The front of my Royal Enfield Bullet has Hindi words written on it, in vinyl stickers, thus:
It reads “Jay Shri Ram”, roughly translated as “Hail Blessed Ram”, or something along those lines. But this does not seem to have persuaded Lord Rama to help out in any way, by ensuring the bike’s reliability and good running. Here’s a run-down of the problems I’ve encountered so far:
As described in a previous post on the journey from Delhi to Nainital, a quick rain shower played havoc with the electrics, sending the ammeter wild and then, when riding the bike shortly after the rain had finished, cutting out all power completely. This was the event which led to me being towed into a random Uttar Pradesh town by electric rickshaw and bungee rope. The mechanic there managed to fix the problem and get the bike going again.
Although he’d got the bike running, the small town mechanic had also rewired it incorrectly, so that now the neutral light, which had previously not been working at all, came on when it was clearly in gear, and the indicators were permanently on. I took it to the servicing bay at the Royal Enfield showroom in Haldwani to get this, and the next problem, fixed.
On the ride from Delhi, I’d started to notice a faint grinding noise coming from the clutch/gearbox. This got more noticeable as time went on, and by the time I reached Bobby’s farm near Nainital, it was screaming. It was particularly noticeable in neutral, when pulling the clutch in would make the grinding noise, and released it would make it stop. Changing gears had become more difficult, and putting it into neutral was almost impossible. Also, it had developed a strange new ability: to start automatically, just by turning the ignition key and pulling in the clutch, without any use of the self-start button at all.
The Royal Enfield garage in Haldwani sorted out the wiring problem, and also stopped the grinding noise made by the clutch in neutral, by adjusting the clutch setting. They also cured the strange auto-starting behaviour, though whether this had been the clutch or the wiring, wasn’t clear from the explanation.
Clutch / Gearbox
Although the RE garage in Haldwani had fixed two of the clutch / gearbox symptoms, I was still concerned by the grinding noise still present in higher gears, and the difficulty changing gears, so in Haridwar I decided to take it to that town’s RE showroom / servicing garage. (I thought that the official garage would be the better option, since the fact that it’s “more expensive” is relative – the repairs in Haldwani cost about £6, compared to about £3 for a roadside mechanic). They serviced and cleaned the clutch, which had apparently been in very bad condition. On a test ride, I could still hear the grinding, but they assured me that it would go as the new oil they’d put in circulated around the system.
However, I’m getting ahead of myself. Before I could get the bike to the RE garage in Haridwar, I had to get it started. But though I could start it, by both kick start and self-start, it wouldn’t run for more than a couple of seconds before backfiring loudly and stuttering out. This required a call-out by a mechanic from Saini Bullet Centre, down the road, who inspected the spark plug and found it totally blackened. A new plug and an adjustment got the bike running again, so I could take it to the garage for the repairs mentioned above.
Plug / settings again
The day after the plug change and clutch repairs, a ride back from my Haridwar couchsurfing host’s family home in Roorkee presented new problems: it began backfiring and jerking, and stuttered out at one point while I was negotiating a roundabout. I managed to start it again while still moving, and got it back to Haridwar by keeping the revs high, where the backfiring and jerking seemed to lessen. The symptoms seemed similar to previous plug issue, so I took it back to Saini Bullet Centre, where the same mechanic had a look. He made some changes to the settings and changed the plug again, which got it running again, and it seemed fine on a 10km or so test ride. He also poured in a whole load of gear box oil, which was supposed to stop the grinding, and does seem to have reduced it.
Loss of power again
For the sake of honesty I should mention that it cut out again on the way to Roorkee, but that was entirely my fault: I’d let it run out of petrol. In my defence, keeping tabs on the petrol is trickier on a bike with no tank indicator or low petrol warning, and although it’s a novice mistake, I am a novice, and I’m making the mistakes that most people make when they’re first riding in their teens. Also, I’d been led to believe that Roorkee was just a few minutes down the road, when it fact it was a 70km round trip.
To add to the stupidity, when I checked the reserve switch, it was already on reserve, which meant I’d completely run out and had nothing to get it to the next petrol station. Another massive rookie error, one which I’d been warned about on motorbike lessons, but which hadn’t sunk in until I’d actually made it. So I had to pay the proprietor of the dhaba (roadside cafe) which I’d been able to coast into a 50% mark up for 2 litres of petrol. Not a bad deal, considering the helplessness of the situation.
Maybe I’m paranoid and hearing things, but I’m not convinced the grinding noise has been completely gone away. I suspect there’s something more fundamentally wrong inside, which may possibly have caused one or more of the superficial problems which have been fixed.
I’ve lost a lot of trust in the bike: I start each day apprehensive whether it will start and run or not, and set off on journeys wondering when I’ll encounter the next break down. Also, I’m getting tired constantly facing bike problems and taking it to garages to be fixed. Touring India on a Bullet is a romantic idea, and I’ve enjoyed the parts where I’ve experienced that, and there have even been upsides to some of the problems, like the surrealism and eventual relief of the Milak saga. But when I’m spending more time dealing with bike issues than actually seeing India, is it worth it?
I reached a point where I started researching the cost of hiring a modern SUV, from a proper professional company, and ditching the bike idea completely. It would be a lot more expensive, and giving up on the Bullet would be totally weaksauce, so I haven’t decided to do that yet. But a few more problems might tip me. As I said, I want to spend my three months here seeing the sights of India, not sitting in mechanic shops.
What do you think?