Anthropology Motorcycles

Lessons from a Royal Enfield

David Relin, the author of Three Cups of Tea, recently cited his Royal Enfield motorcycle as a source of inspiration for his efforts in writing about issues of social justice.

When Relin graduated from college, his parents gave him a life-changing gift–a ticket to any place in the world. He wanted to explore a world as opposite the US as could be, and imagined that world was India. It was a good decision, Relins says. But he followed it with a horrible one. He bought an old motorcycle, a Royal Enfield Bullet. “That bike was more like a couch than a motorcycle. It mostly just sat. It broke down constantly. Getting around with it was like trying to lug a couch.”

Soon, a pattern developed. Relin would ride his Royal Bullet until it broke down. When it did, it seemed there was always someone around willing to help him. The poorer people of India were remarkably friendly to this strange American. They often invited him into their homes, fed him and helped him fix the bike. “With a piece of tape or wire, they’d get the bike running again.”

While it’s not just motorcycles that stimulate the symbolic imaginary, there is something to the intricate practices connected to riding that provide a vivid and tangible manifestation of deeper philosophical and moral issues. I think it’s a shame that maintenance of mainstream motorcycles are increasingly placed beyond the skills and toolsets of riders, which is why I love my Royal Enfield Bullet and my Peirspeed Sachs MadAss. In his article on Relin, David Blasco reminds us of the old adage about Royal Enfields: “Turning Men into Mechanics since 1898.”

Streets of Madison, via Royal Enfield Motorcycles.