of Ixion, describe the day. “…a wild sensation was caused at the Newnham hill-climb of the Coventry club. Here every summer the Big Chiefs on the industry feverishly contested a little family combat, where strangers were tolerated but always humiliated when the prize awards came out. In 1908 an unassuming nonentity from Yorkshire, in the person of AA Scott, walked off with all three events on formula, and his new two-stroke boasted an admirable kick-starter, an open frame and a lovely exhaust. He did not convert the industry to open frames or to two-stroke engines, but he forced kick-starters and variable gears on a lethargic world.” This was a big deal in the history of motorcycling, so I thought I’d ride along to Newnham to take a look around. *** Try my YouTube videos too. Click here to take a look.
June 4, 2021
First Meeting
Listeners to the previous episode of my podcast "Motorcycling Days" will know how the Royal Enfield motorcycle came to my attention in India, more specifically in Shimla, the old British hill station in the foothills of  the Himalayas. In India, the Royal Enfield is much more than a brand or a bike. Its distinctive look and, perhaps more importantly, sound and feel, create an aura around the machine, and a devotion from its riders, to which other brands can only aspire. This near-spiritual response to the Enfield by Indian riders, evoked by an iconic machine with looks that recall its British heritage, completely won me over, especially so amongst the ghosts of the British Raj which can still be sensed in Shimla. When back in England I would seek one out. In this episode of "Motorcycling Days", I talk about the first meeting with the motorcycle I now own.
May 25, 2021
Raj Ghosts
Making relentless and stately progress, the name in the recognisably flowing script on the side of the tank was - Royal Enfield. Original writing read by John Dunn.
May 19, 2021