I don’t think it’s rocket science to understand where Royal Enfield is coming from. The Bullet/Classic line has single-handedly turned RE’s fortunes around over the last decade and now that the tail-end of its lifespan is here, it can’t possibly hurt too much to have fun with it. For one, RE has nothing to lose – not when it created a high-volume segment virtually out of thin air. Secondly, it makes sense to play with existing inventory (and see if it can create another segment out of thin air) than to do so with a new parts bin, the likes of which will soon come into being when the heavily-revised BS-VI versions emerge. Royal Enfield, of course, has a more marketing-friendly spin on this, making an association with the post-1948 trials version of the Bullet, which was RE’s first fully sprung motorcycle.
But the new Bullet Trials 350 and 500 aren’t breakthroughs as such. The original trials version of the Bullet celebrated the incorporation of a telescopic fork (replacing the girder fork) and hydraulic shock absorbers, and the hype around them was thus justified. In fact, the original Trials wasn’t even officially called that, but the nick name sort of stuck after the Bullet’s successive victories at the International Six Days Trials and the Scottish Six Days Trials. In the case of the new Trials, however, Royal Enfield has re-invented nothing. Come to think of it, RE offered a near-identical variant to UK audiences 10 years ago, called the Trials EFI, and being equipped with a 499cc, pushrod engine (among other austere entries in the specification sheet) drove most of their press to call it ‘rubbish and brilliant at the same time’. The 2019 Bullet Trials bears a striking resemblance to that version, except that it now uses the 350 and 500cc UCE mills.
But why do a half-baked scrambler when the Himalayan is already around? Because heritage sells, and who’d know better about that than Royal Enfield? In any case, calling the Trials ‘half-baked’ is a bit harsh. Sure, it’s not exactly featherweight, with its 192kg kerb weight (the 350 weighs 187kg), and nor is it particularly pretty (we all have a friend who’s attempted something like this, no?), but it sure stands out from the Bullet/Classics that everyone seems to be commuting on these days. For now, RE will only give you a colour each for the Trials; the 500 gets chrome on silver bodywork on a khaki green chassis while the 350 gets just a silver coat on a candy red chassis.
As part of its Trials-ification, the Bullet retains its 19/18-inch wheel combination but now wears block-pattern Ceat Pro Gripp rubber (90/90-19 front, 110/80-18 rear), and features a disc at both ends, with dual-channel ABS as standard. The front fender is smaller and with tubular stays (coloured the same as the chassis), and the fork tubes now wear rubber gaiters. On the test bikes, RE had equipped the Trials with a range of accessories such as the headlight lens protector, the padding on the tall handlebar's brace, a snug engine guard, a bash plate and a very cool plate on the left side bearing a race number. You can only have one in a single-seat configuration and instead of a pillion seat, it gets a factory-fitted luggage rack that sits above the raised rear fender. The keen-eyed amongst you will spot the Interceptor 650-sourced tail-light and turn signal lamps and even the least observant of you cannot possibly miss that wildly upswept exhaust end-can. Your opinion of that exhaust unit can range from ‘kinda quirky’ to ‘what an eye-sore!’ and you’d be right either way; it’s unfortunate enough the bend-pipe isn’t wrapped around the cylinder head, in the way all the coolest scramblers do, but I wish RE could have done something – anything – to at least make it palatable if not heart-achingly pretty.
However, can it be that the Trials is just so much fun to ride that you forgive it for the hits-and-mostly-misses affair it appears to be in pictures and on the spec sheet? I hoped so, as I swung a leg over the Trials 500’s saddle on what was a hot and dusty morning. The low seat feels better than on the Classic, for sure, thanks to the purposeful stance the handlebar sets you in. Although, the forward-set foot pegs feel a bit lousy, as ever, on something that promises to be a different kind of fun. The half-heartedness is more agonising in some areas than in others, as you can tell. Still hoping for some sort of silver lining, I thumbed the starter to crank the 499cc motor to life, burdening its 27.5hp and 41.3Nm output figures with my expectations. That doesn’t sound like too little, as you’d agree, but having experienced this engine in the standard motorcycle, I can tell you that it isn’t outrageously exciting either. It’s no different in Trials guise but I suppose it can be said that the 500 mill feels mildly more alive. Off the road, which is primarily where we’re riding it, the Trials 500 benefits from its inherently ample spread of torque and it surely expresses no qualms about chugging along whilst taking a beating.
On the road, I began to like the Trials’ stance a bit more. Sure, it is nowhere as refined (in a general sense) a motorcycle as the existing crop of sub-300cc machines, but it has a mechanical character to it that sets it apart. With no rev counter at hand, you are left purely to sensations to gauge the Trials’ stress levels and, as we’ve come to expect, there are lots of those to experience at the handlebar, tank and foot pegs. However, you’re certainly not going to be holding up traffic in your wake and now, with the Trials, you will feel more empowered to take unruly detours than before. While suspension travel hasn’t been altered, it offers a fairly pliant ride and certainly doesn’t feel brittle when being tortured on rocky, off-road bits. The more purposeful rubber definitely adds to the Trials’ rough-road prowess, something you will appreciate when the going gets, well, less than ideal. It’s certainly got nothing on the Himalayan, though the Trials certainly makes for a more visually fulfilling variant to those looking for a little more purposefulness than the standard fare of Bullets.
No improvement whatsoever has been made in the braking department. With to a disc brake at both ends and a dual-channel ABS, the Trials isn’t going to land you in trouble but I was certainly left wanting for better bite and feel, something RE is yet to nail on any of its single-cylinder motorcycles. That aside, you’ll get along with the Trials just fine, although I’d recommend the 500 over the 350 any day, given how uninspiring the latter is (in standard guise, at least). The economy-conscious amongst you will prefer the 350’s 20hp and 28Nm configuration, and that it uses a carburettor instead of fuel-injection may be a matter of preference to some of you, but the 500’s stronger performance is more in line with what a ‘Trials’ moniker should offer.
To summarise, the Bullet 500 Trials is gimmicky, experimental and undoubtedly a niche. It will appeal to a sliver of RE hopefuls but isn’t going to be a game changer and that’s fine. What isn’t, is that this ‘factory custom’ from Royal Enfield could have been a bit more fun, a bit more wholehearted than the slightly-over-a-custom-paintjob attempt it is at present. There’ll be no damage done at the end of it, though – I’m sure there’s someone out there who is absolutely smitten by the idea of a whacky, single-seat motorcycle. To be fair, RE isn’t charging you an exorbitant premium over the existing Bullets either and no, these aren’t limited editions. The 350 Trials is priced at Rs 1.62 lakh, making it Rs 9,000 more expensive than the Classic 350, while the 500 Trials wears a Rs 2.07 lakh sticker price, which makes it Rs 6,000 more expensive than the Classic 500 (dual-channel ABS variant) (all prices, ex-showroom, India). To conclude, whether or not you should bite this Bullet is entirely subjective but, I suspect, this isn’t the last of such factory customs, given that the BS-VI models are a year away – don’t say we didn’t warn you!
2019 Royal Enfield Bullet Trials 350 image gallery
2019 Royal Enfield Bullet Trials 500 image gallery
Royal Enfield Bullet Trials 350, 500 launched, priced from Rs 1.62 lakh