News Feature

Royal Enfield targets a ‘simple’ success in the US with ‘Made Like a Gun’ motorcycles



October 3, 2016 | Rahoul Ghose

An interview with Rod Copes, Royal Enfield, President, North America

With a new recently opened headquarters and flagship store in Milwaukee, WI, and plans to triple the number of dealers in the US and Canada in the not-so-distant future (from 30 to 100), Royal Enfield’s North American president, Rod Copes, is hoping to reignite the continent’s 1960s love affair with mid-weight British vintage bikes.

Companies such as Triumph, and to a much lesser extent Norton, have led the way, flooding the US market with a variety of expat offerings in the 900 cc range and above. Copes – who took over the reins of Royal Enfield North America in August 2014 – says Royal Enfield’s smaller-displacement-centered brand has a very different outlook on the industry, one that emphasizes simplicity in the face of the current trend of rising prices and overcomplicated products.

That philosophy might well stem from the company’s base in India, where Royal Enfield both manufactures its bikes and sells close to 98 per cent of them. Modern tech – electronic fuel injection, electric starters – meets vintage styling and some simple tried and true mechanics, including even a requisite kick starter.

“It’s really about going back to what motorcycling was about … easy, fun, affordable … we want to introduce that back into the market,” Copes says, adding Royal Enfield’s current offerings speak to those goals by spanning a wide range of rider types, making the brand more ‘inclusive’.

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  It’s really about going back to what motorcycling was about … easy, fun, affordable … we want to introduce that back into the market.  

-- Rod Copes, Royal Enfield, President, North America
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Three models – the 500 cc Classic and Bullet, and the bored out 535 cc Continental GT – all appeal to the classic, vintage demo providing an affordable option (in the $5000 - $6000 range) for commuters, first-time or returning riders, café enthusiasts, DIYers and even those thinking of purchasing a second smaller motorcycle. (Read some rider interviews, below)

“We want to kick start the mid-weight motorcycle industry for a whole new generation,” Copes says. “There are target audiences like millennials, but also we’re looking at the older gentlemen who used to ride a Royal Enfield in the ‘60s. We’re not all things to all people, but we are attracting a variety of bikers, even Harley Davidson owners wanting a second bike.”

There is irony in that last fact, as Copes’ moto pedigree includes a two-decade stint with Harley Davidson, where he was head of global sales and customer service, and grew the company’s business in new regions including India and China.

Copes sees a correlation between the two Milwaukee-based companies despite their size and product differences. Both brands have a vibrant culture and environment and they share a common history, challenging one another to make better products in the ‘60s prior to the rise of the Japanese motorcycle industry, he says, adding the mutual respect between owners of these bikes is still very evident today.

Then there’s the business side, where the two companies currently operate in different niche markets (mid-range and heavyweight bikes) and actually complement one another.

“There are similarities between where Royal Enfield is now and where Harley Davidson was in the early ‘90s in terms of the huge growth and expansion in the company,” says Copes. Royal Enfield production six years ago was in the 50,000 range. Last year the company produced close to 500,000 units, making it one of the world’s fastest growing motorcycle brands.

In opening the company’s North American midwest headquarters last month with a staff of about 20, Copes says Royal Enfield has made a huge commitment to building the brand in the US and Canada, with the company now being operated as a wholly owned subsidiary, based out of what he dubs the “center of gravity for the motorcycling industry in the US.”

The US influence can already be seen in some fairly recent developments at the company.

Royal Enfield’s first entry in the adventure class – the Himalayan – was recently introduced into the Indian market, a 410 cc, 400-pound carbed on-road, off-road bike featuring the company’s first new engine and chassis since the ‘60s.



The brainchild of Royal Enfield CEO Siddhartha Lal, the Himalayan was specifically designed for riders in India, a purpose-built bike for riding in the Himalayas on some of the highest roads in the world, says Copes.

“It was met with wild success (in India) … it does a wonderful job on gravel, dirt, hills and even on commutes,” he says. “It’s definitely not the first bike in this space, but it is something new in this price range.”

The bike is durable, but has not gone to the extremes of high end tech, making it easier to service, even in the field.

“We wanted to keep it simple … most motorcycle brands have gone away from that.”

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  There are similarities between where Royal Enfield is now and where Harley Davidson was in the early ‘90s in terms of the huge growth and expansion in the company.  

-- Rod Copes, Royal Enfield, President, North America
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At Royal Enfield North America’s beckoning, two of the bikes were brought to the US for the media to test ride and the reaction to them was extremely positive, Copes said, so enthusiastic that the company is seriously looking at selling an EFI version of the Himalayan in the US mid-2017.

“We said we want that motorcycle here … and built a business case.”

And in response to North America’s desire for larger displacement bikes, the company is currently expanding its 250 – 750 cc segment with two to three new platforms (chassis and engines), with product development being centered out of Leicestershire, UK.

Copes confirms that a parallel twin engine is in the works, but stops short of relating any details yet.

Based on feedback from riders wanting more power for highways travel, it’s not hard to imagine a touring variant which will be more comfortable over longer distances, and possibly a larger displacement café racer upgrade to the Continental GT in the mix.

Copes also added while Royal Enfield will continue to comply with all changes to North American safety and emissions standards, the company’s mandate will continue to “keep things simple … easy to work on (and) easy to maintain.”

Across the US and Canada, Royal Enfields are now sold in select city metro centers at multi-brand dealers … Southern California Motorcycles in Brea, CA is one such outlet.

“The financials don’t currently allow for standalone dealerships, so we piggyback on dealers who sell multiple brands … selected for their success,” Copes says.

That may change over the next five years. But in the more immediate future the brand is also partnering with other companies to open boutique-style concept lifestyle and brand stores. One such idea – Nashville, Tennessee’s Moto Moda – will pair a small chain of barista-style coffee houses with a small Royal Enfield dealership. The possibilities are endless.

On the events side Royal Enfield North America will eventually be taking a page out of the India mothership’s calendar, possibly offering brand specific rides similar to the Himalayan Odyssey, now in its 13th year (https://royalenfield.com/ho/), the Tour of Bhutan and the dirt track inspired Rider Mania.

Three years ago the brand partnered with LA’s Matt Capri to race a couple of Continental GTs at the Bonneville Salt Flats.

“For now in North America we’re piggybacking on local events with pop-ups at Sturgis and the upcoming Ace Corner in Barber,” Copes said. You’ll also see local activations at dealers across the country.

But don’t be surprised if Royal Enfield doesn’t eventually recreate some localized events in the near future … say for the North American debut of the Himalayan in 2017 … can anyone say Los Angeles?

For Copes, it’s a fun time to work for a company like Royal Enfield. While at Harley Davidson he was based out of the company’s headquarters and responsible for expanding the brand into new countries in Europe and Asia. He now finds taking India’s moto success to the next level here in the US a worthy challenge.

“We’re now looking more at strategic opportunities,” Copes says of the Royal Enfield, literally the world’s oldest motorcycle company in continuous production.

Look for the company’s ‘Made Like a Gun’ motorcycles to keep making their mark.

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GET THE OWNER EXPERIENCE : MEET SOME ROYAL ENFIELD RIDERS

With Royal Enfields attracting a wide range of rider types, LA Motorcyclist approached a few owners to get their opinions on the classic-inspired bikes.


THE BUILDER, MODDER AND EXPAT
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Name: Steve ‘Carpy’ Carpenter
Occupation: Motorcycle designer and builder
Age: N/A   Home: Anaheim, CA
Current Ride: 2014 Red Royal Enfield Continental GT (EFI)
Years riding: 41
Website: carpyscaferacers.com


What attracted you to buying a Royal Enfield motorcycle?
I wanted to try an original style motorcycle that was created from back home in England.

Is this your first bike?
Are you serious? I have had literally hundreds of motorcycles since 1972.

Have you owned a Royal Enfield previously?
No, but rode quite a few of my friends’ bikes.

How important are the vintage looks and heritage of the bike to you?
For me it is very important as I really do relive that era of motorcycles and cars, etc.

Do you work on your own bike and if so is having a simpler bike mechanically important to you?
I work on my own as I own a shop. But having a simple design means less mechanical hiccups.

Have you or do you want the ability to mod and/or personalize your bike?
I have changed mine quite a lot and next month shall be going through another guise. I've changed the exhaust, headlight, tires, chain guard and turn signals, and I've custom-made my own seat with an LED tail light set up.

How has your overall experience with the bike been?
Overall, I would say 8-10 ... the choke is too weak and breaks, the battery is not up to the job, and it used to stall a lot. But I've changed all that. And I think the new version has ironed all the bugs out as the GT was a big step for Royal Enfield and it sure gets a lot of looks.

How is your bike primarily used and how often (ie: commuter, weekend warrior, modder, enthusiast, etc.)
I am a business, so I use it for around town, letting customers have a ride, etc. But it is not for long distance in California as the freeways would shake it to pieces.

Would you recommend Royal Enfield to other riders?
I would of course … it's a fun machine with bags of character, it turns many heads, and the distinctive 'thump, thump, thump' of the single-stroke motor is synonymous with days gone by of the British Empire.

What is your favorite aspect of your bike?
For me, it is the style … the lines are bang on and it oozes nostalgia, big time.

What, if any, improvements would you like to see in the design?
Lithium battery, stronger choke mechanism, steel chain guard, sturdy turn signals, LED front headlight, seat options and exhaust options. ie: Hop Up package, Custom Package, etc.


THE FIRST TIME OWNER/RIDER AND BUDDING DIYer
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Name: Kallah Maguire
Occupation: Mobile Personal Shopper, Saks Fifth Avenue
Age: 36   Home: Los Angeles, CA
Current Ride: 2009 Royal Enfield Bullet 500 (carburated)
Years riding: 3/4 yr
Instagram: @KallahMaguire


What attracted you to buying a Royal Enfield motorcycle?
I was unfamiliar with Enfields but my friend Randy Pobst said that he had a bike in Colorado that I could borrow if I had it shipped down to LA. I actually didn't know what the bike was before it arrived. When it was delivered to Lucky Wheels I walked in and my jaw just hit the floor because the Bullet is so beautiful! I couldn't wait to ride it around and learn how to kick start.

Is this your first bike? Yes

Have you owned a Royal Enfield previously? No

How important are the vintage looks and heritage of the bike to you?
The vintage look of the bike is my favorite part! I'm a fan of all things vintage design related. I love the lines and overall styling of the bike. I call her Babe, and she starts conversations with motorcyclists and admirers alike everywhere we go.

Do you work on your own bike and if so is having a simpler bike mechanically important to you?
I do work on the bike. I always knew that I wanted to learn how to wrench, weld, etc., and the Enfield has given me ample opportunities to learn (lol)! With help from the guys at Lucky Wheels, friends, and YouTube videos, I've done everything from changing the front and rear sprockets and chain, to modifying the shifter, to a simple oil change. It feels good to have learned as much as I have, but in this particular case I have spend more time working on the bike than riding it. I would not say that having a mechanically simpler bike is important to me, but I will always do what repairs, mods, and upkeep I can on any bike I own.

Have you or do you want the ability to mod and/or personalize your bike?
I actually really like the look of the Bullet. I honestly wouldn't really change anything.

How has your overall experience with the bike been?
Overall I think its a good bike to learn how to ride on ... its light, nimble, and won't ever let you get going too fast.

How is your bike primarily used and how often (ie: commuter, weekend warrior, modder, enthusiast, etc.)
I primarily ride for fun, usually on the weekends out to the ocean, the crest, or off on an adventure with some friends. Though I don't often commute on the Enfield, I had a last minute request from a client for a dress this weekend, so I ended up riding with a four thousand dollar dress in my backpack up to a fitting at her estate! 

Would you recommend Royal Enfield to other riders?
I've heard that the newer REs are more reliable, so I would recommend that a new rider or someone looking for a real classic vintage style bike check them out.

What is your favorite aspect of your bike?
Definitely the ability to kick start, and how aesthetically beautiful they are.

What, if any, improvements would you like to see in the design?
It would be great if you didn't have to take so much of the bike apart to do most repairs or maintenance. There seem to be a lot of double redundancies in place that perhaps are not necessary. They just seem to add extra complication to an otherwise simple repair. More power would be fantastic as well ... great bike for in town but hitting the freeway when you top out at 65mph - 70mph is not ideal.


THE COMMUTER AND FUTURE MODDER
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Name: Kirankumar Mistry
Occupation: Life Insurance Agent
Age: 35   Home: New York, NY
Current Ride: 2012 Black Royal Enfield Bullet 500 (EFI)
Years riding: 11
Facebook:
kirankumar.mistry.NYL


What attracted you to buying a Royal Enfield motorcycle?
I rode a few motorcycles and read many reviews on others as I pursed purchasing a bike which I needed to meet two requirements:
1) Must have classic look and feel
2) Must have rich history which stands out amongst its competitors.
With these two factors in mind, choices were limited. But Royal Enfield did meet them and also allowed me to reconnect with my Indian heritage as the bikes are manufactured in India. The bike is built for true outdoors adventure, and I plan to have "the ride of a lifetime".

Is this your first bike?
No, my first bike was a Kawasaki Ninja 500R which was a great bike but I felt it was more power than required. I wanted to get a more comfortable bike which could be ridden for longer periods.

Have you owned a Royal Enfield previously?
I have not owned this bike previously, but growing up in India, I have fond family memories of using the Bullet on farm land as well as for general travels.

How important are the vintage looks and heritage of the bike to you?
This is a very important factor for me as that was one of the driving factors in owning a Royal Enfield. It was great to improve the bike mechanically, but I believe the Bullet is also a prime example of both the vintage look and the company’s rich heritage.

Do you work on your own bike and if so is having a simpler bike mechanically important to you?
I was discouraged in the past from working on the bike as I was unfamiliar with the mechanics. But I am a hands-on person. I had been taking the bike to the shop for maintenance in the past but I started doing oil changes myself and am looking to add few extras as I bond with the bike. The reason I used the word ‘bond’ is because when you work on your bike, you truly become closer to the bike. The more riding you do, the more the two become one on the road ahead.

Have you or do you want the ability to mod and/or personalize your bike?
I currently do not have the ability but I do in my spare time view videos and read forums on what changes can be made to make to my Steady Steed.

How has your overall experience with the bike been?
So far owning the Bullet has been an amazing experience. I have come to ride almost on a daily basis unless there is rain. You get thumbs ups, head nods as well as verbal compliments … sometimes even shock as people believe the bike was restored. This Steed is a great conversation starter and helps with creating new bonds in the riding brotherhood.

How is your bike primarily used and how often (ie: commuter, weekend warrior, modder, enthusiast, etc.)
The Steed was purchased as a weekend ride and now has become more of a daily commuter throughout the streets and boroughs of the New York City. As a life insurance agent, I am constantly on the go with client meetings and this Steed has helped me a long way in my commute and as a conversation starter from the prospect end. I am thrown in sorrow when it rains as I cannot ride it, but am excited the moment I am able to ride again.

Would you recommend Royal Enfield to other riders?
I would and have been recommending Royal Enfield to other skeptical riders who have heard of past issues in owning this bike. With the implementation of Fuel Injection and an Electric Starter this bike requires very little maintenance and is great for someone who worries a bike will need too much attention for repairs.

What is your favorite aspect of your bike?
I love the fact that the bike generates vibrations -- which many may not find appealing -- and how the vibrations ease as you settle into the 5th gear at 55-60 MPH. The more I learn about the Steed as we ride, the more curves I want to ride. When the Steed settles with speed, it creates an exhilarating feeling inside of you and makes you wish the road would never end.

What, if any, improvements would you like to see in the design?
A bit more power would be great to ride the US highways, just enough to handle 65-70 for a longer period. The single 500cc has ample power for off-main roads or through traffic. But for a long distance ride, I feel the engine may be bit overwhelmed if ridden over 65mph. If this somehow can be fit into the design, it may create opportunities for more Enfield riders.

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Comments

  • I'm very happy to see that Enfield is still increasing its market share in North America! And if I may, I'd like to suggest that a number of owners and others interested may find one or the others of my manuals to be useful. A look may be had at my website www.enfield.20m.com. Thank you!

    Pete Snidal
  • I picked up my C5 just before Thanksgiving of 2015. It has become my 'go to' ride! Absolutely Love this thing! I have several bikes and have put about 3,500 miles on it in less than a year. It's everything that is great about a motorcycle. Aside from the lack of highway speeds, it's a fantastic motorcycle. I will probably get another one, or three ...

    Greg Spindel
  • Hi there. Being an Englishman in Ohio, I've been riding Royal Enfields in the U.S. for over nine years. I have a GT continental, C5 and an old chrome classic 500 bullet. I try to promote the Enfield brand wherever and whenever I can. I get a lot of positive comments about my bikes. Could you please tell me about dealerships and any events in Ohio being planned in the next 12 months. We have no local dealerships and I've been having to get my parts, service and performance from England. Is there anything I can do to help Royal Enfield to promote the brand here? Best wishes.

    Steve Emerson, Enfield enthusiast
  • Hi Steve. I've passed your questions on the possibility of dealerships and future RE events in Ohio directly to Royal Enfield North America. Thanks for your note.

    Rahoul Ghose, LA Motorcyclist

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