The venerable Enfield and Dneper bikes may not be for everyone, but they suit Howie Phelan just fine
Having The Enfield motorcycle, now manufactured in India, and the Russian-made Dneper bikes are hardly likely to be dominating the global market, any time soon.
With a top speed of about 100 km/h, the Enfield is not going to catch the eye of the café racer-riding kids who dream of breaking the sound barrier.
Nor will its relatively excessive vibrations win the heart of the touring bike crowd.
Both the Enfield and the Dneper have found a devotee in Howie Phelan, a retired electric motors technician and entrepreneur from the Town of Mono.
“The Enfield and the Russian bike have limited appeal,” admits Phelan. “It’s definitely a niche market.”
The brand name Royal Enfield licensed by the British Crown in 1890, under which the Enfield Cycle Company made motorcycles, bicycles, lawnmowers and stationary engines.
The original Redditch, Worcestershire based company was sold to Norton-Villiers-Triumph (NVT) in 1968, but production ceased in 1970 and the company was dissolved in 1971.
Manufacturing of the Enfield carried on in India, however, and Enfield of India bought the rights to use the Royal Enfield name in 1995.
Royal Enfield is now the oldest motorcycle brand in the world still in production with the Bullet model enjoying the longest motorcycle production run of all time.
Maybe it’s the tradition behind the bikes, or their solid all-metal construction that has won over Phelan, whose first motorcycle was a 160 c.c. Honda.
What appeals to him is that the design and build of the late model Enfields haven’t really changed in decades. Phelan bought
his Enfield new in 2005, but it was like buying a vintage bike.
“It sill has the cast iron cylinders and kick starts. It’s all metal parts,” says Phelan.
“They’re still hard to start,” he adds. “British bikes have always been hard to start. On a damp day, they might not start at all.
“The Japanese make great bikes. They’re nice, neat packages,” says Phelan, “but they lack the romance (of the British motorcycles).”
The Dneper and the Enfield are similar in their lack of design change over the years.
One advantage is that Phelan can buy replacement parts for his Dneper, which was built in 1961.
The brand name Dneper came into being in 1967, but the heavy, motorcycles produced in Kiev, Ukraine. It has been in production in Kiev since 1946 at the Kiev Motorcycle Plant.
The original design for KMZ heavy motorcycles, and their cousin the IMZ, is taken from the pre-World War II German BMW R71 motorcycle.
The rugged Dnepr, which Phelan confesses can be as cumbersome as the Enfield, is also famous for its off-road capability.
Armed services models equipped with sidecars had two-wheel drive and as much as 15 cm (5.9 in) of ground clearance. The present engine is a 650 cc OHV boxer twin. Modern models are sold with engines ranging from the factory standard 650 to 750 and 1,000 cc.
Phelan’s bike has a sidecar, which he has used to carry feed to his farm.
These motorcycles have featured in many films like Indiana Jones and used prominently in the movie Garden State, with Zach Braff.
Between 1973 and 1979 Dnepr was one of the makes marketed by Satra in the United Kingdom as Cossack motorcycles.
“It’s a great old machine,” sums up Phelan. “It’s pretty indestructible.”
Written by Dan Pelton