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ADV NewsRecreated 122-Year-Old First Royal Enfield Takes Maiden Ride In US

Recreated 122-Year-Old First Royal Enfield Takes Maiden Ride In US

Originally lost to history yet painstakingly recreated from photos in stunning detail.

Published on 07.24.2023

Royal Enfield has just shown off a one-of-a-kind motorcycle to the public to celebrate its long heritage as the oldest motorcycle manufacturer in production to this day. The unique machine, ridden in the US for the first time last weekend at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, is a faithful working replica of the brand’s very first ‘motor-bicycle’ which was originally developed in 1901 and was a daunting task to recreate since no units exist anymore.

With no surviving technical drawings or blueprints the team had to painstakingly rebuild the original 1901 motorcycle using old photographs and promotional ads from the turn of the century. “The extent of the evidence to be guided by was slim at best, however this made the challenge even more exciting — could the very first piece of Royal Enfield’s DNA be reconstructed?,” says the manufacturer.

Royal Enfield first ever 1901 motorcycle replica debuts in the US

The replica, called ‘Project Origin’, would take Royal Enfield’s engineering team about 18-months to complete from the ground up. Besides the difficult research to find all the pieces of the design puzzle, a major challenge was to replicate the mechanics and engineering of the original Royal Enfield motor-bicycle “because the technology is so different from anything that people work with today,” said Royal Enfield’s in-house historian Gordan May to CBS 58.

Royal Enfield first ever 1901 motorcycle replica debuts in the US

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One of the most obvious differences was in the mounting position of the 250cc, 1 horsepower engine, which was clamped onto the steering head above the front wheel. “Unlike most other engines, the Royal Enfield crankcase was horizontally split. This avoided the disastrous consequences of oil dripping onto the front wheel from leaky vertically split crankcases,” explains Royal Enfield.

Royal Enfield first ever 1901 motorcycle replica debuts in the US

A Longuemare spray carburetor was situated on the side of the gas tank some distance lower than the level of the engine’s cylinder head. Lubrication was achieved by the rider squirting a charge of oil into the crankcase which would burn off after 10 to 15 miles.

Royal Enfield first ever 1901 motorcycle replica debuts in the US

Starting the machine required pedal power, and then once the engine fired, the carburetor was opened from its tick over to full-on position by a hand lever located on the right side of the gas tank. There was also no throttle — speed was modulated by the use of a valve lifter which was opened by a handlebar lever. 

Royal Enfield first ever 1901 motorcycle replica debuts in the US

One of the most complex and intricate elements lay in the construction of the folded brass tank, which was masterfully handcrafted from a single sheet of brass — folded, shaped, hammered and soldered using age-old tools and techniques now almost forgotten to modern manufacturing.

The front wheel had a band brake that was activated by a Bowden lever and cable arrangement operated by the rider’s left hand. The rear wheel also had a band brake but this was operated by back pedaling. The saddle was a leather Lycette La Grande and the 26” wheels were shod with Clipper 2 x 2” tires. 

Royal Enfield first ever 1901 motorcycle replica debuts in the US

The tubular frame of the bike was expertly brass-braised by the team at Harris Performance as well as a number of hand machined brass levers and switches. The engine was completely built from scratch and with no reference blueprints or technical diagrams to refer to, the team was required to intricately study the few photographs and illustrations available from 1901 in order to develop CAD designs for each component part which were then either individually hand-cast or machined from solid material.

Royal Enfield first ever 1901 motorcycle replica debuts in the US

In addition, the team hand turned the wooden handles, manufactured the front and back band brakes, and had the carburetor built from scratch. The turn of the century period original parts that were sourced; the paraffin lamp, the horn, the leather saddle, the wheels — were all reconditioned and nickel plated.

With a top speed of 35 miles per hour, no throttle and no clutch, May was able to take the working replica on its inaugural ride on North American soil. “What this sounds like is quite amazing, it goes ‘doof – doof – doof,” explained May. “It’s a real challenge to ride, but great fun.”

Project Origin Future Stops:

  • AUG 18 – 20 | 2023 Baxter Cycle 4th Annual 40th Annual Summer Open House, Marne, Iowa
  • September 28 – October 1 | Audrain Newport Concours & Motor Week, Newport, Rhode Island
  • October 6 – 8 | Barber Vintage Festival, Birmingham, AL

Photos by Royal Enfield

Author: ADV Pulse Staff
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2 Comments
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-Nate
-Nate
July 24, 2023 3:22 pm

This is _fantastic_ and no need to go faster than 35 unless one wants to die .

-Nate

Mark Powell
Mark Powell
July 26, 2023 4:49 pm

Bringing a lost piece of history back to life. Bravo!

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