Royal Enfield’s Humble Beginnings Were as a Gun Manufacturer

Royal Enfield is known for its motorcycles nowadays, but before it got into the business of bikes, it was actually in the business of war. In fact, the British company’s history is so linked to guns that its slogan even references guns. Here’s a look at Royal Enfield’s origins as a gun manufacturer, its glory days as a bike manufacturer, and what it’s doing now.

Royal Enfield’s early business in war and gun making

Royal Enfield Global Head of Brand Shubhranshu Singh posed with Bullet motorcycle models in Amritsar, India
Royal Enfield Bullet motorcycle models | NARINDER NANU/AFP via Getty Images

One of the main guns used by British, Canadian, and other Commonwealth countries during the first and second World Wars was the Lee-Enfield rifle. That being said, while some may assume that this rifle was built by Royal Enfield, the company’s origins in gun manufacturing are more boring. According to Top Gear, Royal Enfield simply supplied rifle parts to a nearby factory, and the company won that contract in 1892. 

Not long after, Royal Enfield established itself as a bike manufacturer. With that being said, the company still participated in the business of war in other ways. The British company created motorcycles and sidecars that could be mounted with machine guns on the side. Royal Enfield also delivered bikes to the British and Russian governments for use in the World Wars. 

A look at the history of Royal Enfield

That focus on bikes eventually became Royal Enfield’s primary focus. However, the British company’s origins in gun making weren’t lost entirely, and the company adopted the tagline “Made Like a Gun.” One of Royal Enfield’s earliest and most popular creations also referenced war and guns. The Enfield Bullet was revealed in 1932, and it’s still in production to this day. 

When World War II was over, Royal Enfield had many factories around the U.K. making bikes for regular civilians. However, the company was also thinking about expansion. India was a major part of the British Empire, and after it gained its independence in 1947, there was a need for bikes and other forms of transportation. Royal Enfield answered the call and invested in the country.  

In the U.K., while Royal Enfield introduced popular and successful models like the Continental, troubles were brewing on the horizon. Japanese companies like Honda and Suzuki and other well-known motorcycle manufacturers came onto the scene. The Japanese bikes were simply better in many ways, and by 1970, Royal Enfield as a company had become defunct. All of its factories in the U.K. shut down.

What Royal Enfield is up to nowadays

However, that’s not where the Royal Enfield story ends. From a beginning with guns, the British company’s expansion into India was a success, and Royal Enfield had licensed itself and its products to its Indian counterpart. The Indian company, also called Royal Enfield, continues building and selling bikes to this day. Because the original Royal Enfield licensed its products to the Indian Royal Enfield, many of Royal Enfield’s iconic bikes are still in production.

In fact, according to Top Gear, the Indian Royal Enfield had become so successful that by 1977, it was exporting Royal Enfield bikes to the U.K. In a twist of fates, the Indian Royal Enfield, which makes most of its bikes in India, decided to open a research and development facility in the U.K., not far from a factory where the original Royal Enfield built bikes.

Although the original Royal Enfield is no more, the Indian Royal Enfield is still innovating and making bikes for customers. Unsurprisingly, some of the company’s newest creations will be electric. For example, the Bullet is being modernized to become an electric bike.

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