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Nov 20, 2011

Royal Enfield Diesel Bikes

Random Notes

Royal Enfield factory circa 1999

We get many calls about the Royal Enfield Diesel “Tarus”. It is a cool piece of motorcycle history. Before we start let me answer the questions you may have so that we don’t get a deluge of  phone calls
1. They quit making them in about 2002
2. They will not remake this model
3. As far as I know there are two in the US.  One is in NM (see article) and the other started in FL but is now lost. (There is a treasure hunting expedition)
4. They are extremely difficult to find even in India and harder to import..don’t even try.

I have added a couple of pictures I took around 1999  at the Royal Enfield factory of some  brand new Taurus motorcycles. I think they were making about 200 a month when the model was discontinued.

I now defer to Richard Meltz of Centaur Cycles to let you know more about the bike as he is one of the lucky owners of one.

Taurus Diesel
The Royal Enfield Taurus Diesel was a motorcycle made in India for just a few years around 2000, by the venerable Royal Enfield company, builders of the legendary Bullet 350 and 500 singles. It was not a commercial success, but during its manufacture and since its demise has attained a sort of cult status among us strange people interested in even stranger motorcycles.

The story I heard was that the Taurus was built in response to a cottage industry in India. Evidently the countryside is littered with small diesel engines used for irrigation purposes. Some clever garage mechanics realized the motors were about the same size and shape as the Bullet engine, and started grafting these diesels into the Bullet frames. After enough of these hermaphrodite home-builts appeared on the road, the factory figured they were missing out on a good thing and started producing Taurus Diesels ready-to-ride from the factory. I have no idea if this story is truth or fiction!

The Taurus was offered with a 325cc and also a larger displacement model, I think around 450cc. I acquired my 2001 Taurus 325 brand new, through devious and murky channels which shall remain nameless, since these bikes were never DOT approved, USA homologated, or EPA approved for use in these United States. It’s a wonderful novelty to own and ride. I’ve taken it to track events, rallies, and other gatherings where it always draws a big crowd.

The major advantage to this bike is its fuel economy. They claim about 175 miles to a gallon of diesel. My own experience has not been quite that good, but I still get over 100 easily.

The downside, well, everything else is pretty much downside about these critters, beginning with the performance. The motorcycle weighs in about the same as the other Royal Enfield bikes, nearly 400 lbs wet. The gasoline powered Bullet 500 of the day boasted a scorching 22 horsepower, while the Bullet 350 had only 18hp. The Taurus, by comparison, puts out a truly underwhelming 6.5 hp!.

Rated top speed is only 50mph, but you have to be going down a very long, very steep hill to get near that. You can’t even cruise at 40. Normal cruising speed is about 25-35pmh, with acceleration in the die–of-old-age-before-you-reach-your-target-speed range. Use of top gear (4th) is rarely possible and hill climbing ability is nearly non existent. Commuting on this bike is a challenge to say the least. In fairness I should note that all my experience with the Taurus has been at 7000 feet altitude where bikes and people as well are huffing and puffing due to the thin air. But still.

When I’ve told people that a good 50cc scooter is faster than the Taurus, they laugh as if I’m trying to be funny, but it’s the gospel truth. A good running 50 like the Kymco People 50 will blow the doors off the Taurus in every way, from acceleration off the line to cruising to top speed. It’s all about power to weight ratios. The 50 has nearly as much horsepower with half the weight. You do the math.

Starting the Taurus is a good way to test your antique bike skills as well as your aerobic fitness. First turn on the fuel valve. You can leave the key on or off, doesn’t matter it will start either way. Straddle the bike and slowly push the starter pedal down with your right foot until you feel compression. Then reach under the tank with your left hand for the decompressor lever located atop the engine. Activate the lever and push the kickstarter “a little bit more”. Then release the lever, bring the kickstarter up to the top of its travel, and the bike is ready to start.

Now take up the play in the kickstart mechanism, take a deep breath, and drop your entire weight firmly on the kickstart lever. Remember, you’re trying to overcome an 18:1 compression ratio so don’t be shy. If done correctly, you only need one, two or three tries and you will be rewarded with the most satisfying diesel engine racket you’ve ever heard. Wonderful noise as the bike settles into a steady loping, knocking idle.

By the way, don’t bother trying to start one of these puppies unless the engine case is warm to the touch. These bikes were made for a hot climate. They have no glow plug or engine preheater of any type. They absolutely will not start when it’s cold. I decided to try one winter’s day in my unheated garage, just for fun. I went through the starting procedure described above, intending to do it as long as it takes, to start the engine. I gave up after 100 attempts! Good exercise though! Then I got a nice little electric space heater with a fan on it and parked it next to the bike. A couple hours later when the engine was nice and toasty, it started on the first kick. Go figure.

After owning the Taurus for over a decade, my greatest riding accomplishment occurred just this summer. There’s a weekly Sunday morning gathering of motorbike enthusiasts at a lovely little coffee shop in remote Cedar Crest, New Mexico. The group tends toward the British vintage collectors/old and new Italian bikes/ BMW crowd. Anything rare and unusual is a big hit with these folks and I was determined to ride the Taurus there at least once.

But it’s 40 miles of winding mountain roads from my house, a formidable expedition on the diesel bike. For backup my wife accompanied me on her 163cc Kymco Like 200. I think this is the only 2 bike ride we’ve ever taken together in 40 years of marriage where she had to wait for me to catch up. The Taurus was cruising in the 30-35 range, grinding its way up the hills at 18-20, and zephyring down the hills over 45! But we made it, and the Taurus was a huge hit with the motorcyclists as hoped. The ride home was equally rapid.

There are many things about this bike I find charming. I love the original Albion 4 speed with right foot shift, one up, three down, and the neutral finder. Previously my experience with this transmission was limited to the USA imported Bullets, which were forced by the DOT to convert to left foot shifting. I thought the gearbox was dreadful, when in actuality it was the cross shaft and linkage which introduced too much play and sloppiness. In its original trim it’s a darn good gearbox. I love the fact that it runs with or without the key and electrical system turned on. And since I’m a lifelong science fiction reader, I love knowing that in the post apocalyptic future after the aliens have zapped earth with their electromagnetic pulse weapons and all modern vehicles have been rendered non operational, my little Taurus Diesel will still start and run perfectly. It will be worth a fortune then. I’m waiting.

Richard Meltz
Centaur Cycles and Scooters
Santa Fe, NM
www.centaurcyclesandscooters.com

One of three colors the diesel was available in. Two are pictures and a dark green was the third

One Response to “ Royal Enfield Diesel Bikes ”

  1. battlegraphics Says:

    Great item that clears up a number of mysteries. There is tremendous interest in these machines but I suspect it is based on expectation that performance would be equal to the gas machine. Apparently not.

     
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