Diesel motorcycles are a weird rarity. Outside of a few examples produced in high numbers, most seem to be one-off customs or failed ventures. Perhaps the most successful diesel bike was the Royal Enfield Diesel. A product of a time of dirt-cheap diesel, one of these bikes has made it to America from India, and you can own one of them.
The Royal Enfield Diesel is the only mass-produced diesel motorcycle built in India and what appears to be just one of a few mass-produced diesel bikes sold to the public in the world. I could not find a production estimate for the Taurus (as it is also called), but Royal Enfield’s website implies that production started in 1993. (Weirdly, some “Indian” motorcycle news sites like DriveSpark state production began in the late 1980s).
Indians got to enjoy the little diesels until about 2000, and this motorcycle for sale is said to be one of the last to be sold. The Diesel wasn’t discontinued due to low sales, either, but because it reportedly couldn’t pass modern emissions. But let’s back up a bit.
A Little Royal Enfield History
Royal Enfield marks its beginnings in November 1891, when entrepreneurs Bob Walker Smith and Albert Eadie purchased George Townsend & Co. of Hunt End, Redditch in England. The original company was a manufacturer of sewing needles that in 1882 had moved to make bicycle parts before building full bikes in 1886. That business failed in 1891, and the two men picked up the pieces. In 1893, the company was selected to provide parts to the Royal Small Arms Factory of Enfield, Middlesex. The company eventually became Enfield Manufacturing Company Ltd. and also started selling a bicycle called the Enfield. Later, the bicycle would be renamed the Royal Enfield and marketed as ‘Made Like A Gun.’
In 1898, Enfield built its first motorized vehicle, a quadricycle designed by the same man who designed the Royal Enfield bicycle, Bob Walker Smith. Enfield apparently took its quadricycles into motorsport, and in 1901, Bob Walker Smith and Jules Gobiet teamed up to create the first Royal Enfield motorcycle. The company’s motorcycles evolved through the decades and in 1932, Enfield launched what is perhaps its most famous model, the Bullet. From Royal Enfield:
The legendary “Bullet” motorcycle is born. It is first displayed in November 1932 at the Olympia Motorcycle Show in London. Three versions are produced: 250, 350 and 500cc, all with inclined ‘sloper’ engines, twin-ported cylinder heads, foot operated gear change and high compression pistons.
Royal Enfield goes on to note that Bullet has the distinction of having the longest production run in the world. The Bullet has been sold in various forms consistently since 1948. The Bullet became popular in India, where Royal Enfield maintains a large presence in today:
Royal Enfield motorcycles were being sold in India since 1949. In 1955, the Indian government started looking for a suitable motorcycle for its police forces and the army for patrolling duties on the country’s border. The Bullet 350 was chosen as the most suitable bike for the job. The Indian government ordered 800 of these 350 cc motorcycles, an enormous order for that time. Thus In 1955, the Redditch Company partnered with Madras Motors in India to form what was called ‘Enfield India’ to assemble these 350 cc Bullet motorcycle under licence in erstwhile madras (now called Chennai). As per their agreement Madras Motors owned the majority (over 50%) of shares in the company. In 1957 tooling equipment was also sold to Enfield India so that they could manufacture components and start full-fledged production. The Enfield Bullet dominated the Indian highways and with each passing year its popularity kept rising.
The Bullet Goes Diesel
When the Taurus was introduced, a Bullet 350 made about 18 horses from its 346cc four-stroke single. This was good for a top speed nearing 70 mph, depending heavily on conditions. Royal Enfield’s history page doesn’t say why the Diesel was put into production, but DriveSpark reports that it had to do with fuel prices at the time. Diesel was reportedly about half of the price of gasoline back then, making a diesel-powered bike compelling, even if the motorcycle was more expensive upfront.
Housed in the familiar Bullet frame is something different. The Taurus ditched spark ignition for a 325cc diesel single made by Greaves Lombardini in Italy. This air-cooled industrial engine is good for 6.5 HP and 10.7 lb-ft torque.
As you could imagine, these are slow and top speed hovers around 49 mph. That makes its performance about on the level of a 125cc gas motorcycle. According to an owner’s manual that I found, these weigh in at a heavy 370 pounds as well.
If you could live with that, you got huge fuel economy in return. According to Financial Express Drives, these smoky little bikes are good for an incredible 199 mpg. The Honda Grom, a modern motorcycle with similar performance, is claimed to get 166 mpg, though in the real world, can get closer to 100 mpg. The Enfield Diesel is likely nowhere near as fun as a Grom, but if you absolutely needed to save every possible coin at the pump (and diesel is cheap enough) it makes sense. Couple the insane fuel economy with its 3-gallon tank, and even if you aren’t getting 199 miles to the gallon you can probably ride 500 miles between fill-ups.
This 2000 Enfield Diesel
Diesel-powered motorcycles remain a curiosity for a number of riders today. More than one person has emailed me trying to sell me their HDT M1030M1 and I’ve seen prices slowly creep up on the military bikes. If your style is a bit more like mine and you like vintage motorcycles more than military chic, a seller on eBay has an interesting opportunity. The seller claims to be the first owner of this 2000 Enfield Diesel, having purchased it new in India before importing it into America. Today, it sits in Lubbock, Texas awaiting a new owner.
It has lived an easy life, accumulating just 2,400 miles in about 23 years. This Enfield Diesel is a pretty motorcycle with its cream paint, pinstriping, and leather bags.
The seller says that it’s just one of four that they know of in America and I believe them. I’ve never seen one of these in America despite countless searches. So this is a unique opportunity, I think. It seems to be a decent price, too. This motorcycle is just $12,500 on eBay.
If I weren’t trying to buy a house, I’d be all over this.
Of course, this little bike has a couple of reported downsides. If you’ve worked with an old diesel and have ridden a single-cylinder motorcycle, one is already obvious. The Taurus was a vibration machine and apparently, the vibes could give you some aches and pains. There’s also the diesel smoke, which Indian automotive media says is the reason why the Taurus was taken out of production in 2000. Despite that, Royal Enfield is still proud of the Diesel, and its site proclaims the motorcycle to be “the world’s first and only mass-manufactured diesel motorcycle.” Maybe one of you loves diesel as much as I do. If you do pick this one up, I’d love to ride it!
Support our mission of championing car culture by becoming an Official Autopian Member.