History and Journey of Royal Enfield: One of World’s Oldest Motorcycle Brand

Royal-Enfield-history and journey

Royal Enfield, the world’s oldest and most traditional motorcycle brand, is still producing motorcycles. In addition to the classic motorcycles, the Royal Enfield manufactures adventure and off-road breeds of motorcycles. Though Royal Enfield originated in the United Kingdom, the company is now known worldwide as an Indian motorcycle brand with all its old traditions. According to a Forbes article, Royal Enfield surpassed Harley-Davidson, one of the world’s leading motorcycle brands, in 2014 in terms of sales of cult classic motorcycles. That year, Royal Enfield sold 300,000 units of motorcycles, compared to Harley Davidson’s sales of about 268,000 motorcycles.


eorge Townsend, a name that comes from the beginning of the traditional history of Royal Enfield motorcycles. In 1851, George Townsend started a sewing needle business in Redditch, England. Following this, in 1882 George Townsend’s son began manufacturing various parts for bicycles, in addition to saddles and forks. By the age of 18, the company began selling ready-made bicycles called “Townsend and Ecossais”. But by 1891, the company had suffered a major economic collapse. As a result, Townsend Banker hired Albert Eddy, a sales manager at Birmingham Perry & Co Ltd, and entrepreneur Bob Walker Smith to run the bicycle business. Later, in 1892, Albert Eddie and Bob Walker Smith bought the company and re-established it as Eddie Manufacturing Company Limited. Meanwhile, in 1893, the company received a contract to supply firearms from the Royal Small Arms factory in Middlesex, Enfield.

In 1896, The Enfield Cycle Company Limited, a new subsidiary for bicycle manufacturing, was established and brought bicycles under the Royal Enfield branding. The Royal Enfield brand then introduced the “Made Like A Gun” trademark. In 1896, Bob Walker Smith designed the company’s first motorized vehicle. The vehicle, known as the quadricycle, was built on two bicycle frames based on the proprietary De Dion engine. The same year the company was registered as “The Enfield Cycle Company Limited”. In 1900, Royal Enfield gradually moved to motorsports. In 1901, the company produced the first motorcycle designed by Bob Walker Smith and Jules Gotiet.

The Minerva engine was mounted on the steering head of the motorcycle and the rear wheel was driven by a long rawhide belt. Enfield began motor car manufacturing in 1902. As a result, a new company called “Enfield Autocar Company Limited” was established in Redditch in 1906 and a new plant was established. Within months of the new subsidiary’s establishment, the company faced a major financial crisis that led Albert Eddie to sell his controlling power to “Birmingham Small Arms Company”. Prior to the sale, Alber Eddie and Bob Walker Smith were appointed directors of BSA. After absorbing the BSA, they started producing military and sporting rifles, pedal and bicycle components, motor cars and motorcycles. Then in 1909 Enfield’s first V-twin was launched.

In the same year, Frank Walker Smith, son of Bob Walker Smith, joined the Enfield Cycle Company, and in 1914, both father and son jointly became managing directors of the company. Meanwhile, in 1914, Royal Enfield started manufacturing their first 2-stroke motorcycle in full swing. During the war, the company supplied motorcycles to Britain, Belgium, France, United States and Imperial Russian army. After the First World War, the company was able to add 8 more models to its portfolio through continuous research and development. Among them are Royal Enfield’s first 350cc OHV 4-stroke motorcycle and Sports Model 351. At the same time, Royal Enfield also launched the 225cc Ladies motorcycle.

In 1928, Royal Enfield replaced the outmoded flat tanks with saddle tanks and also upgraded from a 225cc 2-stroke Model A to a 96cc V-twin Model K in 1930. The company built the first Royal Enfield Bullet, one of Royal Enfield’s most iconic and versatile motorcycles, in 1932. In 1933, when Bob Walker Smith died, Frank took over the management of the company. That same year, Royal Enfield introduced the groundbreaking Model Z Cygar, which had a 147cc two-stroke Fully Enclosed engine and a leg shield for passenger safety. Along with the Model JF, the 500cc Bullet was radically altered and released in 1937 using an upright engine with a 4-valve cylinder head. In 1943, during World War II, Enfield built the first “Royal Enfiled Airborne Motorcycle“, which was parachuted into the battlefield with parachutists during World War II. At the end of World War II in 1948, two 350cc bullets took part in the “International Six Days Trial” held in Italy, and both riders won gold medals.

India Operation

In 1949, K.R. Sundaram Iyer launched a company in India called Madras Motor which aimed to import British motorcycles into India. Besides, he thought of a newly independent country. At that time, the Indian government chose Royal Enfield bikes, and Madras Motor got a license to sell Royal Enfield motorcycles in India. Following this, in 1952, the Indian Army ordered 800 units of Royal Enfield Bullet of 350 cc from Madras Motor, which arrived in Madras from Redditch in 1953. In addition, Madras Motor India was marketing Royal Enfield motorcycles in the market, which was gaining popularity among many and gradually increasing the demand in the market. In 1955, The Enfield Company, in a joint venture with Madras Motors, established Enfield India to manufacture Royal Enfield motorcycles in India. As a result, the Tiruvottiyur factory, near the city of Madras, began operations, and from 1956, the factory began manufacturing the bullet model under license. Initially, the bike was assembled in India, and by the end of 1956, a total of 168 Enfield Bullet models had been manufactured at the Madras plant.

In the 1960’s, as Japanese bikes began to dominate the world, many bike companies, such as Royal Enfield, began to try to capture the market. In 1962, Enfield India was able to manufacture all types of components at its plant in India. Frank Walker Smith died that year and E & H.P. Smith’s investors bought Royal Enfield and sold it to Norton Villiers in 1967. Norton Villiers owns 33 percent of Enfield India’s assets. Until the closure of the Redditch factory in 1967, bicycles were produced there. That same year, Royal Enfield’s spare parts operation was sold to Velocette. However, production of the Interceptor model continued at Bradford’s underground plant, but the plant was shut down by June 1970. The Madras plant was still in production and by 1978, Enfield India had begun exporting 350cc bullets to the United Kingdom and Europe. With the development of bikes, the sales rate of bullets also increases. In 1989, the company released the 500cc Bullet, which was available in three categories: Classic, Deluxe, and Superstar Trim. This is followed by the “Cafe Racer Continental GT” which surpasses the previous engine’s capacity to 535 cc. Enfield Diesel, for the first time in 1993, began mass-manufacturing of 325cc Highly Fuel Efficient Diesel Motorcycles.

Meanwhile, Vikram Lal, the founder of Eicher Motors, had a strong interest in motorcycles. As a result, in 1994, commercial vehicle and tractor manufacturer The Eicher Group acquired Enfield India and the company was renamed Royal Enfield Motors Limited. Eicher Motors has been using the Royal Enfield branding since 1999. Royal Enfield was also struggling in India in the 90s. As a result, Vikram Lal’s son Siddhartha Lal, who took over as CEO of Royal Enfield in 2000, had the same passion for motorcycles as his father.


After Siddhartha took charge, new models of motorcycles, as well as various cost-cutting methods, were applied. As well as manufacturing and trying to bring back its lost heritage by restoring Royal Enfield’s Strong Brand Identity. As a result, “The Thunderbird” in 2002 and “Electra X” in 2004, as well as several other models of Royal Enfield came on the market. In addition to the new and improved models, the materials of the old models have also been changed to improve them. In addition, Royal Enfield continues to target a niche market by producing mid-size motorcycles without going into direct competition in the competitive market in India. There are also various community-based activities using Royal Enfield’s heritage. In 2005, the company was selling 25,000 motorcycles a year. By 2010, the number had risen to 50,000 units. Since 2011, Royal Enfield’s sales have been growing every year as India’s middle-class purchasing power has increased.

In response to increased demand, a state-of-the-art factory was set up in 2013 in Oragadam, Tamil Nadu. In 2014, the Royal Enfield bike sales record surpassed the American Cult classic bike, Harley Davidson. Also in 2015, a new technical center was built within the boundaries of Bruntingthorpe Proving Ground in Leicestershire, Central England. In May of that year, Royal Enfield acquired Harris Performance, a UK-based motorcycle design, and manufacturing firm. Prior to Harris Performance, the Royal Enfield Continental GT Cafe Racer developed the chassis of the motorbike. Also in 2015, Royal Enfield North America was founded with its headquarters in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Royal Enfield North America, the company’s first direct distribution subsidiary outside India.

According to a report in the India Times, Royal Enfield sold 805273 motorcycles in 2019, retaining a 3.8% market share in India’s two-wheeler motorcycle segment. However, another article by Rushlane states that in the 251-500cc motorcycle segment, the company had a total of 31,1388 bike sales from April to November 2020, with a market share of 94.65 percent. Despite Royal Enfield’s declining sales due to Pandemic, the company was able to retain a 97% market share in the premium bike segment at the end of the fiscal year 2020, according to a Mint article. The Mint article further reveals that Honda, Bajaj, and Hero are working to end Royal Enfield’s monopoly on the premium market for mid-size motorcycles. Bajaj already is selling another UK-based premium motorbike maker Triumph’s motorcycle in the Indian market.

Meanwhile, according to a Bloomberg report, after dominating the Indian market, Royal Enfield’s target is to compete with Harley Davidson in America. Royal Enfield is currently available in 50 countries around the world. In addition, the Ministry of Commerce of Bangladesh is recently reviewing the issue of lifting the CC limit of motorcycles. In this context, IFAD Autos has also signed a memorandum of understanding on the marketing of Enfield’s bikes in Bangladesh.

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