Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Enfield Silver Plus

I'm currently in Uruguay and you should see the typical motorcycling scene here. No, no Royal Enfields, but a lot of mopeds and step-through bikes. Such bikes are usually laughed out of the room in the US. However, most people in the US do not realize how different the rider demographics in the Third World is. In the US motorcycles are ridden largely as a matter of choice. The costs of owning, operating, licensing and insuring a motorcycle are not that different from those of a car. In the Third World however, the difference is much more significant. There are several factors involved. Cars are more expensive because of taxes and because cheap cars targeted for the Third World like the Tata Nano are a very new thing.  Operating a car is also expensive because of high licensing taxes, gasoline costs and insurance costs. In Montevideo, where I am now, a medium sized car goes for around US$20k, the license plates for a car cost over US$1k/yr and gas is US$5.50 a gallon.  In contrast, the light motorcycles  pay US$100/yr  for license plates, US$30 a year for liability insurance and can be had brand new for around US$1k (they are made in China). In many jurisdictions in the Third World there is no need of a drivers license to operate a motorcycle nor to carry insurance or even license plates. And those small bikes make well over 100-150+ miles a gallon, particularly when ridden at the low speeds the roads in many places force you to. If you couple this with the fact that many areas are poorly served by public transportation, one ends up with a riding population much more diverse than that in the US. That includes elderly people, very young people and people not dressed appropriately to ride a motorcycle for traditional or other reasons. For those people the step-through type bikes are exactly the right thing. It is is not surprising that the best selling motor vehicle of all time, the Honda Super Cub, with 60+ million units sold is a bike of that type.

Enfield India entered the market for mopeds with the light suspensionless 25cc Enfield Mofa and with the beefier 60cc Zundapp based Enfield Silver Plus. With alloy wheels, hand operated two (later three) speed shifter, this sounded like an eminently correct business move by the company. Alas, all this was in the pre-Siddhartha Lal 1980's when Enfield was poorly managed. The vehicles had reliability issues and  marketing was lousy. In the end the company almost went bust in spite of having the right products at the right time. Such a flop were these bikes that I had a terrible time finding a picture of the Mofa and I completely failed to find a picture of the Silver Plus. So I include a picture of the Zundapp it was based on,

 and also a movie of one of them, that is rather low resolution,

Update: David Blasco of points me to an article with a nice picture of one.


  1. During one rush hour in Seville, Spain, my family and I walked through the streets of the old town, which would have been impassable for cars. Mixed in with the flow of pedestrians were many of these moped sized bikes, often two-up, almost silently proceeding at walking speed, without wobbling or other drama. I marveled at the skill of the riders (of all ages) and the obvious suitability of these bikes for such a task.



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