Enfield Clubman takes you back

Published: 25 March 2001

" What year is it mate? " " Err, 2000 actually. " This innocent question, asked by a passer-by just seconds after I parked the Clubman, demonstrates exactly what this bike is about. A 1950’s bike, built in 2000, and totally timeless.

In the late 50s and throughout the 60s if you rode a bike you were either a mod or a rocker. Looking at this Enfield I know exactly which I would be. Who would want to ride a moped with decorative mirrors when you could pull up at Brighton pier on a bike as beautiful as this?

To recreate the Café racer look the UK importers of Enfields built in India, Watsonian-Squire, has taken a standard Bullet (designed in the fourties still built now) and added the parts that rockers outside the Ace Café decided were essential all those years ago to make their bikes sportier.

The fuel tank has been replaced with a hand-made aluminium one, there’s a single seat unit with a stop to slide your bum back against, rear sets and low-slung Ace bars to complete the look. And just to make sure everything’s in place for that real Café Racer style, chrome mud guards mimic the bare metal of the tank to make the bike stand out and attract the eye of the rocker girls., should you run in to any.

Starting the bike for the first time with the kick-start, no electric start that’s for wimps, I was nervous about being catapulted into orbit. Big 500cc old British singles have a habit of kicking back if you get it wrong. No such problems here, one hefty kick and it roared into life, I didn’t even need to use the decompression lever.

One of the less obvious changes made, until you start it, is the exhaust pipe. This bike had the slightly up swept straight through chrome muffler fitted. The 500S comes with two silencers, road and race, as standard. Obviously it’s for track use only, but there’s no competition on which pipe to have, the race pipe makes the bike sound fantastic, pure aggression. You can almost hear each bang from the four-stroke single and it sends shivers up your spine.

At least I think it was the exhaust sending the shivers, it could have been the vibrations from the engine.

Sat on it at tickover, you can tell it’s a single just from the feel, I was a bit concerned about how this would translate when the bike is on the move, but there was only one way to find out.

Being a British bike, the gear selection is on the wrong side, or right side depending on your point of view. This is not as disconcerting as it may sound. Because you are using a different foot too normal its actually quite easy to remember and I didn’t hit the rear brake by accident once. Pushing it up to select first, the box is also reversed, it clunked into gear and I was away.

When you’re moving down the dry-stone walled lanes of the Cotswolds where I rode the bike, a combination of the racer riding position and wonderful exhaust note make you feel like a true café racer. Although the 500cc single engine only produces about 25bhp it has loads of torque, something I discovered when I tried, successfully, to pull away in third gear. When you are moving this means gear changes are kept to a minimum, although with only four gears to choose from the box seldom gets used.

Which is probably a good thing as the gear box and clutch is the only black mark with this bike. Changing up the gears was fine but going down the box revealed more false neutrals than gears. By the end of the day I discovered that putting pressure on the lever until I could feel the next gear, dipping the clutch and blipping the throttle while selecting the gear was the best method, however fining neutral at traffic lights was nearly impossible. Part of the reason for this it that to make the rear sets fit the neutral-lever has had to be removed. Basically this incredibly useful lever, standard on all Enfields, selects neutral which ever gear you are in, losing it is the price you pay for racer looks.

Handling on the bike is what you would expect from a bike developed in the 1950s. Skinny tyres make the bike move around a bit in corners, nothing frightening just a kind of gentle weave, but with a top speed of about 80mph the handling is perfectly acceptable. Cruising along at 60mph I was smiling all the way, no corner was a problem, the engine gently thudding away beneath me I felt like looking for a mod on his moped so I could roar past as close as possible.

While cruising the vibrations from the engine were evident. If the bike is revving hard they can cause your hands, arms and even bum to go numb but for gentle 60-70mph speeds they are not that noticeable.

Although the tank range is in excess of 250 miles the Ace bars and lack of wind protection mean you would have to be a hard rider to go that far between stops. I found that my wrists started to ache after about an hours riding and another half hour and I needed to stop.

At one point during my ride I had a car stop suddenly in the middle of the road in front of me. Grabbing a handful of front brake caused my heart to skip a beat. Although the bike has a twin leading shoe front drum brake they are not a patch on discs, a large amount of rear brake is also needed to stop fast.

But you have to remember this is a 50s bike, right down to the last nut and bolt. It can’t be judged against modern bikes such as Fireblades. Of course it doesn’t handle as well, turn as fast or brake as hard. That’s not what it is about. This is a piece of history, a gem from the golden days of biking, put in a time portal and opened in the year 2000 to be enjoyed again.

I love everything about this bike, its looks, its sound and what it stands for. If you are getting back into biking, are looking for something a bit different or just want to relive those days of old for just £4000 you could have a Clubman. It could be time to dig out that old black leather jacket again. I just hope I look this good when I’m nearly 50.