MG is an air warrior and amateur painter and well-known writer.
India was not a manufacturing hub for any type of Motorcycle before 1947. During the days of the British Raj, a few assorted motorcycles which were imported from England were used by the British Indian army. They were mostly the Triumph and the BSA. There were a few Royal Enfield bikes introduced in 1939 and they were very successful.
In 1947 the Indian army felt the need for more motorcycles for its use as the machines already with it were becoming old and redundant ( In army terminology class V). The Government floated tenders for bikes with the proviso that at a later stage they would be manufactured in India. No bike manufacturer came forward except the Royal Enfield Company. They offered the Royal Enfield Bullet a 350 cc, 4 stroke motorcycle. This bike generated 18 BHP and the Army after trials felt it would serve the purpose.
Th army cleared the machine for use. As a first step, the government imported 350 Bullets for the army and they have put to patrol the Indo- Pak border in Punjab. The Indo- Pak border in Punjab has reasonably good roads and is flat with cultivated fields all around. The bikes were a success, but after about a year the bikes were withdrawn and replaced with Jeeps which were imported by the army. The bike remained with the army and was put to other users like dispatch riders and ceremonial and out riding duties.
Because of market dynamics, the original Royal Enfield company which had started in 1901 closed down in England and became bankrupt. The owners sold the logo and the plant to the Indian company which was earlier assembling the bikes. The Royal Enfield now got a fresh lease of life as an Indian product and is now manufactured in Chennai, India. As the bikes are now readily available, the army standardized the machine and has been using the 350cc Bullet for the last 70 years.
Armed forces and Bullet
With the shifting of the plant to India, the Royal Enfield company had got a fresh lease of life and now began to make bigger models as well as fuel efficient models to match the Japanese bikes which had flooded the market. They introduced the Bullet 500 cc and the cruiser model.
The army retained the Bullet 350cc model and is continuously in use since 1948. Not much change has been incorporated into the model and engine and the old 1947 model still does yeoman service for the army. The Royal Enfield is now classified as an Indian company and exports bikes to England and other countries. It also supplies bikes to the Indian army as well as sells them in the civil market.
The Army, Navy, and Air Force have now equipped all their Provo units with Royal Enfield bikes and each unit is entitled to 12/24 Bullet motorcycles. These bullets are used by Army and Air Force Police for many duties. They are used as police patrols, getting dispatch riders, and also for ceremonial and out riding duties. The Chiefs of staff, the President, and the Prime Minister are all entitled to have an escort off motorbikes. Visiting dignitaries like presidents and kings are also given ceremonial outriders. In border areas, which are inaccessible the bikes are used to transport essential medicines as well as maintain radio communication with the parent unit. The Army, Navy, and Air Force in India have now incorporated the Royal Enfield 350cc Bullet as a piece of standard equipment.
The Bullet is the mainstay of the army in India. It is used as a dispatch rider, Military police patrol, and ceremonial duties. All out riding duties for the President and visiting dignitaries are carried out with the Royal Enfield bike. Riders who have used the bike vouchsafe for its reliability in the rugged mountains of Ladakh and the hills on the eastern front. No history of the Indian army is complete without the Royal Enfield bike. This 18BHP bike with a 4 stroke engine is used only by the Indian army. No other army in the world uses this bike, though it sells in the civil market.
The Indian Royal Enfield now has three plants with an installed capacity to produce 825,000 machines per year. The company produced almost 700,000 bikes in 2019 for the local and export market. The company is very shortly testing to launch the 750cc models. The army, however, is sticking to the 350cc Bullet which is now standardized equipment.
Life of a Bullet in the army is anything from 3 to 4 years after which the vehicle is categorized as class V and auctioned to the general public. There is a thriving market to purchase these bikes as they are relatively in good condition. They sell for about Rs.20,000. Ex-servicemen are given preference and they can buy the bike for Rs4500
Livia on January 07, 2015:
Right ont-his helped me sort things right out.
MG Singh (author) from UAE on November 25, 2014:
Thank you ArindamB
Arindam Bandyopadhyay from Pune,Maharashtra, India on November 25, 2014:
Wow.. Great article. But you can find other such amazing stories at this link ( http://royalenfieldcontinentalgt.blogspot.com)
MG Singh (author) from UAE on June 05, 2014:
Thanks Nags for your experience
Nags on June 05, 2014:
My first rendezvous with bullets were through Army bullets where in Army guys used to come to our college to train my classmates in doing stunts on Bullets. That's when I decided that's the bike I would buy. After I started working in Hyderabad, one day I read a news that Army recently disposed their old bullets at dead cheap rates. Missed that chance. Finally bought a Bullet Machismo 2002 model with AVL engine. Rode it for 3 yrs but my heart was all out for the old cast iron beast. So sold it and bought 1983 Std Bullet 350. Rode it for another 3 years, before seiing it for medical reasons. Finally I am going to relive my dream when I would be getting Thunderbird 500 in my hands. Saga continues.....
MG Singh (author) from UAE on December 21, 2013:
Thank you Au fait
C E Clark from North Texas on December 21, 2013:
Interesting history of the motorcycle in the Indian Army.
MG Singh (author) from UAE on June 14, 2012:
Thank you Horatio for your comment. I spent time in the Air force and in ground tenure commanded a Provo unit. I had 15 Bullets in AF Police colors. They were great fun
Horatio Plot from Bedfordshire, England. on June 13, 2012:
And so the wheel turns full circle. Royal Enfield is now thriving and running double shifts, exporting to Europe, America and Australia.
Great little article. It's funny how things work out sometimes.
Thanks for writing it.