Saturday, September 19, 2009


This post is part of the Royal Enfield Virtual museum. If you don't know what that is, visit the museum, you will be able to return here easily. ============================
The year 1901 is motorcycle genesis for Royal Enfield. The first two wheeled vehicle with a motor is produced. It has a Minerva 150cc 1.5hp engine clamped to the fork downtube of a standard Royal Enfield bicycle. It was conceived by French designer Jules Gobiet, who had moved to the Midlands to learn about bicycles and motorcycles and submitted a proposal for a bike to Royal Enfield that was liked by Bob Walker Smith and put into production in the autumn. It had such refinements for the age as spray carburation, battery and coil ignition and a bronze connecting rod. This museum has some doubts about the above picture actually being the 1901 bike. It more likely is the sturdier 1902 version, which had a specially built frame. Another line art drawing widely presented as the 1901 bike is almost surely the 1902 one, we will display it in that years' exhibit. Here is another picture. The bike looks slightly different, but it is unclear if it is "flimsier" as allegedly the 1901 model was with respect to the "sturdier" 1902. No surviving example of this motorcycle seems to exist today. Production numbers are not known but they must not have been very large. Here is a rare photo, from left to right: Walter Grew, manager of the Enfield Motor Cycle department, Ernest Godbold, general manager of Enfield works, Daniel Doyle, Louis Jobiet, who designed the machine.  Having the engine weight on the front wheel led to slip-slide when cornering, particularly on wet roads. Gobiet had thought that having the rear wheel driven instead of the front one (as the Werner had) was going to cure the problem. This was addressed in the 1903 model lineup when engines were moved under the rider and a better weight distribution was achieved.
Buoyed by its success in the motor division, Royal Enfield started -according to some accounts- to sell automobiles early in 1901. Apparently they were Vinots with Enfield badges. Here is a picture of a 1901 Vinot, Whatever the truth of those accounts it is more firmly known that in the second half of 1901 they had a 6hp car on the road. It was entered in the 1901 Glasgow Exhibition Motor Trials and Walter Grew (later to become the first editor of "The Motor Cycle") occupied the passenger seat. The car had a water cooled 120 degree V-Twin engine built under Ader patents. The car had three forward and one reverse gear with gear changers on the steering wheel, something very advanced for the time. It had independent leaf spring suspension in the back and a single spring in the front. It weighed 1,200lb and sold for 350 pounds, although it is doubted than more than road testing vehicles were ever made. The car scored 289 over 290 possible points on the first day of the Glasgow trial but on the second day broke down and had to be withdrawn. The trial was the first motor race to be held in Britain, September 7th, 1901.
There are also reports that Royal Enfield had a single cylinder 3.5hp car with a 402cc De Dion engine, but these are unconfirmed.
(Source: "The story of Royal Enfield motorcycles" by Peter Hartley, Patrick Stephens Ltd., Cambridge, 1981)


  1. Outstanding work on these museum items. I can't help but notice the bulb horn on the one 1901 or 1902 bike. But I don't think we'll see a rear view mirror for decades to come. Small danger in 1901 that there was another motor vehicle in the same county. But, if so, and it was overtaking, it must have been the responsibility of the vehicle behind to signal it was coming around. This is the reverse of modern road manners that demand the rider ahead be aware of a passing vehicle and not block the way.

  2. Thanks, David! Come to think of it, that is how they do it in India still today,


  3. Hello sir I am a student.Sir I LOVE RE a lot I am in search of history about it Sir do u know George twonsend The owner of redditch factory and after him his George maintained that Factory of Royal enfield 1851 What about him you havent mentioned him any where

    1. Use the search feature, you will find several articles that mention Townsend in the blog, for instance, the one about 1898.



Motor Sport Blogs - BlogCatalog Blog Directory