The Royal Enfield story is an international one intriguing enough for a United Nations presentation. According to the company website,, it began to take root in 1851 when George Townsend built a needle and fishhook manufacturing plant in Hunt End, England.

The company began making bicycle parts and then bicycles after the founder died, but by 1891 ran into financial trouble that resulted in a change in ownership and management. It was soon supplying rifle parts to the Royal Small Arms Factory in Enfield, Middlesex. Business was so good that in 1892 management created a second company called Enfield Manufacturing to focus on bicycle design and production.

The following year, the company began calling its bicycles Royal Enfield and describing them as “Made Like a Gun” in recognition of its relationship with the famous arms manufacturer. By 1899, the company had changed its name to the Enfield Cycle Company and begun producing three- and four-wheeled vehicles that were part-car/part motorcycle.

The first true motorcycle from Royal Enfield was reportedly produced in 1901. If that’s the case, then Royal Enfield is the oldest continuously produced motorcycle brand in the world. Harley Davidson didn’t produce its first true motorcycle until 1904.

Royal Enfield motorcycles built a reputation for durability and versatility that enabled them to serve with distinction in the British military during World Wars I and II. And it is credited with producing some terrific and leading-edge motorcycles in the 1950s.

But by the 1960s, faced with fierce competition from Honda and later other Japanese brands, Royal Enfield struggled to remain competitive. The company was sold in 1970 and all Royal Enfield production in England ended by 1971.

But the Royal Enfield brand survived and thrived in India. It had been sold there since 1949 and its Bullet 350 model became the motorcyle of choice for the Indian government’s military and police forces in 1955. Enfield India began assembling bikes under a license from Royal Enfield that year and two years later began manufacturing its own components and producing complete bikes in what is now Chennai.

By the 1980s, Enfield India-produced Bullets were being exported to Europe. The company, which officially changed its name to Royal Enfield in 1994, now exports to a growing list of more than 20 countries, including the United States.

— Scott Wasser