Royal Enfield has made some intriguing revelations at the ongoing EICMA 2021 motorcycle show. The brand is celebrating its 120th anniversary to mark which, it unveiled special editions of the 650 twins and also the SG650 Concept. And now, a major centre-piece of its 120-year celebrations has been unveiled – the ‘Project Origin’, a working replica of the brand’s very first ‘motor-bicycle’. The replica pays homage to its tagline ‘Since 1901’ as it was this year, a motor-bicycle was launched commercially under the Enfield brand.
It is thanks to the 1901 motor-bicycle that makes Royal Enfield the oldest motorcycle manufacturer in production to this day.
The conception of ‘Project Origin’ came about after a challenge was laid down to the Royal Enfield design and engineering teams by Gordon May, Royal Enfield’s in-house historian, during a historical presentation to celebrate the brand’s 120th anniversary.
Part of the presentation focused on the very first prototype Royal Enfield motor-bicycle that was developed all the way back in 1901 by Frenchman Jules Gobiet, working hand-in-hand with Royal Enfield’s co-founder and chief designer, Bob Walker Smith.
As the infant motorcycle industry was not sufficiently well established to have its own dedicated exhibition, the prototype was consequently displayed at the Stanley Cycle Show in London, in November 1901. This was the very first time any two-wheeled engine-powered Royal Enfield had ever been displayed to the public.
However, to date, no working model of this original motor-bicycle had been found to exist. There were no surviving design blueprints or technical drawings which gave any usable reference to how the motor-bicycle was constructed.
All that remained were a few period photographs, some promotional advertisements and a couple of illustrated news articles from 1901 that gave some basic graphic clues and information as to how the motor-bicycle would have looked and might have functioned.
Working collaboratively between the teams at both Royal Enfield UK and Indian technical centres, as well as with Harris Performance and other experts from within the vintage motorcycling community, the treasure hunt to find all the pieces of the design puzzle started to build momentum.
It was very clear from the outset that the mechanics, engineering and ergonomics of the original Royal Enfield motor-bicycle were worlds apart from the motorcycles of today. One of the most obvious differences was in the mounting position of the 1 3/4 hp engine, which was clamped onto the steering head above the front wheel.
With all this background information gathered it was then a case of the ‘Project Origin’ team combining new-world technologies with old-world skills and practices to start the full reconstruction of a faithful working replica from the ground up.
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